Home Away From Home

In another article "Boarding-Do you have a plan?" , we discussed the advisability of preparing your beloved canine friend for time away from you.  Your daughter may have just announced that she and her fiancé plan to be married in the Bahamas and naturally want you there to share the day.  You've just learned that you are facing an extended hospital stay.  You may be slated for work-related seminars out of town. There are a myriad of reasons why you may be searching for a viable option of care for Ruff . fortunately, there are several alternatives.
Many people first ask a neighbour or relative to drop by to let their dog out several times a day and to ensure that there is fresh food and water available.  For a very short term solution, this may not be bad.  If the chosen person genuinely loves your pooch and will spend time with her and walk her in your absence, this may not be a bad choice.  Too often, though, a non-dog person doesn't place a very high priority on the care of your pet because "she's just a dog" and, for most of us, this isn't a good choice.
Some people choose to hire a petsitter . a well-qualified petsitter can be a blessing in disguise, particularly for elderly, disabled, fearful or aggressive pets who may not fare well in a boarding kennel or who may simply not even be welcome.  A good pet sitter will offer some pre-visits to ensure that the dog recognizes her in your absence, both for her safety and for the emotional wellbeing of the dog.  To be greeted with a "oh, good, it's you" from Ruff is a good scenario.  The petsitter will walk, feed, groom and love up your dog in your absence.  Again, though, be sure to scrutinize references and watch the interaction between your dog and the petsitter . she may be a perfectly nice person but if your dog doesn't react well to her, Ruff's stress won't be mitigated in your absence . instead, it will be greatly increased.
There is an occasional petsitter who will move right into your home to care for your pet in your absence . an ideal solution for dogs who would not adjust to a boarding kennel.  By far, though, the most popular solution for dogs whose owner needs to be away are boarding kennels.

For normal, healthy, active dogs, boarding kennels provide exercise, safety and professional care for your dog.  For dogs who might eat the couch in your absence, there is a sense of relief to realize that your home will remain intact.  High energy dogs, who have been adequately socialized, bound into their familiar boarding kennel, looking forward to romping with dogs of many shapes and sizes, often much too tired at the end of the day to miss their owners.
Following are a list of areas to research before settling on a boarding kennel:

  1. Are vaccinations a requirement or does the kennel owner make adjustments if you provide a note from your veterinarian stating that titre levels, for instance, show that sufficient immunity is in place.  Some boarding kennels have stringent requirements for annual vaccinations . recent protocols suggest that every three years is all that is required. Although some opt to not over-vaccinate their pets, boarding kennel owners are also in the position of ensuring safety from disease for a large number of dogs at a time.
  2. Does the kennel board intact dogs or do they board only spayed/neutered dogs?  Will the kennel accept a bitch in season?
  3. If your dog does require medication, are the kennel staff trained to administer insulin shots or give oral medications?  Is there an extra fee for this service?  Is there a veterinarian on call or does the kennel prefer to take your dog to your own vet?
  4. How many dogs are boarded at any one time and how many staff are there to care for this number?  Are the staff experienced with dogs?
  5. How will your dog spend her day?  Is there adequate room to run and play?  How often is your dog walked and/or exercised?
  6. Are very large, boisterous dogs exercised separately from our tinier breeds?
  7. How is a misbehaving pooch dealt with?  A time out in the crate may be a discipline measure.  A stern voice may be called for.  Even a tap under the chin, especially for aggression, may be called for.  Harsh punishment, however, of any kind is unacceptable to me.
  8. Does the kennel provide food or does the owner bring the food that their dog is accustomed to?
  9. Are the buildings and enclosures safe?  Look for gaps in the fencing.

These are just a few questions that you might ask of a boarding kennel.  Ask to view the facilities before making a decision . are gates securely fastened so that Ruff won't escape?  Is the kennel generally orderly and clean . there will probably be a doggie odor but there is a vast difference between that and a stench due to faeces which haven't been picked up.  To me, a sterling clean boarding kennel is not a must . I prefer the facility be sanitary but if there's extra time in a day, I'd much prefer that my dog receive some extra hugs or extra playtime than reclining in a kennel while the kennel staff buff and polish.

Probably the most important issue is the knowledge and experience of the boarding kennel staff.  Is the staff dog savvy and do they genuinely enjoy working with canines?  How does Ruff react to them . Does he pull back or start to pant in fear when you pull into the driveway or is he bounding and barking in the back seat because he can't wait to get in there to greet his friends?

Many kennels encourage the owner to bring a blanket that is carrying your scent and the scent of other household members . This comforts Ruff and assures him that you'll be back for him in the very near future.

Noel Hynds
Previously published in Hav News and Views Fall 2009