Tuesday Tips: Choosing a Kennel

I knew I had to find a new kennel when, after a week's vacation, I went to retrieve my dog and they brought out the wrong pooch. Amused, I explained that he was brown and white with sweet eyes and floppy ears. Again, the wrong dog came out. I went through this a few more times, enough to make it not so funny anymore. I've since found a great kennel, one that actually knows my dog's name as I walk through the door even though he's only there a few times a year. Here's what I learned in my search:

Tip #1: Ask friends who have pets to recommend a kennel. Word of mouth is truly important here. It's on the same level as asking for recommendations of doctors. Also look at magazines like Checkbook and Washingtonian, two that rate local kennels. And run any names through the Better Business Bureau.

Tip #2: Once you've narrowed down your list, pay each kennel an unannounced visit and ask for a tour. Just make sure you go while the place is open. Some kennels shut their doors to the public during certain times of the day so they can care for their furry guests. And some don't even allow visitors. If so, they should at least have a window looking in on where the pets are kept.

Tip #3: Take note of how the place smells. You want it to smell clean or not smell at all. You also want to look for strong dividers between the animals if they are housed in runs or cages. You especially want dividers where they'll be sleeping so they won't be antagonized by their neighbors during the night. Check the exercise area. Make sure there's a high-enough fence or walls to prevent breakouts.

Tip #4: If you're looking at a pet daycare facility, which takes pets during the day when you're at work, ask how pets are grouped together. You want them to place certain personalities and sizes together rather than lumping all the pets together.

Tip #5: Ask the kennel what they do if there's a medical emergency. Some kennels have a vet attached to the kennel but most have a relationship with a nearby facility. And others will use the pet's own vet.

Tip #6: Be prepared to show documentation of your pet's vaccines. The Pet Care Services Association says dogs that stay in kennels should be vaccinated for rabies, distemper, parvovirus and bordetella, as well as hepatitis, leptospirosis and parainfluenza. They also recommend that cats have rabies, panleukopenia or distemper, feline rhinotracheitis, calici virus and pneumonitis vaccines.

Tip #7: Find out the kennel's policy on bedding. Many, including mine, don't let you bring your dog or cat's bed for fear of spreading fleas. If your pet is particular about what they lie on at night, you might need to find a kennel that allows the pet's bedding to come in with them. Some kennels may wash your pet's bedding before it's placed in the sleeping area.

Tip #8: Dogs need exercise, cats not so much. So look for long cages, also known as runs, where dogs will have enough room to do some laps. Cats simply need an enclosure big enough to allow them to stretch and move around.

Tip #9: Go easy on the extra services like additional walks or playtime. My view is these things just jack up the bill but don't necessarily add value to your pet's stay. This is especially true if your pet is staying for only a few days and will be kept in a run that's long enough for them to run around in. If you must go for the extra playtime, consider doing it every other day rather than daily.

Tip #10: Understand the daily rate. Some kennels charge per every 24 hours and others charge per calendar day no matter when you pick up the pet. And be sure you understand when you can pick up your pet. Some kennels don't allow pick ups on Sundays and you'll have to pay for the extra day.

What are your tips for choosing a kennel? Where are some of the best kennels in the area? Post a comment below.

As I've been doing most of the summer, here are this week's under $1 back to school deals. Take note that Staples and Office Depot both have Crayola markers on sale but Office Depot has the better deal at 50 cents. Staples and InkStop are also both selling 150 sheets of filler paper this week but Staples has the better buy at 9 cents per pack.

Staples: Four-ounce bottle of Elmer's glue for free, 150 sheets of filler paper for 9 cents, two-pocket plastic report covers for 20 cents each, pack of five mechanical pencils for 25 cents, pack of 100 3-by-5 index cards for 33 cents, one-subject, 100 sheet notebooks for 75 cents each, pack of 10 markers for 79 cents and three-pack of dry erase markers, four-pack of handheld erasers and six-pack of pen-style highlighters for 99 cents each.

Office Depot: Free scientific calculator after mail-in rebate, pack of 12 eraser caps and 6-inch protractor for 5 cents each, four-pack of glue sticks and 10-pack of markers for 50 cents each.

