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Kennels (From CHECKBOOK, Fall 2012/Winter 2013)
 
Go to Updated Ratings of 40 Bay Area Kennels

Checklist

Before booking a stay at a kennel, consider other options: taking your pet along, leaving him with a friend, having a friend or neighbor pet-sit, or hiring a commercial pet sitter. Each of these options has important pros and cons to consider. 

If you decide a kennel is the best option, the ratings from other pet owners, shown on our Ratings Tables of area kennels will help you find one that provides top-notch care. (We’re still working on methods to survey pets.) 

Several of the kennels listed on our Ratings Tables received favorable ratings: some were rated “superior” for “overall quality” by at least 90 percent of their surveyed customers. But we also found some other kennels that didn’t exactly wow clients with stellar service: these kennels received “superior” ratings overall from fewer than 60 percent of their surveyed customers. 

There are also big price differences. To board a medium-size dog for one week, for example, prices range from $112 to $392. That’s just for the basic boarding. At some kennels, the extras can add up fast: additional exercise can cost you an extra $12 or more per day; administering a pill might cost $3 or more per day. Also, some kennels have extremely limited drop-off and pickup periods that make it difficult to avoid paying 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. 

Carefully check out any kennel you are considering: 

  • Be wary of any kennel that won’t let you inspect its facilities unannounced during regular operating hours. 
  • Check whether dogs have an indoor and outdoor run—large enough and with protection from the sun, rain, cold, and heat. 
  • Make sure animals are protected from one another and that there is proper fencing to keep your pet in and other animals out. 
  • Make sure the kennel has proper health protections—that it is clean and not excessively smelly, that all admitted pets must have proof of proper vaccinations, and that pets are carefully examined for signs of disease or parasites at check-in. 

Size up staff members. Do they answer your questions? Show affection for the animals? Are they available 24 hours per day? 


Airfare. Hotel. Ground transportation. Meals. Ridiculous baggage-checking fees. Travel costs can add up fast. And paying someone to take care of the family pet is one more expense—and one more worry. 

You have several choices: Take your pet along; ask a friend to foster; hire a pet sitter; or book a stay at a kennel. If you go with the kennel option, which kennel will make sure your pet is well cared for, provide a comfortable place to sleep, give it plenty of room to roam, and bestow the kind of affection your pet gets at home? What will they do if your pet gets sick? And how much will it cost? 

Relax. We’ve found several area kennels that provide safe, happy, and comfortable quarters—some with rates that won’t break your vacation budget. 

To Kennel or Not To Kennel?

Before settling on a kennel, it makes sense to consider the other alternatives. 

Taking Your Pet Along 

The advantages of taking your pet with you are that you’ll share the experiences with the pet, know that the pet will receive loving care, spare your pet (and yourself) the stress of separation, and avoid the expense and inconvenience of arranging for a sitter or a kennel. 

But taking the pet might not be possible. You might be traveling for work, but even vacation lodgings may not allow pets, or your means of transportation may make bringing a pet impossible or prohibitively expensive. What’s more, having a pet along may be thoroughly inconvenient—what do you do with the pet when you go out to dinner, to a museum, or to a ballgame, much less to a business meeting? 

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

Problems also can occur if you take your pet with you in your car. If your pet is not accustomed to car travel, it may become anxious and endanger humans by disturbing the driver. Your pet could also become mildly sick as a result of changing water supplies. More important, if you don’t keep a pet on a leash at all times, it may wander off, become disoriented, and be lost for good. 

Finally, you can’t leave your pet alone in a car, even for a brief time, without exposing it to a serious risk of heatstroke. If you want to take a dog along, check out the list of hotels and motels that accommodate dogs in the book Traveling with Your Pet, available from the American Automobile Association for $18.95 ($9.99 for the digital version). We discuss this option more fully here.

Friends and Pet Sitters 

Another option is to leave your pet with a friend, neighbor, or pet sitter. The advantages of having your pet stay with a friend or neighbor are that you know the individuals who will be caring for it, your pet won’t be alone overnight, and you may save some inconvenience and money. But you can’t be sure how skillfully and carefully a friend or neighbor will care for your pet: A pet may get lost or injured trying to return to your home; the pet suffers the stress of separation from you and from its usual environment; your pet may become anxious and harm the friend’s belongings, pets, or family members; and you put a burden on your friend. 

