Going Away? Pet-Sitting Is Available, Affordable

The travel industry is going all out, dangling irresistible incentives in front of cash-strapped travelers to lure them into booking and taking a trip. Along with low fares, offers for kids to sail free and reduced tour booking deposits, they are also offering discounts on pet-sitting services so that pet owners can rest easy knowing their critters are receiving proper care.

While America's popular vacation destinations and resorts have become increasingly pet-friendly, there remain times when it’s not possible to take the family pet along. Consequently, pet care is a huge concern.

Interestingly, millions of pet owners qualify, yet are unaware, of discounts on professional pet-sitting services.

In August, Fetch! Pet Care, the nation's largest franchised operation of professional pet-sitting and dog-walking services, signed a first-of-its-kind partnership with AAA.

The deal gives AAA's 51 million members and 30,000 employees a 10 percent discount on all pet-sitting services booked through company's Web site or hundreds of travel agents, and includes dozens of tour operators, cruise lines and hotels linked to the travel concierge company.

The problem is that the travel service giant offers members such a variety of offers and savings that this pet perk seems to have gotten buried in the dog pile.

What’s more, many of the travel partners associated with AAA aren’t even aware that they are part of the deal!

Disney Cruise Line, for example, said the pet-sitting program was “a nice idea”, but their spokesperson said it does not have such a program available to vacationers. Similarly, Trafalgar Tours — one of the world’s biggest tour operators providing vacations to Europe, Britain Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South America and China — also said they were unaware that AAA members booking a tour with them qualifiy.

However, since both companies are preferred travel members with AAA, they are automatically part of the deal.

The list of travel partners linked to this discount includes most of the world’s top cruise lines, airlines, and hotel groups.

“The 10 percent discount can translate into a saving of about $100 on pet care,” confirmed Heather Hunter, public relations executive for AAA. “All members need to do is contact the branch of the pet services company directly. They automatically qualify for a free at-home consultation worth $25 along with the discount on the services arranged to take care of their pet while they are on vacation.”

“Travelers who are aware of this pet incentive utilize our services as much as three to four times a year,” confirmed Paul Mann, CEO of Fetch! Pet Care. The company currently has 200 locations, servicing more than 1,800 cities and towns in 34 states, and plans to open another 111 locations this year.

“We’re seeing demand for a range of services that meets every need and budget, including boarding and daycare in the sitter's home, overnight sitting or daily visits in the client's home, private and group dog walks and pet taxiing,” Mann said.

Many companies, including Trafalgar Tours, are organizing independent pet-sitting discounts to make it even easier for clients to take advantage of the incentives, Mann added.

Additionally, sitters can give travelers peace of mind that extends beyond pet care because they also provide vital home care and crime deterrent services such as mail and newspaper pick-up, plant care and watering, trash placement for pickup and more.

Since February, pet-sitting incentives have been available to British travelers booking vacations with tour operators First Choice and Thomson (part of the British travel giant TUI UK). The company is linked with an English pet care service called Animals at Home which also gives a 10 percent discount on bookings sourced through the travel companies.

On both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, pet-sitting companies say the majority of assignments are for seven days or more.

Beth Stultz, marketing manager for Pet Sitters International (PSI), a global organization dedicated to educating, supporting and recognizing excellence in pet-sitting, said most sitters receive business from vacationers. Currently, the organization’s members serve an average of 191 clients each and perform more than 17.4 million pet-sitting engagements per year.

“So offering a pet-sitting incentive is a great way of attracting new clients and repeat customers which can only boost the industry and help create jobs in this downturned economy.” Stultz said.

And what if you want to send your pet somewhere instead of having him or her watched while you take a trip?

Pet Airways, the world’s first pets-only airline, started taking online bookings on its Web site Thursday, and passengers can look forward to taking to the fur-friendly skies on the inaugural flight this summer.

The main cabin areas on the Florida-based company's Beechcraft 1900 turbo prop planes have been stripped of seats and redesigned to offer four-legged creatures room in special pet crates.

Initially the airline will offer service on a weekly basis to Los Angeles, Denver, Chicago, Washington D.C. and New York.

“We are flying out of secondary airports in these cities such as Los Angeles Executive Airport in Hawthorne, Jefferson Airport in Denver, Chicago Executive in Chicago, Baltimore-Washington Airport in Washington and Teterboro Airport in New York to make the boarding procedure and the whole travel experience less stressful for pets,” says Pet Airways’ Executive Vice President and Founder Alyssa Binder.

Apart from the crew, the only humans on board will be the pet attendants to take care of the furry travelers as they jet to their destinations.

The service is geared for pets of all sizes, but especially large dogs that don’t qualify to fly  “cabin class” on regular commercial airlines.

Airports are being equipped with special lounges where owners can relax with their pets ahead of boarding. Owners can track their pets’ journeys online, and special identification safety tags give them additional peace of mind while animals are airborne. One-way airfares start at about $149.

Apart from well-traveled pets, such as show dogs and cats that fly to competitions on a regular basis, the airline also envisions its customers to be pets who will be going to spend a week with “grandparents” while their owners take a vacation, and even for divorced couples who share custody of their pets.

Who would have thought that Paddington Bear, the lovable children’s book character who came from Darkest Peru and was found at London's Paddington Station with a tag that said “Please look after this Bear,” would unknowingly become the forerunner for real pets traveling on their own?

Sandy Robins is an award-winning pet lifestyle writer. She is the recent recipient of the Humane Society of the United States' Pets for Life Award. Her work appears in many national and international publications.

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