InkStop: Two-pocket folders for 5 cents each, 12-pack of No. 2 pencils and one-subject notebooks with 70 pages for 10 cents each, 150 sheets of filler paper for 19 cents, pack of 24 crayons for 27 cents, jumbo glue stick for 59 cents and composition book for 79 cents.

Target: Two-pocket folders for 50 cents, pencil pouch, pencil box and stretchable book covers for 50 cents each, 12-pack of colored pencils, 96 sheets of construction paper and 40 sheets of drawing paper for 88 cents each.

Rite Aid: Six one-subject notebooks with 70 pages for 96 cents, three 4-ounce bottles of Elmer's glue for 99 cents and three wireless notebooks for 99 cents.

Walgreens: Pack of 285 or 325 sheets of filler paper and composition books with 100 sheets for 99 cents each, 24-pack of classic crayons or eight-pack of large washable crayons for 99 cents and one-subject notebook with 80 sheets or three-subject notebook with 120 sheets for 99 cents.

Have you found any good back to school deals? If so, let us know by posting a comment.

By Tania Anderson |  August 12, 2008; 3:00 AM ET Pets
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The new kennel in Urbana, MD is pretty nice. It's called Greenbriar and is right off of 270. Their rates are comparable to other places in the area. The facility is very clean and open and has several different options for dogs. An indoor kennel, an indoor/outdoor kennel, and a few differnt "luxury" suites. The staff is very nice and seem to really like our dog.

Rivermist in Ashton/Sandy Spring is very nice too. They are not open on Sundays, which is kind of annoying and dogs must be picked up by 6 pm on the weekdays. (somewhat hard in the DC area!)

Posted by: LBH219 | August 12, 2008 10:28 AM

We're not in DC, so I can't comment on any one Kennel there. However, one additional boarding tip - Find out if yor vet boards pets. We've boarded ours with the vet for over 14 years. The advantages are many, including the dogs don't mind going to the vet for check-ups because they are so used to them. Our one dog is now 15 and at age that many kennels would not that her - the vet has no problem with her age or all her pills, he knows her well.

Posted by: Susquanhanna Twps | August 12, 2008 11:31 AM

I love Old Mill Kennels in Leesburg, VA. My dog is always happy when we pick her up. She goes there 3-5 times each year. She is allowed to take her bed and toys and her own food. Her bed is washed daily by the staff and they really care about the animals. They are also attached to a vet's office, in case of a medical emergency. I agree that everyone should take an unannounced tour of the facility. I was at at vet's office once and asked for a tour of their boarding area, and they told me to come back in THIRTY MINUTES! Oh no! I was referred to Old Mill by a couple of my colleagues and have always been happy taking my chocolate lab there.

Posted by: Audashs | August 12, 2008 12:36 PM

I have to recommend Montrose Pet Hotel in Fairfax. They were soooo kind to my aging dog and were very flexible with pickup/drop-off times and my unusual schedule.

Posted by: Taffy's mom | August 12, 2008 1:00 PM

I highly recommend Great Falls Boarding Kennels in Great Falls, Virginia. I have cats and the owner lavishes them with attention. They each have their own cage at night and their own run during the day. The runs face a field and hedgerow with lots of birds, squirrels, etc to provide cat television. She only takes 6 cats at once so she can brush and play with each one every day.

The dogs I've seen there also appear to be quite happy.

Posted by: Bookpurrsn | August 12, 2008 1:10 PM

Our very beloved dog went everywhere with us when possible. We did a lot of work looking into kennels around DC (we used to live in Alexandria). When the one we used in McLean closed, we found Olde Towne Dog Kennel off 395. Our dog seemed to thrive there and he always looked great when we picked him up (even one time with virtually no advance notice -- he was clean and beautiful when we went to get him). The place had a swimming pool and other "classes" to sign up for. The location of the kennel is convenient, but seems offputting at first given that it is right on the highway. But when our dog was there, he thrived and that is why we recommend that kennel.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 12, 2008 1:14 PM

We've always had the luxury of our friends and neighbors taking care of our "son" when we had to leave town. On the few occasions that we've had to board we've used the Riesterstown kennel. It is quite a drive , but well worth it. They have 24 hr Vet. service, they will accommodate special needs and diets (meds. etc). They welcome visits to their kennel pre-boarding and they have a pool for their furry guests to cool off !