Having a pet sitter come to your home to check, feed, exercise, clean up after, and relate to your pet has some significant advantages. Your pet stays in familiar surroundings, eats its usual food, and continues familiar routines (although the timing is likely to be different from when you’re home). Your pet won’t be exposed to illnesses or parasites it could pick up in a kennel. Your pet avoids the stress of staying in an environment with other animals. In addition, the sitter can provide services such as picking up newspapers and mail, watering plants, and making your house look occupied. And you avoid burdening friends or neighbors. 

On the other hand, pet sitters come with some important disadvantages. Whether the sitter is from a commercial pet-sitting service or a neighborhood youngster, you can’t be sure of the skill, knowledge, or diligence he or she brings to the job. You have to hope the sitter shows up when promised, even if weather or personal problems make this difficult. Unless you arrange for the sitter to stay at your home overnight, your pet will still be alone for long hours. Your pet might still slip away to look for you or damage your home in reaction to being abandoned. If you use a commercial pet-sitting service, you give a stranger access to your home. And the cost of care—especially if rendered by a commercial service—can be quite high. 

You can get leads on local pet-sitting services by checking ratings and comments posted by subscribers in our pet sitters. Most of what we hear from pet-sitting customers is positive, but there are enough negatives to warrant a measure of caution. 

Kennels 

Like the other options, using a kennel has pluses and minuses. 

Assuming everything goes right, your pet will be taken care of, and you won’t have to worry about last-minute foul-ups. You can be sure that your pet will not be left alone. 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, if it’s far from your home, inconvenient. Also, a stay in a kennel—if your pet isn’t used to it—exposes the pet to the stress of separation from you and from its familiar environment. Stress makes a pet especially susceptible to disease, and the proximity to other animals increases its exposure to some kinds of health problems. 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 we receive from subscribers, you need to exercise caution when selecting a kennel— 

  • “My dog died there, they did not answer questions, they did not have a vet see him, and they kept changing the story. I think they are horrible.” 
  • “After a two-day stay our dog, who has an iron constitution, came home ill. He wouldn’t eat for two days, vomiting every five to six hours... The staff seemed unfriendly and uninterested.” 
  • “They failed on the most important feature: taking good care of the pet. Our dog was returned to us flea-infested and with bleeding wounds on the backs of both hind legs from concrete abrasions. They failed to give him some of his medications on time. I will never use this facility again.” 
  • “Last time we were there, they had our dog for 10 days and didn’t call us to say he didn’t eat for seven days or drink for four days... The dog has never recovered from this. He was traumatized and still is.” 
  • “Dog smelled horrible when we picked her up; staff seemed inexperienced; dog peed in house several times over next few weeks after boarding experience, making us wonder what happened at kennel, as this is a well-behaved, middle-aged dog who never had a problem like this before...” 
  • “Will never go there again. Dog lost weight. He was in a damp kennel with little more than a rag for a bed.” 
  • “Our lab came back from this kennel with his tail between his legs, and went and hid for two days in the bushes. He was shaking and shivering, wouldn’t eat or come into the house. When we called with our concerns they said that nothing had happened. We later learned from our vet that they have a ‘no bark’ policy and will punish dogs that bark with cold jets of water or other ‘avoidance therapy.’ We’ve never gone back, and our lab is back to his normal friendly self.” 

What follows is an effort to help you find a top-quality kennel at a reasonable cost. 

Finding a Kennel That Cares

Checking What Their Customers Say

To help you choose a kennel that makes you and your pet happy, we gathered information on Bay Area kennels. 

