How to leave your dog (fortunately) when you go on vacation

“Will we have our own swimming pool, Mom?” asks my eight-year-old daughter. “Will I be able to pack my own suitcase? Is Luna allowed to board the plane with us?

“Don’t be stupid, they don’t allow dogs on planes. She can’t come with us,” retorts her 10-year-old brother.

My daughter’s eyes widen in horror. “What do you mean? We can’t leave Luna! We’re her family. Who’s going to take care of her?

Who indeed? It’s a question I’ve been mulling over since we booked our departure, our first overseas trip since the pandemic.

Luna, our two year old Labrador was, by chance rather than design, a confined pup and became our constant companion. I’ve been working from home since the day we got her and will continue to do so. That first spring and summer of March 2020, the kids were there 24/7, so she’s very used to company (and noise). So far Luna has probably enjoyed our trips to stay at a friend’s seaside apartment in Devon even more than we have, with the coastal walks and swimming in the sea at the dog-friendly beach.

The thought of leaving her with a stranger who might not understand that she’s not just any dog, she’s the sweetest, most loving girl and an integral part of our family, fills me with dread.

Luckily, my dad comes to the rescue by recommending Jackie, a lady who has a cabin on the grounds of a local estate and has cared for her beloved whippet for 16 years. She lets the dogs sleep on the beds in her house or in the trailer in the garden and run wild in the park, but first she has to examine the dogs and their owners.

Predictably, his cabin is run down when I go to visit him. It looks a bit like the house in the children’s book A Squash and a Squeeze, when one by one the dogs appear. Two gorgeous red setters, a very friendly little Jack Russell who lays on his back for a belly bath and Leo, my dad’s whippet, emerge one by one. The dogs have free rein to romp around in the large enclosed garden and there are two teenagers helping out, cuddling and picking up you know what.

Luckily, Luna and I pass the test, and Luna’s (two-legged and four-legged friends) stubborn sniffle goes unnoticed. Which is just as well that Jackie tells me she’s busier this semester and summer than she’s ever been.

She has, she says, had to turn people away after meeting them, as well as dogs, because many dogs are locked up puppies who will suffer from separation anxiety and will not have been properly socialized.

I would also say, despite the pandemic, dogs have become child surrogates for some people. At a dinner party the other week, a friend, who chose not to have children, proudly showed me webcam footage of her two sleeping dogs the same way I would show someone photos of my children. The same friend had to cut our evening short to go home and check on her dogs because her partner was away.

So while leaving our beloved pooches will never be easy, what should dog owners look for in a kennel or dog sitter? And how can you help prepare your four-legged friend for your imminent departure?

First, try to think about what type of setup would work best for your dog. Are they more friendly and sociable or more cautious and shy around new people and other dogs?

Niki French, trainer and founder of Pup Talk, says, “Decide what’s right for your dog. Are they happier staying in their own home for the least disruption? If so, having a house and a dog sitter is a great option. This means you also get the security of a house sitter.

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