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Doggie vacation: Pairing pooches with homestays

Dogs on vacation at a home in Garden Grove, Calif., join Noodle, the resident basset hound, in the kitchen.

Valerie Steiger, a life coach in Canyon Country, Calif., had a 4-month-old puppy and tickets for a 10-day trip to Thailand.

Steiger knew that Joey, a cavalier King Charles spaniel-shih tzu mix, would need more attention than what a traditional stop-by-the-house pet sitter could provide, so she went online in search of a good boarding kennel.

Instead she found DogVacay.com.

The site, which officially launches March 1 in Los Angeles and San Francisco, and soon after in other major cities, matches dog owners in need of pet-care services with people willing to host dogs in their homes for a fee.

“I went down the list of profiles in my city and found someone who specializes in puppies and was a trainer by trade,” said Steiger, who requested a site-arranged “meet and greet” to evaluate the caregiver and the home where Joey would be staying. “It turned out better than I imagined. When you go away, it’s like leaving your baby. You’re wondering about them and thinking about them, so I liked that [the hosts] sent me photos and video clips of Joey running around and playing.”

DogVacay.com CEO Aaron Hirschhorn co-founded DogVacay.com with his wife, Karine Nissim Hirschhorn, after struggling over what to do with their own dogs when they traveled. They also had previously boarded dogs at their own house, and after a little research discovered that dog owners spend about $275 a year on boarding. 

“Right now there are kennels and there are private pet sitters,” said Aaron Hirschhorn. “And we realized there was a need for a marketplace to bring together responsible dog lovers with causal and professional dog sitters who can provide a more affordable and better experience for dogs.”

As an example, Hirschhorn said that right now kennel stays in Los Angeles cost about $50 to $70 per day, while day rates on DogVacay.com are currently averaging $30.

On the site, each dog sitter sets his or her own prices with assistance from DogVacay.com. Listings are free. The site takes a 3 percent to 10 percent transaction fee from dog sitters depending on their volume of business and the number of positive reviews.

For customers, fees include insurance coverage for veterinary emergencies.  Pet sitters are vetted via reviews, social network connections and direct interviews by DogVacay.com staff. 

Pet owners who take their dogs along on trips may also use the service to find sitters or host homes in cities they visit, a service that comes in handy because not all hotels accept pets — especially large ones — and some travelers are uneasy about leaving their dogs kenneled in a hotel room all day. “We think this will help free people up to travel because some people don’t want to kennel their dogs while they’re away and don’t want to bother their friends,” said Hirschhorn. “This way, more dogs can go along.”

For cities not served by DogVacay.com, American Automobile Association spokesperson Heather Hunter notes that many AAA clubs have local pet-service partners available to members and that the organization’s "AAA PetBook" lists more than 14,000 pet-friendly accommodations as well as tips and advice for choosing a pet sitter. For example, “Be sure to ask what is included in the fee and how they will handle a medical, weather, or home emergency,” said Hunter.  

Like Airbnb, Couchsurfing.com and other peer-to-peer, home-stay websites, hosts are encouraged to go online after the stay and rate the behavior of their guest.

“The good news is that a dog that stays at your house won’t throw a party or get drunk and invite all their friends over,” said Hirschhorn, “although we have had some dogs pee on the carpet.”

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