Q: We have quite a menagerie at our home, including a dog, a bird and a rotation of assorted smaller animals. Got any tips for finding the right care for our pets when we go away on vacation?
A: Depending on the pets, you may either board them — at a professional facility, or with friends or neighbors — or use a pet-sitter who’d check in one or more times a day, as opposed to a house sitter staying at your home. Whichever you choose, don’t wait until the last minute! If you’ve got definite vacation plans, give yourself at least three months to explore your choices. If there’s no specific date, start your decision process now and that will be one less planning task for later.
If you’re lucky, you may have a reliable friend, family member or neighbor familiar with (and to) your pets who can visit your home as needed to see to their care and feeding — or even take your pets to stay with them at their home. (You can offer to reciprocate next time they go away.)
Or you can hire a professional pet-sitter. A pet sitter could be a good choice for cats and dogs who don’t mind solitude most of the day, are well-behaved, trustworthy and not prone to destructive behaviors. It could also be a good choice for smaller caged or confined animals like birds, reptiles and pocket pets for which there may be no boarding facilities (although some animal hospitals may offer boarding for clients).
Among the advantages of using a pet-sitter: Pets may be less stressed and more comfortable in their familiar home environment, and their feeding, sleeping and exercise schedules can be maintained. They’re also not exposed to illness from other animals, and you won’t have to transport anxious pets to a facility just before your own departure. And they’ll be home to greet you when you return.
To find a sitter, ask friends and your animal hospital for recommendations. When you contact pet-sitters, here are some questions to ask:
- Is the pet-sitter bonded and insured, including commercial liability insurance? Ask for documentation.
- How far in advance do you need to make reservations?
- How long has the sitter been in business, and will he or she provide references?
- Does the sitter belong to any professional association?
- Does the sitter have any experience as a trainer?
- Has he or she taken any pet-care educational seminars through a Humane Society or other organization?
- What contingency plans does she make in case she’s unable to get to your house?
A thorough professional will want to know all about your pet’s routines, health, personality (and quirks) and any special needs, as well as ways to reach you and your vet while you’re away. If you do use a pet-sitter, make sure to leave simple, clearly written care and feeding instructions. Remember, though, that the sitter won’t be there with your pet around the clock; for animals needing close supervision because of complicated medical or behavioral issues, a boarding kennel might be preferable.
Dogs are the pets most likely to be boarded, so there are many choices in and around Howard County. But there’s considerable variation in prices, facilities and services. So how do you choose?
Start by getting recommendations and doing research; narrow your choices to three or four. Find out their policies on fees, services, bedding, toys, food and medications, and ask about any forms and information they require. Responsible kennels require proof of certain vaccinations. Your veterinarian can make sure your pet is up to date on shots.
Visit each without your pet so you can see — and smell — the facilities: Are the kennel and play areas clean, supervised, climate-controlled and well ventilated? Does the kennel have an attendant present 24/7? Is there a vet on the premises? Or on call? If your pet gets sick or injured, will they take him to your animal hospital?
For dogs, you may prefer day-care-type kennels, where “guests” get to enjoy supervised daily play, rather than being penned or crated during most of their stay. Before actually going away, I suggest making arrangements to leave your dog at a prospective kennel for a couple of partial days and at least one overnight “test drive” to find out how he or she fares.
With thoughtful advance planning, your smart choices will enable you to enjoy your vacation without worrying — too much — about your pets.