With summer vacations fast approaching, and having to make a decision on where to kennel my own crew for an upcoming annual family vacation, I’d like to share some tips and warnings on where and how to leave your pets behind.

Years back, I started with a highly recommended dog boarding kennel that I will never, ever use again! From there, I went to a kennel I adored that had been recommended by a dog-trainer friend, then moved on to a dog trainer who pet-sits, then tried to find someone who also house-sits, to alternating with Andrew on who stays home and who goes, to considering boarding again. We’ve been around the Mulberry bush with all of it.

Why all the changes? My dogs’ experiences and needs have changed over the years.

I’ll share my worst and best experiences first before I offer tips and warnings.

The first kennel I tried with Kiera and Magic came recommended by a friend. I should have wondered when they didn’t offer to have me tour the facilities, but I spoke with the people, who seemed knowledgeable and caring. All seemed well. I paid to have both dogs taken for 10 minute walks several times a day because I knew that while Kiera readily relieved herself on leash, she would not poop in the kennel or run. Then I left on my trip free from worry, knowing that my dogs were well-cared for. WRONG!

When I went to pick up my dogs, they both literally screamed with excitement when they saw me. As I petted and hugged them, I noticed their coats were greasy and stinky with what I assumed was some kind of antiseptic kennel cleaner. Then Kiera had projectile diahrea in the car not two minutes after we left the place. She’d obviously been holding a few days worth of poop. So, clearly, there had been no walks–and no way to prove it, except the knowledge I have of my dog. It would have come down to their word against mine. So I did the next best thing and reported them to The Better Business Bureau and warned everyone I knew about them.

The next kennel, which both the dogs and I loved, was a small place that only took new dogs on the recommendation of someone who’d already been there. When I first drove in the driveway, this woman was throwing balls for each boarding dog in turn. She had Border Collies of her own, so when she said she daily threw balls for all the dogs, I knew she wasn’t kidding. Anybody with high drive Border Collies is used to being a slave to ball and Frisbee throwing. Then she not only gave me a tour, she had me bring the dogs in for a tour. She also gave me the phone numbers of a few clients so I could talk to them about their experience. But the bigest tell-tale sign was when I went to pick up my dogs. While they were certainly thrilled to see me, they were also obviously smitten with this woman. They both picked up balls and brought them to her to throw. They were bright-eyed and clearly happy. And they’ve been happy to return ever since — until she closed up shop for health reasons.

When we got Graidy, it was necessary to make the switch from kennels to sitters. As previously noted, he has abandonment issues and doesn’t travel well.

Since he’s come such a long way, I’m reconsidering the kennel option because it’s so hard to find sitters willing to stay at the house.

Okay, onto what you should consider when looking to leave your pets behind.

Points to Consider When Boarding at a Kennel:

  • Dog boarding ranges all the way from the extravagant (and expensive) dog spas and hotels to a couple of kennels at the vet’s office. The quality of care can and does vary greatly. Price can but doesn’t necessarily correspond with better care.
  • Where you get your recommendations matters! Is it a friend who shares the same values of care and comfort for your animals? Is it a dog-trainer, or someone who routinely deals with dogs? If several people who share your dog views all recommend the same place, then it’s safe to say you’ve found a good place.
  • Make sure you tour the place and ask questions about feeding times, play activities, etc. I would only go with a place that had dog doors in each kennel so that your dog has ready access to the outside for exercise and relief.
  • Look at the dogs currently being boarded. Do they seem relatively relaxed and happy? Or do they ALL look stressed?
  • If you can, make a surpise visit to the place to see how things operate when no one is watching. If they say they walk dogs, then look for dogs and walkers out and about. If you don’t see any, be suspicious. And so on for dog play, etc.

Points to Consider When using Pet/House Sitters:

  • Same recommendations as above apply for the process of finding and interviewing a reliable sitter. In this case you should have the person come to your house to meet your dogs and to see how they interact. Most sitters carry their own insurance.
  • Have they had experience with your breed of dog?
  • If you decide to go with a pet sitter, and you don’t have a dog door that leads to a securely fenced area, can they come often enough for your dog’s potty needs? Can you afford to have someone stop by several times a day?
  • If you decide to go with a pet/house sitter and they work during the day, will they be able to come a few times during the day to let your dogs out? What time will they be there at night and what time will they leave in the morning?
  • If they run into problems, do they have a backup plan for how your dogs will be cared for?

Don’t make the mistake I did way back when. Ask questions and keep your eyes open. And if you have ideas or suggestions to add, please do!