saving money on boarding pets.JPGAlthough I live in Brooklyn, my family is in California. My partner Grace’s family is from Virginia. So between family visits, week-long vacations, and weekend getaways, we can be gone quite a bit. This leaves our cats, Francie and Hammy, up to their own devices, which, in all honestly, probably consist of sleeping, sleeping some more and trying to see how much hair they can get to accumulate on the rug. However our absence affects them, they seem to be a little sad whenever our departure is imminent- sleeping in our suitcases, sleeping this close to our faces, and (okay, maybe I’m projecting) giving us sad, feel-sorry-for-me faces.

I never expected my dad’s rejoinder to all my childhood pet requests to come back to me so strongly; he’d always say I’d never want to go on all my beloved vacations once I got a pet. While this is partly true- I do feel a pang of guilt and regret for leaving- having a pet to come home to is also the perfect antidote to post-vacation blues. Now that vacation season is upon us, here are some tips and considerations for making sure your pets have as nice of a time as you do when you’re gone.

Pet Sitting
1. Develop a network:
If you, like me, are just starting out in your pet ownership, you may not have thought a lot about a pet sitter. This is one of those things in life that is better thought about beforehand, like your choice of heels for fancy dinner. You don’t want to get stuck with one that makes you uncomfortable and also cost you a lot of money. The best way to get around this is to develop a network of people who you know and trust with your pets. It is helpful to make sure they are comfortable with being on your pet sitters short list. Make sure you have a good array of people, in case you are away during a busy holiday season. You don’t want to get stuck with someone who doesn’t work out, just because you failed to plan ahead. Now, good luck with those shoes!

2. Make pet-sitting special: Leave out treats for friends and pets
I’ve only been asked to pet sit twice in my life. Once it was for a neighbor, who left dirty dishes in the sink and made sure to tell me that I’d be responsible if anything broke. Another time, it was for friends, who left instructions on how to use their television and home-made cookies. Guess whose house I stayed at the longest? It’s not hard to make the pet sitting experience great for the pet sitter, but it might be hard to remember to do it- after all, you’re not going to be there. But a few small touches can make all the difference. Leaving out snacks for your sitter, like fresh-baked cookies (even if they’re from a roll) makes your sitter want to hang around. Even if it’s just oreos and milk, along with instructions for your TV, try to make your sitter feel like hanging out with your pets is a fun retreat, instead of a chore. Similarly, you might ease some of your pet’s anxiety about someone new by leaving them some special treat, or a new toy. It might cost you a little more, but it is cheaper than boarding or getting a professional pet sitter.

3. Professionals vs. Friends: Who is providing the best care?
It seems easier to just ask friends to watch cats, or caged animals, for a day or two. If you ask them twice in a month, or for a longer period of time, it might not be so easy for them. Grace and I have friends who are also a couple and also have two cats, so we feel comfortable asking them to pet sit- it’s a great barter system! We feel like they are providing the best care to our cats; they truly love them just as we do, as we love their cats. However, other than this reciprocal relationship, we feel uncomfortable asking any other friends else to pet sit, so when Hope and Jen are out of town, we often turn to professionals. For me, the standard for deciding between friends and professionals is to evaluate who will provide the best care to your animals. If you feel as if your friends will be burdened with the responsibility, and be unwilling to care for your pets as you would, going with a professional might be a good option. Many of them are affiliated with larger companies, or associations, and have been trained and insured. The National Association of Professional Pet Sitters and Pet Sitters International are two of these organizations. You’ll want to interview and find the pet sitter that best relates to your individual situation. And you’ll often find the price is not entirely prohibitive- especially if they are affiliated with something you are too- like a food co-op, or you both frequent the same grocery store.

Pet Boarding
1. Choosing a kennel:
There are as many different types of kennels are there are types of pets. However, whichever kennel you choose should be insured and bonded. It is also a good idea to review this checklist of information about boarding your pet put together by the American Boarding Kennels Association. As always, word of mouth and in-person interviews will help you ensure you picked a reputable and comfortable kennel. Also ask if your veterinarian is affiliated with any kennels- they might be able to get a discount.

2. Are you getting what you paid for?
In addition to your standard boarding kennel, there are also quite a few other, more upscale, versions. Grace’s parents board their two dogs, a feisty Norwich terrier and a loopy Brittany, at a kennel that has treadmills for the dogs. Treadmills! However, they also have quite a bit of personalized attention- so much that Bessie and Truman came back knowing how to jump rope! It is up to your discretion how much you want to spend on boarding your pet, as there are a huge range of costs. Whatever you decide to do, make sure you know what types of services are being provided to your pet.

Tip for leaving all pets
1. Understate your goodbyes:
My instinct upon leaving my cats is to be very demonstrative with my goodbyes. There is a lot of petting, some re-assuring talks, and, I’ll admit it, some attempts at a hug. However, according to most research, pets will pick up on this anxiety from you, and it will increase their level of stress on being left behind. What you (and I) should be doing instead is to treat the boarding/sitting experience as coolly as possible, and make no big show of saying goodbye. While this can be hard on us, it is much easier on our pets in the long run.

2. Leaving your scent behind for comfort:
While pet sitting is ideal for most household pets, as they can remain in a environment most comfortable to them, sometimes it is not an option. When you chose to board your pet, you’ll want to make sure they feel comfortable in an uncomfortable environment. Consider wearing an old t-shirt for a day, and giving it up to go with your pet to the new location. They’ll appreciate feeling like you are nearby.

What are some things you do to make your vacation a good one for your pets as well? Do you have any money saving tips for pet sitting and boarding? Please share your secrets for enjoying (and paying for!) that margarita on the beach when your pets are back at home!