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As you travel this summer (or anytime), remember to keep your home and pets safe. An intruder might not only burglarize or trash your house, but could also harm or let out your pets as well! Some people have added electronic monitoring of their homes via their smart phones, but not everyone has that capability. In addition to the standard tips we all know about not letting mail or newspapers stack up and using a security system, here are a few more things to think about:

1. Consider hiring a reliable petsitter. Due to the stress involved in boarding, pets are much happier staying at home. Oftentimes for the same or even less money as a veterinarian or a pet boarding company, a good petsitter will live in your home, care for your animals and houseplants, and keep your house from sitting empty and neglected. Don’t depend on automatic feeders or self-cleaning litter boxes–they can malfunction or be susceptible to power losses. When should you board? If you have pets with serious health conditions that need monitoring or medication, or if you can’t find a trustworthy petsitter. And, of course, make sure the petsitter has your veterinarian’s phone number in case of an emergency.

2. If you board, try to get a recommendation from a friend or trusted veterinarian, and always inspect the premises in person. Don’t make an appointment, just walk-in. If they won’t show you the facilities on demand, sure, they may just be busy, but they could be hiding something. Make sure the cages have at least enough room for the animals to lie down, to stand up, and to turn around comfortably. Does the facility have a fenced dog run? How often and how long are dogs let out into it? Are they left alone there or constantly watched? More luxurious boarders might have similar runs for cats. Do the pets already in residence appear to be healthy and well cared for? Is the facility clean? Not just the cages–the whole facility. If not, that may be a sign of neglect, and certainly of unprofessionalism. Some pet fur dust bunnies are understandable, as is the occasional accident; but if the place doesn’t seem to be cleaned regularly, especially of droppings or urine in cages or runs, go elsewhere.

3. Make sure your pets’ vaccinations, tags and microchip data are up-to-date. If the pets get out, they could be vulnerable to diseases carried by other animals. And if someone finds them, but the tags and microchips have outdated contact information, they may not be able to get in touch with you to return the animals.

4. Buy a couple of timers. Use them for a radio or television, as well as a light or two. Most basic models will let you set on/off times at least once or twice a day, and aren’t expensive. More advanced models let you set multiple times and on a schedule that varies by the day of the week, helping to diminish the predictability of one light coming on every day. I have one that randomly comes on a little before or a little after the actual time I set, providing an additional variation. This will help protect your home and your pet.

When you are a pet owner, it can be hard leaving pets at home while you are traveling. By putting a little effort into it, you can make sure your pet is comfortable and safe.