What to do with a pet while you’re on a long trip (2 of 3)

This item appears on page 38 of the February 2015 issue.

Here are suggestions for finding pet sitters.

Ask your veterinarian. (Check out the vet technicians.)

Check out pet trainers and dog-training schools to see if they have recommendations. Ask pet groomers and at pet stores.

Ask friends and friends of friends. Look for retirees. Ask family members or church members if they can recommend anyone.

My husband, Bob, and I have traveled for more than 30 years and have owned dogs all that time. Never once have we boarded or kenneled a dog. I cannot emphasize this strongly enough: people should not board or kennel their dogs. 

They also should not fly with their dogs. I shudder when I think of it.

Once you have one or more pet sitter candidates, check them out by going away nearby for two days or so. Call in or message to check up. 

Lastly, the person who asked about boarding pets said he was going to be away for two months. That’s a LONG time to be away.

Jan Winning, West Hills, CA


I feel that boarding pets is the best way to go when you want to travel, but finding a good kennel is difficult. 

I have been lucky to board my border collies at Woodside Kennels (Saginaw, MI; 989/793-2882, www.woodsidekennels-saginaw.com). The kennel was built with advice from veterinaries. It has indoor and outdoor runs and is cleaned every day, and staff will exercise and bathe your dog, if you wish. 

I would not leave my dogs with friends, nor would I leave them alone in the house with someone coming in only occasionally to feed them. A good boarding kennel is worth every cent.

Bon Voyage.

Doris Marsh, Saginaw, MI


I am a passionate dog lover and would never board my dog if I could possibly help it. My husband and I travel for three to four weeks several times a year, so we must have a comfortable solution for our beloved dogs. I believe they are best left in their own environment with a caretaker. It is amazing how quickly they get used to substitute parents at OUR home who care for them exactly as we do. 

For many years now, we have been finding house/dog sitters to stay in our house absolutely free. Having made about a dozen of these arrangements, we can report that only one house sitter was, in the least bit, off-putting, though she did the job perfectly well. All other house sitters have become friends or, at least, pen pals. 

I started out using Craigslist.com, advertising under the “housing: sublets/temporary” section. From those early ads, we got two of our very best sitters: an academic couple from New Zealand and an Afghan-American woman in need of a place to write her master’s thesis. 

We moved on to MindMyHouse.com, a site specifically set up to put homeowners and potential house sitters together. On this site, you can read applicants’ profiles online before you advertise. Also, no matter where you live, this site seems to generate many responses to ads for house/dog sitters. 

While a few people on MindMy House charge for their services, the vast majority of them come for absolutely nothing, the pleasure of a house and pets being their reward.

We have recommended this approach to all of our friends, but most are much too nervous to even try it. This seems such a shame and a missed opportunity to enhance the trip with new friendships. 

We always check references, talk to the potential house sitters and assess their experience with house-sitting or in their work lives. We’ve never had a miss in our arrangements through MindMyHouse, and we now have long-term house-sitting friends who come back year after year to sit while we’re away. 

I would be happy to provide more information to ITN readers considering this option. Contact me at susanglaughlin@yahoo.com.

Susan Laughlin, Benicia, CA


I have two dogs that cannot go to a kennel, so when I travel I have a live-in pet sitter. 

Dogs are most comfortable in their own environment. In cases where you will be gone a LONG time, the dogs will be less traumatized by staying in their own familiar surroundings. A kennel for two months is out of the question. 

Regarding finding a pet sitter, if you have a neighbor or a relative whom you THINK would be OK, don’t even consider it unless you’re sure they will love and care for your dog like it is their own. 

The sitter has to be a RESPONSIBLE person! Not everyone is. (I know someone who, while pet sitting, went out of town and did not return until the next day! That is not a responsible person.)

To find a sitter, one suggestion is to ask people at a dog park who they use. Firsthand info is always best. You also could ask at your vet’s if they can refer you to someone who pet-sits. 

Have the pet sitter meet with you and your dogs, and ask plenty of questions. Be sure your sitter is someone who has a dog, is comfortable with your dogs, can recognize any health/food problems that might come up, will take your dogs for walks and just plain loves dogs (that’s me!).

If you ask or hire someone to care for your pet, have a backup person who can take over for that person. A friend of mine was pet sitting but had an emergency out of town and had to ask me to take over. Emergencies do happen!

