Downeast Dog News

Pets - Who Cares for Them When You Are Away?

By Don Hanson, ACCBC, BFRAP, CDBC, CPDT-KA | Aug 31, 2015

It’s September and Thanksgiving and Christmas will be here before you know it. If you plan on going away for either holiday and will need someone to care for your pets at that time, you should be looking for that someone NOW. No matter who cares for your pets during your absence, there are only so many spots available at the inn, and when they’re gone, they are gone. The best places will typically fill up weeks in advance of the holidays. While pet care providers may have last minute cancellations, you probably don’t want to bet your airline tickets on that.

There are three basic options for having someone care for your pets when you’re away; a friend or family member, a professional pet sitter, or a professional boarding facility. This column will highlight some of the benefits and disadvantages of each of these options as well as review factors that apply to all of the various pet care choices.

Before entrusting the care of your pet to anyone you should:

  • Notify your veterinarian and let him know that someone else is caring for your pet and may be contacting him in case of an emergency.
  • Set up an opportunity for your pet to meet those people who will be caring for him. Make sure that your pet is comfortable around them. Likewise, the caregivers need to be comfortable with your pet. If your pet will not be staying at your home, it is a good idea to give your pet an opportunity to familiarize himself with where he will be staying ahead of time.
  • Make sure that the people caring for your pet understand his behavior and any health issues. It is absolutely essential that you be completely upfront and honest about your pet’s health status and behavioral quirks. If your pet has aggression issues, failing to disclose those issues is putting others at risk. If he has occasional lameness and you forget to mention this, you may put your pet at risk for overexertion.
  • Make arrangements for an emergency contact, someone who can authorize medical care for your pet in the eventuality you cannot be contacted. This individual may also be needed to care for your pet if the pet care provider indicates that he cannot care for your pet. Your contact may need to assume financial responsibility for your pet in your absence. Most veterinary practices, especially emergency clinics, require payment upfront. Emergency veterinary care can easily result in a bill greater than $1000. If the pet is a senior or has existing health issues, you may want to leave written instructions for the veterinarian with your pet care provider, just in case he requires medical attention in your absence.
  • Whoever is caring for your pet should have contact information for you, your veterinarian, and the closest emergency veterinary clinic and have a copy of your pet’s most recent vaccination records and any other information applicable to special health concerns for your pet.
  • Have you had formal training in pet first aid and are you able to apply first aid if necessary?
  • Have you had training in and experience with supervising interactions between pets that do not interact on a normal basis? Are you familiar with basic canine body language?
  • Do you have experience in giving pets medications; pills, ointments, or injections?
  • Do you promise that you will not use any of the aversive tools or techniques defined as harmful in the AAHA Canine and Feline Behavior Management Guidelines (Aversive techniques include prong (pinch) or choke collars, cattle prods, alpha rolls, dominance downs, electronic shock collars, lunge whips, starving or withholding food, entrapment, and beating.)? As horrendous as this sounds, it has happened even here in Maine.

Questions to ask anyone who is entrusted with the care of your pet:


Friends and Family

Having a family member stop by your home or having him take your pet to his home while you are gone is certainly an option worth considering. However, it is in your pet’s best interest that a friend or family member have the same basic qualifications as noted above. Also consider that the holidays are especially hectic events for most families and are probably a less than an ideal time to take on pet care responsibilities for someone else. You will want to ask a friend or family member many of the same questions you would ask a professional pet sitter. You will also want to review where your pet will be staying. Is there a fenced yard where your dog can spend some time outdoors? If your dog is used to having a quiet area for sleeping, will he have a similar area where he will be staying? If your friend has pets of his own, and they do not get along with your pet, will the friend be able to get all pets separate, safe, and happy?

Professional Pet Sitter

A pet sitter can often be a good alternative for a pet that is uncomfortable with change, is anxious in new environments, is uncomfortable around other animals, or is a senior and no longer in the best of health. I always suggest that when looking for a pet sitter that you look for someone that can not only check in on your pets during the day, at least twice, but will also be there at night to watch over your pets and your home. While cats can technically get by with someone stopping by for a half hour twice a day, the same cannot be said for dogs. You want to keep your pet’s schedule as normal as possible, so a pet sitter should be in your home the same times of the day that you and another family member are there.

