You've got vacation time booked, plane tickets in hand an hotel reservations confirmed. The neighbor is picking up your mail, the newspaper will be stopped while you're gone and the lights are on timers. You're ready for your holiday vacation, right?
Wrong -- if you haven't planned for your pets. The two-week period at the end of the year is so busy for pet-care businesses that pet-lovers who haven't prepared may end up with no place to care for their pets while they're gone.
If you aren't taking your pets with you on your trip, you have a couple of options: Either send them out to a friend or pet-boarding business, or have a friend or professional sitter drop in to care for them in your home. The decision will depend on your evaluation of what suits your animals. Either way, make your arrangements right away.
A shy animal may be happier staying in familiar surroundings, rather than going to a boarding operation. This is often true of cats, although some will be perfectly happy in a place designed to suit their sensibilities (no dogs on the premises, ideally, or at least a private room for the cats). An outgoing dog, on the other hand, may find kennel life great fun.
How to find a good boarding operation? Ask your friends for referrals, or your veterinarian. Some veterinary hospitals offer boarding, while others are familiar enough with local operations to send clients their way.
Even with a glowing referral, you need to check out the premises yourself -- and the time to do that is well before you need to leave your pets. A pet-boarding business that won't insist on proof of vaccinations may not be too careful about your pets' health while they're being boarded, and the one that won't allow you a behind-the-counter inspection is one to avoid.
Also, ask about feeding policy -- will your pets eat their regular diet? Is there an charge extra for giving medications? Will your dog get a run, or be confined to a crate most of the time? How much exercise do boarders get, and how often?
Leave your pets with something that reminds them of you. One of my friends wears a pair of old socks the day before he drops off his two dogs. When he leaves them, they each get a sock -- full of his scent.
With the proper precautions, a boarding stay should be no problem for either you or your pets. And since many pet-boarding businesses offer grooming, you can arrange to have your pet bathed, brushed and fluffed before you pick him up.
If you prefer to have your pets wait out your absence in familiar surroundings, then a pet-sitting service may be the answer. Such services visit your home, collect the mail, water the plants and look after your animals.
Pet-sitting services generally charge by the pet and by the visit. If you have a lot of pets and require twice-daily visits, costs can add up, so be sure of the pricing structure. Check references before hiring a service, and make sure the company is bonded. After all, you'll be leaving them with the key to your home.
One final note on holiday preparations: Pet-sitters and boarding operations aren't the only ones to book up early -- groomers do, too. If you want your pet to look picture-perfect for holiday photos, give your groomer a call now and make your appointment.
Ms. Spadafori is a newspaper reporter and an animal obedience trainer in Sacramento, Calif. Questions about pets may be sent to her c/o Saturday, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278