To Kennel or Have a Sitter? That is the Question…

We travel as much as we can – at least two big trips a year, with a scattering of smaller trips in between.  We also have our own little zoo that I absolutely could not live without.  We currently have four (that’s right, four!) large dogs…well, Smooch isn’t so so large, and three furry cats.

GuntherrificGunther, the old man of the house, is our 16 year old Samoyed.  He can’t always get up off the tile floors by himself because of his arthritis, and wears diapers because of his incontinence problems.  He’s also often confused due to a touch of dementia, is half blind, and can’t really hear that well.  But he’s happy and when he has a moment of clarity, is just delighted to realize where he is and be a part of our family.

May 1562Huck & GuinnessGuinness, our sweetheart and dumb-dumb, is our nearly 13 year old German Short-haired Pointer.  Even though he’s older than dirt for his breed, he’s healthy as can be – oh, except for the liver cancer.  But we keep him comfortable on his pain meds and give him some herbals (so about 16 pills a day) to keep his tumor from growing and he seems to be doing just fine.  Plus he gets to go see Dr. G every few weeks, who he loves.

Huck, our biggest and most timid boy, is our 4 year old Newfoundland Flat-coat Retriever Mix (Flat-coat is like a black Golden Retriever for those who aren’t familiar with the breed).  He is my Once In a Lifetime Dog – he owns my heart and lives and breathes just to be with me.  We think he was pretty much a stray his whole life until he came to us, so he’s a little afraid of people, but in the two years that we’ve had him, he’s made great strides and has become much more social.  To be honest, I don’t care if he likes anyone but me…well okay, maybe my husband too.


Smooch is our baby.  She’s tiny compared to our other dogs, a little 35 pound Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever (a really extraordinary breed – not very common, but well worth looking into if you’re looking for a great family dog that’s easily trainable, good for low energy or high energy families, and so very lovable).  Smooch is about 2 years old and keeps Huck on his toes.  They spend hours outdoors running around together, or just curled up enjoying a good nap.  I think she might be my husband’s Once In a Lifetime Dog – she’s certainly Daddy’s little girl at any rate.


Then we have Francois, our red tabby.  First let me say, that about 95% of orange cats are boys.  That’s why our girl cat has a boy’s name.  But she really seemed to like it and by the time we found out she was a girl, it had stuck.  Francois has Tourette’s Syndrome, or the cat equivalent anyways.  She’s fine most of the time, but sometimes she’s got some ticks and runs around the house with tiny little steps and yells at us a lot.  But she’s a great cat.  There’s a funny story about how we got her.  We became great friends with the incredible people who bought our last house.  And since we had had our cat Toey disappear there, I had never lost hope that she’d show back up, and was always asking if they’d seen her.  So one day they said that they hadn’t seen her, but that we absolutely had to come see this great cat that had shown up.  We already had two cats and weren’t really looking for another, but we were having some problems with mice in our pool shed, so we thought, hey, why not?  We could get a cat to keep outside and put a little cat door into the pool shed.  Problem solved!  We went to see the cat and as we pulled into the driveway, here comes Francois, running up with a dead chipmunk in her mouth!  Sold!  She came right up to us and was purring and loving all over us.  We took her right home.  I think we managed to keep her as an outside only cat for about 3 days.  She’s our princess now and just does whatever she wants – except I won’t let her out after dark!  She’s just too precious!  (It’s ok.  I know I’m insane.)

006 001 (2)PolyGinger

Poly & Ginger.  Our two Manx cats.  They are so sweet and adorable – and skittish.  Poly (short for Polyurethane – it was my husband’s turn to name.  What can say?  I only get one veto and I always have to use it on Fart), has no tail – she has what’s called a Rumpy Riser, which is basically a stump.  While Ginger, her sister, has a full tail.  With Manx cats, their hind legs are taller than their front legs, so they often will have issues with their spine or arthritis later in life.  They’re about 8 now, but so far so good.  They both have the most unusual and beautiful seafoam green eyes I’ve ever seen in a cat – really stunning.  When I went to rescue them, I was just going for Poly, but came home with both.  My husband goes to these things with me since then.  I just can’t be trusted not to adopt the whole litter!

So that’s our amazing and wonderful zoo.  They make me laugh out loud every single day.  They are always, without exception, thrilled to see me whenever I arrive home.  And they give me more love and affection that I deserve.

But what, you ask (as does everyone), do we do with our little herd, when we travel?  And what should you do with your pet or pets while you’re away?  This is a tough question, and one that depends completely on several factors.  There are several options open to you, and several factors to consider when making your decision.

