HOME AWAY FROM HOME
By Gillian Ridgeway, AHT.
It can be one of the most stressful events you will ever encounter as a dog owner: leaving your dog behind!
We are not immune to the feelings we encounter when we are faced with the inevitable task of choosing the perfect place for Sparky to spend his vacation. While many people opt to have their dog accompany them on their excursions, there will still be a great majority who will have to face the facts and begin the hunt for the perfect boarding facility. As a trainer who works closely with family pets, I am often asked for referrals to boarding facilities that are clean, reputable, and kind. Dog trainers tend to deal with both the dog and the owner, while boarding facilities must concentrate on dealing mainly with the dog. For this reason, I researched the subject from both sides.
What does it take to establish a top notch boarding facility and what goes on behind the scenes?
To find a facility that best suits you and your dog, you'll need to do some legwork ahead of time. It's best to get this done before vacation time hits as many boarding facilities are booked well in advance, especially during prime seasons. Take note of how you are treated starting with your initial contact. While many boarding facilities have websites, you will eventually want to touch base with someone in person. You should be served in an efficient manner with your phone call returned within one or two business days. This often shows that the staff is dedicated to their work and feel that your phone call is important.
Did you feel rushed? You should feel comfortable in addressing your concerns and requests. Remember that this facility is used to dealing with owners who may feel stressed by the situation, and have special requests such as bringing along their dog's favourite toy or blanket. Knowing that your requests are taken seriously, and will be followed through, will help you establish a rapport with the staff. You may be checking out boarding arrangements for an upcoming vacation, but the facility staff should be looking at you as a long-term client, one who will be booking more visits in the future. They should want to get to know you and your dog on a personal level.
How and when will your dog be dropped off and picked up again? Are there specific times involved and is there any flexibility to accommodate your own schedule? If you are returning on a Saturday night, you may not want to wait until Monday morning to retrieve Sparky.
Ask about payment methods in advance. You won't want to be embarrassed arriving without your credit card only to discover that payment is required in advance. Some facilities will ask for a credit card as a security deposit, even if you are paying in cash.
Now that all those details are finalized... on to the dogs! Again, knowing the individual policies of the facility will help you decide what is most suitable for your family. Dogs that are not spayed or neutered may be an issue with some establishments. If you choose a boarding facility that allows dogs to interact with each other and roam about in a camp-like setting, or in-home boarding where people take in dogs as one of the family, you will often be required to have adult dogs spayed or neutered for all the obvious reasons. If you have an intact adult dog, your only option may be to board in a facility that keeps the dogs separated.
Find out how many dogs will be at the facility and how many staff will be on hand per dog. You'll want to feel comfortable with the ratio.
If you are not going to a facility that allows dogs a large amount of play area, establish how often they are taken out and for how long. If they do not normally take the dogs for a walk, ask if this can be done for your own dog for an additional charge.
Sleeping arrangements should also be discussed. Again, if the dogs are all together at a dog camp type of setting, will the dogs be sleeping together or in separate quarters? Is this optional? If the scenario is that the dogs are put into sleeping areas at night, what time do they go to bed? What time will they be given breakfast? To sum it up... what is a typical day for a dog at this facility?
The balance of your research should be along the lines of health and safety. Make sure you know in advance if you are to supply your own dog food. Personally, I would much prefer to bring my own so that he doesn't suffer an upset tummy while I'm away. If the facility will be supplying the food, check into the brand and find out if additional charges apply.
It is a good idea to make sure that the majority of the staff or at least a couple of the key people have a certificate in First Aid for pets. The Pet First Aid courses are fairly easy to find and there is no reason for people in the boarding industry not to have this handy piece of paper to show that they are prepared for an emergency. Do they have procedures in place for true emergencies? Will a veterinarian be available for after-hours care? No matter how careful the staff is, accidents do happen. The fact is, you need to make sure the staff knows what to do. Will they be prepared to transfer your dog over to your own veterinarian for after-care?
How about medication? Is the staff able to administer medication, and is there an extra charge? Older pets, and those with special needs or circumstances should be treated as such, and you want to make sure your dog does not fall between the cracks.
You might be interested in special services that are offered by the facility, such as pick up and delivery. Some lovely boarding facilities are located out of town. At first glance, you may feel that these locations will be inconvenient, but look again. If they provide pet transportation, it might be worth the additional charge to send your dog to the countryside to romp in its green pastures and fields with his new friends. It is far more convenient to have daily dog daycare located close to home so you can drop off and pick up yourself. But when it comes to a holiday, consider the other facilities as well.
Grooming may be another service that will be of benefit and you might appreciate the option of having your dog bathed before he comes home. On the other hand, when I visited an out-of-town boarding camp recently, I noticed that the dogs seemed really content, tired and happy, playing with their friends... with muddy feet and straw between their toes.
Hopefully, we'll all come back from our holidays looking like these dogs. Happy, content, healthy, and with a bit of their holiday still attached!
Gillian Ridgeway, AHT, is director of Who's Walking Who in Toronto and Ajax. She is a consultant and feature writer for Dogs, Dogs, Dogs! and also writes for Dogs in Canada and Metro Today. She appears weekly on Dogs in Canada TV and has been featured on City Pulse, Breakfast Television, Global Television, Q107 radio and in Toronto Life. She is the co-author of the book, "Citizen Canine". Gillian may be contacted at 416-465-3626; www.whoswalkingwho.net