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Couch Surfing for Dogs
DogVacay seeks the sweet spot between home and kennel
DogVacay founders Karine Nissim Hirschorn and Aaron Hirschorn with the inspiration for their business.

If you’re planning on leaving your dog behind for a few days, you might want to consider leaving him somewhere he can feel at home. While kennels and “dog hotels” are always an option, what about finding something closer to a substitute home?

Enter DogVacay, a new dog-boarding service that strives to provide dogs with the same comfort and care as they enjoy at home. DogVacay is modeled off of similar services that cater to people looking for one-of-a-kind accommodations on a budget, such as Airbnb and Couchsurfing, but for a dog.

The site gives you complete control over your query, from setting your own rates, to finding a place that caters to your dog’s breed and size. Each host has his or her own page, which provides background on how many years the host has cared for dogs, as well as the amenities offered and whether around-the-clock supervision is included. Meet-n-greets are also available. You can also use DogVacay to find dog walkers, trainers, dog day cares folks with a specialty in canine massage.

DogVacay interviews hosts and checks references before posting host profiles to the site, and takes a 5 to 10 percent of host fees collected. There’s also a money-back guarantee and the service also offers $25,000 insurance in case of veterinary emergencies, provided by VCA-Antech. And soon, DogVacay will introduce packages of property and liability insurance for hosts. Prices start around $20 a night, with certain hosts tacking on extras like a bathing rate or a puppy surcharge.

Husband-and-wife-team Aaron Hirschorn and Karine Nissim Hirschorn run DogVacay. They got the idea after their own unsuccessful run at finding sitters for their own pups, Rocky and Rambo, a Golden Doodle and Maltese mutt. “Our dogs are like members of the family and we hated leaving them at the kennel where they would be stuck in a cage all the time—not to mention the great expense,” Karine says.

They tested the concept of dog boarding in their own home by taking in more than 100 dogs over a nine-month period. “Our clients were so passionate about the quality of care their dogs received, that business was booming,” Karine recalls. “We knew we had to make this solution available on a larger scale, and we’re thrilled to have found hundreds of professional and amazing pet care providers who do the same thing.”

Launched in March 2011, DogVacay was originally limited to Los Angeles and San Francisco, but now there are more than 20,000 around the country, with higher concentrations around major metropolitan areas including New York, Miami, Dallas, DC, Chicago and Atlanta.

DogVacay hopes to build a national pet services company that is based on trust and positive experiences from its customers. The Hirschorns hope to create a service that both pet-care providers and casual dog lovers can utilize. “We want real dog lovers that have the best intentions for the animals in their lives, whether it’s a guest dog or a dog they grew up with,” Karine says. “It’s thrilling for us to connect with other animals lovers.”

This piece has been edited since originally posted to reflect corrections.

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Florence Ion is the managing editor of Mac|Life magazine, and has also written for Maximum PC and PC Gamer magazines. When not writing about tech, she goes on high-tech adventures with her German Shepherd, Roxy.
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Submitted by Suzy | March 27 2012 |

#1. This type of service is actually illegal in most places. In order to get money for caring for animals you typically have to have a kennel permit or to be zoned appropriately.
#2. Trusting your beloved pet that doesn't have the safety of secure fences is insane.
#3. You know nothing about these strangers other than what they want to tell you. Sure everyone is gonna say they love dogs but most people aren't going to advertise that they use prong collars and so called alpha rolls when "taking care" of your dog. They're all gonna say their own dog loves other dogs but very few dogs can handle the strain of a constant parade of strange dogs in their house without developing some real issues with strange dogs.

All in all this is a hugely bad idea. If your family can't take care of your pet when your gone take it to a qualified boarding facility. Your dog only has to get hit by one car to wish you had.

Submitted by Anonymous | March 27 2012 |

Great article, what an awesome idea! I'm not sure who wrote the comment above but I know for a fact that this is completely legal! My cousin used to do this - basically it depends on the jurisdiction but in general unless you have more than 4 dogs there's no need for any kind of license

Also, it seems pretty amazing that the site provides insurance and reference checks. I'm definitely gonna check this out for my two big dogs next time I travel, they HATE the kennel. Thanks!

Submitted by Response to Suzy | March 27 2012 |

I had a dog that starved himself to death, quite literally, in a kennel. Not because he was mistreated, but because he was homesick and in an environment where he didn't have the attention and love that he needed. The situation was devastating, but unfortunately, there were no other option besides a kennel at the time.

This is actually not the first time I've heard about DogVacay and I think it's a tremendous idea! Frankly, I don't think this hot new startup would be getting so much press if it didn't provide a legitimate alternative to a kennel. Clearly the formula works! And perhaps, Suzy, people can be trusted more than you think.

If you don't trust a company like DogVacay to take care of your pet, by all means, let him sit in a lonely cage while you are on vacation! I, however, will opt for the cheeper and homier option next time!

Submitted by Suzy | March 28 2012 |

I assure you my dogs absolutely don't sit in a kennel all day when they board. They drag me through the door so they can go play with their friends. My dogs LOVE their daycare do they LOVE boarding. It's a vacation for me and for them. Would you rather sit at home or go to summer camp?

Submitted by Anonymous | September 27 2012 |

If I were a HUMAN id rather go to summer camp DOGS are creatures of habit

Submitted by Anonymous | March 27 2012 |

When we are away we have a friend a few houses away who comes to our house 5-6 times a day to earn spending money (she is an adult) and our dogs get to stay in their own house. She knows their routines, their likes and dislikes, their eccentricities--I would like to have her do this as long as we have dogs. It works well because she is responsible and dependable and needs the money, thus is motivated.

Submitted by Anonymous | March 29 2012 |

Rover.com has been in this business for a while now, ever since they won the Startup Weekend contest last year--it's a great site. Love the idea!

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