So you’ve booked your ticket. You’ve gotten time off work. Your holiday shopping is…in progress.
You’re all set for a well deserved vacation!
But wait. You feel a tug at your pant leg, a purr at your feet. What about your pet?
“Yeah, what about me?” says Rajah.
Alright, if you’re anything like us (and I suspect you are), you don’t even THINK about going on vacation unless your pet is taken care of. I recently almost opted to spend Christmas alone because I thought I had nobody I trusted to look after my cat. My family wasn’t surprised. I’m sure many of you know how this feels.
When planning pet care for your furry family member, pet parents face one big question: to stay home or to board?
Generally speaking, I prefer my pets to stay in their own home when I travel. It keeps a sense or normalcy and avoids panic. However, there are times when choosing to board your pet in a professional facility is your best, or only, option.
In that event, it’s very important to find the facility that will ensure your pet has a safe, happy, and healthy stay. Every facility is different and offers unique perks and packages. That’s all well and good, but don’t be blinded by glitz and glam. When searching for, or checking out a pet boarding facility, there are a concerns every pet parent should address.
To help you out, here are the ones the Calvin & Susie family thinks are most important.
How Do I Find a Boarding Facility?
We recommend starting by asking people you trust. Have any of your friends boarded their pets at a facility? Would they recommend the place? Would they board there again? What did they consider pros or cons?
The internet can be a great resource, as long as you look at everything with a critical eye. Read trusted pet forums that are up to date, check Yelp reviews, visit boarding facility websites. Websites like dogvacay.com (enter in your city and search for a facility or sitter near you) are a good place to start. Dogvacay.com in particular has been getting a lot of attention this year. All of these internet tools can be very helpful in creating a short-list of places you’d like to personally check out.
Remember, websites are there to sell you, so don’t be wooed by pretty pictures or “testimonials” alone. The internet is FULL of opinions, the best thing you can do for your pet is to get the facts.
Ask trusted pet service professionals. Do you have a good relationship with your groomer? Dog walker? Pet store? At Calvin & Susie we get asked all the time about pet boarding places we might recommend. While we don’t actively endorse any place, we do keep a list of places that our customers like. We won’t recommend just anyone (and we get a LOT of requests from facilities to recommend them to our customers). Only places we would mention are the places we have used ourselves or from recommendations from our customers who have used them.
Ask your vet. Many vets have relationships with boarding facilities in your area. Which are those facilities? Are there are any facilities your vet recommends? Where do they board their pet? Some vets offer boarding at their clinic or hospital. If your pet has health issues, this might be a good option.
Visit the Facility in Person
No matter who makes the recommendation, visit the boarding facility yourself. Anybody can take pretty pictures and put them online, making even the most deplorable kennel look like the Ritz. If you cannot go in person, ask someone you trust to go in your place.
Talk to the staff. Do they seem open, honest, knowledgable? It sounds like a no brainer, but do they genuinely seem to LIKE ANIMALS? The last place you want to board your pet is a place that will just hire anybody. Do you see staff appropriately interacting with pets? What sort of training do the staff undergo?
If at any time the staff evades your questions, offers only a vague answer, or seems annoyed with your questions, consider taking your business elsewhere. You need to know exactly how your dog or cat is going to cared for, and transparency should be there greatest selling point.
You want to keep your pet as comfortable as Barney is here!
Some questions to ask are:
Can you see where your pet will be housed? Do they have their own space available to them, separated from other animals? (If you cannot see where your pet will spend his or her days/nights, I would be very wary.
Is there adequate indoor and/or outdoor (weather permitting) space for exercise? Are the exercises areas enclosed? Free of hazards? Is water available in these areas? Are these exclusively social areas? Does your pet have “solo” exercise area? Do cats have play areas out of sight of the dog play areas?
What is the ratio of staff on premises to pets on premises? There are probably going to be more pets than people, but the number shouldn’t be overwhelming. Each pet should be able to get friendly, un-rushed attention from a few humans they get to know. 1:10 is the maximum human to pet ratio I would feel “ok” with.
Are cats housed in separate areas from dogs? Do they have adequate space to distance their eating area from their litter box? Will the facility use the cat litter your cat prefers if you provide it?
Is a Temperament Test administered before dogs are put into social groups? How does the facility determine which dogs play together? By size? By breed? By temperament? By age? Do they offer solo play with just a professional handler or your own dog trainer?
What vaccinations are required for pets to be boarded at the facility or attend daycare there? How does the facility certify each pet’s health? What paperwork is required?
Are there veterinarian or pet health professionals on-site/on call? Does the staff know cat or dog CPR? Cat or dog emergency medical procedures? (Note: Not all facilities will have vets on-site, this does not necessarily mean they are not reputable. However, they should have set in place medical procedures should the need arise.)
Be sure the facility will take note of how you would like your pet cared for in an emergency. They should require your pet’s vet’s contact information. Inform them of your preferred emergency facility. If you choose, be sure to inform your boarding facility that you do not want your pet denied ANY medical care while you are gone. Leaving your credit card information with the facility or your vet is advised. Also, a proxy, someone you trust to make medical decisions for your pet in your place if you are not reachable is a MUST for me when I travel. Someone who knows your pet and shares your pet care values. Discuss with them what to do in a “worst case scenario” before you leave.
Do pets have access to areas in their sleeping quarters that are not concrete or hard floors? Can you bring your pet’s bed? Their own bowls? Comforts from home?
How does the facility handle special diets or your pet’s medication? Do they take detailed notes as to how your pet’s medication is to be administered and when? How do they label and store your pet’s food and medication? Can they make special arrangements if a pet’s medical needs require that your pet is fed at specific intervals? (Don’t compromise on this! If your pet needs to be fed at 12 hour intervals, and they try to convince you otherwise, WALK AWAY.)
