Most of us look forward to a holiday break over the summer. For many people, especially those with cats and dogs, arranging care for their pets is one of the most important parts of planning a holiday and often one of the biggest headaches.
Often the best option is to have an arrangement with family or friends to move in and feed the animals or leave them at the home of someone who could take care of them. “It is very hard to decide where and what to do with my fur babies while on holiday,” says Lebanese expat Claude Al Hachache, who has a dog called Gigi and a cat named Bob. “Ideally I ask one of my trusted friends to move into my house. This way I make sure they’re happy in their own comfort zone where they have everything they need.”
In case her friend can’t move in, Claude boards them at My Second Home, a luxury pet resort and spa in Dubai. “I know that people who work there genuinely love pets and they take very good care of them as if they are their own.”
Pet owners have often been forced to change their holiday plans. “I have dropped my holiday plans many times as I couldn’t arrange someone trustworthy to take care of my two cats, but I have absolutely no regrets,” says another Dubai resident Paulo da Silva, who prefers to leave his two cats, Nina and Mia, only with his close friends.
Dr Dieter Malleczek, DVM, Blue Oasis Veterinary Clinic, suggests pet owners explore options starting from leaving the animal at home with the maid, requesting some friends to move in for the holiday time, a pet-sitter coming in once or twice a day to arranging animal hotel/boarding facilities. “The advantage of keeping the animal at home is that there is no change of environment and therefore less risk of infections or unwanted interaction with other animals,” Dr Malleczek says. “Cats are more sensitive to change of environment than dogs, so the home option is important for cats.”
It’s particularly difficult when the animals are strongly attached to you. Now Claude has to reduce her travel days from around 7-10 days to 4-5 days only for Gigi, who’s very attached to her. “When I’m here I make sure that I’m never out of the house for more than four hours at a time,” she says. “Luckily I have my own business, so I’m flexible with timings. But if I have to go out I have to plan in advance to ensure they’re not alone and I can get a pet-sitter for them.”
Do pets get upset when owners are gone for long periods of time? Dr Malleczek says dogs and cats do not have a specific time sensation, but for longer periods it is essential the animal has a person to build a relationship with.
Dogs, says Dr Malleczek, can learn to be at home alone for several hours a day but it takes time and preparation. “Start with a short period and extend the time of absence slowly,” he says.
“Small cameras on the TV or computer are good to monitor from outside and judge if the animal is stressed or not and for how long. In some cases medical support is needed — for that you have to consult your veterinarian.”
While dogs are generally perceived to have a difficult time with separation anxiety caused by owners who over-bond, are cats the arrogant, apathetic loners that many make them out to be? “Not all of them are loners, but some for sure,” says Dr Malleczek. “If cats are used to being in a group of animals outside or in houses where two to five cats are present, you see that some of them are close and some of them are on their own. Cats normally do not need social contact as much as dogs, who are pack animals, but I do not think this has something to do with arrogance.”
Many people consider their animals to be part of their family and it can be difficult to have a good time frolicking at the beach when you think that a member of the family — sometimes your favourite member — is stuck at home moping around. “I always send my cats to people who I know love cats the same way as I do,” says Da Silva, who’s from Portugal. “I always call or text my friends to enquire about the cats and if possible to send pictures. In this way I can make sure they are having fun and are not distressed.”
Claude, on the other hand, has installed a camera, both audio and video, to monitor her pets. She also sends Gigi once or twice a week to daycare to keep her socialised.
“To me there is no difference between leaving your child or pets for other people to look after. That’s why I make sure the people who look after them are trustworthy. My Second Home also has a camera where I can log in and watch them from a distance.”
Are pet owners overcome by guilt about jetting off to faraway places leaving their pets behind? “Not really,” says Da Silva. “The people I leave the cats with spoil them in such a way that they perhaps wish we never come back. That said, I sometimes do worry about them getting stuck in some nook or crevice that they love hiding in.”
Claude does feel the pangs of separation, but she says, “Knowing and ensuring they’re both in good and professional hands makes it easier, and receiving videos and pictures all the time helps a lot.”
That brings us to the question whether they ever considered taking their pet with them on holiday. “Many times, but I always changed my mind as I am afraid they will run from the hotel room and disappear,” says Da Silva.
Claude says, “I would love to take them on holiday with me as it’s easy for me to take them out of Dubai, especially if I’m heading home to Lebanon. However, the process of bringing them back is costly. They have to fly back in manifest cargo, which is something I wouldn’t want to put them through.”