Wheelchair-bound dog taking a walk
As anyone whose pet requires a little extra time, attention, work or unique know-how knows, finding a substitute caretaker can be trying. It’s tough work finding someone who knows exactly how to manage the many day-to-day things you undertake on behalf of your beloved pets. More so when your pet has singularly complicated health or behavioral issues.

If you doubt the veracity of my claim, it’s probably because you’ve either lived a charmed pet existence with few special-needs animals in your life… or you’ve never needed to sneak out of town at a moment’s notice with few pet care options at your disposal. 

Just try to find someone who knows how to manage a diabetic pet‘s hypoglycemic episodes… or a blind pet’s disoriented perambulations… or a geriatric pet’s miscellaneous physical requirements. 

Then there are all the behavioral issues to consider. 

Take my household, for example. I’ve got two dogs who need to be separated whenever I’m not around, another whose spinal disease has rendered him largely incontinent and still another whose hydrocephalus means he needs to be diapered whenever he’s indoors. Not an easy bunch. 

So what’s a travel-loving pet owner to do?

Put Them in Good Hands When You’re Away

Unfortunately, it’s been my experience that plenty of pet owners whose pets have special needs will outright refuse to leave their homes. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Consider the following solutions to this admittedly troubling problem.

1. Call upon your veterinarian. Even if your veterinarian doesn’t offer boarding (we don’t), most will make an exception for a chronically ill or particularly needy pet (we will). In fact, it’s another way we end up knowing so many of our infirm patients so intimately.

But is it always best to keep your pet at the vet’s? Though, strictly speaking, it might be one of the safest, be aware that many clinics aren’t staffed overnight, and it may not always be the most comfortable situation for your pet. Staying at home or in the company of a dedicated sitter may well be more enjoyable.

2. Consider high-end professional boarding facilities. These are a great option if what you want is full-time care. Many will even allow you to log in online and check in on your pets round the clock. But they’re not all created equal. Make sure you do your homework!

It’s always a good idea to interview them. Ask what they’d do in a crisis. Which ER facility do they use? Would they take your pet to your vet or theirs in the event of a nonemergency issue? How well versed are they in your pet’s issues? Do they have a separate area for pets with unique behavioral issues (aggression, for example), or do they commingle them? 3. Interview “small batch” pet sitters. One of my staff members takes on three or four pets at a time in her small town house. It’s a great setup for needy pets given that pets get the benefit of a quiet home environment and all the experience of a veterinary industry worker. “Small batch” places like hers can often handle many at-home medical treatments, may be accustomed to behaviorally challenging pets and know just what to look for when a sickly patient is in decline. (But always interview first, as with the boarding facilities above, and ask for references to be sure they’re right for your pet’s needs.)

The downside is that many of these sitters can’t be there at all times. Some have remote camera setups, and others have partners or spouses who help out, but it’s more like a real home environment than a professional 24/7 facility. And a homelike environment can be a real plus for easily stressed pets.

4. In-home pet sitters. Want to minimize stress as much as humanly possible? Consider hiring someone responsible and well recommended (bonded and insured is preferable) to come enjoy a staycation at your home. If your pets’ needs aren’t too intensive, you might even find you can hire someone to come check in on your pets a couple of times a day (but don’t take this route if your pets truly need more attention than that). Just be sure they’re capable of performing all necessary tasks and ask them to perform them as part of the interview.

Want added security? Get in-home video cameras for yourself. These have gotten so inexpensive that most pet owners who can afford a vacation can afford one of these $200 remote-monitoring doohickeys, too. And always undertake a trial for short vacations before embarking on a round-the-world cruise. You want to be sure this works out well, right?

Recognize, also, that you don’t have to choose one approach for all your pets. In fact, I use all four! Each of my dogs gets a different facility or person. And it’s not even prohibitively expensive. Not when you compare it to the cost of airfare or vehicle mileage. 

Sure, it’s easier to just stay home and go nowhere, but that’s not being fair or humane… to yourself.

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