As I rushed to France last year to deal with a family emergency, my biggest concern wasn't packing quickly or the worry that I would forget something. It was "who is going to take care of my pets?"
Fortunately, a team of friends assembled to care for my brood, taking turns coming to my home until I could return two weeks later. But not everyone is so lucky.
For pet owners everywhere, the decision of what to do with their little ones when they can't come along is a crucial one. And with a variety of options and price points to consider, in addition to the pet's personality and comfort to consider, the choice isn't always an easy one.
Across Chattanooga, a variety of options are at the disposal of local pet owners. This month, we sat down with owners of examples of each: a traditional veterinary kennel, a doggy day care and spa and a home environment, so the next time you have to leave little Fido or Fluffy behind, you can rest assured they will be in good hands.
Pricing: Dog: $16.88-$24.38 for first, $11 for additional dog per night; Cat: $19.50 per night for first, $9.50 for additional cat per night. (Add-ons including baths, nail trims, extra walks and more can be selected.)
Need-to-know: The more precise owner instructions are, the better, Federico says in regards to medication and feeding schedules. For those who bring their own food, the best way to provide it is in individually pre-portioned and labeled bags to ensure accuracy.
Book in advance. At the beginning of April, Riverview was more than halfway booked for July 4 weekend. "In all honesty, booking six months in advance isn't too out of the ordinary," Federico says.
Riverview Animal Hospital
For the average pet, veterinary boarding provides a safe and reliable space where owners can be assured that their animal has access to medical care and monitoring, should a problem arise, says Riverview Animal Hospital owner Dr. Tai Federico. And, for any pet in need of routine medication, trained staff is available to administer it as needed.
Additionally, any vet services such as vaccines or dental cleanings can be done while the pet is staying, and a wide range of drop-off and pick-up options make for a convenient experience for the pet owner.
At Riverview, dog boarders each have their own climate-controlled room room, unless multiple family pets are boarding, in which case the space can be shared. Each is treated to a Kuranda bed, water, toys and four walks per day. Their cat counterparts are given a five-level condo with a four-poster bed, water and scheduled attention time from veterinary staff. Both are fed twice daily, according to owner instructions.
"As a general rule, dogs do better than cats away from home," Federico says. "They miss Mom and Dad for a few minutes, kind of like when you drop a kid off at school, but then they're fine and it's harder for the parents."
However, he adds, knowing your dog is key to determining if a vet boarding environment is the best option. Those of advanced age or who suffer from separation anxiety are typically not ideally suited for boarding.
"Not every dog is a good candidate for boarding, to be honest," Federico says. "If you have a geriatric or anxious dog at home, that's the kind of patient that probably isn't going to thrive in a kennel environment. You kind of have to pick your arrangement based on your pet."
Pricing: Dog: $30 per night; Cat: $16 per night
Need-to-know: Available only to dogs who are spayed or neutered, up-to-date on all vaccines and on flea, tick and heartworm preventive.
While each Ark location (Red Bank, East Brainerd and Hixson) is booked separately, all are often booked far in advance of the holidays. Six to eight months in advance is recommended.
The Ark Pet Spa and Hotel
For a social and active dog who plays well with others, boarding at a location such as The Ark Pet Spa and Hotel provides the opportunity to spend each day romping in indoor and outdoor supervised play areas along with the dogs who spend Mom and Dad's workday there as part of the day care group.
Benefits to this type of boarding include near-constant socialization and human interaction during the day, leaving pets tired and happy when the owner returns, says Marketing and Development Director Adam Harbin. Free-play areas are even equipped with cameras so owners can check in on their pups via a cellphone app or computer.
An application process ensures that dogs who are paired to play together get along.
At night, dogs are boarded in climate controlled individual rooms (which can be shared with siblings) with a bed, toys and water until breakfast and the next play day begin.
"The Ark sets itself apart because we are all-inclusive, we have been in the business for over a decade and we have a loving and well-trained staff," Harbin says. "We provide superior service for day care [and] boarding."
Pricing: $26 per night; price breaks offered for multiple dogs
Need-to-know: Booking far in advance is important at every kennel, but due to the small nature of Happy Tails, booking as soon as a vacation is set is imperative, Jeff says.
Happy Tails Bed and Biscuit
Jeff and Sharon Martin don't offer spa services at Happy Tails Bed and Biscuit, their dog boarding facility and family home. However, Jeff says, operating the facility out of their house means each dog is actually treated like family, down to being allowed to sit on his lap in the living room.
The Martins have no staff. The two of them provide around-the-clock care, which includes around six hours a day of outdoor time for boarding dogs in one of the location's seven yards (some individually, others grouped together, depending on the dog's temperament and level of anxiety). The downstairs area of the home, where the kennel boarding rooms are located, never houses more than 25 dogs at a time.
"We toured pretty much every kennel in the tri-state area before we opened and we looked at each one as though we were going to board there. We took away the things that worked and what didn't," Jeff says, adding that both he and his wife have medical backgrounds and can administer medications or accept dogs with chronic conditions that other facilities may not.
Though the kennel location in Harrison is much farther out than many other establishments, the Martins say the distance hasn't stopped boarders from coming as far as Soddy-Daisy. One even crosses the river with his dog by boat and the Martins meet them on the shoreline, Jeff says.
Providing a family-like environment doesn't stop with the dog's stay — when a client's pet passes away, Jeff has a tradition of meeting the grieving family at the vet to bring their pooch a last treat to enjoy: chicken nuggets and a peanut butter milkshake from Chick-fil-A.
"I always tell people, I understand you have to pass a lot of kennels to get to me, so I better do it better," he says.
Pricing: $15-30 per night, depending on the sitter chosen
Need-to-know: Since each sitter has individualized preferences and prices set, finding something personalized is possible in a shorter time frame than with standard boarding facilities.
Dogs, cats and a chinchilla: Those are the animals Mariel Groppe has experience pet-sitting. She says she wouldn't be opposed to lizards, but no snakes.
Though she has years of experience pet-sitting for friends, much of her sitting requests now come from clients who find her through the Seattle-based online pet service provider, Rover. On the site, those in need of a pet-sitter can select between different levels of experience — a caretaker to stay in your home, a caretaker to come by to feed or check in on your pets, or someone to take your pets into their own home during your absence — and read through reviews provided for each individual sitter.
Price points are set by each pet-sitter and vary according to his or her personal preference. For Groppe, that means a standard of $20 a night.
"They have recommended standard prices that are the average, and $25 is the standard rate for both dog boarding and house-sitting," she says. " Personally, I just find I get more business by setting it to $20."
In particular, anxious pets benefit most from the service, Groppe says, though many pet owners appreciate the peace of mind of returning home to their pet versus having to arrange a pick-up from a boarding facility.
"It's definitely reassuring to pet parents," she says."It's a more personal touch. They get family-style love from using someone from Rover. At least, that's how I approach the animals I'm [watching]."