Pet Sitters do not currently need to be licensed in the state of Maine, so you want to make sure you check them out thoroughly. In addition to asking the questions above, I suggest you also ask:

  • Are you a member of the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters, Pet Sitters International, or the Pet Professional Guild? Although not the same as being licensed, a pet sitter who is a member of at least one of these associations is demonstrating commitment to his profession. Those that are members of the Pet Professional Guild must also commit to and follow PPG’s Guiding Principles of which section one states: “To be in anyway affiliated with the Pet Professional Guild all members must adhere to a strict code of conduct. Pet Professional Guild Members Understand Force-Free to mean: No shock, No pain, No choke, No fear, No physical force, No physical molding, No compulsion based methods are employed to train or care for a pet.”
  • How much time will you be spending with my pet(s)? In addition to feeding your pet and taking care of bathroom breaks, a pet sitter should be playing with and exercising your pets and depending on your pet, just spending some time with him relaxing.
  • What steps will you take if my pet accidentally gets away from you and runs off? Make sure that he can safely handle your pet when taking him outside so that your pet does not inadvertently run off.
  • How many employees do you have?
  • What happens if you get sick, are in an accident, have car trouble, or there is a blizzard? What is your backup plan to ensure that my pets will be cared for on schedule every day? Many pet sitters are one person businesses, so please be sure they have a contingency plan in place and that you are comfortable with that plan.
  • Are you and your employees bonded and insured? Remember, a pet sitter will have keys to your home.


Professional Boarding Facility

A professional boarding facility must be licensed in the state of Maine and must follow state regulations for the boarding of pets. These regulations govern housing, feeding, sanitation, record keeping, and basic standards of care. However, these regulations are very basic, and the best facilities will do far better. The best facilities will have staff training requirements for pet first aid, pet behavior, health, and handling skills. They may often include daily playtime as part of their package. Most facilities will have detailed contracts which you will be asked to sign for your benefit as well as the benefit of the facility.

Most pets do very well when boarding, and many facilities suggest you give your pet a “test drive” by either boarding during the day or maybe even trying an overnight before you book a weeklong vacation. In addition to the questions above, the following are some suggested questions for the kennel.

  • Are you licensed? Even though it’s a legal requirement, some try to get around the law.
  • Is anyone on your staff credentialed as a Certified Animal Behavior Consultant or Certified Professional Dog Trainer? Understanding pet behavior is critical when caring for pets, especially for longer stays. Individuals that have the above certifications have been accredited by internationally recognized organizations and must continue their education in order to maintain their certification. Having at least one such individual on staff is a sign of a superior facility.
  • Do you allow interactions between other dogs and if so, how are they supervised? Supervising dogs at play, especially dogs that do not normally interact, requires knowledge of canine behavior and communication. Staff members need to be thoroughly trained via professional programs and dogs should be evaluated for size, age, and play style. Dogs should be supervised at all times. At Green Acres, we have one pet technician for five dogs or two techs for up to eight dogs.
  • Does someone stay at the facility at night? In some cases, owners may live on site, but there are facilities where that is not the case. Long before my wife and I got in the business, we boarded our pets. Having someone on site at night was and is still very important to us.
  • I’m repeating the following from above, but that’s because I believe it is so important. Do you promise that you will not use any of the aversive tools or techniques defined as harmful in the AAHA Canine and Feline Behavior Management Guidelines (Aversive techniques include prong (pinch) or choke collars, cattle prods, alpha rolls, dominance downs, electronic shock collars, lunge whips, starving or withholding food, entrapment, and beating.)? I had to mention this one again because it has happened at boarding facilities in Maine.


Hopefully, you now have some ideas of what to look for if you need someone to care for your pets. If you’re going away for the holidays, now is the time to start looking. Keep in mind that pet care providers are busiest when pet owners travel which often corresponds to when the kids are out of school. Reserve your spots early!


Don Hanson is the co-owner of the Green Acres Kennel Shop ( in Bangor and the 2014 Association of Professional Dog Trainers Dr. Ian Dunbar Member of the Year. He is a Bach Foundation Registered Animal Practitioner, Certified Dog Behavior Consultant, and Certified Professional Dog Trainer. He produces and co- hosts a weekly radio show and podcast, The Woof Meow Show heard on The Voice of Maine  (103.9FM, 101.3FM, 1450AM & every Saturday at 7:30AM and Sunday at 8:30PM. Don also writes about pets at his blog: