Twin Cities Consumers’ Checkbook: Care options for your pet when you travel

If you can’t take your furry friend along when you leave town, caretaking options include hiring a pet sitter, asking a friend to pet sit and booking a stay at a boarding kennel.

If you go with the kennel option, by visiting Checkbook.org/StarTribune/Kennels, readers can access Twin Cities Consumers’ Checkbook’s unbiased quality-and-price ratings of local facilities free of charge until July 5.

To help start your pet-care search, here are some things to consider.

Take your pet along

You’ll share the experience with them and avoid the expense and trouble of a sitter or a kennel. But your accommodations may not allow pets; and having a pet along may be inconvenient.

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

If your pet isn’t accustomed to car travel, it may become anxious. And you shouldn’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.

Friends, family, neighbors, and pet sitters

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 you may burden a friend with the responsibility, and the pet may suffer separation anxiety.

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 be stressed by staying with other animals. The sitter can get mail, water plants, and make your house look occupied.

But pet sitters, too, have their disadvantages. Whether the sitter is from a commercial service or is a neighbor, you can’t be sure of the skill 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 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.

Kennels

Most kennels used to be dreary places. 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. Cats also usually get play areas. Health problems will be spotted and referred to a veterinarian.

But based on the number of serious complaints Checkbook receives from consumers, choose a kennel carefully. Checkbook’s undercover price shoppers also found big price differences among local kennels. To board a medium-size dog for one week, prices ranged from $200 to $500 or more. That’s just for the basic boarding. Extras add up fast: Administering a pill might cost $3 more per day; extra attention or exercise could run $10 a day.

Also, some kennels’ 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.

Tips for considering kennels

  • 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 stay in their own areas. When left unattended, it’s usually better for pets to be separated. In Checkbook’s survey of pet owners, kennels that have common nighttime runs and spaces — mostly hospitals and clinics with limited space — usually rated considerably lower than facilities with separate ones.
  • 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?
  • Inspect for proper health protections — cleanliness, air temperature, proof of vaccinations.
  • Size up staff members. Do they answer your questions? Do they show affection for the animals?
  • Determine when the kennel is open for drop-off and pickup.
  • Ask about veterinary care arrangements, in case your pet gets sick.
  • Can you check in on your pet while away? Many kennels now have webcams.

Twin Cities Consumers’ Checkbook magazine and Checkbook.org is a nonprofit organization with a mission to help consumers get the best service and lowest prices. We are supported by consumers and take no money from the service providers we evaluate. You can access Checkbook’s ratings of local kennels until July 5 at Checkbook.org/StarTribune/Kennels.

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