With spring and summer right around the corner, the thought of traveling is on many people’s minds. If you are one of those fortunate people that share your life with pets, travel plans take a little more thought and planning. The first decision is whether you are going to take your babies with you, leave them home and have someone take care of them in your home, or take them to a boarding facility.
(1) Boarding facility: In this area, there are quite a few boarding facilities available, mostly for dogs, a few for cats, and there are a few that will also take your other pets if you ask. Large birds are often a little more difficult to board.
The best way to try to find a boarding facility is to ask friends with animals, to get their recommendations first. Another way to get references is to contact your veterinarian or ask the employees at the local pet stores. (Remember with the businesses that they will often only refer their customer or client facilities to you, and there may be some great places other than the ones they personally deal with). You can also search the web and yellow pages.
Once you have a few names of places, call and find out if you may stop by and visit them. Before you go to look at them, come up with a list of questions to ask. Some of the things you want to ask are, of course, about price. Find out if that is an all-inclusive price or exactly what that price includes. Some set a lower initial price but then have add-ons, such as additional charges for walks, free play time in an outside yard, charges for medications, etc.
If you have multiple dogs and wish them to stay together, is there a break in prices and are the kennels large enough for them to stay in together? Do multiple dogs play in the same yard at the same time and, if so, are they temperament-tested, and is there someone present at all times supervising the play?
When and how are they fed? Are they equipped to divide your dogs staying together when they are being fed? How often are dogs walked? Does someone actually play with them in the yards? What kind of interaction do dogs have with employees? Do they have both heat and air conditioning? Is there music or TV’s provided?
How often are kennels cleaned during the dogs stay? If the kennel closes at, say, 5 p.m., is that when the dogs are put to bed for the night? What is the last time that dogs are let out for the night? If dogs are not let out to go to the bathroom without paying extra, what is the last time that the kennels are cleaned, and how often during the day are the kennels cleaned?
Do you provide their bedding, or does the kennel, and what kind of bedding is provided? If the dog gets extra muddy/dirty, do they provide bath services, and is there a charge for that? If you provide betting and it becomes soiled, what is their procedure for that? The same for if it is the kennel’s bedding — how often would it be changed?
What is their procedure for a sickness or injury? When are dogs fed and how often? Do they recommend you bring your own food? Do they supply treats or should you? May you bring toys? Ask what their typical day is like. How many employees do they have, and what is their turnover rate?
I am sure there are other questions you can think of on your own to add to this list, but make sure to really dig into the pricing, because this is where some places can really “get you.” Numerous places set a low base rate to try to get you there, and then there are numerous add-ons that make their price higher than all the rest.
Also, find out their pick-up and drop-off times. Some places have specific times for pick-up, and if they are not picked up by then, extra charges apply. Find out their vaccination requirements, and if they require proof, and if so, do they want it prior to the pet being dropped off?
Asking the boarding facility for references is mostly a waste of time, because what smart businessperson is going to give you someone to contact who was unhappy with their services? What is their procedure if that dog is not eating? How long is their food left out for them to eat? Do they have refrigeration for open cans of food, etc.? How often are water bowls filled?
(2) Pet sitter: This is where someone is hired to come to your home and care for your pets there. Again, first look to your pet-owning friends and family members for references. Then, again, ask your veterinarian and the local pet store. Also, check their bulletin boards.
Then, call the people and find out if they are available for the dates you need, and then ask for their normal procedures, which should include an initial free no-obligation visit to your home to meet you and your pet.
Again, have a prepared list of questions, but let them first explain to you what they normally do, then ask your questions. First find out what is included in their charges and what would be extra and how much. Some have basic standards, like one visit a day for cats and three for dogs. Some charge per visit and some charge for time at your home and some both.
Ask how long they generally stay there. What times they usually come? How many clients they have in one day? Do they play with the animal or simply provide for their needs? What do they do in case of storms, especially snowstorms, when roads are not passable? What about medications?
Do they also pick up mail and newspapers and water house plants, or is that an additional charge? Do they do this all themselves or do they have employees? What are their procedures regarding your house key? Each situation is different, so you will have some specific questions for your personal situation. If you desire additional visits outside of their normal, will they do it and how much will it cost?
Also, watch how they interact with your pet while they are there and see how your pet reacts to them. Interview several, and then, remember, your gut feeling is usually a good judge. You might want to try a test run with them for a day you might be gone for an extra-long time and see how it goes before you decide to leave on the two-week vacation.
(3) Traveling with your pet: Now, this one is the one that will require the most planning. First, you must find out if where you are traveling to allows pets. Also, if flying, you will need to find out the specific requirements of the specific airline. If you are driving, is your pet used to riding in the car? If traveling with a small animal or bird, they are able to potty in their cage; however, a dog or cat will require “potty breaks,” which you will need to adjust into your travel time.
