May 10, 2022

Traveling and Pets: What's An Owner To Do?


A reader asked if I would address an issue that is causing her some conflicting emotions. She and her husband like to travel on occasion. What deeply bothers her is the reality of pets that must be left behind. She has a friend that will take care of the basic daily needs of her cats. Yet, she worries about loneliness and shirking responsibility for the animal's well-being. She notes the cats have difficult schedules and need special attention. Her concern is deep enough that it is affecting her willingness to travel.

For some of us with pets, friends willing to act as pet-minders don't exist. That means our furry family member must endure days or weeks in a kennel cage. Sure, the better facilities will make sure the dog or cat gets daily exercise and human contact. Even so, to think of Muffin in a cage, away from all she knows, can be just as upsetting for the human owner.

One option is a pet sitter. We have used this option a time or two with good results.  A trained and vetted person moves into your home or apartment for the time you will be gone. They will allow the animal to stay in a familiar setting and retain its usual schedule. Obviously, the owner must be comfortable having a stranger spend time in their home, sleeping in their bed, using their facilities, all while caring for the pet. There is a level of trust that may be uncomfortable for some. While not inexpensive, our experience is the cost is no greater than a good quality kennel. 

Even though our beloved Bailey died almost a year and a half ago, we are experiencing the same travel-dog issues as the reader. One of our daughters is out of town a lot for her business. That means we are home to her doggie, Adler, for probably 100 days a year. The good news: we love her, and she loves our house. For the first few days, she mopes around wondering where her real mommy is. But then she settles into life with Gran and Grandad.

The only problem, and it is a minor one, is our travel. Any plans we have must be fitted into those times when we aren't dog-sitters. A spur-of-the-moment getaway has to be carefully planned, which kind of kills the spontaneity of the concept! But, we willingly accept that restriction because we know Adi would not do very well in a kennel environment. She is a very people-centered pet who needs to be around humans on a continuous basis. She has never been crate-trained so a kennel would not be in her best mental interest.

Plus, we can save our daughter thousands of dollars in boarding fees by opening our door and hearts to her fur baby, and the hole in our home left by the passing of Bailey is amply filled by Adi. All in all, a win-win for our daughter, her pet, and us.

Obviously, there are solutions to the pet-travel puzzle. However, none really address the very real problem of being able to leave a beloved pet that may have special needs. Worry is not conducive to a great travel experience.

So, here is my question to you: if you have a pet, how do you handle this situation? What steps do you take to feel OK about leaving? If you don't have a pet at the moment but did at one time, I invite you to share your story. 

Each one of us has a different attachment to our pet(s), For some, the pet is such a part of the family, and we have bonded in a way that our emotional attachment can alter travel or lifestyle choices. For others, the dog or cat is a positive addition to one's life, but not something that affects decisions at this level.

There is no wrong answer to this dilemma. But, I trust we can offer this reader some options, or at least words of support for this predicament. She is aware her feelings are an impediment to fully enjoying travel and vacation options. I think she just wants understanding and "I've been there" kind of backing.

And, for those of us with pets, I am anxious to learn how others address this situation.


18 comments:

  1. Your life is a reflection of the choices you make in it. Choosing to have a pet comes with responsibility, and part of that might mean restrictions on travel. That's the choice you make.

    House sitting has become a very popular way of getting around this, but you're right that it entails trusting a stranger. Unlike your suggestion of a professional pet sitter, house sitting is normally totally free. There are some good websites such as trustedhousesitters.com

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    1. We used Housecarers.com several times with good results.

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  2. We are cat people. We currently have a 13yo whose brother who crossed the rainbow bridge after a lymphoma diagnosis Aug 2020. Kylie requires thyroid medication twice daily. Prior to her meds, we would leave for a 48h weekend leaving plenty of food and water out. When the med started, I discovered one of my staff was a petsitter/housesitter. She wouldn't stay but she would come twice daily, stay about 20 minutes for chatting/playing/petting. She can use the $ and we have peace of mind. When we go to the cabin (2.5h away), we take Kylie along if we'll be more than 2days. She likes people time, sleeping on a lap for a morning nap and again in the evening and she is not a fan of the car so weekend only is very stressful for her.

    My sister has 2 standard poodles. They go to a daycare once weekly. Huge play yard. This place also kennels dogs so when they travel the poodles go there for the duration. They seem to love it as the play is hard and they are exhausted when we've seen them in the evening ;-) Their kids friends are later 20s now and not so much interested in the extra $ of pet sitting so the kennel/daycare situation works well as alternative.

    It is a difficult decision. Heck, we struggle with kenneling Kylie for the drive to the cabin and she cries most of the way. I can't imagine putting her in a kennel for a 2 week vacation :-(

    I think once she's gone we'll be pet-free for awhile.

