On the Road with your “Best Friend”
by Stephanie Gonser
As an RVer, I cannot imagine what our trips would be like without our “best friends”. We’ve been lucky in having dogs who dearly love to travel with us. Sometimes, however, this just isn’t practical. What choices do you have when a circumstance arises and pets cannot be accommodated? Over several years we’ve wrestled with this question, finally arriving at what, for us, has been the right choice. We use boarding kennels. For us, and for our dogs, this has been the best solution.
Many people wouldn't dream of boarding their “best friends”. They'd prefer to take them along everywhere they go. It depends on the type of dog you have, where you are going and how you will get there, (air, rail, etc.), and the disposition of your pet. Some pets seem genuinely to hate being boarded. They may refuse to eat, and pine for their owners. If the dog has been used to kennels from puppyhood, it is obviously easier for all concerned.
Barney is our 5 1/2 year old Brittany, one of the most active of breeds. He is fairly large for a Brit, weighing just over 40 pounds. Even at this age, he can be incredibly puppy-like, he pulls -- hard-- at his leash, jumps around in circles, and puts his nose down every hole and into the least inviting places that can be imagined. He loves to travel with us, and we enjoy having him along. But occasions do arise where pets simply cannot be accommodated. Even though the quarantine restrictions for Hawaiian travel have been somewhat relaxed, your pet could still be faced with a few days in “jail”. So, do you stay home? Maybe you want to take a trip via Amtrak. Amtrak flat out doesn’t allow pets. Whenever we travel on Amtrak, and we take a rail trip nearly every year, Barney stays behind. Several years ago, we boarded a previous Brittany in a nice facility in Tucson, Arizona. We were headed for mainland Mexico with an RVing caravan. When our tour went to the Copper Canyon, animals were not allowed on the train, and pet owners had to utilize the local veterinary hospital, or, for the larger dogs, rely on someone exercising and feeding them while they (the dogs) were left, tied up, outside the coach. That same year, we spent two nights at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim, CA, attending an ARVC meeting. Even if the hotel provided for dogs to accompany their owners, it was far more enjoyable for all concerned to be ‘dog free”. But how do you find a suitable “home” for your pet while you are away?
I always visit the potential kennel before I bring the dog in. Several factors will influence my decision. I prefer the kennel to accredited, either by the American Veterinary Medical Association, or the American Boarding Kennel Association. The kennel should make sure that your pet is up to date on all its shots, and ask to see your records of these. Since we have a fairly large dog, with a great need for exercise, I look for a kennel with inside/outside runs, where a dog can go between the bed area and the outdoors. If this is not possible, I will ask if there are regularly scheduled walks, and check out the exercise area. How many walks a day will Barney get? The attitude of the staff is very important -- I want a kennel which has dog knowledgeable and dog friendly people, behind the front desk as well as working with the animals. I ask to take a tour of the place, and if tours are not available, I do not board the dog. In this first visit, I can get the paperwork -- shot records, home vet name and number, etc., taken care of in a calm manner, not with an excited dog pulling at the leash, trying to smell all the good, new, “doggy” smells, while I am trying to find shot records, reading and signing release forms, etc.
There have been some incredible changes in kennels in the past few years. No longer are dogs kept in small wire “boxes”. Some places have play times, when dogs of even temperament and like size are let out to play together. In fact, there are now doggy “day care” centers, places where working pet owners take their dogs each day. As I dropped Barney off for several days boarding, car after car pulled up, with owners bringing their dogs for a day at “school. Each dog seemed terribly glad to be back with its friends for a day of play time. For a small added fee, Barney was able to join the “day care” bunch. Another new trend is to set up dog “suites”, with a TV or VCR playing in the background, and a bed set off the floor. You can even tape your voice saying all the nice things your dog would like to hear, to eliminate any separation anxiety! Nice use of high tech, but I really wonder if this is necessary.
Costs vary. Obviously, the more amenities, the higher the charge. Also, you can expect to pay more at kennels near large cities, or in resort areas. Sometimes, there is an extra charge for playtime or for walks. I usually get Barney groomed at the end of his stay to remove any “kennel odor”, and there is usually a charge for this, although often the last days boarding charge is waived when the dog is groomed just before leaving.
How about having a pet sitter, someone who comes to your rig a couple of times each day to feed and walk your pet? We’ve never done this, in part because Barney would have to be crated when the sitter was not there. (I’m just not sure what he would do alone, either out of boredom or frustration at being left alone in familiar surroundings).
No solution is perfect, and I’m certain that if Barney could vote, he would opt to stay with us. But sometimes, this is neither the best thing for the dog nor for its owners. For us, finding the right boarding kennel has been the best choice.