Our Ratings Tables show the results from our surveys of area consumers (primarily CHECKBOOK and Consumer Reports subscribers) on kennels they have used. The survey asked consumers to rate their kennels on various aspects of service, including— 

  • Returning dog in good condition 
  • Cleanliness 
  • Spaciousness 
  • Affection toward dog 
  • Pickup/drop-off arrangements 
  • Overall quality 

Our Ratings Tables report the percent of each kennel’s surveyed customers who rated it “superior” (as opposed to “adequate” or “inferior”) on each question. Though the surveys asked consumers to rate kennels for their care of dogs, owners of cats and other pets may also find the data useful. 

Although pet owners can never be sure they know what a kennel is really like when outsiders are not around, many pet owners inspect the kennels they use (everyone should), and most are aware of the condition of their dogs before and after boarding. (Click here for further discussion of our customer survey and other research methods.) 

As you can see, there is substantial variation in the customer survey ratings. For example, scores for “returning dog in good condition” ranged from 30 percent to more than 90 percent. 

Checking Complaint Records

For kennels evaluated in our last full, published report, our Ratings Tables also show complaints we gathered from local Better Business Bureaus (BBB) for a recent three-year period. 

Although this article focuses on kennels, we were unable to select only those complaints at the BBB that relate to the companies’ boarding services (as opposed to complaints about veterinary services or other lines of business). The complaint counts we report include all complaints filed against the companies. 

You can check current BBB complaint information on any company by visiting www.bbb.org. For any company evaluated in our last full, published report, subscribers can check current customer survey ratings by clicking on the company’s name and, in the details under the listing, clicking a link to the BBB’s most recent report on complaints about the company. 

When using the complaint information, keep in mind that complaints are not always justified; sometimes customers are unreasonable. Remember that we didn’t have a measure of business volume; large companies are more likely to incur complaints simply because they serve more customers. Also be aware that some companies may be at greater risk of incurring complaints than others because of the specific types of business they do. 

Checking Facilities and Policies 

In addition to the customer reports shown on our Ratings Tables, you can check various other elements that bear on a kennel’s quality. Make sure to personally inspect any facility you are considering for your pet and ask questions. Most of the following points relate to finding a kennel for a dog, but some apply to other pets. For kennels listed on our Ratings Tables, we have checked some of these points for you; you’ll have to verify others on your own, and for still others, you’ll have to take the kennel’s word. 

Openness 

  • Can visitors inspect the kennel at any time during business hours? You’ll obviously learn more about what a kennel is really like if you can inspect it unannounced, rather than after staff have had a chance to prepare. It’s also reassuring to know that a kennel is always prepared for other visitors who may drop by while your pet is staying there. Some kennels insist that letting strangers walk through the entire facility needlessly agitates the dogs, but we believe that’s a price worth paying for the benefits of openness. A second-best solution is for the kennel to allow visitors to view boarding areas from behind glass. Whatever the visitors’ policy, you can learn a lot by arriving a little earlier than expected to pick up your pet (but don’t show up outside normal checkout hours or come early for a pet you’ve had groomed). 
  • Are kennel staff willing and able to answer all of your questions about kennel policies or your pet’s stay? 
  • Are there webcams? Some kennels now have webcams that allow owners to watch over their pets. 

Facilities 

  • Will your dog have its own run? The most common kennel design gives each dog an indoor stall or pen connected directly to its own outdoor run (at some kennels the entire run is indoors). An alternative is free-standing dog houses, each in its own run. Either arrangement virtually ensures that your dog gets a chance to exercise with little or no effort on the part of kennel staff. 

Another arrangement keeps the animals in cages from which kennel staff leads them to a common run. Although several 15-minute exercise periods per day are probably enough for the health of most dogs, this arrangement is less desirable than the others because you can’t be sure the staff will actually give your dog its scheduled exercise or will clean the exercise area after each dog’s use to prevent the spread of disease. You’re safest to avoid kennels that don’t have cages with their own runs. Kennels without separate runs for each animal—mostly hospitals and clinics—usually rate considerably lower than facilities with separate runs on the survey question about “returning dog in good condition.” 