If a facility feeds your pet with their own food, what food is it? I would not recommend exposing your pet to a new food in a strange place, but if you must, you should ensure the facility feeds a quality food, with options for allergies. We *HIGHLY* recommend choosing a facility that prefers your dog or cat is fed his or her own food.
How often is your pet’s sleeping/eating area cleaned? It better be daily! Also, how often is a cat’s litter box changed? How often is your pet’s water refreshed?
How often and where is your dog taken to relieve him or herself? Do they walk your dog? If so, where? In groups? Solo? If in groups, how big are the groups? Are dog walkers professional staff members? If your dog is let outside to use the bathroom, how often is the area cleaned?
What is the facilities visitation policy? Some places will let your friends or family visit your pet while you’re away. Does the facility require a pre approved list of individuals who can have contact with your pet? Are visitations supervised? Do visitors only have access to the one pet they are there to see? (I know this is starting to sound like prison, but better safe than sorry! You don’t want some random person claiming to be your “Aunt Mildred” and doing something to your beloved pet!)
How often are common areas cleaned? How often are blankets or toys in common areas cleaned/disinfected? How are parasites, pests controlled?
Do all pets undergo a flea/tick/parasite check before entering the facility? Must all pets be on some sort of flea medication upon entering the facility? Don’t be offended, this is not saying you are a bad pet parent or your pet has an infestation. It is merely a solid precaution to stop the infestation of any pests that might be spread in a boarding facility.
Is the facility secure? Are there two sets of doors between the outside world and where the animals live and play? Do all housing or play areas have secure latching doors and/or gates? The last thing you need is your pet escaping!
Ask the facility for references. This is especially important if this is a smaller, privately owned facility. That being said, any reputable boarding facility should be able to promptly give you client references. The references should be up to date and legitimate — check them.
Does the facility have a webcam? Many larger boarding facilities now offer webcam surveillance as way for you to see your pet while you’re away. If a place does not offer a webcam, ask if they will send you pictures of your pet while you’re away. I wouldn’t say the lack of a webcam is a deal breaker, as a facility can still be top notch and just not have the technology, but it is a major perk that keeps you “in touch” with your pet.
And don’t forget! The checklist you leave for your home pet sitter, also applies to your pet’s caregiver in a boarding facility. From your vet’s info to medication/feeding schedule to your pet’s allergies and “warning signs” they might be sick — tell your boarding facility!
Use Your Senses
After you’ve had a chance to talk to the staff, take the time to look around, listen to the sounds of the facility, SNIFF around. Literally.
The facility should LOOK clean and appealing. Of course, with pets running around there’s bound to be a toys flying and the occasional mess. But does the facility look otherwise tidy and sanitary? If a pet has an accident, how quickly is it cleaned up?
Do pets LOOK happy? Are the dogs or cats in the common areas playful? Relaxed? Do you see signs of overly stressed or frightened pets? How does the staff approach dogs? Cats? Is there a relaxed atmosphere? Are people smiling?
Are pets in the sleeping/eating areas also relaxed? Do dogs wag their tails when they see “their” handler coming? Do the staff members interact with the dogs and cats on a personal, but professional level? Does the facility LOOK crowded?
Like I said, be sure to SNIFF around. Does the facility SMELL clean? Do you catch whiffs of excrement or waste?
Do you HEAR unhappy animals? You’re bound to hear the occasional bark, whine or yowl, but is it more than a couple animals? Several? Is it ongoing? Does anybody attend to the animal in distress?
How do the staff speak to the pets? Tone of voice matters when handling a nervous pet!
The quieter the overall facility, the calmer the pets.
Know What You Are Paying For
Clarify with the boarding facility what exactly what you are paying for and for how long. You should DEFINITELY sign a contract.
How do they calculate charges? By the day? By the night? Is playtime, individual attention, walks, grooming, daily administering of medication, etc. an extra charge?
Don’t assume anything. When in doubt about a service, ASK. Make sure it is detailed in the contract what the facility is responsible for in regard to the care and well-being of your pet, and what responsibility they waive. Be sure to ask about your pet’s round the clock care. While 24 hour care is uncommon, there should be a regular rotation of trained staff checking on the animals every few hours.
And always be sure to ask when check-in/check-out time for your pet is. Otherwise you might risk getting paid a penalty for “late check-out”.
Trust Your Gut
You know your pet and your pet’s needs better than anybody.
If after visiting a facility, touring it, talking with staff, and perhaps even reading reviews about the facility, you still have doubts about the care your pet might receive, it’s okay to look elsewhere. Don’t let a smooth talking, eager staff “convince” you to board at a facility you aren’t quite comfortable with. It’s just not worth it.
And be sure to give yourself enough time to research your options! If you give yourself lots of time to look for a boarding facility before you leave, you won’t feel panicked or rushed to find a facility.
And Let Us Help You!
Remember, Calvin & Susie keeps a record of your pet’s purchases and notes on your pet’s health and food preferences. In the event your pet needs food while you are away, we are always more than happy to help your pet sitter or a facility’s staff member pick up the correct food (with your permission). We can always take a credit card over the phone. For regular customers, we take pride in knowing your pet’s dietary needs almost as well as you do!
We know leaving your pets can be stressful. But do your homework, and we promise you’ll actually be able to ENJOY your vacation knowing that your pet is enjoying theirs!
~Your Loyal Calvin & Susie Blogger
As always, check with your vet before making any changes to your pet’s diet or body care. The Calvin & Susie Blogger always researches to the best of her ability, but she is not a vet. This blog is not in any way meant to replace veterinary advice or care. When in doubt always ask a vet.