In those cases, here are tips for finding a kennel – which nowadays can run the gamut from a basic boarding facility to a luxury pet hotel – or a pet sitter you can trust with your beloved companion.
If you are traveling without your pet during the holiday season, be sure to find a reputable kennel or sitter well in advance of your trip – reservations fill up quickly and availability can be limited this time of year.
Deborah Ropes, general manager of Lucky Dog Resorts in Colorado Springs, Colo., told the Associated Press that pet parents should “book before Halloween for Thanksgiving, and book before Thanksgiving for Christmas.”
If possible, before you leave your dog in a kennel or with a pet sitter for an extended period of time, do an overnight or weekend test run. If your dog seems unhappy when you return, look for another kennel or sitter.
The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) notes the following pros and cons of a using a kennel or a pet sitter.
Kennel Pros and Cons
- Your dog may get more human attention than if he stays home and is only visited occasionally by a pet sitter.
- Dogs are monitored by staff trained to spot any problems. Some kennels have a veterinarian on site.
- A secure kennel means your dog won’t run away.
- If your dog is a social butterfly, many kennels have areas where dogs can play together.
- On the other hand, your dog might get stressed out from being in a noisy, unfamiliar environment.
- Your dog could be exposed to potentially infectious germs from other dogs.
Pet Sitter Pros and Cons
- Your dog gets to stay at home, in a familiar environment.
- There is little or no change in his daily routine.
- Your dog gets one-on-one attention when the pet sitter visits.
- This may be the best option if your dog is a senior, has special needs or is aggressive.
- However, a pet sitter is usually more expensive than a kennel.
- Although most pet sitters are bonded and insured, you might not be comfortable with someone having access to your home while you’re away.
- In a worst-case scenario, the pet sitter might never show up to take care of your dog, or may not visit as regularly as they’re supposed to.
Finding the Right Kennel
The Better Business Bureau (BBB) receives hundreds of complaints about kennels, which range from “disputes over billing to treatment of the pet,” according to the BBB. “Owners say their pets came back from poor boarding kennels severely dehydrated and malnourished or rife with fleas, ticks and even maggots. Worst-case scenarios include pets that became extremely ill from their stay at poor facilities that resulted in lengthy stays at the animal hospital.”
To avoid these issues, you should ask your friends, neighbors, co-workers, veterinarian and dog trainer for kennel recommendations. Check out potential kennels with the BBB to make sure they have high ratings.
The next step is to visit the kennel in person, without your dog. (If the staff refuses to let you in for an inspection, move on.)
During your visit, the HSUS and BBB recommend you do the following:
- Make sure the facility looks and smells clean.
- Check that it has good ventilation, adequate lighting and the temperature is comfortable.
- Dogs should have adequately sized indoor/outdoor runs. If there are just indoor runs, the dogs should be taken outdoors for exercise.
- Ask if your dog may come in contact with other dogs. Some kennels may allow dogs to play together.
- Ask how often your dog will be fed and exercised.
- Observe the staff to see how friendly they are and how they act toward the boarded dogs. Inquire about their backgrounds and experience with dogs.
- Make sure the kennel is licensed and, if applicable, has a certificate of inspection.
- Make sure the kennel requires proof of immunization for rabies, distemper and kennel cough (bordatella).
- Find out how the kennel controls fleas and ticks.
- Ask if you can bring your dog’s favorite blanket or toy, and/or a piece of your clothing so your dog can smell your scent.
- Ask about the hours for dropping off and picking up your dog. Many kennels are closed on major holidays, and some are closed on Sundays. Find out if there are late fees if you can’t pick up your pooch in time.
- Ask about fees for any additional services, such as walking your dog or giving him extra treats. Be sure you understand the kennel’s billing policy.
- Ask about the kennel’s procedure in the event of a medical or other emergency.
Finding the Right Pet Sitter
As with a kennel, you should first ask your friends, neighbors, co-workers, veterinarian and dog trainer if they can refer you to a reliable pet sitter.
“Both organizations offer accreditation to businesses who demonstrate proven experience, complete pet care related courses, attend professional conferences and abide by a code of ethics set by the organizations,” according to the HSUS.
NAPPS, PSI and the HSUS offer the following tips for interviewing potential pet sitters:
- Ask for written proof of commercial liability insurance (in case of an accident or negligence) and bonding (to protect against theft by the pet sitter).
- Ask for third-party credentials that verify the sitter has a clean criminal record.
- Find out how much training and experience the sitter has had in working with dogs. If your dog has special needs, ask if the sitter has worked with dogs with the same issues.
- Ask if the sitter is affiliated with a local veterinarian who can take care of your dog in case of a medical emergency.
- Ask about a back-up plan in case the sitter cannot visit your dog due to illness, bad weather or another reason. “Every professional pet sitter should have a written disaster plan that addresses natural or man-made disasters, as well as a contingency plan to provide for your pet’s care if anything prevents the sitter from completing the assignment,” PSI says.
- Ask for a written contract that outlines all services, fees and the expected amount of time the sitter will spend with your dog. “A professional pet sitter should have a published list of fees that cover the most common pet-care requests,” PSI writes.
- According to PSI, the average visit from a pet sitter to care for one dog lasts about 30 minutes. If you’d like the sitter to stay longer or overnight, ask if that is possible.
- Ask for references from several previous clients, and be sure to call each reference.
- Before you sign any contract or agree to any services, make sure the sitter will come to your home and meet your dog before you leave town. Ask if there is an additional charge for this initial meeting. “You don’t want your pet to meet the sitter for the first time when you are already away on vacation,” HSUS notes. “This could endanger the sitter’s safety as your pet might be protective of the property. And your pet’s emotional well-being could be at risk if it turns out he/she is frightened by or doesn’t like the pet sitter.”
Once you find the perfect sitter, use this checklist to ensure your dog gets all the TLC he needs while you’re away.