  • Are the runs and stalls large enough? Runs should be long enough for a dog to break into a short gallop and wide enough for the dog to wag its tail without hitting the sides. Four feet by 10 feet is probably adequate for a medium-size dog, but a large dog may need a longer run. Stalls should be large enough for a dog to move around comfortably. Cats, which exercise isometrically (by stretching), don’t need runs. A two-by-three-by-three-foot cage is sufficient, although a bigger space is preferable. 
  • Does each dog have a dry, comfortable bedding area? With a resting board in a run, dogs don’t have to lie on concrete when it’s wet or hot (in unshaded runs). A sleeping box with bedding will enhance a dog’s comfort and help it keep warm. 
  • Does every cat cage have a perch for the cat to sit on? While cats are generally easier to accommodate than dogs, this feature is a must. 
  • Does the kennel provide a play area for cats? This feature is a plus for active cats that would enjoy additional space. 
  • Do dog runs provide sun, shade, and protection from rain? Sunlight is a natural disinfectant that seems to improve some dogs’ health and temperament. But on hot or rainy days, shelter is essential. Some kennels have removable covers for their runs; others are constructed so that part of each run is sheltered. 
  • Is there a solid barrier between each cage? Concrete or other solid barriers 18 inches or so high between the stalls give dogs a little privacy and prevent them from urinating into each others’ cages. 
  • Does the kennel maintain appropriate temperatures? A good heating and cooling system is important for your pet’s comfort. In particular, short-nosed dogs must be kept cool so they don’t suffer heatstroke, and short-haired dogs must be kept warm. 
  • Does the kennel have a good ventilation system? Canine cough and other illnesses are spread by airborne viruses. A kennel’s ventilation system should provide an air exchange every five minutes or so (although this may not be practical in very hot or cold weather). Ventilation is especially important for cats, which are susceptible to some serious respiratory diseases. 
  • Will your cat be separated from dogs? Dog kennels can be extremely noisy, and may traumatize a cat unaccustomed to the constant barking. 
  • Is the kennel adequately lighted? Your pet should get artificial or natural light for at least 10 to 12 hours per day. 
  • Is the kennel’s fencing adequate? The fencing around individual runs and around the entire kennel area should be solid enough and high enough to prevent dogs from escaping and getting into each other’s runs, and to prevent strays from intruding. Chain-link fences with two-inch or smaller squares are ideal. If runs are not covered, or if a section at the top of each fence is not slanted in, some dogs will be able to jump or climb over them. The bottom of the fence should extend to within about two inches of the ground. Unless the ground under the fence is concrete or another impenetrable substance, some dogs will try to escape by burrowing. If kennel staff is alert to the escape artists, all enclosures do not have to be equally secure. 
  • Does the kennel have a central-reporting fire alarm system? Are working smoke detectors installed throughout the facility? 

Health Screening and Prevention 

  • Does the kennel require proof of vaccinations? Animals are much more likely to get sick in kennels than at home. First, they are exposed to illnesses carried by other animals in the kennel (in this respect, boarding a dog in a kennel is similar to putting a child in daycare). Second, the stress they experience while in a kennel makes them unusually susceptible to illness. A kennel that requires appropriate vaccinations forces you to take the proper steps to protect your pet and reduces the chances that other kennel residents are diseased. Dogs should have the following vaccinations: DHLPP (canine distemper, hepatitis, leptospirosis, parainfluenza, and parvovirus), rabies, and bordetella (canine cough). Cats should have FVRCP (feline distemper and upper respiratory diseases) and rabies vaccinations. Your veterinarian may wish to vaccinate for other transmissible diseases (e.g., feline leukemia), so consult the vet prior to boarding. 
  • Are animals carefully examined at check-in? Kennel staff should examine each animal’s eyes, ears, mouth, genitals, anal area, skin, and coat to detect any disease or parasites. If an animal has fleas, most kennels will treat it at your expense. 
  • Does the kennel have an isolation room? Although a kennel should refer serious medical problems to a veterinary hospital, it should have an isolation room for sick animals. The isolation room should be completely separate from the area where the other animals are housed, and have solid walls and doors and a separate ventilation system. 
  • Is the kennel clean? Cleanliness is critical to your pet’s health. Carefully inspect the kennel’s floors, walls, and fences. Also be sure that water and disinfectant have not formed puddles. Take a good look each time you drop off or pick up your pet. 
  • How does the kennel smell? Kennels should not be foul-smelling. A mild smell of disinfectant is fine, but a strong disinfectant smell might be masking other odors. 
  • Is bedding washed daily, or whenever it becomes soiled? 
  • Is the facility in good repair? Jagged pieces of fence and other flaws may be dangerous. 

