Q. We adopted our puppy six months ago and love her to death. But we have to go out of town for the next few weeks. What do you recommend we do?
A. Thanks so much for your note. It’s funny, I noticed that over the years I started cutting back on my travels around the country and time spent away from home because I found I missed my dogs. I often joke that if a person finds someone that they miss as much as they miss their dogs, they know that’s the person they want as a significant other. But I digress.June, July and August are typically the busiest months for pet sitters. It’s the time of year for vacations and every trainer in the world is asked: “Do you know anybody who can watch my dog?” And most trainers have a list of referrals they send to the client. A trainer’s list is usually comprised of trusted people and businesses they have known and worked with for many years.
So what’s the best choice for the family and the dog when the humans head off and the dog is left behind? There are three choices:
- Boarding facilities
- Home-Away Boarding, where the dog is placed with a family in their home
- In-home pet sitting where the sitter stays at the clients house
Each of these has pros and cons, depending on several factors. But the two most critical must-do’s and responsibilities of all boarding or pet sitting options are safety and cleanliness.
The Safety Factor
Several years ago I had a new client who seemed really apprehensive and stand-offish when we started talking about boarding. As we talked, she finally told me her story. It seems she left her Boxer-mix with a very famous trainer for boarding. About a week later, he shows up on her porch holding a Chihuahua. He says, “your dog ran away so I brought you this very nice dog to replace her.” Imagine! That’s so unbelievably wrong on so many levels.
Just to finish the story, she drove around downtown Los Angeles for hours every day before and after work. She put up signs and posted on as many websites as she could. Three months later, she was on one of her scouting patrols and unbelievably, she found her dog eating scraps in an alley. What an incredibly happy ending! But unfortunately, because of businesses that lack strict safety protocols, not every story has this happy ending.
When considering any boarding facility or pet sitting option, it’s critically important to check out the people and the facility first hand. Getting referrals is great but is not a substitute for first-hand familiarity and using your good old intuition. I once sat in on a meeting with a couple of my clients and the person they were going to hire to stay at their house. The woman was in her mid sixties, came highly recommended and looked and sounded like the fairy godmother from Cinderella.
When my client explained his situation, that his dogs were very reactive in certain situations and needed specific care, the woman, as sweet as can be, put her hands on my clients shoulders and said, “Oh sweetie, you worry too much. All dogs love me. Everything is going to be just fine.” She wasn’t hired. Number one, she wasn’t listening. Number two, no person in the world is loved by every dog in the world. She may be absolutely wonderful with trouble-free dogs. But special-care dogs need responsible, experienced people.
Lastly, not only do boarding facilities have dogs that your dog will be interacting with, many homes where you are boarding your dog have family dogs. It’s important that your dog really gets long safely with the all the dogs he or she is going live with.
The last thing you want is to return from vacation and find your dog dirty and/or ridden with fleas and ticks. If your dog is staying at a facility or someone else’s home, a clean environment is critical. If the facility or home has messy play areas from days-old poop or the inside of the house has furniture that’s ripped to shreds and smells of urine and feces, that’s not what you’re looking for. I know of several businesses here in Southern California where the clients have complained of getting their dog back dirty, limping, cut and with puncture wounds. The owners’ of one of these establishments explained that they had no idea how the dogs ended up in this sorry state. Another guy said, “hey, dogs will be dogs. We let them work it out and everything’s fine.” These aren’t the people you want watching your dog.
Boarding Options – Boarding Facilities
The most reputable and professional establishments have tours where prospective clients can see for themselves how the dogs are treated, how clean the place is, how problem behaviors are resolved and what their protocol is in emergencies. Responsible boarding facilities thoroughly vett the dogs who are coming to stay and do meet and greets with the incumbent dogs to make sure everybody gets along. No facility can remain in business if they get a bad reputation, especially if they allow aggressive dogs on site.
Some facilities are cage-free. This means your dog runs around with other dogs all day long and then is put in his or her own dog run or bedroom. If your dog is social and loves other dogs, has tons of energy to burn and has good doggy social skills, a cage-free environment might work for you.