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Weighing pros, cons of boarding during holidays

Question: We're going home for the holidays, but don't know what to do with our two dogs. We're staying with my mother-in-law, who doesn't like dogs.

Of course, I don't care much for my mother in-law. How could anyone not love my precious dogs, who are so sweet? They're little things, too, and wouldn't get in anyone's way.

I'm torn about whether to take them along or pay the cost of boarding if we leave them behind. What would you advise? — C.D., Long Island, NY

Answer: I may personally wonder about your mother-in-law's attitude, but after all, you will be in her home. If your dogs are not well behaved when they visit, or your mother-in-law is allergic, deathly afraid of dogs, or thinks there will be too much commotion with your pets in the house, then leave the dogs home.

You could propose a compromise, whereby you and your husband would be the dogs' sole caretakers; your mother-in-law wouldn't have to have anything to do with them. You could promise to keep the dogs in your room only. I think your mother-in-law should consider that these dogs are members of your family. In light of that, how could she say no?

If your mother-in-law agrees to accept your pooches, be sure to live up to your promises. Also, understand the dogs require your time. In the swirl of activities during your stay, make time for dog walks. If the dogs are social, find out if there's a dog park nearby. You and your dogs might want some time away from the holiday hustle and bustle.

If your mother-in-law nixes your plan, you could pass on the holiday trip, or go without the dogs. If you're concerned about the expense of boarding, consider having a friend or neighbor with a dog watch yours. Explain that when the friend or neighbor travels, you'll return the favor. Depending upon where you live, a certified pet sitter might be less expensive than boarding.

Q: We're planning a two-month trip, and while we're gone, we'll leave our 15-year-old cat in a kennel. We are concerned about boarding her for so long. Do you have any suggestions to make this prolonged separation easier? — C.B., Novi, Mich.

A: Don't leave your cat in a kennel. Even if you've found the best possible kennel on earth, for most cats, there's no place like home. That's especially true for an older homebody cat.

Your best bet is to ask a friend your cat already knows to live in your house while you're away. At the very least, hire a local veterinary technician or a responsible friend or neighbor to visit your kitty at home at least once a day. For information on finding a professional pet sitter, check http://www.petsit.com or call Pet Sitters International, (336) 983-9222.

Before you leave, put out lots of toys around. Ask your sitter to rotate the toys every few days so your cat doesn't get bored. Have the sitter periodically deploy that great feline stress buster: catnip.

If you feel compelled to board your cat, visit the facility before leaving your kitty. If the place seems dirty, dogs are clearly visible from the cat area, or the there's a strong smell of dogs in the cat section (unless your cat likes dogs), find somewhere else. Before kenneling, speak with kennel staff and your vet about flea and vaccine protection. If your cat doesn't have a bed of her own, buy one today, so that when you leave town, she'll have a place of her own to snooze. Also, leave a few old, unwashed T-shirts at the kennel so your pet has something to remember you by.

Q: My friend's Bengal cat has been peeing on the bed since the cat's last trip to the veterinarian. My friend had already covered the couch with plastic because her cat was peeing there. She's contacted Bengal rescue groups about taking in this cat, but they're all filled. Any advice? — L.U., Las Vegas

A: Marilyn Krieger, a cat behavior consultant in Redwood City, says this cat is choosing elevated places to urinate because they offer a good vantage point. This means her litter box (or boxes) are not elevated. While you don't need to perch the box/boxes up high, they shouldn't be hidden in corners or closets, either.

Often, cats relieve themselves on elevated surfaces when they're worried about being ambushed by other cats, the family dog, or rambunctious toddlers. You didn't mention other pets or children, so there's no way to know. Certainly, Bengals, even more than most cats, require lots of climbing space and rotating toys.

Krieger, author of the Cat Fancy book, "Naughty No More: Change Unwanted Behaviors Through Positive Reinforcement" (Bow Tie Press, Irvine, CA, 2010; $12.95), likes to substitute Sterlite brand plastic storage containers for conventional litter boxes. Bengals are large cats and these containers are bigger than most litter boxes. If your friend insists on keeping the current litter boxes, she should remove the covers, if any (since this cat obviously prefers 'a box with a view), and scoop daily.

Of course, you friend should wash out her soiled bedding. When she's not available to supervise the cat, she should place a large plastic runner, nubby side up, across the bed, or close the bedroom door. If she doesn't deal with her cat's insecurity issues, the pet may keep piddling on the sofa and the bed.

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