Everyone enjoys a vacation, but planning for a trip can be a headache. Pet owners have an extra task that can also be emotionally stressful: choosing people to care for their pets. With many options to pick from, pet owners need to know how to make the best decision. With a sharp eye and a few questions, they should be able to choose the right service for them.
The most common option is a pet boarding facility. Kirsten Theisen, director of pet care issues for The Humane Society of the United States, says: "Start with a referral from a friend or family member, or from your local animal shelter. Your veterinarian will often have some suggestions or may offer boarding."
Next, check to see whether your state requires a facility to have certifications or inspections. Theisen says, "That's your first clue that you're dealing with a credible, respectable kennel."
Pet owners should inspect the facility in person. Jennifer King, adoption coordinator and former board member of Oldies But Goodies Cocker Spaniel Rescue, says to pay attention to your instincts. "Do you hear a lot of dogs barking? Do you hear staff members yelling? Is it clean? Is there an odor?"
Ask to be shown how pets spend the day. Theisen says, "It's critical to ask questions about feeding, exercise, fresh air, socializing with dogs and people. And in addition, ask if there are charges for each of those services."
Theisen suggests asking about training programs and staff-to-animal ratios. Both King and Theisen say it is important to ask hypothetical questions based on your pet's special needs. Is the staff qualified to handle medication, special diets or other emergency issues?
Theisen says, "You want to make sure they have these protocols in place, and you want to be sure it is the way you want your pet to be treated." She adds, "We really like to see a facility that requires a vaccine for bordetella -- kennel cough -- because it's very common and very contagious."
A second option is in-home pet care: A sitter visits regularly and looks after your pet. King says this arrangement involves a tradeoff: The caretaker may have less training, but your pet will probably experience less stress. Theisen cautions: "You are letting a stranger into your home. You need to do a little bit more due diligence in interviewing people, requiring references."
Make sure sitters are insured for liability, and also check with your insurance provider to see what your homeowner policy covers. "After you screen them, and you have two or three candidates," Theisen says, "have them come to your house and meet your pets. You know your pet better than anyone, and it's up to you to gauge who will take the best care of them."
A third option is services such as DogVacay, through which pet owners can arrange to leave their pet at a sitter's home. And don't let the name fool you. DogVacay coordinates pet-sitting for dogs, cats, rabbits and even potbellied pigs.
DogVacay provides a wide variety of options and services so that pet owners can find the ideal pet sitter. Aaron Hirschhorn, founder and CEO of DogVacay, says, "Pet owners can filter for a big yard or sitters who have experience giving medication." This will allow owners to find the right balance between price and services.
Hirschhorn requires potential sitters to undergo a five-step vetting process that includes interviews, references and training. "We are extremely rigorous about managing quality control. ... If you look across our reviews, our hosts have earned an average review score of 4.96 out of 5," Hirschhorn says.
Once a pet sitter is approved, DogVacay also provides insurance and access to medical care. "Our insurance covers both the customers' pets as well as the hosts' pets for veterinary emergencies."
For many people, their pet is a member of the family, so it's important to leave the animal companion with someone who will treat it well. If you follow these tips, you should be able to rest easy while on vacation, knowing you have chosen the right service for you and your pet.