Care and Comfort 

  • What food options are available? Find out what kind of food the kennel serves. If you are unfamiliar with the brand, ask your vet about it. If your pet is a picky eater, ask whether the kennel offers a choice of different brands and types; some do. Or find out whether the kennel will use pet food that you provide; most will, but some charge for this service. 
  • How flexible is the kennel about its feeding schedule? Most kennels feed dogs only once a day, but some older dogs should be fed twice a day. If your dog is on a twice-a-day schedule, find out whether the kennel will accommodate it. 
  • Is clean water always available to each animal? 
  • Is some form of bedding provided to each dog? 
  • Can you bring your pet’s toys and bedding? Most kennels will allow this, but it does pose sanitation problems and requires extra effort on the kennel’s part. And because most kennels won’t guarantee that you’ll get back what you bring, don’t bring more than necessary. 
  • Will the kennel give your dog extra individualized exercise by special arrangement? Most offer this service, sometimes for an extra fee. If your dog has a separate indoor/outdoor run, it will probably get plenty of exercise without a special arrangement. But individualized exercise provides beneficial human contact. 
  • If the facility’s runs don’t have outdoor access, when are dogs let out to relieve themselves? Some kennels let dogs out first thing in the morning, a few times during the day, and then one last time before closing, which might be as early as 6 p.m. This means dogs can’t go outdoors for 12 hours or longer. If your dog requires more frequent outdoor access, particularly during evenings, ask if arrangements can be made—and at what times extra breaks can be scheduled. 
  • Will the kennel administer shots and pills? All of the kennels we surveyed will administer pills, though some charge extra for it. Many will administer shots. It is essential to continue many types of medications (such as heartworm preventatives) during boarding. 

Staffing 

  • Does the staff show affection for the animals? Most individuals who work in kennels do so at least in part because they like animals. Be sure that’s the case at your kennel. 
  • Is the staff experienced and well-informed? Check how long the kennel has been in business under the same management. Note how staff responds to questions. 
  • What are the arrangements for veterinary care, if necessary? If you have a regular veterinarian, check whether the kennel will use him or her. Expect to pay for transportation and vet fees. 
  • Is a staff member on the premises 24 hours a day? If not, how does the kennel ensure the welfare and comfort of pets throughout the night? 

Miscellaneous 

  • Do the animals appear to be happy? 
  • Are grooming and other services available? 
  • Will you be able to check in on your pet while away? Many kennels now have webcams that let customers monitor their pets. 
  • Is the kennel a veterinary hospital (or clinic)? On average, non-hospitals rated higher than hospitals on almost every question. Several veterinarians have pointed out that healthy pets that board at animal hospitals or clinics are more prone to return home with a disease picked up from hospitalized pets. One vet asked, “Would you go to a hospital for a vacation?” 

Finding the Best Run for Your Money 

Although your first considerations are the health and comfort of your pet, you also need to consider price. The price differences among kennels are substantial. For example, we found that boarding a 35-pound Springer Spaniel for a week would cost $112 at Farrington Kennels in Martinez or Robalee Kennel in Mountain View and $392 at Citizen Canine in Oakland. 

There appears to be no correlation between quality and price. Several of the lower priced kennels provide top-quality service. 

Our Ratings Tables provide provides information for determining the least expensive kennel for your dog or cat. The tables show per-day prices for four different sizes of dogs, a pair of medium-size dogs boarded in the same run, and a cat. Some kennels charge more per day as dogs get larger. But at other kennels size matters less. Cats are generally less expensive than even the smallest dogs. Some kennels offer discounts of a dollar or so per day per dog if two of your dogs share the same run. 

In the details under each kennel’s listing (click on company names} we also show prices for various services, such as special exercise or administering medicine. These special services are free at many kennels, although some charge $12 or more per day for 15 minutes of special exercise. 

