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How to choose a boarding facility for your dog

Luxury accommodations
Luxury accommodations
Rover Oaks Pet Resort

So you are planning a trip and need to find a clean and safe place to board your furry family members while you are gone. With the proliferation of pet resorts and boarding facilities, how do you choose the right place? Following are some guidelines and questions you should ask when choosing a home-away-from-home for your dog.

For dogs, the options are broad, and checking the internet or phone book listings will provide a wide array of choices. You might ask for recommendations from friends or family, or check on-line sites such as local CitySearch listings, which provide not only a list of facilities but also reviews from previous clients. Narrow the choice down based on reviews and recommendations as well as the location's accessibility to you. Now that you have a "short list" of options, you should plan to investigate the individual facilities in the same way you might investigate a child's daycare needs, with a lot of questions and legwork.

Being able to tour the facility is important. Call ahead to see if they offer tours, and if so, ask if you need to make an appointment. The better facilities will generally tell you that you are welcome to come in for a tour at almost any time during regular business hours. If they will not offer tours, or require that you make an appointment, these answers might be your first "red flags" that the facility is not up to par. Even first-class facilities may limit tours during certain periods such as holidays or days when they are open limited hours (usually Sundays) for pick-ups...and these refusals will generally be based on the fact that staff is busy caring for pets or facilitating departures.

When you do tour, the first thing you should notice is the smell - or lack thereof. High quality facilities generally have stringent cleaning and sanitation guidelines, so the unpleasant aromas that may be associated with many kennels should be largely absent. Ask about cleaning and sanitation procedures, and observe the overall cleanliness of the facility.

The following list of questions (and your requirements for your own pets and their needs) should help you determine which facilities might best meet your own expectations for your pets' care:

1. Can you bring your pet(s)' own food (particularly important if they are on a special diet or have a sensitive stomach)? What brand of food do they offer?

2. Are they able to administer medications and if so, are there any restrictions?

3. How often are they able to offer feeding and medications and can they accommodate your pet's schedule?

4. How often are they taken out for potty breaks and for how long are they out?

5. Are the accommodations climate-controlled? What size and type of accommodations are offered? Depending on your pet's needs, you may be very interested in a facility that offers larger rooms or enclosures for your furry friend.

6. Do they offer bedding and/or can you bring your pet's own bedding and toys to make them feel more comfortable?

7. Are pets allowed to intermingle with other families and if so, how do they control the interaction to make sure there are no unpleasant encounters?

8. If you have multiple pets, are they allowed to stay together? If so, can they be separated at certain times like feeding if needed?

9. How do they handle pets who appear stressed? Stress in a boarding situation may manifest itself in a number of ways, including not eating well, developing symptoms of vomiting and/or diarrhea, pacing or spinning in an enclosure, etc. Well-run facilities will let you know if your pet is having ongoing difficulties and may offer such things as over-the-counter medications, special treats or hand-feeding to entice eating or similar tactics to help your pets adjust.

10. How do they handle any medical emergencies that may arise? Do they have a veterinarian on-site or on-call for emergencies? How do they communicate with you if these situations arise? Many good facilities will have relationships with local veterinarians, and will do their best to contact you or ask you for a good local contact if they need someone. Often, they will ask you to complete an emergency authorization form in case something happens and they are unable to reach you quickly.

11. What are their vaccination and health requirements? Most good quality facilities will require not only rabies, but also the distemper combo and bordetella to protect against respiratory illness. Vaccination requirements may vary depending on what part of the country you live in and the proliferation of various illnesses in that region. Many facilities will also limit boarding to pets over a certain age (four months is common, and will also require all of the puppy series of vaccinations) and may limit geriatric pets or pets with serious health conditions for their own safety. Young puppies, senior pets or pets with serious health problems may be better off boarding at your veterinarian, as they are better able to monitor your fur-kids' ongoing health and may be able to respond to any crisis more quickly.

12. Since studies have shown that pets in a boarding environment do better when they are active and stimulated, ask what extra programs they may offer to make your pet's stay more enjoyable. Are extra playtimes, doggie daycare or other fun activities available? Many first-class facilities offer a variety of choices so that you can select a program that best meets your pet's needs.

13. What are the staffing ratios and how is staff trained? One guideline says that there should be at least one staff member for 25 dogs, and there should be at least some training required of all staff. Ask if anyone on staff has any previous veterinary experience (for example, are there supervisors who have worked as veterinary technicians?) so that someone may be able to spot potential health concerns quickly.

The Pet Care Services Association (PCSA) is a voluntary organization that offers guidelines and a Code of Ethics for boarding facilities. It also offers a Pet Care Technician Certification program for staff. If the facility you are interested in is a member of this organization, it has agreed to follow the practices, ethics and codes of the PCSA, and should provide an added level of security for owners that they have chosen a high quality and caring place for their fur-kids.

Finally, any well-run facility should be staffed by people who understand animals and love what they do. You should be greeted by friendly and helpful staff members, and don't be surprised if they say hello to your pets before they greet you! Dogs who visit a well-run facility with any regularity will probably get to know the staff and will usually be excited and happy to come and visit their friends.