After several high-profile airline-related dog deaths this year, it's no wonder pet parents are having second thoughts about bringing their pooches along for the flight this holiday season. And while the majority of pets fly without incident each year, it's a stressful – not to mention expensive – experience that the Humane Society of the United States warns against.
So what to do with Fido and Fifi over the holidays? It comes down to two choices: Boarding facilities and in-home (yours or someone else's) care.
When it comes to boarding facilities, experts say the biggest mistake pet owners make is assuming they're all suitable for your pet. They're not, said Meagan Karnes, general manager of the Pooch Hotel in Richardson, Texas. The Pooch Hotel is a canine boarding hotel with eight locations nationwide.
"It's important to take a tour of the facility," said Karnes. "If they're hesitant to show you around, that should raise a red flag," she said.
And beware of the 'staged suites,' she said. "You want to see where your dog is actually staying. Anyone can keep one staged suite clean with great bedding all the time, but that might not be where your dog will ultimately be kept."
Karnes said it's also crucial that pet parents start planning far in advance. "Facilities start filling months in advance for the holidays," she said. "I'm getting 15 to 20 calls a day. We have no place to put their pets."
In-home care is another option. Earlier this year, website Dogvacay.com launched, aiming to pair dogs with host homes while owners are away.
Dog owners can create an account on dogvacay.com, providing details about their pet, and then search listings for matching hosts in their area. Owners can email potential hosts to work out the details and get any questions answered. Payment is made in advance to dogvacay.com, which holds the money until after the dog has been dropped off at the host home.
Karnes, who provided in-home pet care herself before running the Pooch Hotel, said in-home care can be a good alternative when boarding facilities aren't available. But she cautions the pet person vet the potential care giver carefully. "Anyone can call themselves a pet facility," she said. "Make sure the person you are working with is reputable, insured and licensed."
Care.com has a list of nine questions pet parents should ask potential caregivers. They recommend starting with an open-ended question like "Why Do You Like Being a Pet Sitter?" in order to evaluate the sitter's level of enthusiasm for animals and for this type of job. They also suggest you bring your pet along to the interview to judge compatibility. "Will you play with my pet?" is another important question to ask.
Other must-ask questions:
What training have You received?
What previous experience have you had?
What services do you provide?
Do you have a contract?
Can you provide references?
Are you bonded and insured?
How many other pets are you currently sitting for?
No matter which pet care option you choose, Karnes said it really comes down to one thing: "Go with your gut," she said. "You've got to feel good about it at the end of the day, or you're not going to be able to enjoy your holiday."