Posted by: doggyMama | August 12, 2008 5:05 PM

I recommend Braveheart Kennels in Point of Rocks, Md., just north of Leesburg. It's an hour's drive away from Fairfax, where I live, but I happily make the drive for their high level of care. I got tired of my dog being half-crazed from lack of exercise when I would pick her up from my local boarders, and I hated the pricing structures of paying a lot extra just for 5 extra minutes of exercise per day. So I looked around and found Braveheart. From their website: "Our basic rates include walks and play time for your pet. You don't pay extra for us to do our jobs. Exercise is a part of your pet's care and we feel pets left in our care deserve a little special attention." They make sure all dogs are taken out on to their large property one by one and given a lot of run and play time. The first time I picked her up, my dog was happy to see me, then promptly curled up in the back seat and went right to sleep the whole way home.
They also do training and breeding. Dan Rice is the owner, he'll take good care of you.

Posted by: Skyweaver | August 12, 2008 8:18 PM

I use Woodlawn Kennel south of Alexandria on Route 1. My dog loves it so much that he practically knocks the door down to get in there whenever I bring him. They do, however, have a tendency to nickel-and-dime you -- but the staff seems genuinely caring.

Posted by: Frobozz | August 12, 2008 10:36 PM

I've always had trouble getting a reservation whenever I try to board my dog. Now, I try to have a Dog-Sitter visit my house 3 times a day, to walk, feed, and spend time with him.

It's normally cheaper, and the dog gets to stay in his domain, rather than a noisy bark-fest kennel.

Posted by: Snoop-Dogg | August 13, 2008 10:05 AM

We used to Kennel our dog. However, we found a very very good dog walker to come to the house. Sure she is a little more expensive than a kennel, but our pup gets to stay home, doesn't get annoyed by other barking dogs, and gets 3 walks a day. And the best part is that he is home when we get home. Often we would have to pay an extra day at the kennel if our flight got in after their hours. We use Wet Noses and Whiskers in Bethesda and our pup always seems happy and cared for when we get home.

Posted by: SS | August 13, 2008 10:08 AM

I adore Ana's Ark up in Rockville, both for doggie daycare and for boarding. My dog is excited to get in to play, and is happily exhausted at the end of a visit.

They have web cams in each of their rooms, too.

Posted by: Glover Park | August 13, 2008 10:53 AM

We like Paradise for Pets in Beltsville. Its definitely a dog place, not glamourous, but doggies have mini backyards to play in, playmates, and misting when its hot.


Posted by: HoCo Terp | August 13, 2008 1:04 PM

it's been years since my dog stayed there and I don't even live in the area anymore, but I hope that the Bed & Biskit in Fredericksburg is still a going concern. it was a WONDERFUL place. my dog stayed there 2x and the owners were wonderful, caring dog-loving people! their facilities were really clean and included a large fenced field where the dogs could run and dig to their hearts' content.

Posted by: LP | August 13, 2008 1:32 PM

We take our dog to A Dogs Day Out, or ADDO, in Merrifield (Fairfax) VA for daycare once or twice a week. They offer boarding for $50/24 hours that includes a full day (before 7 am - after 7 pm) of day care, and their daycare facility is top notch. My dog refused to go in his sleeping crate at night, so they let him stay out with another dog, where he was much more comfortable. And, there is someone there 24 hours a day - they have an apartment for humans upstairs. My dog has come out of his shell since he started going there - he used to bark and back away if someone approached him, now he walks up to total strangers!

Posted by: Falls Church | August 13, 2008 1:33 PM

I no longer kennel any pets after our cat died a day after picking him up from a local kennel. He was older, but in good health, when we last boarded him 5 years ago. Apparently, he wasn't eating much at the kennel, was lethargic, yet nothing was done about this by the kennel employees. It was mentioned to me when I picked him up, but that was all. No veterinary care was sought by the kennel. When we got home, my cat wouldn't even leave the carrier. We got him out and he just lay on the floor, almost totally non-responsive. Rushed him to an emergency vet and he had to be put down the next day. Vet said, if the kennel had been paying attention and gotten medical care for him, this could have been avoided. Kennel did reimburse us for his stay after I loudly complained and threatened to come there in-person and let other customers know of what happened to our cat. Big Deal. If you want to know the kennel's name, e:mail me privately (teresa.elbin@comcast.net). Never again will I trust any kennel with my pets.
Now, we pay a pet sitter to come to our house 3 times a day when we are gone. Our 2 dogs are happy and healthy when we return from a trip. We just got back from 8 days away and the dogs were in great shape, with daily reports provided by the sitter. Cost is nearly the same as a kennel and the dogs are in a familiar environment without the stress of multiple dogs/cats around them.

