When the Cat Stays 

Wednesday, May 26 1999
Every time the weather starts to gettin’ hotter Don’t worry about it, toss your clothes and hit the water We’ll be California Dreamin’ bay watchin’ every day Just off the Malibu surfin’ USA. —Beach Boys (“Summer of Love,” 1992)

About one-third of the 4-plus-million kids in our city are four-footed and furry. Joints like U-Wash Doggie, For Pets Only, and Collar and Leash show that L.A.’s pets are a pampered part of the family. If leaving them behind for a week’s vacation this summer prompts Home Alone panic, there are many worry-free ways to ensure that your pet enjoys your time away almost as much as you do.

Suspect the dog will throw a four-star bash while you’re gone? Padlock the house and bring him to Loved Dog (2100 Pontius Ave., 310-914-3033; $15–$40 per day; weekly rate is 10 percent off). This cage-free home away from home has playmates, couches, toys, slides, training sessions and round-the-clock companionship, both canine and human. At night your pup can curl up in a child-size bed and be lulled to sleep with classical music. The Kennel Club of Los Angeles (5325 W. 102nd St., 310-338-9166, www.kennelclublax.com) is a convenient stone’s throw from the airport and offers runs of all sizes ($18–$25) and 8-by-8-foot private theme rooms such as 101 Dalmatians and The Lion King, with all the creature comforts — TV, VCR and plush bed ($45 per day). The truly spoiled will love the VIP package ($55 per day), where they can hang out with folks at the front desk and cuddle up with the night attendant. Is Fido a ferret? No problem — the staff has played host to monkeys, pigs and goats. They even have a doggy treadmill and small pool for health-conscious guests.

While the frills of the Kennel Club and other pet camps rival the Ritz Carlton, a few toys from home and a worn piece of clothing or blanket (with your scent) should be enough to keep that tail wagging. The bells and whistles are more for your conscience than your pet’s comfort. "I don’t think of it as luxury — I think of it as the right way to take care of a dog," says boarder and trainer Jonathan Klein of his homey operation, I Said Sit Dog Care and Education (3777 Las Flores Court, W.L.A., 310-839-8935; $22 per day). You won’t find feather beds or big-screen TVs here, but his pad — specially designed as a boarding and training center — offers runs with toys and bedding, grooming, and several little yards that canine guests and Klein’s own dogs enjoy regularly.

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Kitty hotels aren’t exactly the cat’s meow — most offer only crates or cages, but as felines sleep nearly 20 hours a day, they’re not likely to mind. As long as those places are kept clean and require health checks, they’re fine. Casitas Hotel for Cats (3519 Casitas Ave., 323-664-7115; $8 per day) is a low-cost option, and Holiday Hotel for Cats (2327 Cotner Ave., 310-479-1440; $14 per day) has large cages, music and frequent attention.

Never assume a care situation is ideal based only on a phone call — always go and check the kennel out. It should have a license, bond and city-issued permit (call L.A. Animal Services, 888-452-7381), clean quarters and good ventilation, an available vet, regular laundering, and a personable staff. Ask questions: Does the facility require vaccinations or health exams? If not, hit the road. What is the daily routine? If kept in a run, dogs should be exercised twice daily and checked on every three to four hours. Some boarders may charge more if your pet takes medication or re-quires special attention or food.

If your pet is older or just plain set in her ways, a sitter may be the best choice. Though finding a good one requires some research, there are definite advantages: Your baby gets the run of the house, there’s no risk of exposure to illness, and the sitter can make the place look lived-in by getting the mail and turning on lights. It’s also cheaper than most dog kennels, which means you can splurge on snorkeling lessons or high-fashion flip-flops. A business license (unavailable to felons), insurance, vet access and a pet-friendly demeanor are important, but there are more hurdles to clear before you hand over your house keys. References and experience are crucial, and professional affiliations lend added credibility. Pet Sitters International (336-983-9222 or www. petsit.com) and the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters (www.petsitters.org) can give you a listing of qualified candidates in your neighborhood. Have the sitter visit you and interact with your pets. Ask about rates, standard services and emergencies. A good sitter will also have questions — vet and vaccination info, emergency numbers, and a pet’s special needs and hiding places. Such tips will save the sitter from a heart attack when Whiskers crawls behind the fridge and stays there — for three days.

Once you’ve hired Dr. Dolittle, be sure your apartment is ready for her visits. Keep supplies and phone numbers handy, and hide the silk flowers if the cat will mutilate them while you’re gone. Confirm arrangements the day before you leave, and call again if you’ll be returning late.

All of this preparation may sound like a costly inconvenience, but once you’re hitting the Bora Bora sands, you’ll be glad your baby is in good hands. For the price of an afternoon of jet-skiing, you can have peace of mind and a happy pet — both of which, by the way, are priceless.

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