When you're away, where will your pet stay?

Posted: Sunday, April 18, 2004

Although summer is still weeks away, it's getting close enough that many people are already starting to plan their vacations. Where to go, what to do and what to bring are all important questions to answer, but one important question often goes unasked until the last minute: Where will pets go while you are away?

At some point, many pet owners will have to face the question of what to do with their dogs, cats and other pets while they are out of town. Animals can't go on all trips, and friends and relatives may not always be willing or reliable.

Consequently, pet boarding or pet sitting may be necessary, and the time to start planning for where your canine companion will go is weeks to months before your departure date. Kennels not only book up quickly in summer, but leaving a pet with a stranger for the first time also requires some preliminary preparation.

Many dogs can handle boarding well, finding the activities at a boarding kennel interesting and enjoying the overall experience. However, some dogs are extra sensitive.

Very young dogs may not understand the process, and older dogs set in their ways can find the sudden change stressful. Also, some dogs get nippy in new places and around new people.

Regardless of your dog's temperament, age or personality, there are a few simple things that can be done to make the boarding experience a more positive one for you and your pet.

Picking the right boarding kennel can seem difficult, but it doesn't have to be. Consult professionals in the field of pet care. Veterinarians, groomers, dog trainers and local kennel clubs can be valuable sources of information about reputable boarding facility.

Once you've selected a possible boarding location, go and visit it. Trust your senses and ask lots of questions; after all, these people may be responsible for your dog's well-being should you leave your pet in their care.

Make sure all facilities, both indoor and outdoor, are clean and orderly. A well-run kennel shouldn't stink of doggy odors. Check that containment enclosures are secure, and that your dog couldn't dig or break out. Make certain temperatures in the facilities are appropriate.

You should select a place where you can leave your dog without (or with minimal) feelings of worry or concern.

Once you've made your selection, ask what vaccinations are required for boarding. All dogs being boarded should be up to date on their vaccinations, but some facilities require addition medical care beyond the routine yearly vaccinations.

Also, be certain your pet has up to date identification in the form of tags, an ID microchip or both.

It never hurts to let your veterinarian know you're boarding your dog and to leave instructions for care in the event of an emergency. Give the kennel instructions and contact information for your dog's veterinarian.

Inform the kennel of any medical or behavioral conditions your dog has and leave an emergency number where you can be reached.

Don't forget to leave any medications your dog takes with the kennel.

Bringing along a favorite toy, blanket or bedding material, can lend to the transition by allowing your dog to have a few familiar items in the new surroundings. However, these items can be lost in the day-to-day shuffle of operations at a kennel, so don't send anything that would be irreplaceable.

It never hurts to bring your dog's regular food. Changing dog food suddenly can cause illness and diarrhea. Doing so at a time when so much other change is already going on, can just lead to more unnecessary stress.

If it's going to be your dog's first stay in a boarding kennel, or if your pet has had a history of problems while being boarded, it may be a good idea to schedule a few "practice stays."

Start off slow and include the boarding staff in the process. Bring your pet to the kennel and ask one of the attendants to play with your dog while you are there. Repeat this a few times, allowing your dog to become familiar with the staff and surroundings.

Next, leave your dog at the kennel for just a few hours. Check with the staff to see how the dog did in your absence. Repeat this a few times as well.

Once accustomed to being left for these short durations, try leaving the dog in the kennel overnight. If your dog does all right on the overnight stay, it will probably do well while you're on vacation.

If it just doesn't work out, or if boarding kennels just aren't for you, pet sitters are another alternative. These are people who will come to your home a number of times a day to walk, feed and play with your dog.

Select a pet sitter in the same manner described for choosing a kennel. Interview potential people and ask for references. As with leaving your dog at a boarding facility, transition slowly and allow the dog to get to know the person. Leave all the same instructions with a pet sitter that you would for a boarding kennel.

Take the time to research all your options carefully. Leave your dog somewhere that you feel will be safe and that your dog will be happy in, because nothing spoils a vacation more than worrying about your dog the whole trip.

Joseph Robertia is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion. He has worked with wildlife and domestic animals for more than 10 years as a veterinary technician, a zoo keeper, and most recently as a zoologist.

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