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  3. My father was a dog person and kept a dog as a pet until his 90s. His retirement travel was always by RV so it was a "home away from home" and the dog was just as comfortable there as in their brick & mortar house. I never knew my father to fly anywhere, he was one of those guys that if he couldn't drive there he didn't go.

    Really the responsibility is one of the things that keeps us from having a pet. We travel quite a bit, flying to Mexico for the winter and usually a trip to Europe every so often so my wife can see her relatives then we tour around a bit. Pets are so cute and adorable but in many ways it's like looking after a toddler that never grows up. A pet is a lifestyle choice with all the pluses and minuses that entails.

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    1. Funny enough just as I submitted my comment our daughter asked if we could look after her cat as they wanted to go away this weekend. Of course we will--it's good to have a pet support network!

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  4. we exchange pet sitting duties with friends and family, it works most of the time :-)

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  5. After our last dog died almost two years ago, we thought we would travel more so we didn't get another. But we're approaching two years and we're not doing a lot of travel, mostly because of the pandemic and our caution re: that, although we did a few short trips. When the perfect dog presented herself, we jumped quickly to get her -- a three year old chocolate lab rescue. She is settling in and has such a sweet personality that we have both quite fallen in love with her. She wants to be with us all the time, would live in your lap if you'd let her (we don't, although she gets a lot of floor time with us), and is just generally lovely. Neither of us is eager to leave her at the "dog spa" where we boarded our previous dog unless we are confident she is well settled in and acclimated. Once we do decide to travel, we have had a couple offers by family members who would keep her, but right now, neither of us are eager to leave her in another new scenario.

    She is crate trained and we have left her crated for a couple hours here and there (not knowing how she would be alone in the houses), but for now, one of us is with her most of the time. It's more restrictive for each of us, but so far we feel it's worth it to have her in our lives. We discussed an RV so we could take her along, so that might happen at some point.

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  6. I always had dogs as a child. When I moved out on my own I lived with roommates who owned dogs, so I could still have the pet experience. When I could afford my own apartment, I could never find a landlord that would allow a dog. Cats were sometimes okay, but I am not a cat person.

    Fast forward to retirement and I was looking forward to getting a dog. But then I started to observe some of my retired friends and the challenges they had with pets and retirement activities, travel, etc.. My sister is essentially trapped at home and unable to travel because her dog is elderly and has severe anxiety riding in a car. Even taking her to a vet is an ordeal. Reliable pet sitters in my area are limited and expensive. I also have a number of friends who seem to be perpetually covered in pet hair, or cleaning it out of their vacuum. I also see far too many dogs in the neighborhood, tied up next to a doghouse and obviously neglected after the "puppy novelty" wore off. That infuriates me and breaks my heart. So for now I will remain dog-free, or maybe foster at some point to test the waters.

    Rick in Oregon

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  7. We have a cat who is 9 and so far are ok with paid help to come in and check on him. However for longer travel like we'd like to do once we are retired this might not work. I'm a bit concerned how this will work out.

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  8. This has been a life long problem for me and I've finally resigned myself to the fact that I'll never get to see all the places or do all the things I've hoped to do. However, I have also come to realize I'd rather have that daily love.

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  9. Not so many years ago, we had a golden and a lab mix and our daughter had two boxers. She and her family traveled more than we did, but when either of us did, one household temporarily became a four-dog household. All those dogs are gone now and much missed. About a year before the pandemic hit, we adopted a two-year-old half Great Pyr/half golden, who turned out to have zero golden and also not to be well socialized, as we had been told she was. She was aggressive with other dogs, and, if she didn't trust the humans around her to govern themselves well, she would decide she needed to take care of those silly humans and herd them into a place that she could guard. Obviously, we were not going to return her, even though she was too much dog for us, especially when we learned that she'd had five different domiciles her second year. Obviously, we sought really good trainers. Now, she's a joy with humans. She's decided I can take care of myself and no longer tries to herd me into a corner. If I've been gone to a doctor's appointment, this big dog bunny hops toward me with such joy when I return. She's no longer so aggressive with dogs, BUT she still herds my daughters' two Dobermans into separate corners and will not let them play with each other. Our trainers told us some dogs, like some humans, are socialites, and some definitely aren't. She definitely isn't. My daughter now has a pet sitter when she travels. We have not been traveling because of the pandemic and my immunocompromised state. I honestly don't know what we will do with this six-year-old if we resume traveling. We do have a trusted pet sitter who stops by if we're gone for more than three hours, but she doesn't stay overnight.

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    1. I forgot to mention, as I may have already, that Zoey saved my husband's life in 2020. She barked and barked until I went to find her to tell her "I have it," and give her a treat, the method I have to quell the excessive barking of a Great Pyr. I found her at my husband's side. Although not completely unconscious, he could not speak or keep his eyes open. His skin was grey, and he was breathing roughly. His BP was extremely low when the ambulance arrived. It turned out to be a bad reaction to a new BP medication, but if Zoey hadn't brought me to his side, who knows what would have happened. So, we're not sorry we adopted her!

