The options for pet care while you travel

If you can’t take along your furry friends when you leave town, caretaking options include hiring a pet sitter, asking a pal to let Rex crash for a few days, or booking a stay at a boarding kennel.

By visiting, Inquirer readers can access nonprofit Delaware Valley Consumers’ Checkbook’s unbiased quality and price ratings of local kennels free of charge until July 5. To help start your pet-care search, here are some options to consider.

Traveling with your pet has several advantages. You’ll share the experience with them, know they will receive loving care, spare them (and yourself) the stress of separation, and avoid the expense and trouble of a sitter or a kennel.

But taking your pet might not be possible. You might be jetting off for work; your vacation digs may not allow pets; and having a pet along may be thoroughly inconvenient. What do you do with Mr. Sprinkles when you go out to dinner, to a museum or a show, much less to a business meeting?

There are risks, too. Pets may be terrified or injured if they are treated roughly by airline baggage handlers. Some have been left for hours in airline handling areas or shipped to the wrong destinations. Dogs have died of heatstroke in airplane baggage compartments.

If your pet isn’t accustomed to car travel, it may become anxious. Most important, your pet could wander off, become disoriented, and be lost for good. Finally, you can’t leave your pet alone in a car, even briefly.

If you want to take a dog along, check out the list of hotels and motels that accommodate pups from AAA’s Traveling with Your Pet website.

Another option is to leave your pet with a friend or pet sitter. Your pet won’t be alone overnight, and you’ll avoid some inconvenience and expense. But this arrangement may burden a friend with the responsibility, and the pet may suffer stress caused by separation from you and its usual environment.

Having a pet sitter come to your home has significant advantages. Your pet stays in familiar surroundings and continues familiar routines. Your pet won’t experience the stress of staying with other animals. In addition, the sitter can provide services such as picking up mail, watering plants, and making your house look occupied.

But pet sitters, too, have their disadvantages. Whether the sitters are from a commercial pet-sitting service or a neighbor, you can’t be sure of the skill, knowledge, or diligence they bring to the job. Unless you arrange for overnight care, your pet will still be alone for long hours. If you use a commercial pet-sitting service, you give a stranger access to your home. And the cost of care can be high.

Most of what Checkbook hears from pet-sitting customers is positive, but there are enough negatives to warrant caution.

Most kennels used to be dreary places. Dogs usually were housed in isolation; cats spent most of their days in cages. Kennels focused on keeping critters safe by keeping them separate.

No more; most kennels are run as resorts now. They’re decorated and designed as cheerful, fun getaways. During the day, dogs carouse together in one large common area or are sorted into smaller groups, depending on their sizes or dispositions. Cats also usually get play areas. Have a pet that doesn’t get along well with others or gets anxious away from home? Some facilities will still accommodate that one in isolation, but many will suggest you find another spot for your surly-or-skittish Spot.

The benefit of booking a stay at a kennel is that, assuming everything goes right, your pet will be taken care of and never left alone, and you won’t have to worry about last-minute foul-ups. Serious health problems will be spotted and referred to a veterinarian. And you don’t have to impose on anyone.

But using a kennel can be expensive and inconvenient. In addition to possibly exposing your pet to illness, a stay in a kennel could cause your pet separation anxiety. Many kennels largely avoid these problems by employing caring, attentive staff and maintaining comfortable, clean, and stress-free facilities. But based on the astonishing number of serious complaints Checkbook receives from consumers, you should exercise caution when selecting a kennel.

Checkbook’s undercover price shoppers also found big price differences among local kennels. To board a medium-size dog for one week, for example, prices range from $200 to more than $500. That’s just for basic boarding. At some kennels, the extras can add up fast: Administering a pill might cost $3 more a day; arranging for extra attention or exercise could run $10 or more a day.

Also, some kennels’ extremely limited drop-off and pickup periods make it difficult to avoid shelling out for an extra day. It can all add up to a substantial chunk of your vacation budget. Fortunately, some of the higher-rated kennels charge below-average prices.

  • Be wary of a kennel that won’t let you inspect its facilities unannounced during regular hours.

  • Where will your dog stay? During the day or scheduled hours, pets usually hang out in common play areas. At night, animals are secured in their own rooms, runs, or crates. When left on their own, pets should have separate areas. In Checkbook’s survey of pet owners, kennels that have common nighttime runs and spaces — mostly hospitals and clinics with limited real estate room — usually rated considerably lower than facilities with separate ones.

  • What if your dog doesn’t get along with others? Some facilities charge extra fees if your pooch can’t participate in group play.

  • If you are boarding a cat, does the facility have a separate space for it? Dog kennels may traumatize a cat unaccustomed to the constant barking.

  • Inspect for proper health protections. Notice whether the facility is clean, that indoor spaces are kept at a reasonable temperature, that all pets have proof of proper vaccinations, and that sick animals are isolated.

  • Size up staff members. Do they answer your questions? Do they show affection for the animals? Are they available round the clock?

  • Determine when the kennel is open for drop-off and pickup.

  • Ask about arrangements for veterinary care, in case your pet gets sick. If your pet takes regular medications, will the kennel administer shots or pills?

  • Can you check in on your pet while away? Many kennels now have webcams that let customers monitor their pets.

Delaware Valley Consumers’ Checkbook magazine and are a nonprofit organization with a mission to help consumers get the best service and lowest prices. It is supported by consumers and takes no money from the service providers evaluated.

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