The Coastal Star

Paws Up for Pets: Prevent holidays from becoming howl-i-days for pets

Dogs relax at Barkingham Palace in Delray Beach while their owners are away. The boarding and day-care facility provides a safe, comfortable place to stay with chances to play. Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star

By Arden Moore

Strange but jovial people burst through the front door. A giant tree with dangling objects suddenly takes over the living room. Kitchen counters are buried under an avalanche of goodies. Dinners are delayed and daily walks get forgotten.
    For far too many pets, the above scenarios capture the coming holiday season. The comfortable predictability of the household routine becomes taken over by unexpected visitors as well as strange sights, sounds and smells.
    So it’s understandable  why your pets may become confused, anxious and even a bit fearful. Some may react by piddling on the living room rug, unleashing marathon barking or perhaps cowering under the bed whenever the doorbell rings.
    Whether you plan to stay home or travel sans your pet during the holidays, it is important to take steps to prevent the holidays from turning into the howl-i-days for the pet.
    For starters, do a candid assessment of your pet’s temperament and personality. Identify if your pet would be a good candidate for expending energy at a local doggy day care. Or, if you plan to travel or be gone for long stretches of time, determine if your pet would fare best being cared for at home by a professional pet sitter or if he would enjoy his own suite at a pet boarding facility.
    In general, cats and dogs that are shy, quiet and get easily rattled in the presence of unknown pets are more apt to prefer being home and visited by professional pet sitters. However, pets, especially confident, social dogs that don’t mind new places, may be good candidates for boarding.
    Since 1968, Tony Maturo has been offering a safe, supervised place for dogs and cats to hang out when their pet parents are not home at the Barkingham Palace in Delray Beach.
    “The holidays are a stressed-out time for a lot of pets, so we are here seven days a week to make sure pets in our day care or those being boarded are safe, comfortable and given a chance to play,” says Maturo, who co-owns the Barkingham Palace with his wife, Pat. “During playtime, we factor in temperament, age and size of the dogs. At night, we play mood music to help them sleep.”
    Day care or boarding may be ideal options if you have invited relatives or friends for the holidays who may be allergic to pets, don’t want to be around pets in the house or who may insist on bringing their own pets that do not get along with other pets.  
Think of this option as a welcome getaway for your dogs and cats, but book now. Responsible boarding facilities will require you to provide your pet’s up-to-date medical records and have your pet do a “trial run” visit to evaluate how he or she handles being around other pets.
    If you plan to take a vacation or spend time visiting family or friends away from home, you can hire a professional pet sitter who is licensed, insured and bonded. And ideally, this person should be trained in pet first aid to handle any unexpected emergencies. Think of this option as a staycation for your stay-at-home pets, who may be older, require daily medications or not fond of new places or meeting new dogs or cats.
    Sam Brownstein, of Sunshine Pet Pals, has been caring for pets in the Boca Raton area for nine years. He notes that the level of stress in pets often increases during the holidays. And so do the number of requests for home visits, which is why he recommends you hire and schedule holiday visits with a professional pet sitter now.
    “We are here to keep pets safe in their own homes and to adhere to their feeding, walking and play schedules as much as possible,” says Brownstein. “We also educate our clients on how to minimize the stress felt by the pets weeks before the holidays.”

Experts’ advice
    • If you need to relocate your cat’s litter box from the spare bedroom to a corner of the home office, do so a couple of weeks before your overnight guests arrive.
    • Post bright-colored signs by doors to alert guests to carefully close and open doors to prevent rattled dogs from bolting out and escaping.
    • Place pets in a quiet, closed back room with a sound machine or television on to muffle or mute any loud noises caused by fireworks or blaring music.
    • Stick with the quality commercial food you now feed your pets and gently but firmly relay to guests to not give any people food to your pets. Holiday people favorites like chocolates, gravy-loaded stuffing, alcoholic drinks and nuts can cause GI upset, pancreatitis and even choking if ingested by your dog or cat.
    • Ensure this can be a cool Yule for you and your pet by stepping away from the holiday bustle for even brief times each day. Be in the present moment and spend time cuddling with your pet and exercising together.
These tactics can fend off stress and salvage sanity for you both.
    From my dogs, Kona, Bujeau and Cleo, and cats, Casey and Mikey, I wish you and your pets a “pawsome” and safe holiday season!

Pet Care Options     

Sunshine Pet Pals, 5970 SW 18th St., Boca Raton; 212-6917;;    
Barkingham Palace, 1551 N. Federal Highway, Delray Beach; 243-4175;;

    Arden Moore, founder of, is an animal behavior consultant, editor, author, professional speaker and master certified pet first aid instructor. Each week, she hosts the popular Oh Behave! show on Learn more by visiting

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