Also ask about another factor that can significantly affect cost: check-in and check-out times. A number of kennels charge for only one day if you check in your pet in the morning of the first day and check out the afternoon of the second day. Others charge for two days if you check in before noon or check out after noon, even for an overnight stay. Ask the following questions when calling kennels: 

If I leave my pet for an overnight stay, what is the earliest I can check in without paying for two days? What is the latest I can check out without paying for two days? 

Determine exactly when the kennel is open for drop-off and pickup. A common complaint is that facilities don’t have convenient hours for drop-off or pick-up, particularly on weekends. If the kennel is closed on Sundays, for example, you’d have to pay for a Sunday-night stay even though you are back in town—and ready to pick up your pet—on Sunday morning. Or it might charge a special fee for the kennel staff to meet you at the kennel for a pickup outside regular hours. So, ask: 

What are your normal hours for checking in and checking out pets, without additional pick-up/drop-off fees? What arrangements, if any, can be made for drop-off or pick-up outside those hours—and how much does it cost? 

Preparing for the Stay 

For your pet’s kennel stay to go well, it’s not enough to select a kennel carefully; you also have to prepare your pet properly and care for it properly after its stay. 

The first step in preparation is to, from an early age, teach your pet to get along with other people. One way to do this with dogs is obedience training. Second, make sure your pet has had all appropriate vaccinations. Since production of antibodies takes time, have your pet vaccinated at least two weeks prior to boarding. (Our ratings of area veterinarians are here.) Third, check your pet for ticks and other parasites. Fourth, do not feed your dog for three or four hours before going to the kennel; this will minimize the risk of indigestion. 

At check-in, tell the kennel how to reach you or someone else who can make decisions about your pet. Provide the name and phone number of your vet. If your pet is taking any medications, provide an adequate supply along with written instructions. If your pet needs a certain kind of food or other special treatment, leave written instructions and any needed supplies (and be prepared to pay extra for such special services). 

Discuss any unusual health conditions or personality traits (such as climbing fences or biting), and mention any special fears (for example, thunder, rain, sirens). Finally, don’t exhibit a lot of emotion; your pet will sense it and get even more upset than otherwise. If possible, leave while your pet is still in the reception area, so that it will know that you are gone when it is taken to its quarters. 

After you pick up your pet, don’t feed it for several hours. If your dog is thirsty, give it some crushed ice. In the excitement of seeing you, a dog is likely to overeat or over-drink, with resulting digestion problems. 

Vets’ Favorites

As another way to learn about the kennels, we surveyed area veterinarians and asked them to name the two boarding kennels they consider “most desirable” for boarding a dog and the two they consider “least desirable.” 

Below, we have listed the kennels from our Ratings Tables that received the highest number of positive mentions from our survey of vets while receiving no “least desirable” votes. 

Citizen Canine, Oakland (4 mentions)
Happiness Country Kennels, Sunol (3 mentions)
Pet Camp, San Francisco (5 mentions)
Planet Pooch Doggie Daycare, Redwood City (3 mentions)
Tappen Hill, Sebastopol (3 mentions)

What About Pet-Sitting Services? 

If you are considering a pet-sitting service, there are several points to keep in mind. 

Pet-sitting services are usually more expensive than stays for a single pet at a kennel—pet sitters generally charge between $60 and $85 per day for one pet. (See the table below for charges quoted by a sample of area pet-sitting services to CHECKBOOK shoppers.) Most services offer discounts for additional pets, and some charge by the visit, regardless of the number of pets they care for. So if you have more than one pet, a pet-sitting service might cost less than a kennel. 