Pets traveling will also tend to be a little more “keyed up” and will most likely require additional water beyond the usual. You will also need to verify that your pet is up-to-date with vaccines and check with the states you will be traveling though and to, to find out their vaccination requirements, because sometimes they do vary. Carry a copy of your pet’s vaccinations with you. Sometimes, carrying complete vet records is helpful in case of an emergency, so the emergency vet can see your pet’s complete records.
Also, make sure you have plenty of extra food for your pet, and you should be sure that there is a store close to where you will be staying that stocks your pet’s food, just in case you need to purchase additional food. (Accidents happen, like you pick up the dog’s container of food and the bag breaks, and now your 15-pound bag of food has spilled across the parking lot during a downpour.)
Take your dog’s food and water bowls with you. Also, take their bedding and maybe an extra bed or blanket or something familiar from home. Again, accidents happen, and their bed may become soiled and you may need a backup. I also recommend taking at least an additional leash.
Take a few toys from home, too. Take your dog’s normal treats with you, also. Carry some extra paper towels or baby-wipes, some plastic grocery bags and a cleaning product for possible accidents in the car or where you will be staying.
Do not try to “sneak” your pet into places that do not allow pets. Only take them to places that state they allow pets, and don’t lie and say you have a small dog when you actually own a St. Bernard. Be honest with place you are staying, and especially be honest with yourself.
Not all pets do well while traveling. If you plan on sightseeing or being gone from your room for extended amounts of time and your dog doesn’t do well at home when you are gone, it will be even worse in a strange place when you are not there.
I also recommend placing your dog in a crate when you are not in your room. Some of the best dogs become upset and stressed when left alone in a strange place and can become destructive or even try to escape.
If you have never traveled with your pet before, I recommend doing a test run prior to your extended trip. Take a short two-day trip somewhere with your pet and try it out prior to your longer trip.
Even if you are traveling in a camper or RV, if your pet has never traveled in it before, it may not enjoy it. Just because you want it does not mean it is the best for your pet! Do what’s best for them, which may mean leaving them behind at a kennel or with a pet sitter.
If you do travel with your pet, make sure you always clean up after your pet. Some hotels allow pets to stay there but do not allow you to bathe your pets in your rooms, so check first. There are many pet self-wash facilities these days, and if you call local pet stores or grooming facilities, they can usually direct you to them, or the local groomer might work out a reduced or reasonable price to give your pet a quick bath. If you plan on bathing your pet while you are away, you may wish to take your usual shampoo with you.
You may want to take some extra bottled water for providing your pet with water. Some pets cannot tolerate changes in their water. I have a friend who always takes her own well water with her whenever she travels with her pets, because that is what they are used to drinking.
If your pet requires medications, take along extras and have an extra copy of the prescription with you just in case you need refills. Many regular people-pharmacies are able to refill pet prescriptions.
Take along a picture of you with your pet. If your pet gets lost from you, it can help to prove ownership. Make sure your pet is tattooed or microchipped and that you have that information with you. A collar with a tag with your cell phone number on it is also helpful. If your dog’s tag has your home number on it and no one is home to answer the phone, it doesn’t do you much good.
If you are taking your pet with you, remember that it wants to do things with you. It does not want to sit in a hotel room for a week while you go out every day and night. So, if you are not planning on including your dog in at least some of your activities, it is better to not “drag it along” with you.
So, before you decide to travel, make sure you make the necessary arrangements for your pets. Don’t do what’s right for you; do what’s right for them. Think about what will be the least amount of stress for your pet, even if it costs a little more.
There are many people who feel like their dog would be “so upset” staying in a boarding kennel; however, after years of working at a kennel, the majority of pets do just fine there. There are a few, who would do better with a pet sitter, but most are just fine, and many even look forward to it. Just make sure that if you use a kennel or pet sitter you thoroughly check them out. (Believe me, I have heard some horror stories.)
Once you have made a decision, ask your vet and the local pet stores if they have heard of them and if they know anything about them. Watch their facial expressions when you say the place’s or person’s name. Some people find it difficult to say negative things about other businesses, but their facial reactions might give you a clue. But remember that little voice inside you and your initial impression and that feeling in your gut are often quite reliable.
Cheryl Loveland is a semi-retired dog groomer. Her pet menagerie has shrunk to Bo, her bloodhound; Noel, her bichon frisée and Bootsie, her cat. She currently resides between Keymar, Md., and Millsboro and Selbyville. She is currently not doing rescue work but hopes to resume that when she returns to a more permanent residence. She is a member of Colonial Bloodhound Club and membership chairperson for Misspillion Kennel Club in Milford. She also still helps out at a local boarding kennel in the Bethany Beach area. She has been working with all varieties of pets since she was a child growing up in Montgomery County, Md. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.