- Associated Press - Sunday, May 27, 2012

When you travel and have to leave your dog behind, you can call a kennel, hire a pet sitter — or find him a new friend online.

The website DogVacay debuted in New York and Los Angeles in March and, just in time for the summer travel season, is now available throughout the United States and Canada.

The site lets pet owners look up hosts in the area who will care for a dog in the host’s own home, giving a pet the food, exercise and attention you would give if you stayed home — sort of a doggy version of couch-surfing, for an average price of $25 to $30 a day.

Hosts are checked out and interviewed by DogVacay and every owner and dog is encouraged to meet the host.

The company based in Santa Monica, Calif., was founded by Aaron and Karine Nissim Hirschhorn. In two months it has grown to more than 4,000 hosts in two countries and from five employees to 13, Mr. Hirschhorn said.

Karine and Aaron Hirschhorn started DogVacay, a website pet owners can use to find a sitter before going on vacation. (Associated Press)
Karine and Aaron Hirschhorn started DogVacay, a website pet owners can use ... more >

Valerie Steiger’s Shih Tzu mix named Joey was just 3 months old when she had to leave for a two-week Thailand trip in February. Joey has been back with his DogVacay host four or five times since, said Ms. Steiger, whose job as a life coach keeps her on the road.

Her host has a couple of dogs and Joey enjoyed them so much, he was depressed when he got home and didn’t have any playmates, Ms. Steiger said.

“She was wonderful. I was talking to Joey [through a cell phone app] from Thailand. She took pictures of Joey on an iPhone, she took a video of him zipping around with his buddy. I didn’t ask for any of that. She just did it,” Ms. Steiger said.

Ms. Steiger said she has used kennels in the past. And there are good ones, she said, but dogs are still kept in crates or cages for several hours each day. “It’s like they are in jail.”

Knowing where her dog is and what he’s doing is important to her because “this is my baby. I’m leaving my baby behind,” Ms. Steiger said.

Mr. Hirschhorn and his fiance went on a trip to visit family in 2010 and left their dogs Rocky and Rambo in a kennel.

“Rocky came back a little off. She was not acting herself. She was sheepish and hiding under the desk. She is normally a happy, happy dog,” he said.

There had to be something better, they said. They let everyone know they were going to start dog sitting. “Business was booming. We got multiple calls a day,” he said. They watched more than 100 dogs during eight months.

At the end of their experiment, they had two things: enough money to pay for their 2011 wedding and a business model. They quit their day jobs, joined forces with former MySpace CEO Mike Jones to create an online community and raised $1 million in venture capital.

The company’s website provides host bios, location, home photos, prices, availability, notes on what they can handle and reviews.

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