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  10. We've had cats and/or dogs from the day we married 54 years ago. And still do have 1 dog. So we used everything from neighbor's kids to come feed or walk them, to kennels, to professional pet sitters who came in twice a day, to house sitters. Our most success has been with house/pet sitters. Yes, it's hard to find good ones, but many of our friends have pets too and travel so we pass names back and forth. Our most recent sitter was a gem, and she still drops by just to play with the dogs. She slept in the guest room and provided her own food which worked out very well. She could still go other places while she lived at our home to feed cats twice a day or whatever. Yes, it was a little expensive, but she charged by the day, not by the pet. So when we had 3 dogs and 2 cats, it was a lot less expensive. With a reliable person living in our home, we felt very comfortable leaving our fur babies with her. And as a bonus - she would take us to the airport and pick us up (for a little extra fee).

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  11. Hi Bob! i'm surprised you didn't mention TrustedHouseSitters.com. As former dog owners we used the services of this wonderful website and the people associated with it several times for extended travel periods. It is a membership with a small annual fee but it allows you to put your needs (how many pets and what you need and want from the pet sitter) and then allows you to go through and select applicants. And who are the applicants? Mostly people just like us! People who love animals and don't mind the "exchange" of staying in your home (at no cost) and caring for your pets (at no cost). Yes, as I said there is no charge at all for having them watch your pet. It is a win-win in my opinion.

    We had three different sitters who stayed at four different times for over a month taking care of our dear dog while she was still alive. I had requested people who would be willing to take her for at least one long walk every day and feed her a rather complicated diet we had her on. No problem. Of course we interviewed (by zoom) the people beforehand and read all the reviews of former pet owners before selecting, but every one of the sitters turned out great. In fact, we have remained friends with two former couples who sat for us.

    Of course you do need to be comfortable with having near strangers live in your house while you're away, but that has never bothered us. Every one of our sitters has not only been wonderful with our dog, but took care of minor issues around the house as needed and took care of house plants as well.

    We lost our pet a little over a year ago so decided to take a really LONG trip this time before getting another. We thought three months would be too long to leave any pet, no matter how great the sitter. But we won't hesitate to use them again once the right pet comes into our lives again. I strongly recommend the service and suggest people check it out. ~Kathy

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  12. Our last dog, an Alaskan Malamute, loved to go camping and would join us whenever we were going to our favorite State Park campgrounds just for the purpose of camping. If we were traveling and planning on touristy activities outside the campground, he would stay at a kennel. They must have spoiled him to pieces since he would always jump out of the car and run to the door of the kennel. It never bothered me to leave him because he was always clean, happy and healthy when we picked him up. But it did bother Alan who would think about him evey day we were away.

    Maybe the family veterinarian would be a good resource since he or she knows the cats and would understand their needs. The vet might be aware of an individual, a housesitter or a boarding facility in the area that would be a good fit. I wish your reader luck with this decision; it's not an easy one to make.

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  13. We have used a niece who house & pet sit when we traveled. When we moved out of state, we used some daily services who would come by 3 times a day until we found a nice young lady who would house & pit sit. When we lost our last Fox Terrier in May of 2017 we decided not to get another one because we would be retiring soon and wanted to travel, however, a friend approached us about a Wheaton Terrier who was 9 and needed a home, so we took her in thinking we would have about 4 or 5 years with her.

    We have been retired now for almost 4 years and she will be 16 in September. We did a 14 day cruise in November of 2019 and used a house/pet sitter but now she needs too much care. She takes about 4 prescription meds in morning and at night and she has sun downers (nighttime anxiety) plus a bad back and other ailments. We went to St. Pete Beach to visit my sister and took her with but would not leave her with a sitter, as she requires too much care. So, our travel is limited and we won't be doing any long trips. But she is a sweet heart and has brought us much joy!

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  14. I am sure you have noticed I am not following my normal practice of responding to each comment. The goal of this post is to give the reader who asked the question (and everyone else) some ideas and approaches to this dilemma. I must say, I did not realize how common the concern of pets and travel is and how much it can change our plans and daily life.

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  15. I'm the lady with the two cats who has daytime feeding help. We had a long time between cats and did a lot of traveling until cats started to fill up our lives again around five years ago.

    We have pretty much settled on this scenario of travel. No more long trips while we have these two guys, and that is anything longer than a week. We can't give up our yearly trip to Hawaii as it involves family and it only lasts a week. The cats will be fed and the box cleaned each day, so they ARE taken care of, they just don't know what happened to us. We miss them a lot, but we have to have a life also.

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