Illustrative Costs for Pet Sitters

Illustrative Costs for Pet SittersRegular daily rate for:
One dog, three visitsTwo dogs, three visits
Angel Pet Care
San Pablo 510-367-6464
$75$75
Animal Nanny
Fremont 510-574-0835
$75$75
Candy’s Pampered Pets
Hayward 510-581-8781
$84$90
Dog Gone Pet Sitting & Home
Sunnyvale 408-734-9000
$87$87
Home Alone Pet & Plant Care
San Jose 408-287-5841
$57$63
Pampered Pet
San Carlos 650-592-6719
$81$81
Pet Petters
Foster City 650-377-0310
$70$85
Pets
Saratoga 408-370-7387
$70$70
Ruff Ruff Pet Care & Training
Albany 510-932-3294
$75$108
Safe Hands Pet Care
El Cerrito 510-528-7870
$75$77
Sittin Pretty Pet & Home Care
Mountain View 650-903-0142
$69$79

Unfortunately, because you can’t inspect a pet-sitting service as you can a kennel, you have to depend on what the company says it will do. (However, you may be able to observe a dog-walking service in action in the same area where you walk yours.) 

You can find pet-sitting services by asking other pet owners or veterinarians. Also consider services that have received favorable recommendations and comments from CHECKBOOK subscribers in our Pet Sitters section. Here is our advice for choosing a service— 

  • Ask to see current documentation that the service is bonded and carries liability insurance. 
  • Check references. Ask for references in your neighborhood—it can prevent the company from choosing only its most satisfied customers. Also, your neighbors might be more conscientious than other customers about giving a thorough reference. 
  • Meet with the specific individual who will be caring for your pet. Invite this person to your home to see how he or she gets along with your pet. Note whether the sitter asks detailed questions about your pet’s habits and needs. 
  • Ask how much time the sitter will spend on each visit, and what the sitter will do with your pet. 
  • Ask about the sitter’s training and experience, and how long the sitter has been working with the pet-sitting service. 
  • Find out what happens if the sitter becomes ill or can’t come to your home because of an emergency. 
  • Ask if the sitter will take your pet to your veterinarian if the pet becomes sick. 
  • Find out what special services the sitter offers. Most will administer shots and medications, provide light grooming, rotate lights and curtains to make your home look lived-in, care for houseplants, and bring in and forward mail. Some will call you at regular times to report on your pet, water outdoor plants, and stay in your home overnight. Most offer a “key hold” arrangement in which they keep a copy of your house key so that they can go to your home if you unexpectedly have to work late or need them for some other reason. 
  • Check prices and exactly what is covered at each price level. 

Once you have chosen a service, you need to work with it to ensure your pet gets the best possible care. 

  • Make arrangements as early as possible, especially for holiday periods. 
  • Give the pet sitter both written and oral descriptions of your pet’s routines and habits—when, where, and how the pet eats, sleeps, walks, and plays. Describe any health problems and medication routines. Be sure the pet sitter knows where to find food, medications, and toys. If the pet might hide, tell the pet sitter where to look. 
  • Give the sitter a phone number where you can be reached while away. 
  • Buy plenty of food, litter, medicines, and other supplies—enough to last if you are unexpectedly delayed. 
  • Be sure the pet has identification tags, and that the sitter knows where to find verification of vaccinations. 
  • If your dog is not used to walking on a leash, practice with it. Your sitter should use a leash. 
  • Give the sitter the name and phone number of a veterinarian and a neighbor. 
  • Let your neighbors know that a sitter will be coming to your home, lest they suspect foul play. 
  • Call the sitter the day before you leave to make sure he or she is coming. Call after you have been away for a few days to answer any questions. 

Tips for Roving with Rover 

Before taking your pet along on a trip, consider the following advice, drawn from several publications, including the American Automobile Association Traveling with Your Pet

Any Travel 

  • Be conscious of your pet’s capabilities and prepare your pet for the trip. Don’t plan a camping trip with arduous hikes if your pet leads a sedentary lifestyle. 
  • Before your trip, take your pet to the vet for a check-up, and make sure all vaccinations are current. Most states require proof of vaccinations for rabies. 
  • Obtain a health certificate from your vet no earlier than 10 days before departure. 
  • Make sure your pet has a collar ID with its name, your name, home address, and phone number. 
  • If you will be using a crate, make sure it is large enough for your pet to stand, sit, and change positions. 
  • Bring familiar toys or bedding to make your pet more comfortable in an unfamiliar environment. Maintain your dog’s regular feeding and exercise schedules, and stop often to let your dog stretch and urinate. 
  • Sedatives and tranquilizers may be harmful to your pet. Drug your pet only if your veterinarian recommends it. 
  • Don’t forget food and water bowls, a brush or a comb, towels to wipe muddy paws, and plastic bags. 

