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

This item appears on page 36 of the March 2015 issue.

Since our marriage 35 years ago, my husband and I have had two dogs. Early in our marriage we acquired a dog, and some good friends also acquired one from the same litter, and for the life of those two dogs we managed to coordinate long vacations so that the dogs always stayed with one family while the other family was away.

After long, happy lives, those two dogs passed away and we acquired another dog. Our friends whom we originally traded dog-sitting services with did not get another dog, so we now trade dog-sitting services with a different family.

This arrangement has worked beautifully. Both families that we have shared dog-sitting services with travel several times each year, as do we, and we seldom have had a conflict of vacation schedules. Most importantly, the dogs are well cared for and happy to spend time at their “second homes.”

Jennifer Tobin
Gig Harbor, WA


German shepherds are a very important part of our family, but so is travel, and we have tried many solutions for pet care when traveling. Shepherds bond with their owners and do not do well at kennels, even the best ones, because these dogs are always looking out for their human rather than playing with other dogs.

One of the best solutions has been to arrange with a good friend with a similar pet for reciprocal care when either of us travels. The advantage is the pets know each other, making for an easier transition. The cost is zero, but there is an obligation to return the favor, and you need a backup plan when you both are traveling or otherwise unavailable. 

The last four years, we have had a solution that works very well. We have a relationship with a professional dog walker (with a weekday dog-walking service). In her home, she boards dogs overnight that she walks. When we’re traveling, our dog goes out on the daily walking runs with the other dog clients and sleeps at home with the walker. 

We use her twice a week for dog-walking services, to keep the relationship going, so our dog is completely comfortable and happy to see the dog walker. When we travel, up to a month at a time or on numerous 2-week trips throughout the year, our dog lives with our dog walker and her family. Our shepherd is as happy as she could possibly be. She thinks she has two families, and she squeals with delight when she is going there or coming home. 

Also, I don’t have to change the sheets at 5 in the morning as I’m heading out for the airport, which I would have to do for someone providing live-in care. Nor do I have to teach an in-home caregiver all about the intricacies of the running of our house (alarms, lights and appliances).

Cats are a different matter, as they like to be in their own house. 

I posted a note at our little local grocery looking for someone to come to our house twice a day to feed and pet our elderly cat as well as administer medicine and scrape the litter box. 

I found a wonderful woman who loves cats and is happy to come before and after work for a very reasonable fee to take care of our little princess. She also picks up the mail, brings the trash up and serves as eyes and ears for our home. 

Cindy Shurtleff, Seattle, WA


One of the Roushes' cocker spaniels, Ouija.

After boarding our previous dogs in a kennel, they seemed to have been traumatized, either from the isolation or from confinement in a caged or unfamiliar environment. They came home with “deer in the headlights” looks and appeared tired and bedraggled, like they hadn’t had a good night’s sleep in ages. They also had “burns” on their bodies from the bleach or disinfectants used in the dog runs, and their hair was matted or smelly.

After that, we were overjoyed to find a pet sitter. Our cockers have never been put into cages or housed in indoor/outdoor concrete runs.

The Roushes' other cocker spaniel, Kizzy.

We have engaged the same pet sitter for 17 years. She sits for us in-house (our preference). Over those years, she completed professional training (which includes courses from emergency medical care to engaging play techniques) and was certified by the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters, or NAAPS (www.petsitters.org). One can find a directory of trained, bonded and insured pet sitters on that website.

When we moved to Panama almost eight years ago, with our two beloved cocker spaniels, we looked forward to traveling in South America. We had a rude awakening. Unlike in the US, Canada, the UK and some other countries, the pet-sitting profession there was unknown. We became virtually housebound, other than for short-term quid pro quo arrangements with friends.

What changed everything was finding TrustedHousesitters.com. Through this resource, we have found excellent singles and couples — mature, trustworthy, well educated and well traveled — who, while we are away, not only care for our dogs in-home but give us peace of mind knowing that our plants are watered and our property is secure and maintained. 

Best of all, it costs us virtually nothing, as they pay their travel expenses and “work” in exchange for free accommodations and sightseeing opportunities between pet walks. It’s truly been a win-win for us.

Mary Roush, Casco Viejo, Panama City, Panama


Many years ago, two of our golden retrievers were boarded for two weeks at a supposedly reputable kennel in San Diego. They came home disoriented and with kennel cough. That ended any future thoughts of kennel boarding, despite the ads that show happy dogs.

Two years ago we adopted a 13-month-old, 60-pound female ridgeback mix. She requires one to two hours of exercise a day to keep her sane. 

Having a dog does add cost to our travel plans. 

