Travels with Fido

To kennel, or not to kennel?

Traveling with your dog can be a great pleasure, with some careful planning. Honey is visiting Martha's Vineyard this month from Manhattan Beach, Calif. — Photo by Jan Rosenfeld

Waving goodbye to my older daughter as she headed off to summer camp in New Hampshire, I sat down, teary-eyed, to write, but I couldn’t concentrate. Instead of drafting a treatise about Rocky Mountain spotted fever or hemorrhagic diarrhea, I found myself worrying. Entrusting my child to someone else’s care was hard. Would she have fun? Would she be safe, well-fed, happy? Then it dawned on me. There was my topic. Not summer camp … boarding kennels.

Whether you’re a visitor coming to the Vineyard, or an Islander heading off, you have to decide what to do with Scout the Scotty when you leave home. Traveling with pets is easier than it used to be. Many hotels now accept animals, and Scout may relish a family road trip. So if you want to take him along, arrange dog-friendly places to stay in advance, and your problem is solved. Make sure Scout is clean and well-groomed, especially if staying with friends or family. Pack him his own bag, including sheets and towels to cover furniture and wipe muddy paws. Pack a water bottle, food, bowls, flea and tick products, medications, vaccination records, plastic bags for poop scooping, and grooming supplies. Ideally, Scout is already crate-trained, so you can bring a collapsible crate to use when needed. Check out to order guides to pet-friendly places, such as restaurants where Scout is welcome to sit under the table.

While on the road, keep Scout leashed. If you decide to let him loose at a park or other venue, do so with caution. If camping, think about what wildlife he might encounter. Pay attention to his behavior, especially if you are guests in someone’s home. He should be friendly, but not annoying, and never aggressive. Just because Scout likes his own cat, or has doggie friends, doesn’t mean he will love every animal he meets. Or every child. Nothing ruins a friendship faster than having your dog injure your host’s pet, or their kid, or ruin their carpet, or bark all night.

Cats don’t particularly enjoy traveling. Much as you might like Kitty Kamper’s company, I encourage you not to take her with you on vacation. When pets need to be left behind, a boarding kennel is often the best solution. There are limited options on the Vineyard, and available spaces fill up fast, so make reservations early. Off-Island, there are more choices. So how do you pick a boarding facility? Ask your veterinarian, friends, and neighbors. Check the Yellow Pages. Next, make a visit if possible. Kennels may restrict visitors, sometimes for good reasons. Unfamiliar people traipsing through can upset fearful dogs or provoke aggressive behavior. Frequent visitors also make it harder to control sanitation. But despite these concerns, any good kennel should be willing to give a tour. Use your eyes, ears, and nose. Animals should look content and stress-free. The cages should be spacious enough for Scout to stand up and move around. It should be clean, relatively quiet, well-ventilated, and not smell too bad. But have realistic expectations. After all, we’re talking a lot of animals in one place.

Ask questions. Where will Scout stay? Indoors or outdoors? Cats and dogs should be housed separately. Are dogs walked? If so, how often? How often are cages and runs cleaned? Do they allow dogs to play together? I don’t recommend this. It increases the risk of dog fights, and transmission of disease and parasites, but some people are willing to take the chance in exchange for Scout having fun. Some kennels nowadays even have webcams so you can check in on your pup remotely.

Evaluate the security. Are fences and runs sturdy and well-maintained? Gates with secure latches? In college, I spent a semester working at a veterinary hospital in Colorado with a large boarding facility. It was my job to arrive at 5 am, move the dogs into outdoor runs, and clean a gazillion cages. One morning, I put 10 dogs out, but when I went to retrieve them later, found only nine. A huge German Shepherd, just arrived from Ogallala, Neb., had pushed open the latch on the run, then the latch on the surrounding pen, from where he climbed on a trash bin and vaulted over the stockade fence. Not likely he would make his way home to Ogallala. I was a complete wreck. Mercifully, the police found him wandering the neighborhood a few hours later. Make sure Scout has clear identification — microchip, labeled collar, ID tag — in the unlikely case he gets loose or lost.

Good kennels will require proof of vaccination, including kennel cough. You should provide flea and tick control, and if possible, your own bedding and food. Some kennels do not allow personal items. Others welcome them. An item of recently worn clothing, a reminder of home, can comfort a pet. Ask if there is staff on premises overnight and on weekends, and how they handle medical emergencies. Bring medications in their original containers. If a vial is labeled “give as directed,” provide explicit written instructions. Let the kennel know if Scout is a climber, jumper, digger, fighter, biter, or has separation anxiety. When it’s pickup time, remember that even in the best kennel, dogs can get messy. If the facility does grooming, ask in advance for them to bathe him at the end of his visit.

If Scout and Kitty Kamper are real homebodies, another option is to hire a pet sitter. Get references, as this person will be coming into your house. Many have backgrounds in animal care, and a reliable pet sitter is worth her weight in gold. Provide contact numbers, travel itinerary, veterinary information, and an emergency contact of a friend or family member in case you can’t be reached. Whether you decide on a kennel or a sitter, once you have found compassionate and competent caregivers, you can rest easy that Scout and Kamper will be in good hands while you are away.