Air Travel 

Although many air passengers travel with their pets without incident, risks do exist. 

  • Pets can experience breathing difficulties at high altitudes. 
  • Pets may suffer from exposure to temperature extremes. Tarmac and cargo holds where pets wait—first to be loaded onto the plane and then for the plane to taxi to the runway, take off, or unload—are subject to extreme temperatures. Heat emanating from a cement surface, coupled with the heat from plane engines, can quickly cause heat exhaustion and dehydration. Even after the sun goes down, cargo holds can retain and emit heat. Delay can be a problem: The temperature in the cargo hold can become too hot (or too cold—depending on the season) when a plane waits at the gate or on the runway for extended periods. 
  • Airline staffs make mistakes. Pets have been forgotten and left on the tarmac in extreme temperatures. Pets have been sent to the wrong destination, requiring long and harrowing trips to correct the error. 
  • Pets can suffer from nervous disorders and trauma. Noise(s) in the cargo hold can be frightening to pets. Also, air turbulence can traumatize pets, and pets can suffer from air-sickness. 
  • Not all destinations will welcome your pet. Hawaii and many foreign destinations have quarantine laws that require pets to be sequestered before joining you. Some forbid the entry of pets altogether. 

If your pet must fly, follow these steps to ensure your pet’s safety: 

  • Call the airline or visit its website to determine the policies, procedures, and restrictions for flying with a pet. 
  • Try to book a nonstop flight. 
  • Check if your pet can fly with you in the passenger cabin as carry-on luggage. Most airlines now allow this for a limited number of pets per plane in carriers small enough to fit underneath passenger seats. You’ll need to make a reservation. 
  • Call the airline the day before your trip to reconfirm your pet’s reservation. 
  • Check whether the airline requires a health certificate for your pet—most now require them for pets checked as baggage, but not for pets carried on. If necessary, get your veterinarian to supply a certificate. 
  • If you must fly during the warm season (or to warm climates), try to fly early in the morning or late at night; if you fly during winter, try to fly during the day. 
  • Make sure the crate for your pet is USDA-approved for shipping animals. The crate should be large enough so your pet can stand up, turn around, and lie down. Be sure its latches are in working order. Also make sure the crate is securely closed, but don’t lock the crate—in case your pet must be removed in an emergency. 
  • Line the crate with absorbent material. 
  • Write “LIVE ANIMAL” in large letters on the top of the crate and on at least one side. Draw arrows to indicate prominently the upright position of the crate. 
  • Make sure all the airline tags on your pet’s crate have your correct destination airport. 
  • If checking your pet as baggage, secure an empty food and water dish to the inside of the crate. For trips longer than 12 hours, attach a plastic bag containing dry food and feeding instructions. These items (which should be attached to the crate) must be accessible to airline personnel. 

Automobile Travel 

  • Never leave a pet alone in a car. 
  • Think about whether your pet’s age and temperament are appropriate for the trip. Young dogs or cats who may not have sufficient training can become burdens throughout the trip. Older dogs may not be physically fit for the rigors of a long trip. 
  • For safety, it is important that a dog responds to such voice commands as “sit,” “stay,” and “down.” 
  • A crate-trained pet is more likely to feel safe in an unfamiliar environment, and hotel/motel staff may be more inclined to allow your pet if you tell them the pet is crated. 
  • When you call for a reservation in a hotel, motel, or bed and breakfast, determine whether pets are allowed. If so, ask about the facilities’ rules and whether you will be charged any additional fees. 

Where to Complain

Better Business Bureaus

Santa Clara and Santa Cruz Counties
1112 S. Bascom Avenue
San Jose, CA 95128
408-278-7400
http://sanjose.bbb.org

All Other Bay Area Counties
1000 Broadway, #625
Oakland, CA 94607
510-844-2000
www.goldengate.bbb.org



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