Here in Tucson, we have a reliable in-house sitter for $40 a day. Of course, because he is so reliable, he has a loyal, longstanding clientele base. When we wanted him for a 21-day trip that we planned to Peru, he was booked up. It would have cost us $840 to hire him. 

We also have a cage-free boarding facility south of Tucson that charges $50 a day or, for more than 10 days, $45 a day. It, too, was booked up for much of the time we were to be in Peru.

My husband, David, found House Carers.com. On this complete and informative website, it says, “Would you like to match with house sitters? We have many kind, responsible, pet-loving, live-in house-sitter members interested in your area who would love to care for your home and pets and gardens.”

Through HouseCarers.com, we found an active retired couple, Mike and Martha, available and interested in exploring Tucson at the time we were in Peru. We had a Skype meet-and-greet which included our dog, Luna, sitting between us. 

Over the next few weeks, there were emails back and forth with questions. It was a perfect match. There was no charge. We asked Mike and Martha to come three days before we left so they could meet Luna and take over her exercise and feedings. 

The first night, Mike said, “The reason we are here is Luna. She is the priority.” 

The day we left for Peru, Mike emailed a photo of Luna with her head in Martha’s lap. The following day, there was Luna, a dog that does not take to unfamiliar people easily, on her back getting a tummy rub from Martha. 

When we came home, Luna was clearly a happy dog. She couldn’t decide if she wanted to sleep in the guest room with Mike and Martha or our bedroom with us. And the house was immaculate. 

I don’t know if Steven Cole will find a match for two months during a Michigan winter, but it is possible.

Carolyn Moser, Tucson, AZ


For the past few years, when my husband and I have gone on a trip, we have had a wonderful woman, Kathy, stay at our home, take care of our little (120-pound) fellow, water plants, get mail, etc. Our dog greets her as if she is an old friend, much as he does us, so we know they are pals. 

A friend found her by putting an ad for a pet sitter for her own dog in the local newspaper. She interviewed quite a few people before selecting Kathy.

We are especially grateful to Kathy, as a few years ago during a very icy winter (we live in New England), ice formed on the roof, dripped in through the walls, shorted out an outlet and set fire to the living room drapes. Kathy bundled the drapes, threw them out into the snow and called the electrician, all around 5:30 a.m. Our home is not visible from the road, and our electrician later told us that, had our sitter not been staying there, we would have come home to a basement! 

In addition to having our pet being cared for, previously we had never fully realized the advantages of having someone in the house, especially in the winter. 

Kathy’s price is competitive with what the vet charges, and the dog has the whole house to be in, with frequent outside trips and a nice warm body to snuggle against to watch TV at night. Consider it.

Dorothy DeVoti
Sheffield, MA


Perhaps a better bet than kenneling a pet is arranging for a house sitter. Having a house sitter means the animal stays in its familiar surroundings and has someone there to take the dog for a walk or play with the cat. 

With a house sitter, you can have more confidence that the pet isn’t neglected. In addition, having someone around the house while you’re gone (especially for as much as two months) can be a deterrent to would-be burglars.

Where to find house sitters? We look among our friends. 

Do we have a single friend? Does a couple we know have a particularly responsible child of 18 or older? Have our other traveling friends used a house sitter who has served them well? 

To my mind, the idea of a house sitter is most worth exploring.

Gary Morgan, Camarillo, CA


I have been in the boarding kennel business for over 27 years. I also have traveled all over the world and have left my dog for as long as a month. I would like to share my views on boarding a pet.

I always tell people that if you can get someone you trust to stay in your home with your pet, that is the best-case scenario. The next-best bet is an experienced, reputable boarding facility. 

A pet sitter who comes to your house briefly and then goes is, in my opinion, less desirable. A dog would rather be among people and other dogs than feeling alone and abandoned, just waiting for someone to come and spend a short time with him or her. 

No one likes to leave their dog (or cat), but something that dog owners need to be aware of is that dogs are adaptable creatures. They will become accustomed to and grow to like their new environment, and the more they stay there, the better they will like it. They will get along fine without you, but they will also be glad to go home. 

Having an old dog in poor health is a different situation, and thought must be given to that when you leave. 

I would also recommend finding a facility where the operators have lots of experience. Tour the facility and talk to the owners. 

Being in the kennel business, there is nothing I haven’t seen, and I know how to handle it. I have seen many, many people cry and feel horrible when leaving a dog, yet after the owners are out of sight, the dog is running outside with new friends. 

I have also seen people who never go anywhere because they are afraid to leave their pet, and that is very sad.

I hope this helps.

Jeri Peterson

Hendersonville, NC