(Mother Nature Network) -- I asked a friend to keep my dog, Lulu, while I took a business trip to Florida a few years ago.
"How's she doing?" I asked during a phone call.
"She ran away," he answered through clenched teeth.
"Did she come back?" I asked.
From that point on, I trekked about 50 miles north to a veterinary clinic that offered pet boarding, and a serene Japanese garden where Lulu could romp freely in the backyard. Depending on your pet's health and temperament -- along with your budget -- there are plenty of great options that won't compromise your friendships.
In addition to food and potty breaks, boarding at a veterinary clinic guarantees that your dog is in good hands. Your vet may not have a Japanese garden in the back, but it's still a safe and low-cost option for your pooch. Unless your dog is a regular patient, expect the clinic to request a copy of up-to-date shot records. Upper respiratory infections can be passed from dog to dog, so the clinic also may require a bordetella vaccine. Some will provide food while others ask that you bring your own kibble and bedding for the pet. Administering medication may cost extra.
If your pet is super sociable, so-called doggie daycares provide plenty of stimulation to ensure that your pooch has as much fun on vacation as you do. In addition to wide-open play spaces, treats and nap time, some facilities even feature doggie cams so you can check in via the Internet when you get homesick. (Caution: Doggie cams are addictive.) At night, dogs sleep in a crate or among the crowd. Obviously this option can be a bit more expensive than a traditional boarding facility or a veterinarian, but it allows your pet to run with a pack of friends.
When shopping around for a doggie daycare, it's important to find a place with plenty of humans around to monitor unruly pups. Ask dog-loving friends for referrals or check sites like Citysearch.com. Size also can be a factor, so look for places that prevent mastiffs from romping all over Chihuahuas.
To show that your pet plays well with others, reputable doggie daycares often require a temperament test or trial visit, so plan ahead. Confirmation that your pet is up-to-date on shots, including the bordetella vaccine, should be required as well.
Daisy, my sister's pooch, has a pint-sized panic attack at the vet. As for doggie daycare, forget about it. She can't identify with the canine set, so I serve as the unofficial pet sitter.
If your pet is not suited to the first two options, it may be time to hire a professional sitter. This option definitely makes sense for households with multiple animals, elderly dogs or pets with chronic health conditions. It also works best for dogs like Daisy who have a few "issues." It's typically the priciest option of the three because sitters do more than just walk the dog.
Professional dog sitter Rachel Ezzo of Frogs to Dogs has been watching pets for more than a decade. In addition to feeding and cleaning up after pets, she also will water houseplants and ensure that everything is exactly where you left it. If there is an emergency, reputable professional sitters are trained in CPR as well as the finer points of watching pets with health issues.
"Being in their own environment really tends to help them," said Ezzo, who has watched up to seven dogs at a time, and even has experience with pet chickens.
"I had a cat that was in the last stages of kidney failure and I had to give subcutaneous fluids," she said. "There's something about being able to help a pet and owner in a time of crisis; we do a lot of that."
Finding a reputable pet sitter can take time. Start by collecting references from your vet and fellow pet lovers. Rather than focus on certifications from pet-sitting associations, find a company that is bonded and insured. Don't be afraid to ask for references and an initial visit to make sure you feel comfortable with the person who will be checking on your pet and your home. Experience plays a big role.
"There's an unspoken rule among pet sitters: If walking a dog, you don't take them off leash," Ezzo said. "Even if you have a good relationship, you are not their owner and it's never a risk you want to take. An animal that escapes is always bad news."
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