While you’ll likely be spending today — National Pet Day — at home with your precious pooch, summer vacation isn’t too far off. This year, have Fido stay at a McMansion or a penthouse loft while you’re away — for less than you’d normally pay to board him. Or try another of the myriad cushy, but affordable, options for pet care when you head out on vacation.
Three in four families make some kind of arrangement for their dog when they’re traveling for a least two nights, according to the American Pet Product Association. Of those, the most common arrangements are to have a friend, family member or neighbor (35%) come over to care for the dog — or to leave the dog with one of them (32%).
But as any pet owner knows, there’s often a time — especially during the holiday season — when you don’t have anyone who can take care of your pooch. And that’s when many people decide to board their dog: One in five Americans has left their dog in a kennel, boarding house or pet hotel while on vacation, according to the APPA.
But that can get pricey: Susan Briggs, the owner of Houston-based pet care firm Crystal Canine, says that you can expect to pay $20 to $60 a night — and sometimes more than $100 a night — to board Fido, depending on things like the quality of care, extra activities offered (some now even have art projects for your pooch) and whether the dogs get individualized attention or group play with other dogs. For a family who spends two weeks on vacation, that can easily set them back $1,000 or more — and far more if they have multiple dogs.
The good news: There are an increasing number of relatively affordable options, whether you decide to take Fido with you or leave her behind.
There are a number of websites that work similarly to Airbnb, a site that allows people to rent out their home or a room in it, but they cater to dogs instead of people. Kimberly Marie Freeman, who blogs at CityDogExpert.com and has three dogs of her own, recommends DogVacay.com and Rover.com. On DogVacay, you can search through vetted pet sitters (the company screens the pet sitters to make sure they have enough experience) and see their ratings from people who have used them before; plus if you pay through DogVacay.com (rather than making arrangements to pay the host directly) you can get pet insurance for your visit and 24/7 customer support. Rover.com works similarly, as does the newcomer Holidog.com. The rates vary widely, but you can usually get more affordable rates than if you boarded your dog. Just be sure to opt for someone who has high host ratings.
House-swap sites like HomeExchange.com and LoveHomeSwap.com have ballooned in popularity recently, likely because they offer an inexpensive way to vacation, since you don’t have to pay for a hotel or home rental. And they may make your vacation even more affordable if you’re a pet owner, as some now offer an option to not only swap homes, but also have the person you’re swapping with care for your dog. LoveHomeSwap.com, for example, has a filter that lets people search for pet-friendly swappers, and a spokesperson for HomeExchange.com says that swappers often take care of each other’s pets as long as that’s agreed upon beforehand.
Some housesitters will agree to walk and feed the dog at no additional charge. Santa Monica resident Kelly Hayes-Raitt says she uses TrustedHouseSitters.com to find people she can housesit for (she does this for free) and she will gladly take care of their pets while she’s there. She uses the site because it allows her to travel inexpensively. “I live in the pets’ homes in exchange for a free opportunity to explore a new community,” she says. Since 2009, she says she’s lived in more than 14 different homes (some repeatedly) and taken care of the homeowners’ pets. If you’re going to use a site like this, make sure to vet the person thoroughly (do Skype interviews, check their social media, etc.), as it is your personal responsibility to make sure the person is legitimate. If you don’t want to use a site like this, ask others for house-sitting and pet sitting references.
Arlington, Va., resident Giovanna Di Biccari gets her pups taken care of for free or at a very low price by people in her community because she’s a member of a self-formed doggie co-op — a group of dog owners who meet regularly and often help take care of each other’s dogs (the “Woof and Wine” nights, where the dog-lovers drink wine together, are a hit). During the week, she can depend on the members of the dog co-op to walk or feed his dog if she can’t get home in time to do it.
And when she vacations, it’s even more helpful for her and her dog Zola: Recently “I went to Phoenix, and although I had plans for Zola to stay at [a kennel] I knew she would be stubborn,” she says. So she emailed the co-op members and asked for help. “Two of my neighbors took turns having Zola stay at their place (one doesn’t even have a dog yet!) and put her back Sunday evening in my apartment before we got home at midnight,” she says. She offered to pay them, but they refused. “Most people will find that not only will they save money creating a dog co-op in their building, but that it is also a stress reliever, especially for those last-minute times that you need someone ‘right there’ and ‘right now’ to let the dog out,” she says. It’s pretty easy to create a doggie co-op yourself — put up fliers around your neighborhood or simply talk to others about creating one while you’re hanging out at the dog park.
This story was originally published in May 2014.