I have a dream. Or rather, a recurring nightmare. I’m going on vacation, leaving my dog, Bobby Jean, to someone to take care of her. But they lose her and we never see her again. Call me overprotective (my husband certainly does), but finding a trusted dog sitter has been mission critical.
Thousands of us rescued or bought dogs during the pandemic, and today there are over 12.5 million dog owners in the UK. But with vacations abroad finally looming, our four-legged family members need a place to stay. Kennels are an option, and there are plenty of good ones, but with a dog that likes carpet rather than concrete, which is as anxious as it is precious, I got pretty picky. Even my family and friends are not retained.
The first person who did, however, was Rebecca Linnell, founder of the Country Dog Hotel, a posh dog hotel in Somerset. “Owners really see us as their dog’s second home,” she tells me. Its 18th century farmhouse is outfitted with Farrow & Ball paint, Soho House cushions and 100% organic cotton sheets (dogs can sleep in the bed or on sofas). Offering Land Rover pick-up, a veterinary nurse on staff and a spa, this is one of the most chic and personalized stays available. No surprise then that bookings have doubled since before the pandemic, with many owners happy to pay the £90-a-day rate – royalty, Hollywood stars and Harry Redknapp included.
Hannah’s dog whisperer Luiza Mataca and her dog Bobby Jean
If you’re worried that your dog’s vacation might cost more than yours, try BorrowMyDoggy.com, a dog-sharing app that will connect you with borrowers who take care of your dog (it’s free, even though I recommend you invest in the premium plan at £44.99 a year which covers you for insurance and makes the process easier). The results for me have been mixed. Before Bobby Jean, I never had much success borrowing a dog from the site (too enthusiastic and too many borrowers I guess) and didn’t venture there to sit (too overprotective, you you remember ?). But if budgets are tight and your dog (and you) are relaxed, then great – my friend who borrowed a dog even got invited to his owner’s 50th birthday party.
On another site, Rover.com, you pay someone to look after your dog, which adds a reassuring layer of commitment and professionalism from the sitters – they range from the people who run it like a business to dog lovers, like me. As a sitter, I racked up five-star reviews – and beer money – by having dozens of dogs on board with me over long weekends (albeit one at a time – my USP) . One of them was Winnie the Slinker, an Instagram star who just launched luxury car seats for dogs (whereswinnie.co.uk).
Listing is free for pet owners and it’s as easy as booking an Airbnb – tick your requirements (eg “my dog must sleep on a bed” or “child-free household”) and we will show you suitable sitters, their reviews from other owners and their price. Overnight stays usually range between £25 and £45, and you can arrange to meet in advance. Once you find someone you love, stick with them. I spent many weekends hosting the aloof Lady Godiva, a mini dachshund who arrived with a Samsonite suitcase and spent 36 hours watching me from my couch. (She showed satisfaction by eating breakfast and dinner – something she wouldn’t do for other people sitting down.)
You can also choose to pay babysitters to stay in your home. Laurian Wright, from London, prefers this option as his dog, Farah, is more comfortable at home than in new territory. Plus, she adds, it’s great for last-minute trips, and her now-regular babysitter brings her own sleeping bag to use on her bed “so I don’t have to go through the usual hassle of changing the sheets for him,” she says. Important stuff. Tailster.com is a similar concept – submit your information and the guardians will receive an alert, responding with quotes if they can help.
Rebecca Linnell’s retreat for discerning dogs
COUNTRY DOG HOTEL
If it’s house-and-dogsitting you’re looking for, try trusthousesitters.com. Here you can find people willing to travel 2 miles or 2,000 – the global network of avid travelers from 130 countries means you could have a babysitter from Sydney or Sidcup. Annual membership costs from £99 per year. Sign up, add a description of your pets and your home, and you’ll receive applications for sitters who will take care of them for free. Check that you’re comfortable with them on a video call and set a vacation for them – and for you. Housesittersuk.co.uk is a similar UK property site that pushes the benefits of rent-free home-sittering.
The other possibility? Word of mouth. I found Luiza Mataca, founder of Tesa Doggy Walks and Care, while chatting with a stranger I met on a dog walk. Luiza – the ‘dog whisperer’ as her customers in East Sussex call her – specializes in complex dogs with behavioral difficulties, making her the perfect partner for our Romanian rescue. When I leave, I receive daily photos and videos of Bobby Jean walking through the woods, playing with other dogs and showing his softer side. I now trust Luiza implicitly. Bobby Jean loves his holidays – and I can relax on mine.