With any luck, we'll be on the road tomorrow, joining thousands of Californians heading off to spend the long Thanksgiving weekend away from home with loved ones . . . if, that is, we can find suitable accommodations for Puff and Domino.
It doesn't have to be a four-star resort. They don't need room service or a swimming pool, in-room movies or ocean views.
We're looking for the most basic of amenities: clean, spacious pens; fresh water and food each day; the opportunity to get outdoors every now and then to exercise, and to answer nature's call.
I never dreamed that the hunt for lodging for a couple of flea-bitten mutts might imperil our vacation plans.
We have visited half a dozen kennels--the only ones among the dozens I've called that might even have space for our two dogs. Places that call themselves pet motels, lodges, resorts, country clubs . . . and all look to my children like nothing more than chain-link fences and cement floors.
The best, most comfortable kennels book up for holidays months in advance, I've learned.
"We started a waiting list for Thanksgiving eight weeks ago," the owner of one kennel told me. Another suggested that I reserve now if I'm interested for Christmas next year.
This hunt for holiday housing is new to us. In years past, our household has included au pairs who would stay at home and tend our pets while we traveled. Now I'm reduced to poring over kennel ads, trying to decipher them by reading between the lines.
I've learned that "secluded" means you can't get to it without driving for miles over backwoods roads through terrain so isolated that you hear the theme from "Deliverance" playing in your head.
"Climate controlled" could be--depending on the season--a space heater aimed down a row of cages or a tarp draped over an outdoor run to keep one corner out of the sun.
A "suite" is a 4-by-6-foot cage, an "individual exercise yard" is a patch of stained concrete, and "restful environment" means your dog will never leave his cage.
And "stereo music"? A boombox perched on a folding chair.
Not animal cruelty, but not the lap of luxury either . . . especially for a pair of pooches like ours, accustomed to roughhousing each morning with three rambunctious kids, taking afternoon naps on the living room couch, chasing tennis balls across the lawn and sleeping curled up next to their people in bed.
It strikes me that maybe we're being a tad too picky, using standards higher even than I've employed on family trips, when it was a hotel for people I was trying to find.
Maybe a few days in a gulag-like kennel would be a good reality check, make our dogs appreciate the comforts of home.
The advertisement in the Yellow Pages showed a nattily dressed dog with a bag of golf clubs slung over his shoulder. His arm (or would that be his leg?) is around his girlfriend, a cat clad in tennis togs, clutching a racket in her hand . . . er, paw.
There are no pet sports in progress when we arrive, but the kennel seems nice enough . . . clean--if you ignore the piles of rodent droppings--though a bit austere.
Outdoors, there are two rows of large cages, each equipped with a plastic doghouse and a pair, or more, of barking dogs. These are the primo spots, I learn, and they're all taken. Our dogs would be relegated to tiny cages in a dank, cinder-block shed.
Still, I am tired of the search. I'm ready to sign the dogs over, until I catch a glimpse of my youngest daughter, crouched on the floor talking softly through the bars of a cage.
She is staring at a ball of fluff curled up in the corner of a tiny pen, a puppy who resembles our own little Puff and, at least through my daughter's tear-filled eyes, looks to be miserable, lonely and sad.
"We can't leave the dogs here," my oldest daughter hisses, walking past me to take her little sister's hand. "They would hate it!"
"Then they can just get on the phone and find a better place," I hiss back, at my wit's end.
"Look," I tell them, as we head for the car. "It won't hurt them to live in cages for a few days. After all, they're dogs . . . just dogs!"
Three sets of eyes fix on me, burning with anger.
"No, Mommy," the oldest says. "They're not just dogs. They're our dogs."
Yes, I think, and this is our vacation, fading in the glare of "no vacancy" signs on doggy hotels.
Sandy Banks' column is published on Sundays and Tuesdays. Her e-mail address is sandy.banks@la times.com.