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Sunday, May 2, 2010

To board or not to board! What questions you should ask a facility.

So the vacation season is among us and many who plan to travel or who are having week long company may choose to board their dog. So how do you choose a good boarding facility? I have to tell you I have always boarded my dogs if they were under a year old. After my dogs turned a year old and were well trained, I felt confident to leave them home and have someone come in to check on them.

I will however, if weather permits, set up automatic watering systems and feeding systems to make it easier on the caretaker coming over. But I am realistic, I own six large dogs and that is very time consuming for anyone and the more I can do for them before I leave, the better I feel.

I also happen to have lucked out with having great neighbors over the years! But I still board one or two dogs while away because of the either their noise factor or to insure they remain safe.

Some people are not comfortable with having strange people from a dog sitting service in the home or they think it will cost an arm and a leg to do so. An alternative is to ask a friend or family member to care for the dog in your home and offer to pay them what you would a boarding facility. Write down the dog’s routine within reason, and ask the person follow it the best that they can. This is certainly less stressful on the dog.
A misnomer with many people is that if they write down their dog’s routine and leave instructions or toys with a boarding facility that the facility is going to abide by them. Beware, they usually don’t! If your dog has a special diet or takes medicine, then that will be carried through and you may be charged extra for it. But if you plan on leaving toys, bones, special treats, etc. don’t count on them being given. As well, some boarding facilities have bones and toys for sale in their lobbies. If you buy one, then buy it to take home with you and give it to the dog when you get home. Don’t assume that because you bought this to leave in the facility with your dog that they will get it. A facility does not want to be responsible for your dog eating a non food item and getting an obstruction of the bowel while in their care. An obstruction may require surgery and who wants to be responsible for that? Also if you don’t take it home with you how can you be sure that once you leave the facility, it goes to your dog and not back on their shelf for the next customer to pick up. Especially if it’s a bone or some type of treat.

Many facilities set up scheduled times for drop off and pick up. I can understand this, as there is payment arrangements, paperwork etc. to be taken care of. But when a facility tells me that I can’t visit the dog at any time of the day then that makes me wonder, “why not?” Again some people board because they have Aunt Lucy coming for a week and she’s allergic to dogs, so does that mean the facility should not allow you to visit the dog during the day? Some will say they don’t want to upset all the other dogs, but I’m not so sure I agree with that. It’s a kennel! Dogs in kennels bark! It would make me leery that maybe the dogs are only being seen by staff in the AM and PM so who’s manning the ship in the afternoon? What are you paying for? Ask!

Also examine the cages. Are they safe? If your dog gets stressed by being boarded he/she may constantly scratch at the wire. Are there sharp objects that he/she could cut themselves on? I once boarded my Newfoundland and when I picked her up rather than paying a low boarding fee I was charged a hefty vet fee because she pawed at cage so much that she cut open her paw which required the kennel to call a vet to come and stitch her up. The cage by the way had its fencing screws pointing into the pen which is what she cut her paw on! Not my fault and I guess I could have pursued it, but the people were honest as to why and how it happened so I decided not to go further with it. She was never brought back to that kennel or any other kennel as it was not the first time she had hurt herself when being boarded so that told me that she stresses out too much and is best left at home.

Selecting a kennel:

Ask for recommendations, by friends, vet offices, groomers , dog clubs, and anyone in the dog world. Don’t just ask your own vet and leave it at that. I once boarded a dog on the recommendation of a vet and later found out from a person who worked at the facility that the AC that is advertised in the  kennel building is indeed there, but not always turned on and it’s hot as hell in the summer. So don’t trust one source.
Ask to see the whole facility, examine the pen your dog may be kept in.

1) Are there screws or other hardware facing the inside that you dog could get hurt on?

2) Is there an inside and outside area that they always have access to?

3) Where is the water dish kept? If it is on the floor how quickly will it be refilled if knocked over? Check the water dishes of the other kennels when there. Are they filled with fresh water? Ask how often fresh water is given.

4) What type of bedding is provided? Is there soft bedding or is your pooch lying on cement?

5) What type of food is provided if you do not provide your own?

6) What constitutes an emergency vet visit and who is their vet on call?

7) Are the shelter employees trained in basic pet first aid? Is there a first aide kit on site?

8) Can you visit the dog and take it for a walk during the day?

9) Check with the Better Business Bureau and see if there are any complaints against them.

In home care:

1) Ask for at least three to five references,

2) Ask if they are trained in pet first aid,

3) Ask what happens if they become ill or incapacitated. Do they have a back up person and who is it?

4) What experience or training have they had with pet sitting?

Be very clear, put everything in writing, and have both parties sign the paper.

If it is someone you know well then the paper signing may not be necessary, but you still want to be sure who will take that persons spot if they are incapacitated.

There are sites on the web that claim they are professional and accredited such as the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters or Pet Sitters International but I would still check them out with the BBB.
Until next time , happy vacationing!


  1. The Human Society of the United States has a list of what to look for on your visit to the boarding kennel:

    "On your visit, ask to see all the places your pet may be taken. Pay particular attention to the following:

    * Does the facility look and smell clean?
    * Is there sufficient ventilation and light?
    * Is a comfortable temperature maintained?
    * Does the staff seem knowledgeable and caring?
    * Are pets required to be current on their vaccinations, including the vaccine for canine kennel cough (Bordetella)? (Such a requirement helps protect your animal and others.)
    * Does each dog have his own adequately sized indoor-outdoor run or an indoor run and a schedule for exercise?
    * Are outdoor runs and exercise areas protected from wind, rain, and snow?
    * Are resting boards and bedding provided to allow dogs to rest off the concrete floor?
    * Are cats housed away from dogs?
    * Is there enough space for cats to move around comfortably?
    * Is there enough space between the litter box and food bowls?
    * How often are pets fed?
    * Can the owner bring a pet's special food?
    * What veterinary services are available?
    * Are other services available such as grooming, training, bathing?
    * How are rates calculated?"

    1. Thanks for your input Sarah, and if you have not read my own kennel saga the link is in this section of replys. My first Cruise turned out well but could have been better had my kennel adheared to my instructions.

  2. Thanks Sarah for that input, very valuable. After my recent boarding debacle in a place I was familiar with it is still imperative that you state and write on their contract your specific needs, go and write this up with the kennel days before you board your dog. Generally they have a contract releasing them from health, aside from stating that if they notice illness they seek vet help, but what if you instructions were not adhered to and because of that your dog got terribly ill?
    read my kennel saga here.