Make it VERY clear what you expect of your pet sitter, especially regarding keeping bowls filled with clean water, picking up poop daily, taking trash out and watering plants and the yard plus anything to know about the neighbors.

Be sure (I can’t stress this enough) to write everything down that you expect of your dog sitter. Do not just tell them. Make a list. 

And write down all necessary info, including how you can be reached while you are gone plus how to contact your veterinarian and the animal hospital. Make clear the location of the emergency vet hospital, as pets seem to get sick on a Saturday night or Sunday morning. (Required! Inform your vet of your pet sitter’s name. If your pet has an emergency, the vet will know you have authorized its care while you are away.)

Also write down instructions on feeding (how often? how much? treats?); walks; things to watch out for (will he run out the door when it is opened?), and household details.

If you have someone (a neighbor, friend, etc.) come in only for the morning and evening meals and never again all day, you are inviting trouble. Your dog should not be left alone all day and all night.

I spent two weeks in South America in March-April 2014. A friend pet-sat for me. She has a dog and cats and volunteers at a cat shelter, so I knew I could depend on her. 

Three days before I returned home to the US, my big dog, with no previous symptoms or clues, started whining and crying at 3 a.m., waking up my friend. My dog could not stand up. 

The pet sitter knew there was a serious problem. She rushed the dog to a pet hospital, where my dog was diagnosed to have hemangiosarcoma, a group of cancerous blood vessels. They had ruptured and she was bleeding internally. My pet sitter tried to reach my daughter in L.A. but couldn’t, so she had to make the decision to end my dog’s life.

The above is why I say that you must have a dependable pet sitter. Do not think, “Oh, that wouldn’t happen to my dog/cat.” It happened to me with no warning and could happen to anyone. A dependable pet sitter, one who recognizes a serious problem, is absolutely necessary.

Sharon VanDewark
San Diego, CA


Having owned and trained Labrador retrievers for 32 years, I have spent many hours studying and researching canine behavior in an effort to better understand these gentle creatures. This might qualify me to offer some suggestions and observations on the plight of Mr. and Mrs. Cole, who were seeking a long-term dog-sitting solution.

Pet boarding is a huge business these days, and there is a wealth of boarding kennels available. One thing I have found is that many people who had difficulties with pet-boarding facilities were not aware of how to prepare their animals for the stay. They then ended up saying their pets were “traumatized.” Hopefully, the following essay will help dog owners find, assess and better utilize boarding options and, most importantly, properly condition a dog to actually enjoy the kennel experience.

Over the years, my wife and I have tried every conceivable option when traveling, including finding relatives willing to live in our home, leaving our dogs with friends, and traditional boarding kennels. Our house can burn down, but if the dogs are in good hands, that’s all that matters. 

We have been fortunate to discover what we consider the most trustworthy and reliable boarding facility in southern Colorado, Waggin’ Tails Doggy Day Camp (Colorado Springs, CO; 719/632-9485, www.waggintailsdoggydaycamp.com)

Whatever dog-sitting option one chooses, it is essential to understand the inherent psychological makeup of a dog. Dogs are the quintessential creatures of habit. Any change in their daily routine can be quite upsetting to them. Fortunately, most dogs will comfortably adapt to just about any situation, but ONLY IF they are properly conditioned over time. 

With a boarding facility, or “camp,” this means first leaving your dog for no more than a couple of hours, just enough time for some serious sniffing and to get acquainted. A week or so later, leave it for an afternoon. Next time, all day. If that all has gone well, leave your pet for an overnight stay and “rescue” it the next morning. Finally, board the dog for a long weekend or two. By then, your dog should be well adjusted, ready for a longer stay and actually looking forward to its visits.

The same conditioning approach applies if you are leaving the dog with friends or hiring a pet sitter. The dog MUST have time to adjust to the new people, the surroundings and the changes in its routine in order to grasp that it is not being abandoned. This process should be started at least a couple of months before you travel. 

Dropping a dog in a strange and foreign environment for the first time as you are hastily heading out of town is a certain recipe for creating a neurotic, unhappy and perhaps permanently damaged animal.

How do you find a good boarding facility? First, ask around and check a lot of references. Rare are the individuals who do not want to talk about their dogs and the care the animals receive, especially if they are true “dog persons.” 

