Most people would prefer to spend their vacations somewhere other than the doghouse. However, if you are planning to go away and leave your pet in a boarding kennel, you'd better check out the prospective "doghouse" before you go.
"Fido can't tell you how his accomodations were," says Phyllis Wright, director of Animal Sheltering and Control for the Humane Society of the United States and a former boarding kennel owner and operator. "It's up to you to make sure he'll be well taken care of while you're gone."
Choosing the right boarding kennel for your pet can be as important a decision as where you're going to go, not only for your pet's well being, but for your own peace of mind. Wright stresses that pets should be left at bona fide boarding kennels, not at your veterinarian's, while you are away. Your vet, she says, simply does not have the exercise facilities healthy animals require.
Before you confront the several pages of promises The Yellow Pages has to offer, you might try asking friends or your veterinarian to recommend facilities where they have had good experiences. Don't be afraid to shop around.
Once you think you have found a good kennel, call and make an appointment to come out and inspect the facilities. Some kennels limit their visiting hours to time when staff are not occupied with feeding or cleaning, but any reputable facility should be more than willing to have you come visit.
"If they don't want you to come out," says Wright, "either they don't give a darn about your peace of mind or they have something to hide." In either case, she recommends, find another kennel.
When you do arrive for your inspection tour, here are some things you should look for:
The condition of the animals. Pets separated from their owners tend to be stressed, so don't expect them to look ready for the Westminister dog show. On the other hand, animals should not be actively filthy, either, and there should be no evidenced of fleas or ticks. Many kennels require (and charge for) flea and tick dipping upon arrival. Wright asserts this is legitimate "so the animal won't come home with more friends than he left with." l
The staff. How do the animals respond to the staff? Cringing or shying can be an important warning signal. Do staff members talk to the animals? Do they call the animals by their names? Make sure there is a competent staff person on the premises 24 hours a day, and a veterinarian on call.
Care. Is grooming provided? Can medication be administered as needed? Can special dietary requirements be met? Wright warns to beware of what she calls "the brisk business factory," where there may be hundreds of animals who are fed and watered with automated devices and never touched by a human except when they come in and leave. A pet that's used to being loved and petted probably will be miserable in such a mechanical environment.
Security. Are the fences in good repair? Are they made of a sturdy material with some kind of anti-climbing device at the top? Are the gates well-maintained? Is there fencing around the runs in case a gate is left open by accident? Be sure to check the area where the fence meets the ground. Bored animals can dig under or chew on loose fencing and seriously injure themselves.
Sanitation. Your nose will tell you a lot here.It probably won't smell like a perfume counter, but if the odor is actively unpleasant, there is probably something wrong.
Of course there is no way to positively prevent the spread of disease when animals from different areas are housed together in one place, but some things can hinder a rapid spread if something should break out.
Check for dividers between runs. Preventing nose-to-nose contact is one way to inhibit germs. Also make sure there is adequate drainage and that pens and runs are cleaned frequently. Outside runs should be shaded and have cement or concrete floors, to prevent digging as well as for health reasons. Dirt or sand run harbor worm eggs and are difficult or impossible to sanitize properly.
Be aware of the concern of the operators. The contract you sign should be more than simply a business agreement, says Wright. A responsible kennel operator will ask for your regular veterinarian's name and address, your pet's age, current health, and other pertinent information. Many kennels keep a daily written record on each animal, to spot problems as soon as possible.
When you take your pet to the kennel, be sure it is wearing proper identification, with your vacation address as well as your home address. Pets have been known to escape from even the most escape-proof kennels. Wright also advises taking a favorite chew toy along, or an old towel with your scent on it to help the animal adjust to its new surroundings.
The final decision on a vacation home for your pet, according to Wright, is based mostly on an attitude and a gut feeling.
"Don't expect a home atomsphere with carpets and furniture," she says, "but what you can expect is light, fresh air and sunshine." What more could any vacationer ask?