By Liz Genest Smith

As a pet owner, I get a little nervous when planning extended trips.  The reality is that vacations stress and depress pets, but we can’t avoid leaving town forever.  So how do we get around this dilemma without stressing our animals, and ourselves, out? 

Not long ago, I was a professional dog handler/trainer at a doggy daycare and boarding facility.  Through K-9 CPR, dog language and group play certifications, as well as day-to-day interactions, I learned to recognize distress signals and how to cultivate individual calming methods for every animal at daycare.  

Like people, animals are idiosyncratic.  You must consider your pet’s specific needs when making vacation arrangements.  If your animal is elderly, aggressive or prone to anxiety, boarding may not be the best option.  For rescues that have spent considerable time in kennels, overnight boarding facilities often resemble shelters. 

Other reasons to avoid boarding include:

  • Contracting viruses or infections. Kennel cough, dog flu and puppy warts thrive in compact, communal areas like this.  
  • Stressful environment. Unfamiliar people, distressed animals and loud noises are prevalent in boarding facilities.  
  • Dog scuffles. Cramped spaces result in increased aggression and can put your animal at risk.  

For these reasons, you should always check out the facility beforehand, making sure dog handlers are certified and experienced.  

Both cats and highly anxious dogs typically want to stay in the environment they’re most familiar with.  Consider hiring someone to come to your home.  If you can swing a sitter that knows the animal(s) well, even better!  There are lots of companies and individual sitters that offer pet and house sitting for a wide range of species.  Plus, it’s a fraction of boarding and daycare costs.  

Pet owners worry about inconveniencing friends and family with their pet.  Most of the time your loved ones don’t mind helping you out, but if you’re worried, ask if you can bring your animal to their home.  If your pet is already familiar with the environment, they will be comfortable, and your sitter doesn’t have trek all over town.  This will also ensure more one-on-one time for your animal. 

Gradually acclimating your animal to the new environment and sitter ahead of time can seriously reduce anxiety and depression. Knowing your pet is safe, healthy and happy will also make for a guilt-free, fun vacation. 

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