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    Alternatives to Pet Boarding During the Holidays

    For most of us, holiday stress equates to too much money spent, hectic travel, extra pounds packed on, and plenty more. They all add up to a mountain of anxiety.

    Top that mountain with worry about pet care in your absence, and it’s enough to make you stay on the couch in pajamas while feeding your dog forbidden treats all holiday season long.

    One of the most convenient and reliable options for kenneling your dog or cat over holiday vacation is probably your own veterinarian’s office because most offer overnight stays. Your pet, of course, will be adequately attended to, but the accommodations and hospitality options are probably lacking. After all, they are in business to keep pets healthy, not to read precious kitty bedtime stories each night.

    Plush pet care, however, is big business. The American Pet Products Association projects that animal lovers will spend $11.8 billion for pet boarding, pet sitting, walking, and grooming in 2023. That’s a lot of pet pedicures! The data suggests that pet families regularly seek boarding options beyond basic veterinarian’s kennels. Here are some ideas. 

    What are some alternatives for pet boarding, and can military families afford them?



    In-Home Pet Care

    First, and most likely the least expensive, is to contact friends and family and politely beg. Someone might owe you a BIG favor; it could be time to cash in. Or, if the hosting family has pets, you could ask if your pet is welcome to the festivities. Just be prepared for an awkward “No.”

    Pet Care Swap

    In more friendly terms, you could propose a pet-sitting swap with someone you trust. Most pets enjoy the company of other animals, but make sure that yours does before trying this arrangement. You want to avoid your neighbor calling to talk about your beloved misbehaving while in their charge, which would make you both feel terrible.

    Cute cat enjoying himself outdoors.Photo by Shutterstock

    Pet Sitters

    There’s a wide and varied industry of pet sitters in the world today. Some professionals come to your home, while others take your pet into theirs. Paid add-on options can include playtime, feeding, walks, and overnight tending. Each company has its own payment systems and subscription services.

    Check out Rover, Holidog, and the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters to find sitters that meet your qualifications.

    Local Options

    You'll likely find hyperlocal options near your neighborhood, and they might be less expensive if you can find the right pet sitter fit. Start with your vet. Do they have a recommendation? Or does the vet tech or staff do pet sitting on the side? Knowing a trained veterinarian staff is in charge of your #1 pet removes some of the worry involved. At a minimum, they’ll know where to take Mr. Meow if he gets sick.

    Check Local Reviews

    Don’t forget the tried-and-true Care.com and your local edition of NextDoor. College kids home for holiday breaks often list their info to earn extra cash. You’ll also read candid reviews of your neighbors' experiences, with passionate warnings and recommendations included.

    Man petting his large brown dog. Photo by Shutterstock 

    Outside Pet Boarding

    Now, for the luxury outfitters. Small, boutique-styled boarding facilities and large pet resorts offer plentiful amenities: pools, pampered grooming like facials, outdoor agility courses, and skylights (because, of course, natural light is the best!). The list goes on as far as your military paycheck can reach.

    Peace of Mind

    Pet owners definitely pay for peace of mind. Safety, health, cleanliness, and dedicated attention are typically touted as top priorities by these types of boarding facilities. You can expect an average night’s stay to be around $75 to $100 or a little less for cats.

    Pet "Resorts"

    High-end pet resorts are usually located near large cities where expendable income is the norm rather than an extravagance. Military stations might not fit that bill everywhere, but military-heavy Washington, DC, certainly has its share of fancy pet hotels, as do New York, Florida, and Texas. They aren’t hard to find in big cities. Remember to ask for a military or regular visitor discount.

    Rustic versions of pet resorts are lovingly referred to as country dog camps. These summer camp-type boarding facilities are popping up more and more to please the most discerning dog owners. They offer wide-open spaces with room to play all day with fellow dog friends within secured fields and ponds.

    Farm life living with responsible supervision is just one of the benefits of outdoor dog camps. Country Dogs is an excellent example of free-rein adventure. Their locations provide pet pickup and delivery services in Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey.

    happy brown and white dogPhoto by Shutterstock

    Tips for First-Time Boarders

    Before drop-off day, there are a few things to know. First, check in with your facility for the most up-to-date mandates. 


    Legal and reputable operations require proper vaccinations and documentation for proof. Dogs who haven’t used a kennel likely don’t have the additional Bordetella vaccine, which they’re required to have before arrival.

    Overall Health

    Most companies screen for temperament before drop-off and check the animal for sickness on the day of check-in. Be aware that each boarding house has various rules for neutering. Some require the operation, while others will separate the intact animals from other guests.


    The facilities you choose should be happy for you to visit before leaving your pet. Request a tour and ask questions. The facilities should also welcome phone calls to check on your pet while you are away.

    Schedule Ahead

    The best pet resorts are consistently booked. Everyone wants their pet to go to the best place, right? During holidays and peak vacation times, it is difficult to snag an opening if not done weeks or, more likely, months in advance.

    Black and white dog in backseat of carPhoto by Shutterstock

    Traveling with Your Pet

    If the above options don’t work for you, consider traveling with your pet. Hotels and military lodging have become much more lenient with their guidelines and availability. Plus, pets in a hotel provide the perfect excuse to end a long day of mingling with relatives. Traveling with your pet and boarding him in a facility near your destination alleviates some worry if you can check on him daily.

    Before making your hotel or lodging reservation, confirm the website’s pet policy on availability, the number of pets per room, pet fees, breed restrictions, size/weight limit, and whether the pet needs crating while you’re away from the room. You don’t want to arrive at the hotel and have to leave because your Great Dane doesn’t meet the weight limit.  

    As the holiday season approaches, how will you give Fluffy and Fido the attention they deserve while you’re gone? Let us know in the comments!

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    Dawn M. Smith


    Dawn M. Smith

    Dawn is a real estate and military life writer who has a serious HGTV habit. When she is not writing, her teen daughter, Army husband, and golden retriever keep her busy through chauffeur duties, travel planning, and long dog walks. Dawn is pleased to share her experiences with MilitaryByOwner readers who are hoping to simplify military family journeys of all kinds. Follow Dawn on Pinterest for more ideas and resources and visit her site at Dawn M. Smith Custom Content Creation.

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