(Reuben Munoz / Los Angeles…)
A frequently asked question: I'm going on vacation. What do I do with the dog? My mother says if I foist him off on her, she's divorcing me.
Answer: A mother can't divorce a child. I know this is true because mine would have done it if it were possible.
Legal action aside, you probably may need other loving hands to care for Fido. I used to think my dog was a dog until I realized she was a boa constrictor, squeezing the very financial life out of me. Dogs may be man's best friend, but they also can seem like man's biggest expense, and that's before the food, toys, accouterments, never mind the preventive veterinary care that mostly prevented me from going on the trips of my dreams. Throw in boarding for the little rascal while you're away for a week and your budget may end up in the dog house … or, if it's an expensive place, the poor house.
No wonder. Pets can be a lucrative business. There are 78 million dogs in U.S. homes, the American Pet Products Assn. estimates, and this year, we will spend almost $53 billion on cats, dogs, birds, horses and other friends.
Enter two newish companies that offer some financial relief and can be an alternative to boarding or a stint at the dog spa or doggy dude ranch. Rover.com and DogVacay.com can help you find a caregiver for your dog (although each company is slightly different). Think of them as dHarmony for dogs, coupled with Couchsurfing.com.
Rover.com, which recently added Los Angeles to its cities served, gives you the option of placing your dog with a family or having a sitter in your home. Each of the sitters is reviewed and must agree to the Rover Bill of Rights, said Aaron Easterly, chief executive of Rover.com. In looking at what might have been a suitable accommodation for a large dog (40 to 100 pounds) in my area, I found a variety of hosts who would allow her to stay with them or who would stay in my home. Prices began at $10 a night. The sitters, said Easterly, himself a dog owner of Caramel, do it not for the money (many donate all or part of their proceeds to animal shelters) but because they love dogs.
DogVacay.com can help you find families that will host your dog in their home (but doesn't have in-home sitters). Looking around in my area, I found rates that began at $15 a night. Hosts are vetted, of course. Owners Aaron and Karine Hirschhorn, who also are dog owners (of Rocky and Rambo), say they'll never kennel their pets again. "We've been blown away by the positive response," Aaron said of the kudos from dog owners.
Both companies carry lots of insurance (in case Fido misbehaves or something medical happens), and both organizations encourage meet-and-greets with prospective sitters, which helps reduce anxiety and diverts the dog's attention, at departure time, from your absence to someone else's presence.
You can, of course, take your hound with you, which means finding pet-friendly hotels (be prepared to cough up a cleaning fee) and making sure the bathroom issues are addressed. Tobi Skovron, chief executive of Pup-Pee Solutions, has built a company around anything "that comes out of the back end of the dog or cat." To that end, he suggests his Pet Loo, which gives the dog a little patch of (artificial) grass for those times when the real thing isn't available. The system neutralizes odors and is easily cleaned. Makes a car or RV trip a little less trying.
The good news for pet owners is that their options have increased. Owning a pet isn't without its financial constraints, but the psychic rewards are unmatched. At the very least, your dog won't try to divorce you.
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