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September 24, 2009

Based on my post Top 10 Ways Veterinarians Can Better Serve Fearful Dogs, I wrote something along the same lines for the Pet Services Journal, a trade magazine for those in the petcare services industry. I don’t have the published issue yet, but I need to whine about my own search for a boarding facility suitable for Lilly and Ginko — both of whom have issues. Right now, it comes down to this: the dog boarding industry (as a whole) is poorly equipped to deal with dogs like mine. That’s why we haven’t gone on vacation for 8+ years. And, it’s really starting to bum me out. Not so much that we don’t take trips, but that I cannot find a place that works for us.

Trust me, I’ve been looking, asking around, and even visiting facilities off and on for years to see for myself what’s what. I visited a great place last week. Loved the owner. We shared training philosophies and such, but her new facility is geared toward super-social dogs. I had hoped to find private suites and no requirement to take part in play groups. Alas, no. I seriously almost cried on the way home.

Here in Colorado, boarding facilities typically fall into two categories:

1. Old-fashioned kennels with smallish indoor-outdoor kennel runs festooned with chain link and little else. Poop gets washed into trenches. Dogs get fed. You can pay extra for a little walk or private play time, but dogs spend most of their time looking at and barking at each other because there is little privacy.

2. New-age dog hotels (don’t call them kennels) where dogs spend bedtime in their small, private, indoor-only enclosures and most of their days in a daycare situation with both indoor and outdoor play spaces of various (and sometimes dubious sizes).

Friends and loyal readers, I suspect, immediately recognize my dilemma.

For those who don’t, I’ll be brief.

The last time Ginko spent 10 days in an old-style kennel, we came home to a dog who looked as if he’d just been rescued from a concentration camp. He was SO thin. Our best guess was that he was too stressed out to eat and no one noticed (or cared). Without someone savvy in positive reinforcement working at it, Ginko isn’t great with strange people or strange dogs. He can be with practice, but few places have the skill for special handling. Plus, the boy has two bad knees and cannot be standing or running around all day.

And, Lilly? Well, she hasn’t been any mass dog housing since leaving the humane society in October 2004. She is far too fearful of a million different things, including other dogs, to survive in either scenario.

Why not a pet-sitter? Tom won’t go for a dog sitter because he had a dog die while in the care of one. End of discussion.

So, that leaves me stuck somewhere in the middle between places serving your average dog owner with average dogs and places serving more high-touch clients of super-social dogs.

Alas, what is a girl with sensitive, socially-challenged dogs to do?

Basically, I want my dogs to be able to stay in a private, quiet room (not run) with some beds and toys. I want them to have regular access to a private outdoor play and potty area and some skilled attention from people who get their needs. I don’t want them to be required to see or interact with other dogs. And, most of all I want them to be safe and not scared.

So far, I haven’t found such a place … at least not locally. You’d think with Colorado being SO dog crazy that it wouldn’t be this hard, but even with all my contacts and info, it poses a big challenge.

The closest set-up I’ve found is near Albany, New York. I wrote a profile about Pet Estates, which features little dog cabins, with private fenced yards. From most spots, the dogs in other cabins cannot see each other. It’s like they all have their own clubhouses. They get the chance to run around alone (people, no dogs) in a fenced play area with a big pond too.

As I recall, the place was up for sale and/or offered franchise opportunities … if any of you want to move to CO and run a place like this for people like me. (hint!)

I sincerely hope my future dogs will be social enough and fearless enough to enjoy the daycare-style pet hotel, but until then (which could be a decade or more) I’m a homeless boarding client.

About the Author Roxanne Hawn

Trained as a traditional journalist and based in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, USA, I'm a full-time freelance writer for magazines, websites, and private clients. My areas of specialty include everything in the lifestyles arena, including health and home, personal finance and other consumer interests, relationships and trends, people and business profiles ... and, of course, all things pet related.

I don't just love dogs. I need them in my life. Seriously.

  1. marthaandme: Choosing the right pet sitter is like choosing a good nanny or babysitter for the kids. There are ones that are good that will stay at your house full time.
    So sorry about your baby being alone at the vets. My 19 year old cat died alone like that too. 🙁

  2. I completely understand where you are with this. I could never leave our dogs in a kennel. I know they would feel scared and abandoned. A few years ago we were forced to leave our sick dog overnight at the vet (another peeve of mine – there’s no one there all night!) and he died alone there in a kennel. I’ll never forgive myself. We are lucky that my parents always take our dogs when we are gone, but I worry about what we will do when my parents are too old and if our kids move out of the area. Hopefully we will be able to find a reliable pet sitter, but for dogs that are used to being home with me all day every day, I worry it wouldn’t be enough contact to have someone come in a few times a day.

  3. I’ll add too, that for a long time my husband didn’t want a pet sitter, not because he was afraid of something happening, but he didn’t want anyone in his house while we weren’t here. That is, until he saw how very happy our dogs are with someone who “clicks” with them and knowing they aren’t being exposed to needless shots (kennels always require kennel cough shots every six months) and other dogs they might not get along with at a kennel. Our pet sitter calls herself a “pet nanny” and she’s a one woman show who has no employees (the reason for our back up). Our back up is my part-time research assistant who is in college getting her teaching degree. With both of them, it is obvious it isn’t just a “job,” they truly love the animals in their care. As well, it gives my husband peace of mind now knowing the house isn’t empty when we’re gone.

  4. When we just had one dog, she always came with us. Now that we have 4, that’s just not an option. I’ve been super lucky to find 2 pet sitters here, both of whom we trust- and we always have a back up! They double as house sitters as well and our dogs have always been super happy. I feel as strongly about kennels as Tom does about pet sitters as I’ve seen dogs die while in the care of kennels too. All of mine are rescues and unless it was an extreme emergency, would never, ever leave them to the stresses of any kennel. Tell Tom there is no absolutes with anything and show him all of the studies that prove dogs are much more comfortable in their own environment on their routines. Then set about looking for a certified dependable dog sitter.

  5. I so understand about the kenneling. The first time JoJo was boarded because I had to leave on a business trip, he ended up with a broken foot and no medical care for that for 24 hours. You just never know who to trust except yourself!!! 🙂

  6. I share your feelings. But, every now and then we’ve been forced to leave our dogs to go out of town. Each time, we’ve managed to find friends who we believed would be uber-responsible to stay at our house with our dogs. It’s worked out but I always worry incessantly when I’m away from them.

    Why not try local vacations that the dogs can join you on? That’s been our solution – and we love it. We’ve done hotels (all La Quintas accept dogs and seem clean and nice) but we mostly camp.

    I agree that there’s an unfilled niche in the dog care market out there.

  7. Yes, Susan. I did go look at Cottonwood a while back based on several recommendations, but I felt it wasn’t a viable option for us.

  8. It’s okay, I don’t plan on traveling anytime soon either. Now, I’m a ridiculous homebody to begin with, but I’ve already hinted to my family that I will not be accompanying them on any vacations as long as Marge is around (to my benefit, no plans have been made anyway). I feel like leaving her somewhere – even the best of places – would set her back tremendously. And I just don’t like the picture of my trembling dog in a kennel full of barking, happy-go-lucky ones.

  9. Have you checked Cottonwood Kennels? I take my anti social dog there she has her own area and they take her on twice daily leashed walks with no dogs around. Although she is not bothered seeing other dogs.

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