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CONSUMERS : Planning Your Pet’s Vacation

Times Staff Writer

Planning for summer vacation? Don’t forget Fifi or Fidette or Max. It’s not too early to check out kennels, catteries or dog and cat hotels your pet can stay in while you’re away.

Southern California has a vast choice of facilities offering everything from basic no-frills board and care to amenities such as windowed condominiums for cats or $55-a-day doggie suites with color television sets. (Maybe your dog likes to watch TV but remember--he is colorblind.)

Animal kennels and boarding facilities are regulated and inspected by county and/or city officials. Some are run privately by non-veterinarians. Others are run by vets who set up separate boarding facilities near their clinics. Some vets will board your pet at their animal hospital.

The newest Los Angeles facility, Pet Resort in Sepulveda, opened in October. Run by the Adler Veterinary Group, it boards dogs, cats, birds and reptiles. It has a swimming pool for dogs and a Jacuzzi for arthritic canines. For felines, it offers condos with brass beds.

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But even if you’re not seeking that level of luxury for your pet, experts and veterinarians say you should follow rule No. 1 in choosing a facility: Inspect it. And if you like it, book it as soon as you can, especially for holiday weekends or peak summer vacation periods.

A trusted relative or friend who likes a particular kennel can offer help in finding that perfect boarding facility, says Dr. A. E. Cady, a Covina veterinarian and president of the Southern California Veterinary Medical Assn.

“It’s important to have a personal recommendation from a friend who has boarded a dog or cat there and had a lack of health problems after boarding,” Cady says. “But you still want to make sure the kennel has a good sanitation record and requires preventive inoculations before you board there. The better kennels and boarding facilities also have requirements that the animal cannot be admitted with fleas.”

Many facilities will not board a pet without written proof or a vet’s call assuring that an animal has had its shots. This may seem inconvenient, but it is a protection for your pet’s health.

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Beware of kennels or catteries that won’t let you inspect the runs or rooms. Some operators don’t like to let potential clients in these areas because they can create a disturbance or carry germs. Still, at least try to see the critical areas through a viewing window.

“Check to make sure the place is clean, and go back and look at the kennels,” advised Kim Campbell Thornton, editor of Dog Fancy magazine in Irvine. “If they won’t let you or don’t have a window you can look through, I would not advise you to leave your animal there. I wouldn’t leave mine.”

Before boarding a pet, ask also how much contact it will have with people. After all, you don’t want to leave your four-footed friend, accustomed to lots of attention at home, languishing in a cage. “Pet-to-people contact is very important,” said Dr. Leslie Malo, a Garden Grove vet who opened Animal Inns of America in October, 1978.

When it comes to exercise, animal experts queried say it’s best for dogs to have outside runs; cats don’t need runs because they exercise isometrically--stretching, not running.

Dr. Ted Adler, who built the Pet Resort, has grassy runs outdoors where dogs can exercise, though he also thinks it’s healthy for them to swim: “Swimming is worth a least five to seven times more than playing and running. Ten minutes of exercise in the pool . . . is like a dog running in the park for 40 minutes.”

Be wary if a manager says a facility boards in cages but doesn’t have runs, Thornton says. Dog owners, she says, should “ask how the animals are exercised and what the sizes of the cages are, and what kind of food they feed. Some dogs don’t do well on strange food--they get upset stomachs.”

It’s also worth checking to see if the facility has trained personnel and offers 24-hour vet availability; that it has good ventilation and maintains normal temperatures in its building; that its cages and sleeping accommodations are comfortable for animals; whether it offers grooming services; that its food and water is served in a sanitary manner; and that it is secure, having, for example, smoke alarms and a fire emergency plan.

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A sampling of boarding facilities in Los Angeles and Orange counties shows that many will feed pets their regular food if provided it. Some charge extra, though, for special feedings.

When inquiring about the per day price, be sure to check about those extra services, which can add up. The daily cat rate, for instance, might be $6 or $7. But add in special food, daily snacks and a brushing and the daily rate could escalate to $11 or $12. Many facilities charge an added fee for medicating an animal, though some won’t even take pets needing such care.

Be sure to let kennel personnel know if your animal has odd habits (if, for example, it barks or meows a lot) or if it has special breed traits that might affect it in case of illness (greyhounds, for example, require less anesthetic than most breeds, says greyhound owner Thornton.)

Though rates vary, they usually are higher in large cities, says James Krack, executive director of the American Boarding Kennels Assn., a Colorado Springs, Colo.-based trade group. Boarding rates for dogs vary according to an animal’s size and weight. In Los Angeles and Orange counties, basic fees range roughly from $6 to $10 a day for a small dog; $10 to $16.50 for a large dog.

“The upscale kennels that provide those extra services . . . are offering two things--providing care for the animals and peace of mind for the owners,” Krack says. “But people should evaluate the kennel on basics--security, safety, supervision and sanitation. They should insist on the basics and then go on to some extras.”

Door-to-Door Service

Some facilities will pick up and deliver pets; others will arrange for it. “We can have any pet picked up or delivered,” Adler said. “But I like the owners to bring them in themselves. It’s far better for the animals. It’s less stress. And we want to try to reduce stress.”

To further minimize wear and tear on pets, Krack recommends that owners not board them when they’re just puppies or kittens. But don’t wait until animals are too old to introduce them to boarding, with which they also should experience occasionally just to keep comfortable.

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He says owners can create problems, especially “if your dog sees you packing your suitcases or crying at the kennel. And don’t let the kids hug him and cry. Animals pick up on that and get very stressed.”

Once a pet returns, he recommends that owners not overfeed or overwater them. With dogs, especially, it is advisable to wait four hours or so before feeding; they can get ice cubes instead of a lot of water.


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