The Oregonian
PET TALK by Deborah Wood
If you must be out of sight, keep your pet's safety in mind.
I hear from readers when bad things happen.  Some of the saddest stories are when things go wrong at boarding facilities.  Like the two kitties who came home with illnesses that added up to $1,000 in veterinary bills.  Or the dog who became critically ill because he refused to eat.
It's enough to make you want to stay in your home with your dogs and cats and never leave.
But the real world happens.  Your job may require travel, or family obligations may take you out of state, or you and your spouse want to take that dream vacation.  If you plan ahead, the chances are you'll find a place that your animal will tolerate well - and may even downright enjoy.
Take a look: "Go to the place where you're considering boarding.  Get a feel for the place and a feel for the person who is caring for your pet," says Shirley Catterall, owner of Arnold Creek Cat Retreat in Southwest Portland.  This sunny place has 10 mini-rooms - think of them as apartments for kitties - each with a window with a view.
When you check out a facility, drop by during regular business hours and see how the place looks.  Even an older facility should be gleaming with cleanliness.  It should smell fresh.  If there is a lingering odor, something is wrong.
The facility should also feel happy.  Look to see if animals seem reasonably relaxed and unafraid.  If you don't get a good feel for the place, don't leave your pet there.
See their service: "You need to know what a day will be like for your pet," says Susie Osborn, who operates Susie's Country Inn in Vancouver.  Will your dog be given daily exercise? Will he have one-on-one time with a person who pets him and grooms him?
Some facilities charge extra for playtime, grooming, giving medication and even feeding your pet his own food.  Others include these as part of a blanket price.  Be sure you know what services your pet will receive for the amount you're paying.
Expect good questions from the facility: The staff of a good boarding facility is deeply concerned about the well-being of the animal they're watching.  They will talk frankly about what to do in case of a medical emergency and how to make a decision if they can't contact you.  "I ask if they have a dollar amount limit for care," says Osborn.
They'll also ask about your animal's likes and dislikes.  "Does your cat hate being picked up? Does she like being brushed?" asks Catterall.  "I want to know what makes each cat happy."
Be wary of a place where people don't ask the kinds of questions that would allow them to care for your pet as well as you do.
Minimize the risks:  Animals in groups can pass disease to each other - just like a passenger next to you in a plane can give you the flu.  Reputable boarding facilities will require inoculations against upper respiratory disease in cats and usually require inoculations against bordetella (kennel cough) for dogs.  However, just like the flu vaccine, these aren't 100 percent effective
Just the stress of being in a kennel can make your seemingly healthy pet get sick.  "If your cat is prone to stress, and he's carrying an illness, he can go into an infected state," says veterinarian Ken Hughs of Cats Exclusive Medical Center in Gresham.
The facility should be designed for the animals' comfort and safety.  "There should be no cat-to-cat contact.  You also don't want cats looking at each other.  That stresses the cats out, and adds to the possibility of transmitting disease," says Hughs, whose clinic includes a boarding facility.  Lack of cleanliness is the biggest factor in dog-to-dog transmission of disease.
Consider in-home care:  In-home care can be an alternative especially for timid pets and older animals.  Be sure to select a pet sitter you trust with the keys to your home.
reprinted with permission of The Oregonian from the Tuesday, April 19th, 2005 edition