Skip to main content

New sites cater to canine couch surfers

By Katia Hetter, Special to CNN
updated 3:49 PM EDT, Wed April 11, 2012
Two new sites connect dog owners with home stays for their pets.
Two new sites connect dog owners with home stays for their pets.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • DogVacay.com and Rover.com list home stay opportunities for dogs
  • Hosts post profiles of themselves, their living situation and their own pets
  • Costs start at about $15 a night and extras like bathing are available in some cases

(CNN) -- Does your dog object to vacationing in a cage? Can't count on your brother-in-law to commit to dog-sitting for two weeks? Now there are home stay websites for four-legged creatures.

Frustrated with kennels that keep dogs cooped up and charge extra for petting and walks, the founders of DogVacay.com and Rover.com are connecting dog lovers who want to earn extra cash with travelers who want dog-friendly people to care for their pets close to home while they're away.

DogVacay.com founders Karine and Aaron Hirschhorn loved getting away when they first moved in together but hated taking their dogs to the kennel. "Every time we traveled, the dogs hated the kennel and came back with kennel cough," said Karine. And they paid up to $120 a day for the privilege.

When they took their dogs to a local trainer's home instead, the animals came back happy and rested. It was as if the dogs had been on vacation, too. So they decided to host dogs with traveling owners in their home. With Aaron Hirschhorn working at home, he had plenty of time to bike and run with the dogs and keep them company. The couple found an incredible demand for their services, which culminated in the launch of DogVacay.com last month.

Rover.com launched in Seattle in November and went national this week, attracting over 10,000 people signing up to both host dogs and use the services of dog hosts. Dogvacay.com launched in March and already has had 6,000 people apply to be hosts across the country (1700 have been accepted so far).

Similar to a dating site or Airbnb rental site, hosts fill out detailed profiles about their canine experience, including training, medical certification and licensing qualifications; the size and dog-friendliness of their homes and any resident dogs or other animals on site. Some hosts specifically will take puppies that aren't ready for their vaccinations yet and others will not take dogs that don't like children.

Customers also fill out detailed profiles of their dogs, behavior issues and medical or other special needs. Fees start at around $15 per day for smaller apartments with hosts who are dog lovers to much higher fees for dog trainers with large yards where dogs can roam. Extra services, like a departure day bath, can often be had for an extra fee. Owners can even get photos or videos texts or emails sent to their mobile phones.

Rover.com CEO Aaron Easterly, formerly in advertising for Microsoft, would get upset at the thought of Caramel, his 4-pound Pomeranian, getting stressed out before he leaves on a trip.

"Every time I leave town, I'm in a frantic rush as to what to do with her," said Easterly, who now uses Rover.com's services for Caramel. "When I see how she behaves even temporarily in a cage at the vet or groomer, I would not take her to a kennel. When I take her to someone else's house, she's totally excited. The fact I'm leaving? She couldn't care less."

Now he screens the potential hosts listed on Rover.com near where he lives to pick the best option for his wallet and comfort level. The company also has a bill of rights and a 24-hour hotline ("Barkline" in the company's terminology). DogVacay.com offers a 100% guarantee that includes insurance and emergency support.

Both sites try to screen hosts and customers but agree that host and customer alike must vet their counterpart and feel comfortable with the match. Both sites recommend a meet-n-greet so dog owners and humans and dogs can meet and sniff out the temporary digs.

"Generally mass murderers and animal lovers don't overlap," said Karine. "Part of the phone interview process is making sure this person has truly devoted their life to animals. A lot of our hosts have long histories around animal rescue or trainers or work for shelters. They are known in community as animal lovers."

Customers pay through the sites, which company officials said protects the customer in case of a negative experience. Both sites also only allow customers who have paid for a host's services to review that host, while Rover.com also allows testimonials from anyone who wants to recommend the host. Dogvacay.com allows the hosts to review their canine guests as well. Rover.com also holds payment for three days after a home-stay has ended to allow the customer to make any complaints before payment is made.

A pre-stay visit is a good idea, according to veterinarian Kim Hennessy, because you can see if a dog-sitter keeps a clean house or has too many animals. Owners also want to make sure the other dogs are current on their vaccinations.

"You definitely want to take your dog's own food with you because a change in food can cause a lot of gastrointestinal distress," said Hennessy, a Downingtown, Pennsylvania, veterinarian. "Make sure the dog sitter is knowledgeable about pets and has a fenced in yard that looks very safe. The main thing would be safety of the dog, not being able to escape and its exposure to other dogs."

"You'd also want to have a backup vet available. I would actually call the vet and give permission for any major disasters. The vet hospital will (usually) write it down in your chart."

Rover.com, which collects 3-15% of the charge depending on the host's reviews and other factors, recently announced that it has raised $3.4 million from investors. Dogvacay.com, which collects 3-10% of the charge, just announced $1 million in funding and is on a New York City press tour this week to draw more attention to its New York listings.

Would you hire a dog sitter through a site like Rover.com or Dogvacay.com? Let us know your thoughts below.

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT