Sniffing out the best kennels: A Washington Consumers' Checkbook report

By Robert Krughoff
Washington Consumers' Checkbook
Thursday, July 8, 2010; GZ14

You got a great airfare. You booked the perfect place to stay. Vacation's coming and you can feel the stress melting away. Then you look into the eyes of your devoted dog, and the pangs start. You can't trust just anyone to care for the beloved family pet. And you can't afford a five-star doggie spa.

Evaluations of 81 area kennels by Washington Consumers' Checkbook magazine (http://www.checkbook.org) have identified many kennels that will enable you to pack your bags and leave your worries behind. At some of these kennels, top-quality pet care even comes at below-average prices.

Choose carefully. In Checkbook's surveys of thousands of area pet owners (the magazine surveys its own subscribers and those of Consumer Reports), 17 kennels were rated "superior" overall by at least 90 percent of the pet owners who had used them. Kennels rated highly by consumers also generally got high ratings from the local veterinarians Checkbook surveyed. But some kennels got favorable ratings from fewer than half of the pet owners who had used them.

And some of the pet owners' reports would make any animal lover yelp in pain:

"Came home matted with feces and food."

"Came back with more flea bites than I have ever seen on a dog."

"Got a severe urinary infection."

What you will spend for your pet's stay also varies dramatically and sometimes has nothing to do with the quality of care. For a 65-pound golden retriever, the highest price Checkbook found for a seven-day stay was $490. At high-rated Village Veterinary Clinic in Burke, the charge was $154. For a 35-pound springer spaniel, the highest price was $434 for seven days, while the charge was $140 at high-rated Happy Tracks Boarding Kennel in Waldorf.

It's easy to check kennels' prices by phone. But don't just check the price per day. Some places will charge a lot for extras, for example $8 or more per day for 15 minutes of special exercise or $3 or more per day to administer a pill you supply. Also, some kennels may surprise you with check-in/check-out policies, for example charging you for two days for an overnight stay if you drop off your pet before noon or pick up your pet after noon the following day.

Exclusive to Post readers: Ratings of 81 Washington area kennels will be available free through July 22 at www.checkbook.org/washingtonpost.

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