What Is In-Home Pet Boarding?

In-home pet boarding provides an alternative to kennels and pet sitters, but is it right for you and your cat or dog?

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In-home boarding means that your pet will be welcomed into the home of the pet boarder and treated like family while you are away. moodboard/Thinkstock

This summer, my husband and I caravanned down the West Coast for a glorious, two-week adventure. We started in Reedsport, Oregon, and finished in Huntington Beach, California, making pit stops all along the way to take in the saltwater shores, eat at quirky diners and rummage through beach town secondhand stores.

Our dogs, unfortunately, couldn’t make the journey.

Being self-employed, we typically share the majority of our daily lives with our three rescue dogs. Song is a retired racing Greyhound, ChiChi is our snorting Chihuahua and Pete is a hound mix farm dog who trusts only a handful of humans.

We wanted to take them with us (of course!), but with record-breaking temperatures in the forecast, we thought it best to leave them behind. A two-week stay at a traditional kennel just wouldn’t do for our furry loves, so we found an in-home pet sitter, thanks to a referral from our veterinarian. She pet sat our pups — and then some. She welcomed our dogs into her home and cared for them as if they were her own.

It’s as if they stayed with family.

Non-Traditional Dog And Cat Boarding

We’re not the only ones looking for an alternative to traditional kenneling. The pet services segment — particularly pet sitting services at home — has enjoyed steady growth over the past decade as more and more households welcome dogs and cats into their families, according to the American Pet Products Association’s National Pet Owner Survey.

In-home pet boarding, however, is different from traditional pet sitting or kennel boarding, says Yvette Gonzales, president of the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters, a nonprofit organization based in Mount Laurel, New Jersey.

Rather than being left home alone all day with a short visit from a sitter, or being kenneled in a lonely, sterile dog run or cat condo, the pet is welcomed into the boarder’s home, she said.

“In-home pet boarding is when a pet sitter brings a client’s animal into their home to live as a member of the sitter’s family without kenneling for a period of time,” she says. “It’s a non-traditional way of boarding when the pet parent must be away from home.”

It’s a service that has existed for some time but grown recently in popularity, Gonzales added.

“In-home pet boarding is not new, but it’s a rising trend as a result of online services that advertise and specialize in this type of pet care,” she says.

Rachael King, head of communications for DogVacay in Santa Monica, California, said that the “Gig Economy” trend is taking the service industry — including pet care — by storm.

“We’re seeing a huge increase in marketplaces that connect service providers for things like rides (Lyft), homes (Airbnb), groceries (Instacart) — you name it,” King says. “In-home pet boarding is a way for animal lovers with flexible schedules to make a little extra money doing something they love. The best part is they can do it from home.”

Some pets enjoy being part of another household while your away, while others may prefer staying in their own home with a pet sitter to check in on them. Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Thinkstock

Some pets enjoy being part of another household while you’re away, while others may prefer staying in their own home with a pet sitter to check in on them. Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Thinkstock

Benefits And Drawbacks To In-Home Pet Boarding

As with most services, in-home pet boarding has its pros and cons.

What’s better than knowing your dog or cat is staying in the comfort of a home with a pack of pet-loving humans where they’re treated like family? Some pets like it so much, in fact, that they learn to see their regular in-home pet sitter as an extended member of the family.

Maggie Brown, co-founder of Sleepover Rover Inc. in Phoenix, hired Gail, a dog-loving retiree, to watch her German Shepherd named Libby. After just one visit, Libby recognized Gail and greeted her with an enthusiastic bound and tail wag when Brown dropped her pup off for a weekend stay.

“After that, I decided to never again leave my pet in any other environment,” she says. “Gail became almost an extended family member: a trusted and appreciated animal lover who opened her arms and home to my beloved canine companion.”

King adds that finding an in-home pet boarder through a professional company has its benefits, too. She says that finding and booking a sitter is easy and convenient on the DogVacay website or mobile app, and all bookings are covered with pet insurance and 24/7 emergency care.

But Gonzales said the risks could outweigh the benefits.

“For in-home pet boarding, an animal is removed from his/her environment where they feel most safe,” she says. “The change in routine and atmosphere can cause stress and anxiety for the pet, especially if there are other pets or even children in the home.”

Pete, one of the author's three rescue dogs, trusts only a few people, but he got along great at the in-home pet boarder's house. Courtesy of Wendy Bedwell-Wilson

Pete, one of the author’s three rescue dogs, trusts only a few people, but he got along great at the in-home pet boarder’s house. Courtesy of Wendy Bedwell-Wilson

Finding A Provider

If in-home boarding seems to be a fit for your pal, how do you find a licensed expert in your area?

Several companies, including Sleepover Rover Inc., DogVacay and Rover.com, offer searchable online directories of qualified in-home boarding service providers across the country. They provide insurance, do background checks on their sitters and can help you find the perfect match — specifically when it comes to personality, location, home environment, yard size and number of animals watched at one time.

Another option is to check with the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters or Pet Sitters International’s website and search for providers in your area who might offer both pet sitting and in-home services.

You can also ask around! Check with your veterinarian. Talk to your dog trainer, groomer or favorite pet store owner. Ask other pet people who they use to watch their pets while they’re away. Personal recommendations can be an excellent way to go.

But before you leave your furry friend with a stranger in a strange home, screen all prospective in-home sitters so this nightmare doesn’t happen.

Schedule a meet-and-greet before booking any stay, advises Brandie Gonzales, communications director for Rover.com.

“It’s the best way for pet parents to observe how the sitter and their pet get along and determine whether she’s the right fit for their pet,” she says. “Sitter profiles [on the company website] also feature verified reviews from other owners who have used the sitter’s services in the past. We encourage pet parents to read those reviews and testimonials.”

While meeting with the sitter, ask some questions, including:

  • Is the pet care provider appropriately licensed to do in-home boarding? Laws differ from state to state, Yvette Gonzales says.
  • Visit the home of the pet care provider. Is it clean and safe? How large is the yard? Are there fencing and shaded areas?
  • Will there be other pets or children in the home? “If your pet isn’t used to being around other animals or children, this could be a problem,” Yvette Gonzales says.
  • Is the sitter reliable and responsible? Learn about his/her experience, read customer reviews and do your research about the individual.
  • Will the pet care provider actually be home with your animal? Or will he/she be doing other pet-sitting services away from the home? What is his/her daily routine? “If you’re considering taking your pet out of your familiar home, you’ll want to make sure that he/she isn’t left alone for long periods of time,” Yvette Gonzales says.

“It’s important to be aware of the environment of the home where you’ll be bringing your pet,” Yvette Gonzales says. “You’ll want to understand who will be in the home during the time your pet is being cared for. Will there be children, other pets, other adults? This is an environment that you, as the pet parent, do not have complete control over, so there is always risk involved.”

If everything checks out, discuss details like length of service and type of care needed when agreeing on a price, she added.

Is In-Home Boarding Right For Your Pet?

“Take a look at your pet’s behavior,” Yvette Gonzales advises. “Is he/she most comfortable following a routine at home and does he/she feel stressed when in the car or visiting the vet? If that’s the case, removing your pet from the home might not be the best option.”

In-home pet boarding might remove your dog or cat from the comforts of their own home (everyone — even dogs and cats — loves their own bed!), but it offers family-like companionship while you’re away. Weigh the benefits and drawbacks, find some professionals in your area and try one out!

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