When Barrie and Tod duBois traveled to France earlier this year, their dog Abbie joined them. The well-mannered Fox Terrier went nearly everywhere with them, including a weeklong sailing trip in Corsica. When they dined out, Abbie was there, under the table and out of servers’ way like a native chien. Almost always, someone brought a water bowl without being asked, and one night in Provence, Abbie was served an entire steak and a meaty lamb bone. It helps that she bears a strong resemblance to Milou, sidekick to the hero of The Adventures of Tintin, a beloved French comic book series.
The previous year, the California-based couple left Abbie behind during a trip to Germany and missed her terribly. “We just didn’t feel that our family was complete without her,” Barrie duBois says. “Having her [in France] to cuddle with in the evening, watching her chase squirrels and lizards … was awesome.”
During their four months in France, the couple stayed free of charge in a succession of private homes while the homes’ regular occupants traveled to the U.S. and stayed for free in one of the duBoises’ two residences (one in Campbell and another on a lake in the Sierras). Listed on as many as 10 home-exchange sites, including HomeLink International (homelink.org/usa), HomeExchange.com, 1stHomeExchange.com and the Vacation Exchange Network (thevacationexchange.com), the duBoises are deeply ensconced in the world of dog-friendly home swaps.
Fueled by a multitude of websites and apps, travelers with dogs or those keen to find a pup at their destination are enthusiastically embracing alternatives to hotels, motels and inns. Among these alternative are house swaps, house-sitting and short-term rentals.
“I like being able to wander into the kitchen for coffee in the morning in my pajamas,” says Barrie, who got her fill of hotels while traveling for her job as an organization-effectiveness consultant. In addition to the low cost of swapping, private homes offer distinct advantages for those with dogs. Many have fenced yards and are located in residential areas well suited for walking. Plus, a house can be a more comfortable environment for dogs unaccustomed to the circumscribed environment of a hotel.
Most home-exchange services charge a membership fee, and the exchange itself can be simultaneous, non-simultaneous or even hosted (with residents on the premises during a stay). Some include resident pets in the deal. Using HomeLink and Intervac-HomeExchange.com, Betty and Bob Shiffman of Frankfort, Ky., have swapped homes during trips to Sweden, Northern Ireland, Scotland, the Netherlands and elsewhere in Europe. Bob is retired and Betty teaches at a community college. Generally, they board their dogs—a Labradoodle named Howdy (as in Howdy Doodle) and Daisy, a Cockapoo—during these vacations.
“When we go to Europe, we miss having our dogs with us,” Betty Shiffman says. So they were excited about a recent exchange in Norway that included swapping dog-sitting duties. For the Shiffmans, it meant looking after Cassie, a Golden Retriever who’d been rescued from her plight as a breeder dog in an Eastern European puppy mill.
“Cassie became my shadow,” Betty says. “She even followed me into the bathroom.” The Shiffmans fell in love with Cassie, who went almost everywhere with them. “It was fun to be able to take her so many places,” Bob Shiffman says.
It wasn’t until Cassie bolted during a walk along the beach that Betty started to have second thoughts. Cassie ran home safely, but the experience made the Shiffmans more aware of the responsibility. “I’m not sure we’d leave our dogs during a home exchange again,” Betty says.
For all of his 16 years, Ed Kushins’ Lab Nelson was never boarded. When the Kushins traveled, which was frequently, Nelson stayed at their Hermosa Beach, Calif., home and was cared for by home exchange guests—it was simply part of the deal. For the Kushins’ swap, guests had to want to take care of a dog.
“Even from the very beginning, we always had in the application if pet care was required, right up front. That’s because of me,” says Kushins, who is the founder and president of HomeExchange.com. He says around 20 percent of the site’s more than 40,000 listings specify some sort of pet care, and many are dog-friendly.