One of the hardest things about taking a summer vacation is figuring out what to do with your pets while you're away. A pack of new Web sites help dog owners connect with hosts willing to take care of their pooches.
Think of them as Airbnbs for canines.
Dog Vacay is one such site, founded by Aaron Hirschhorn, who started the company after his own experience with boarding his dogs in a more or less standard way.
"When my wife and I were traveling, we would put our dogs, Rocky and Rambo, in a kennel," Hirschhorn says. "Nothing awful would happen, but it was clear when we got them back that they were more anxious and out of sorts. And on top of that, we ended up spending over $100 for the two dogs each night. We thought there had to be a better option."
According to Hirschhorn, about a third of dog hosts on Dog Vacay are professional dog sitters. The rest are generally folks who just want a little canine companionship.
"I'm not looking to be a full-time dog sitter," says Jennifer Eremin, a Dog Vacay host in San Francisco. "I have a full-time job, so this is something I do for my own enjoyment. I'm hoping just once in a while I can help out someone in the neighborhood, someone who needs a good place for their dog for a few days. And even have a few repeat customers."
But Dog Vacay's nonprofessionals have access to pros, if needed. The site partners with VCA-Antech, a veterinary group, that offers emergency support in extreme circumstances. "Pack leaders" in major cities also respond if a dog runs away. Dog owners are protected by a liability insurance policy as well, and customer support is provided by phone and e-mail.
Suzanne Golter, the owner of Happy Hound Play and Daycare in Oakland, Calif., also uses technology to give dog owners peace of mind.
Web cams are installed throughout the facility so clients can check in with their pets through a computer or smartphone.
"When I was opening my business I wanted to do something that was a little different," says Golter. "What was important to me as a dog parent was knowing what was happening with my dog when I left them somewhere."
And pet owners are responding.
"I'll get a lot of e-mails from my clients throughout the day," says Golter. "They'll say, 'My dog is out in playgroup and who is she playing with?'"
Pictures of dogs during playgroup are also uploaded to Facebook. These tech options go a long way with customers.
"We're in tech mecca here in the Bay area," Golter says, "I know a lot of clients appreciate what we offer in that way."