Posted by: Teresa | August 13, 2008 1:50 PM

We take our dog to the PetsHotel in the Fair Lakes (Fairfax) PetSmart. They're great with our dachshund, who's very skittish with most strangers. They know us when we arrive and know his name when we call to book his boarding; we've even heard the compliment of staff calling dibs on his playtimes. I highly recommend them.

I'm glad another reader has had such a wonderful experience at Olde Town Pet Resort in Fairfax, but unfortunately I cannot second that, as our dog had a terrible experience there. I hope ours was an isolated case, though.

Posted by: KT | August 13, 2008 1:54 PM

I live in Southern Maryland and while this may be out of the way for some WashPost readers there is a wonderful kennel down here, Chesapeake Pet Resort. I've boarded my 2 labs there for 5+ years and they have always received excellent care. The kennel is very clean, the runs are large, the dogs receive additional exercise in a designated play area, and the staff are friendly and customer (both human & canine) oriented. The cost is a bit high but it's worth it as I have peace of mind knowing that my dogs are in a safe place, are regularly checked on and exercised and that if there is a problem the kennel will call me to advise what has happened.

Posted by: the Other Hollywood | August 13, 2008 2:10 PM

This article is excellent, except for one omission: Make certain that there is someone on the premises at night. I know how important this is because I am a kennel owner (in New Hampshire), and over the past years we have saved a number of pets' lives by having a "night person" who stays overnight and walks through the kennel to check on anything unusual.

Posted by: GBK | August 13, 2008 2:48 PM

Ditto to PetsHotel in the Fair Lakes (Fairfax) PetSmart. We go there. I like Olde Towne School for dogs, but their pet resort is WAAAAY too expensive for moderate income dog owner.

Posted by: tlawrenceva | August 13, 2008 4:14 PM

We have been using Dogwood Acres in Davidsonville Maryland and I can recommend it unconditionally. I used to run professional kennels and can tell when one is well run, professional and when the dogs are happy there. My dogs love it there and don't approach it with fear, and both my dogs have behavior issues, yet the staff seems to really enjoy them. This kennel is a 45 min drive for me but well worth it.

Posted by: komalley | August 13, 2008 5:00 PM

Olde Town Pet Resort did not seem prepared to handle my 'big guy' (120-lb. yellow lab) when we took him there for swimming and grooming - I don't know that I'd feel comfortable boarding him there. Second the recommendation to ask your vet - ours (Springfield Animal Hospital) has someone who stays on the premises at night, and since they've seen my dog at his best AND worst they know just how to best take care of him...he actually seems to love it! Can't bring his bed, but can bring food and treats from home. I have also heard really good things about a kennel in Warrenton run by nuns...the name escapes me, but it's supposed to be the best, and they take non-neutered/spayed animals which many kennels don't.

Posted by: KS8284 | August 13, 2008 9:31 PM

I don't have anything good to tell about Petshotel at petsmart in fairlakes , VA . I took my dog this past weekend (fri-sunday)My dog got over 40 TICKS on his leg and a terrible allergy. You pet lovers please don't take your pet to this location. I called complaining , spoke with manager and nothing could be done. all she says " take to the veterinarian "

Posted by: Sid | August 18, 2008 2:55 PM

we take our dogs to Dogtopia in Alexandria. they leap out of the car and drag me to the door because they are so excited! there's a webcam you can watch during the day (yes, i'm guilty of seeing what the dogs are up to!), you're welcome to bring your own blankets & food and medicine admin is no problem. even my mom's geriatric loves it...we've never seen her move so fast to follow the herd in the playrooms! Jeff, Regina & staff take great care of our "kids" and they come home happy, healthy and best of all...TIRED!

Posted by: irishviking | August 19, 2008 8:02 AM

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