Pets on vacation – yea or nay?

’Round about April I become giddy with vacation planning. I gather the family around the computer as we winnow down our options and pick our dates. This year with the Northeast held prisoner by an unusual chill, nothing could levitate my mood as reliably as thinking about the future.

And then the invariable happens. A dog wanders into the room. Or two dogs, or all four of them gallop into my office as if to remind us of their place in our lives. This is followed by the usual pleas from my still innocent, everything-is-possible children, who plead for their pets’ inclusion. As often as not, I check the pet-friendly option just to see if per chance I could find a house where we all could stay.

Though my final verdict will be revealed momentarily, there are many considerations that should go into the decision of what to do with your beloved fur-children while you’re on holiday. First and foremost – What’s right for your pet?

Should pets accompany their families or be left behind? Most caged or exotic pets would do best at home. Small rodents, mammals, reptiles and birds are motion-sensitive and stressed by sounds, and temperature and schedule changes. Cats are quite environmentally dependent as well, having magnetic particles in their bodies and homing instincts that often override their human affections. As a rule, most cats need weeks to orient to a new living space.

As far as dogs go, it might seem like a no-brainer. All dogs love adventures. Or do they? The truth is some do, while others are more akin to little kids who are comforted by routine and familiarity. If your dog is upset when you rearrange the furniture, reorienting to a new landscape and the inconsistencies of your vacation schedule may not get his tail wagging.

Will your holiday spell more isolation than is usual for your dog? The stress of travel, acclimating to a new location plus isolation can send even the most stable dogs into a behavior meltdown. While people displace tension from overeating to nail-biting, dogs alleviate stress through chewing, maturating (aka peeing) and other destructive habits. These dogs aren’t bad. They’re homesick.

Take your dog’s personality into consideration. Is he a fun-loving, everybody’s-my-friend type, or more reserved with strangers? Does he walk into new places with his tail held high? If so, then I’d probably agree that if your schedule would allow him daily jaunts, he’d have more fun joining you than being left staring at your taillights from the kitchen window. On the other hand, if new aromas, strange topographies and fresh faces stress your dog, his reactions to them will affect your holiday.

Here are some other questions to ask yourself:

If children will be on holiday with you, can your dog be trusted with them? Unless they’re your kids, check to see if they’re comfortable with dogs or have allergies to them.

How about other dogs? Vacation hot spots are usually rife with dogs and dog lovers. How will your dog fare with strange dogs? A territorial dispute between dogs can derail the most congenial of gatherings.

If you’ve decided to leave your dog at home – what then? Kennel, house sitter, overnight stay or routine visits?

Kennels are the ideal option for dog-friendly dogs, who view a trip to the kennel like going to summer camp. Is your dog eager to meet and play with new dogs? If he is, I’d vote for a kennel stay. You’ll waste no energy worrying if your dog is all right while you’re away.

Now that I have a pack of dogs, however, I have acquiesced to the needs of my most fragile canine, my German Shepherd, Balderdash. A momma’s boy since the day I rescued him, he frets when we’re separated – even for half a day. The one kennel stay we attempted was his emotional undoing. For his sake, I hire live-in house sitters, or secure someone to stop in four times during the course of the day. The sitters mirror our routines and schedule in an effort to keep all the pets busy and happy while we’re away.

Whatever you choose, try, as I do, to fend off the feelings of guilt. Dogs prefer what is familiar and besides, as we all know, vacations are not always what they are cracked up to be. The car breaks down, the kids get sick, you get poison ivy. In the end you may wish you stayed home as well.

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