By Phil Samuelson
As Americans, we love our dogs. According to the American Pet Product Manufacturers Association‘s 2011-2012 National Pet Owners Survey:
- 78.2 million dogs are kept as pets in the United States
- 39% of U.S. households own at least one dog
- 60% of owners own one dog, 28% of owners own two dogs, and 12% own three or more dogs
- On average, owners own almost two dogs (1.60)
- The ratio of male-to-female pet pooches is almost even
With so many dogs residing in American households, it’s easy to see how many of them become cherished members of their families.
With this strong of a bond to our dogs, a dilemma often arises when we have a vacation or business trip. Many owners find themselves asking, What is the best thing to do with Mr. Barkles while I’m gone? Who will take care of him and play with him? Won’t he miss me? Guilty feelings often arise. Luckily, there are more options for excellent temporary dog care than ever before. In fact, dog grooming and boarding is a $3.65 billion annual industry in the United States. Many choices are available.
Increasing numbers of individuals and families decide to take their dogs with them on vacation. A growing number of motel and hotel chains now accept dogs. There is usually a limit of two dogs per room, and some hotels have size limits. The amount charged for bringing a dog varies. Some charge as little as $25 for an entire stay, while others charge a similar amount per night. At nicer hotels, a deposit is sometimes required that management returns at check-out after a room inspection. These nicer hotels may go as far as assembling doggy gift baskets for their canine guests. Some motel and hotel chains will waive the pet fee for members of their loyalty or frequent-visitor clubs. The option of taking the family dog on vacation can be fun and saves the expense of boarding or hiring a pet sitter. Some dogs travel well and enjoy the experience, but others do not. Generally, dogs that get out of the house on a regular basis and enjoy car rides will be happy with hotel accommodations while on vacation.
These days, boarding dogs is usually different from the boarding kennel days when they were kept in a run and were merely cleaned and fed and allowed light exercise until their owners returned. While boarding kennels like this are still around today, there are several more options available to dog owners. Modern pet care facilities provide lavish boarding experiences for pets–with comfortable beds and televisions (set to Animal Planet, of course) being the norm rather than the exception. These doggy resorts often sport catchy names like Camp Bow Wow, and have a long list of luxury options for their boarders. Obviously, this is often the most expensive option for dog care, but many owners love the idea of their dogs having their own vacations while they head off to their own exciting destinations unencumbered by pet responsibilities. Even in tough economic times, pet resorts thrive–even grow–and pet owners continue to indulge their pets, even when they tighten the household budget and deny themselves some simple pleasures.
Doggy resorts and doggy day spas are found in nearly every community and represent the most luxurious option for dog boarding. Many cities have several such facilities and dog owners have choices among places offering many of the same services. Even the most basic boarding service at these places includes exercise and socialization for canine visitors. The menu of available options is impressive. If an owner wishes, often his or her pet can receive regular on-lead walks, off-lead runs in secure areas, swimming (in-ground bone-shaped pools are somewhat common at these facilities), massage, special doggy snacks, even cage-free lodging, where dogs spend their time in free-roaming houses rather than enclosed runs or rooms. The list of options is surprisingly long, and owners can request special services.
Most pet resorts also offer “doggy daycare.” In fact, dog daycare is one of the fastest growing and lucrative areas in the pet care services field. Daycare is available to dog owners who work and wish to have their dogs entertained during the day. It works much like child daycare. The dog owner drops her dog off in the morning and picks it up at night. The facilities do thorough temperament testing to ensure a dog fits into a social situation and is a good fit for daycare. Then, compatibility groups are formed, so the dog sees many of the same canine “friends” on a daily basis. Clearly, this service is most appropriate for those with a flexible budget.
Many dog owners–especially owners of more than one dog–find that hiring in-home pet sitters are the best option for their pocketbooks as well as their animals’ comfort. With this type of service, dogs do not go through the stress that many of them experience at boarding facilities. They remain comfortable in their home environments. Most pet sitters visit a home twice per day to feed and exercise dogs. Most will care for at least a few dogs at a flat rate per visit. Some are willing to care for cats and smaller pets, too (guinea pigs, fish, birds, etc.), and do simple household chores like newspaper and mail pickup. For owners of two dogs or more, the in-home pet sitter usually is the least expensive option. Transportation to and from a boarding facility is one more advantage of using in-house sitters. Most dogs learn to love their temporary guardians.
Find an in-house sitter with plenty of good references. The one drawback of using this type of service is that a stranger will have full access to the home. For very private people this may be a drawback. However, most people who try the in-home sitter become repeat customers.
Please also see our recent article, The New Dog Day Care: At-Home Pet Sitting
So, the next time you have a vacation or business trip, remember there are several pet-care options available. With careful thinking and planning, one of them will be perfect for your lifestyle and budget!
About the Author
Phil Samuelson has been active in cutting-edge animal care for nearly 25 years. He has authored dozens of magazine articles, books and book chapters about animals, and his animal interests have made him a frequent lecturer and traveler. Phil served as the Director of Publications for the Pet Care Services Association, and is a past writing judge for the Dog Writers Association of America (books and periodicals) and a past editor for Dog Fancy and Dog World magazines. Phil and his family actively show their Redbone coonhounds, and a typical weekend will find them at an AKC competition. In 2010, he showed the No. 1 Redbone female in the country (all breed).