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by Marvin N. McDaniel, CTC

When it comes time to plan a vacation, a travel agent can help with a lot of things plane tickets, hotels, rental cars, cruise bookings and more. But there are a few things you will need to handle yourself.

One of the most important is finding reliable care for your pets. As for pet-care options, there are basically two: either they stay at your house or they go elsewhere.

Dogs are creatures of habit and prefer to stay in their own homes and yards. Cats, birds, snakes, etc., don't mind a new environment so much.

But if leaving pets at home with a reliable pet-sitter does not work for you, make sure they go to a nice place either a kennel, where you are sure they will be exercised and petted every day, or to a friend's house, where they can get lots of attention and love.

To find a good kennel, ask your veterinarian. He or she may have a kennel and board pets; if not, your vet should be able to recommend one. If you don't leave your pet with its own veterinarian, make sure the kennel knows how to reach your pet's vet.

Also, leave the number of a friend or a relative who lives in town in case there is a problem. One good way to make sure pets are well-cared-for is to send them to the house of a friend who also has pets. This may not work for everyone, since pet personalities can sometimes clash.

If you want to try this, get the animals together for an extended period. Maybe even make it an overnight stay while you are still in town. For some pet owners, the best option is to use a live-in pet-sitter.

For ideas on what to look for in a pet-sitter, you can call The National Association of Pet Sitters at 919-983-9222 between 2 and 5 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Thursday. NAPS can give you the names of pet-sitters in your area who are registered with them, and they also offer two brochures, "Looking for a Pet Sitter" and "How to Get the Most from Your Pet Sitting Service." These will tell you some things you need to consider.

Another way to locate a pet-sitter is to ask around at work. Maybe a co-worker has an older son or daughter who can take care of your pets. Have the prospective pet-sitter come to your house and let the pets decide if they like them. Animals are very perceptive, and they will tell you if you have made a good choice.

If you do not want a live-in pet-sitter, you need to arrange for someone to come in at least two times a day for dogs and cats. Other animals can get by on less-frequent visits. It does not necessarily have to be the same person who comes in twice a day, but make sure all the pet-sitters know the jobs they are supposed to do.

Here are some additional tips:

?Tell your vet you are leaving town and give your vet the name of the pet-sitter or kennel. If he or she will not bill you for any health care services your pet may need, go in and leave a credit-card imprint.

Make sure the vet knows who is authorized to make decisions regarding your pet's care.

?Make sure the pet-sitter or the kennel knows a particular pet's diet, and write it down. Older pets, especially, need to maintain a consistent diet. Leave instructions for how and when to give treats and what treats are acceptable.

?Make sure the pet-sitter or kennel knows when you are coming home, and make sure your pet can stay on longer if your return is delayed.

?Make sure the pet-sitter or kennel knows your pet's routine, especially for dogs. Lots of behavior problems arise when the routine is broken.

?Make sure your pet-sitter or kennel knows how to reach you. Ask your travel agent for an extra copy of your itinerary and leave it with the pet-sitter or kennel.

?If you use a pet-sitter, make sure there is plenty of food. And leave some emergency cash, just in case.

?Make sure the pet-sitter has a key, and let them know if you have an extra key hidden outside or with a neighbor.

?Leave an old piece of clothing you have worn recently in your pet's bed. You are your pet's favorite person, and you will be missed.

(Marvin N. McDaniel, CTC, is president of Carlson Wagonlit Travel/Carlson Travel Network.)

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