Ruff Decisions: Animal Housing Options While You’re Away
Last updated May 2022
Instead of boarding at kennels, many travelers take their pets along for the ride, leave them with friends or family, or hire professional sitters. Each of these options comes with pros and cons.
Take Them Along
Traveling with your pet has several advantages. You’ll share the experience with them, know they will receive loving care, spare them (and yourself) the stress of separation, and avoid the expense and trouble of a sitter or a kennel.
But taking your pet might not be possible. You might be jetting off for work; your vacation digs may not allow pets; or your means of transportation could make bringing a pet impossible or prohibitively expensive. What’s more, having a pet along may be thoroughly inconvenient. What do you do with Mr. Sprinkles when you go out to dinner, to a museum or a show, much less to a business meeting?
There are risks, too. Pets may be terrified or injured if they are treated roughly by airline baggage handlers. Some have been left for hours in airline handling areas or shipped to the 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 endanger humans by disturbing the driver. Your pet could also become sick, at least mildly, when it changes water supplies. Most important, if you don’t keep your dog 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 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. Having your fur baby stay with a pal means your pet won’t be alone overnight, and you’ll avoid some inconvenience and expense. But this arrangement may burden a friend with the responsibility, and the pet may suffer stress caused by separation from you and its usual environment.
Having a pet sitter come to your home to check on, feed, exercise, clean up after, and spend time with your pet has significant advantages. Your pet stays in familiar surroundings and continues familiar routines. Your pet won’t be exposed to illnesses or parasites from a kennel, and it avoids the stress of staying in an environment with other animals. In addition, the sitter can provide services such as picking up mail, watering plants, and making your house look occupied. Plus, you won’t need to burden a friend or neighbor with the responsibility.
But pet sitters, too, have their disadvantages. Whether the sitter is from a commercial pet-sitting service (see the box on the facing page) or a kid from the neighborhood, you can’t be sure of the skill, knowledge, or diligence they bring to the job. You have to hope the sitter shows up when promised. Unless you arrange for the sitter to stay at your place overnight, your pet will still be alone for long hours. Your pet might 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 from a commercial service—can be high.
One newer option, especially if you live in nice digs or a neighborhood popular with tourists, is using a website like TrustedHousesitters.com, which links sitters with owners looking for live-in Fido or Fluffy care. The idea is that you have access to experienced pet sitters who love to travel. They get to stay in your place for free in exchange for feeding, watering, and walking the dog, cleaning out the litterbox, or whatever—plus they watch your house. You can also apply to stay in a Swiss chalet to care for a couple of chickens. Sitters are rated, much like Airbnb hosts and guests. Joining TrustedHousesitters.com costs $129-$259 per year, depending on membership tier.
Also check out HouseCarers.com, which lets you list your house for free.
You can get leads on local pet-sitting services by checking ratings and comments posted by subscribers in the “Pet Sitters/House Sitters” section. Most of what we hear from pet-sitting customers is positive, but there are enough negatives to warrant caution.
Kennels also have pluses and minuses.
Assuming everything goes right, your pet will be taken care of, never left alone, and you won’t have to worry about last-minute foul-ups. 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 it to the stress of separation from you and its familiar environment. Stress makes pets especially susceptible to disease, and proximity to other animals increases exposure to some 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 consumers, you need to exercise caution when selecting a kennel.