Pets get staycation while owners on go

Animals pampered in boarding facilities or by pet sitters

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A CLEAN, welcoming PLACE

Tips for selecting a pet boarding facility:

• Cleanliness: An odor-free environment is a good clue to how clean a boarding facility is. Accidents happen, but the overall facility shouldn't smell bad, said veterinarian Kenneth Simmons.

• Service: Personnel should be friendly and welcoming.

• Cost: The facility should be affordable for the pet owner.

• Tour: Ask for a spontaneous tour. A good facility should be able to give you one on the spot, said Simmons.

Source: Veterinarian Kenneth Simmons

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Summer is in full-swing, and for some consumers this means vacation time. But for their four-legged friends, this often means a staycation at a pet boarding facility or at home with a pet sitter.

Americans will spend about $55.53 billion on their pets this year, according to the American Pet Products Association, and $4.54 billion of that will be spent on pet services, which includes boarding and pet sitting.

"Our pet hotel is busy, busy, busy all summer long," said veterinarian Kenneth Simmons, the owner of the Barkers Hotel & Purrington Inn at the Simmons Veterinary Hospital in Lake Worth, Fla.

The Barkers Hotel had 160 to 170 dogs and 30 to 40 cats boarding during the Fourth of July weekend. During the rest of the summer, the hotel has 50 to 70 dogs boarding every week.

The hotel mostly caters to cats and dogs but will accept "anything that moves," said hospital administrator Sherri Kelley.

Inspired by the renowned Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach, Barkers distinguishes itself from other boarding facilities by trying to provide pets with the same luxury experience their owners expect when going on vacation.

The most expensive room goes for $90 a night and includes the pet equivalent of a king-size bed, a flat screen TV that plays movies, and skylights.

"It's a very sexy place," said Simmons.

Cheaper rooms are smaller in size and include the pet equivalent of a queen-size or a twin-size bed. Most rooms are tiled.

Busboys deliver food on carts, and all dogs receive baths.

During the day, the dogs are let loose to play in a pool area dubbed Barkeritaville Lagoon and in a grassy park, which together cover 2 acres. More than 40 employees supervise the residents. Grooming and training services are also available.

"I don't want to just board animals," said Simmons. "I wanted to have a place that pets and their owners want to come."

The Coral Springs Animal Hospital offers a more cost-conscious option that still includes plenty of play time. Rooms start at $18 a night and include four walks a day for all dogs. There are glass-enclosed rooms instead of wire cages.

During the summer months, the boarding facility averages about 60 dogs, which is almost double what the hospital has during the rest of the year.

"Our goal is for them to have as good a time here as they do at home, actually even better," said hospital manager Shayne Gardner.

Boarding is not always a feasible option for all owners and their pets.

"Pet sitters are a wonderful option for certain types of dogs," said Simmons, who has been a vet for more than 30 years.

Andrea Torrents is the owner of The Pet Nanny Services Inc., which offers in-home pet sitting across Broward County, Fla. One visit costs $20, regardless of how many animals are at home, and sitters will visit as many as four times a day. During these visits, the sitters will feed, play with and clean up after the pets, water plants, pick up the mail and make the house look lived in.