Choosing a kennel or sitter

Choosing Sport's vacation home


"We're going to leave Sport in a kennel while we travel this summer."

A common statement, but one not so easily accomplished in many cases.

What makes a good boarding kennel? Depends on what you are looking for. Sure, the good ones are clean and well-ventilated, offer protection from the weather, provide adequate space for the size of the dog, and guarantee medical care if the dog gets sick in their care. Most of the good ones offer 24-hour coverage with someone living on the kennel property.

However, after these basics,"good" is often in the eye of the beholder.

Some dog owners like frills. They prefer a kennel with "suites" instead of kennel runs, plush beds instead of blankets, and daily walks or romps as well as roomy accommodations. Others don't mind the austere vacation spot for Misty as long as the basics are provided and the staff is kind and gentle.

For example, are you looking for a bare-bones kennel that provides a run, daily feeding and exercise, and a watchful eye for illness? Or do you want a "doggy resort" where the dogs are walked and played with daily, provided fancy bedding and toys, have music piped into their kennels, and can attend a brush-up obedience course?

Boarding kennels run the gamut from filthy to austere to luxurious. If you've never left Sassy in a kennel before, you should decide what you expect of a kennel before setting any appointments. If Sassy is a pampered pet and you cannot forgive yourself if you send her to live in a cage for a week or two, either hire a house sitter or bring her along. Don't expect a boarding kennel or a visiting pet sitter to give her the same care that you do. It just won't happen. If Sassy knows she's a dog, not a furry child, your choices are much broader. A visiting pet sitter, someone who comes to the house two or three times a day to walk the dog, play with her a bit, and make sure she has food and water, may be your answer. The pet sitter can also bring in the mail, water the plants, and provide security checks.

If you choose a pet sitter, ask for the names of other clients as references.

Types of kennels

Boarding kennels can be roughly divided into two categories, those that provide basic care and those that offer some fancy frills

.A basic care kennel usually

A fancy frill kennel may include any or all of the following:

Most dogs do well in a kennel with indoor-outdoor runs, feedings twice a day, and a caring staff that pays close attention to the animals. Most dogs also do well in a kennel with indoor runs if they are walked twice a day. Kennel frills are for the owners, not the dogs. Music, walks in the woods, structured playtime, fluffy blankets, and other amenities may relieve the owner's sense of guilt at leaving the dog in the kennel, but they generally add to the cost.

When you know which type of kennel (or pet sitter) appeals to you, choose several and start calling. Make appointments with a couple that meet your requirements and have space when you need it. Then visit them.

Check a kennel out first

  1. Call now to arrange a visit to see the kennel. Ask for an appointment in mid-week; good kennels are very busy on Mondays and Fridays as dogs come in or go home. If you can't get an appointment to see the facility, you should cross that kennel off your list.
  2. First impressions are important. When you arrive for the visit, check to see that most of the runs are clean -- it's almost impossible to keep all the runs clean all the time, so cut some slack for a few dirty runs here or there.
  3. Sniff the air. The kennel should have a clean smell, not one generated by stale urine or old feces. If sour kennel smells waft into the office while you're chatting with the owner or manager, you'll probably want to go somewhere else. You'll be able to tell the difference between a kennel that has urine and decay soaked into the woodwork and a kennel that is basically clean with a run or two that was dirtied after the morning scrubbing.

After your first impression look specifically for:

Once you've eliminated the obviously inadequate kennels from consideration, you have to decide which level of care you want for your family pet, how much you want to pay for that care, and how comfortable you are with the people who will be providing that care.

Ask questions

Whether you are interested in basic care or some degree of frills, don't hesitate to ask questions about the care your pet will be given. Make sure you know if your pet will be housed in a separate run, and that if you pay for a run, the dog is not crated because the kennel is overbooked. If the dog will be crated during part or all of his stay at the kennel, find out about the exercise schedule. If it's important to you that someone be on the kennel property all night, make sure this is the case.

Ask questions about feeding schedules, extra charges to give heartworm pills or medications, or anything else you wonder about..

Talk to the kennel staff

On the other hand, make sure you give the kennel all the information necessary to properly care for your pet while you are gone. If Digger has ever bitten anyone, say so. If Dancer is an escape artist, say so. If Muffy vomits for the first three days you are gone, say so. If Fluffy has worms or is under treatment for a chronic noncontagious disease, say so. If Rambo is a jerk on a leash, say so.

If Rambo is a jerk on a leash or if he barks incessantly, there's still time to teach him some manners before your vacation. An obedience class will help with the leash problem, and many trainers can help with a barking problem.

If you like the kennel and it's booked for the weeks you will be away, get put on a waiting list and make a reservation at your second or third choice. If a space becomes available, don't forget to cancel any other reservations you have made. Don't make multiple reservations and cancel all but one the week before you go.

Make sure you drop off the dog and pick him up when you say you will do so or that you notify the kennel of any change of plans.

Prepare your dog

To prepare Sassy for her stay in the kennel

Dropping your dog off

On kennel arrival day:

Be prepared to provide

You'll need to bring

If you are coming back earlier or later than expected, don't forget to call the kennel about your change of plans.

And Finally. . . .

Successful boarding of a pet should include homework to select the right kennel; good dog manners and socialization; honesty with the kennel staff and no guilt for leaving Ranger behind while his family enjoys a well-earned respite from daily life.

No matter when the vacation is scheduled, start now now to prepare.

If you make an informed choice of a boarding kennel and follow these common sense suggestions for using the services, your experience and Fancy's should be a good one.

Norma Bennett Woolf

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