First off, let’s talk about options.  No matter where you live, there are always kennels to be found to board your pets.  This is mostly for dogs, but many will board cats also.  Most veterinarian offices offer boarding services as well.  You could get a pet sitter – someone who would come to your home 2-3 times a day, let your pets out to do their business or walk them, feed them, give them any necessary medications, play with them a bit, and then go home.  And then the option we use, a house sitter – someone who actually stays at the house while we’re away, caring for both the house and all the needs of our animals.

Which one is best?  That really depends on you and the type of pet or pets you have, and the personality of your pet.  For instance, cats are very independent.  When we go upstate to my parents we’ll bring all the dogs, but the cats will stay indoors with extra litter boxes, enough water and food to last the 3 or 4 days, and some cat nip to keep them busy.  They’re super happy to see us when we get back and we make sure we love on them till they’re sick of us, but they really don’t need anyone to see to them.  If we were to leave them longer, we would have someone look in on them, because once their litter is full, they turn into evil little devils that will pee every where, so…there’s that.

But what is your pet like?  My sister’s dog, Joxer, is a Catahoula Cattle Dog.  In case you’re not familiar with the breed, very high energy.  So a pet sitter is not going to work for her.  That dog needs to go to a kennel where there is play time every day with other dogs or people.  Somewhere where the dog can burn off his energy or he will become destructive.  If you have a high energy dog, this might be the best option for you.  That is if it’s not cost prohibitive.  Kennels can be very costly.  So if you have multiple dogs, like we do, the price can be astronomical.  Tack on the extra charges for any medications they might need and it can really become cost prohibitive.  There are all sorts of boarding situations though, so if that’s the option you think is best, don’t give up after just talking to one kennel.  Groomers often have boarding facilities, as well as dog trainers, and don’t forget people you know.  Is someone you know a dog fanatic?  Do they already have a dog or two of their own that they care for and probably wouldn’t mind adding another to their repertoire for a week or two?  I wouldn’t wait until you’re ready to go to bring it up – maybe offer to reciprocate and it may cost you nothing!

How about a pet sitter?  Perhaps you have a low energy dog or cats and just need someone to come a couple of times a day to let them out or walk them, feed them and give them a little lovin’.  For some pets this is all they need – especially for older dogs who are past the destruction phase when they get bored.  This is probably the least expensive route, as you can usually find a neighbor or friend willing to help out.  If not, there are reliable ways to find a decent pet sitter.  One good way would be to ask around – see if anyone else is using anyone they trust.  Another is to go to your local high school guidance counselor’s office and see if they could recommend a good student who is responsible.  I personally, would go with a top performer who is in extra curricular activities, like sports, clubs, etc., because these students tend to take life a little more seriously.   I’d feel like they’d take the job seriously, and the life of my pets seriously too.  That’s just me though.  You can also use a service like AngiesList, which you must subscribe to or, which is free.  This is a great, lower cost option, but remember, you are giving someone access to your home, so it must be someone you trust.

So the last option, the one we use, a house sitter.   I can tell you from experience that it doesn’t always work out perfectly.  We have come home to a disaster of a house.   We have been picked up in our own vehicle by a drunk person.  We have come home to find our dining room furniture in our master bedroom.  Not to mention, having a house sitter can be a bit costly.  But if you have animals that need a lot of attention, or have a lot of animals, it may be less expensive than kenneling. I used to house sit for a friend when I was younger for free.  It was like a mini-vacation for me.  Their place was a lot nicer than mine, they always left great meals for me to eat, and I loved their pets as much as my own, which I was allowed to bring with me (just had 2 dogs then).  So this is who you’re looking for.  Do you know someone like this?  Someone who might consider it a treat to stay in your home?  Someone who will love your animals and treat them well?  Someone you can trust?  My suggestion is to first try family and close friends.  Our sitter is my mother-in-law’s best friend’s step-daughter.  We trust her implicitly, she always takes good care of our babies, and the house is always beautiful when we arrive home.  We try to make it as easy as we can for her to house sit.  We trust her to have her boyfriend stay here with her.  We try to stock the house with food we know she likes.  And if there’s  ever any issue, like having to run a pet to the vet, or having to stay an extra night unexpectedly because our flight is delayed, we try to make sure we compensate her well so that she understates how much we appreciate her going the extra mile.  Word of mouth is important here.  I know she’s gotten quite a few house sitting jobs because we tell everyone we know how great she is.  So ask around.  Someone you know probably knows someone who is willing and able to care for your little ones like you do.

It’s important to make the right decision for both you and your pet.  For us, putting every one in a kennel would not only put us in the poor house, but I think the stress would just be too much for the 2 older boys.  And if they’re stressed, I’d be stressed, and what fun would that be on vacation?  If you find the right situation, you can go to your destination and enjoy your trip knowing your pets are well cared for in a situation that is best for them, leaving you to be relaxed and carefree!



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