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Monday, November 15, 2010

Vacation Dog Care: How to Choose What's Best for Your Dog

by Carrie Boyko, CEB
(c) Carrie Boyko
My Pack's Favorite Doggie Daycare
is an All-Inclusive Resort

It's amazing the differences between all the various types of boarding. You'd think there were simply veterinarians and stand-alone dog boarding, if you're a newcomer to this search. But the world is a changing place and nowadays you can find nearly anything you desire for Fido.
(c) Carrie Boyko
Boarding and Daycare 
Often Includes
 Social Time as well as Naps
  1. Traditional dog boarding at a Veterinarian: This is your first choice if your Rover has health problems that could quickly become life-threatening or dangerous. Think again if you have a young, healthy, social dog that needs plenty of exercise. He's likely to get a few potty breaks a day and come home with a ton of bottled-up energy to unload on you.
  2. Doggie Daycare: Most of these facilities board also, and they typically cater to highly-social dogs. If your Rover is not well-socialized, this may not be the place for him. Each has a different spin on their prices, what's included, their facilities, and the extras they can offer. Know what you need and ask questions. How much playtime and socialization time will Fido really get? Every facility is different; make no assumptions. Check out several in your area to choose the one that best suits your dog's needs for socialization, quiet time, and special services such as medications or grooming. Realize that the prices will vary greatly based upon the services that are included.
  3. Pet sitters: Now you're treading in scary territory, but often necessary. If your Fido is unsocialized, anxious, dominant, aggressive, or fearful, he'll most likely need to stay at home or with a vet. Consider his exercise needs, as well, and whether you require a professional dog walker to handle him, if he's a tough-to-walk Rover. Are you comfortable with leaving Fido alone for periods of time, and if so, how much freedom in the house will you give him? Choose a pet sitter based on referrals that include dogs with your own list of issues, and go over your needs with them in person, showing them everything they need to know while you are away. Know your sitter and his or her qualifications, as well as shortcomings. Many vet techs and vet nurses moonlight as pet sitters, but may not be available for daytime potty breaks. Some families choose to use a neighbor for daytime outings, and a pet sitter for meals and walks. You do have options. The knowledge that a veterinary health worker has of health issues is a plus, especially if your Fido is giving you any reason to be nervous. Watch for signs of illness before you leave, just in case you might need to change your plan at the last minute, to a vet boarding. Do you have a smoke alarm system that calls the fire department, and are your doors marked with information on your pets' presence?  Does your pet sitter have backup in case of illness or other inability to show up? Consider leaving a key hidden just in case they lose or misplace their key to your home. Ask a neighbor to be their emergency backup. Finally, exchange cell phone numbers and run a test call well before you leave home. Realize that your destination may not have cell coverage, so plan ahead.
  4. House sitters: You're probably thinking this is the ideal setup, and often you would be correct. If you know and trust your sitter, and he or she has the skills to handle your dog's exercise, as well as potential character flaws and health issues, you're in business--maybe! Keep in mind that a house sitter may not be a "pet sitter" and know the difference before you commit.
Here's my 'Story from H' on the latter option. Strap on your seatbelt; this is a wild ride from many years ago. Andy (name changed for privacy) arrived for a "training preview", ready to care for my one dog, two cats, and a bird--one cat being diabetic. A diabetic himself, Andy knew the drill with insulin injections and seemed quite comfortable with the arrangement, given the perks we had offered.

When our kitty passed away in a diabetic coma just two days before our departure, we knew it was her time. Figuring we already had the house sitter lined up, we just decided to go with the flow, even though we really did not need his skill level. Little did we know at the time that there are many skills of a house sitter that aren't in the manual. Read on...

We had offered a comfy bed, use of our cable TV, a quick-use "how to" for the remote control, and a freezer/refrigerator full of food, in exchange for someone to stay with the pets, deal with potty breaks, litter boxes and insulin shots. I guess we can cross that last one out now, huh?

No sooner did we get to our destination, than our sitter was investigating the home workout machine. Just as he was leaning over it to read a sign, our kitty jumped and spooked him, causing him to fall toward the wall and hit a button--the emergency alarm button--used when there is an intruder. Seriously loud sirens began to go off, giving him a severe headache and scaring the tar out of the pets.

Andy tried, but failed, to turn off the alarm, as we had not given him the password. Having not set the alarm, we did not think it necessary. In hindsight, we'd likely do that differently next time. 

Trying to reach us by cell phone for the alarm code was not fruitful, as we had arrived at our destination--an area out of cell phone coverage. Little did we know that he was trying feverishly to reach us. When we got no answer to our own calls, we assumed he was simply out.

After about an hour, a neighbor appeared at the door and offered to help. She ripped the batteries out of the alarm box, severing the cables to permanently disable the piercing noise that had petrified the entire neighborhood.

Crisis over, Andy settled back to cook his dinner, soon finding that he was unable to get the TV to work. Cable and phone service were out and there was not a TV in the house that had reception. A thunderstorm soon took out the power, leaving the house in darkness, after which Andy decided to flee.

For the remainder of our stay in no-cell-land, Andy stayed at his home and came back and forth to care for the pets. It wasn't the best arrangement, but it allowed him a TV and home phone, which remained out of service at our house. When we finally emerged from the boondocks, my voice mail was full of his terrified calls regarding sirens, TVs, and no power. With the phone out at our house, there was no way to reach Andy, until he was finally able to catch us from his own home phone, while on our return home. Needless to say, we did not have his home phone number--another mistake, since he did not have a cell phone.

The moral of the story is "A house sitter is a house sitter, NOT a pet sitter", and "A Pet sitter is a pet sitter, not a house sitter"--usually.

Thanks to Julie F. of Bow Wow Resort for allowing us to photograph Tanner and Oliver's favorite place to play when mom's away!
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