You can get recommendations from local breeders, dog clubs, animal hospitals and veterinarians and, of course, by spending time on the Internet. Dog owners are not hesitant to share both good and bad experiences. 

Many large veterinary practices have also moved into boarding in a big way — a far cry from a tiny crate in the back of the office. I know of one such practice in Denver that even maintains a swimming pool for its guests.

Visit the facility you are considering at least a couple of times and at different times of the day. Is it clean and does it smell fresh? Do the “campers” appear happy and engaged with other dogs? Are there places for them to play together, to relieve themselves outside and to have a quiet nap when they’re tired? Can dogs be segregated by size and temperament, if necessary, or is your toy poodle going to be stepped on by a Rottweiler?

Is there a constant cacophony of barking and yelping or do the dogs quiet down after some initial excitement? Nonstop barking is indicative of a stressed animal. 

Observe the staff as well. Are they happy and seem to enjoy their jobs or do they appear harried and overwrought? Their attitudes will transfer to the animals, themselves.

Avoid any facility, large or small, that does not require you to produce copies of current vaccination records, and demand an introductory visit before allowing your dog to overnight. This is to protect the health of all the campers and to weed out animals that might be aggressive or simply not able to adapt to the boarding environment. Any facility that accepts all comers can put your pet at risk.

I used to think that leaving dogs with friends or having a pet sitter or relative visit our home was preferable to a boarding kennel, the idea being that the surroundings and people would be more familiar to the dog, but I am no longer convinced that that is the case. 

Asking a nonprofessional to care for your pet is saddling that person with a huge responsibility. A dog attempting an escape in order to look for you could end up on a busy highway. An animal could become seriously ill — even die — through no fault of the pet sitter, which would affect a relationship between family members or friends forever.

Were I to leave my dogs for two months — which I would not do — the choices narrow quickly. Quality “doggy camps” are not cheap; the going rate for my two beasts is $50 per day. 

I belong to a hunting club that has a large kennel facility in a rural area, and I might consider leaving my dogs in their care at a more affordable rate. It might be possible to find a decent boarding option “out in the country” with someone willing to make a long-term arrangement. 

My first choice would be to find — and pay — a highly trusted friend or relative who was in a position to take a 2-month “vacation” in my home. Such an individual is not easy to find, though.

When leaving a pet for any length of time, it is important to advise your veterinarian and to make financial assurances to both the vet and to the caregiver that any necessary emergency treatment for the animal will be covered.

In reading between the lines of Mr. Cole’s letter, it appears that his dog might have some behavioral issues that limit his options. One innovative use of two months’ boarding might be to find a facility that also specializes in training, or to find a trainer willing to take and board the dog, and negotiate a package deal. This would have the dual advantages of providing daily stimulus for the dog and creating a more polished “citizen” at the same time. 

Unless a canine caregiver is blatantly cruel or incompetent, rare is the dog that will be “traumatized” by boarding for a reasonable amount of time. We owners are capable of inflicting much more trauma on our pets — usually unwittingly — than a competent boarding facility ever could.

However, a lengthy time away will change a dog. It is unavoidable, since we are asking an animal to completely give up the habits and routines to which it has become accustomed. A change in personality does not necessarily mean it was traumatized or abused; it means that the dog did what it had to do in adapting to its new environment. This can manifest itself, upon the owner’s return, in unusual behavior, especially as we ask it to readjust to its previous life. 

Some claim that a dog has no sense of time, and there is some truth to that. Your dog is as happy to see you after one day away as after two weeks. It cannot read a calendar, though, and as large amounts of time pass, a dog adapts to what it interprets as its “new” life. 

This is why proper conditioning is so important — so the creature knows you will be coming back for it and that its new “home” is temporary. In dog years, two months is over a year in human time. Few of us could leave home for a year and not come back a little different.

I hope this is of some use to anyone who loves their dogs and must leave them from time to time. After retrieving my retrievers from a camping stay, they soon let me know that, compared to all their doggie pals, I am pretty boring and they’re ready to go back for another visit. 

For the record, I do not anthropomorphize my dogs; they are not my “children” and I would not insult them by treating them as such.  The greatest care and love I can give them is trying to understand them as dogs, not as furry people. In that regard, if the above information helps anyone else, then I have accomplished something. 

Tom Bulloch
Woodland Park, CO