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| February-March 2013

Investigating Pet Care

Finding the Best Provider for Your Pet

by Susan Flowers

Feature Pets

Moving to a new city usually means finding new doctors, dentists,

daycare facilities and other essential providers. If you’re a pet owner, similar tasks loom when it comes to your furry family members—and you want to make sure that you’re getting the most reliable and ethical care for your animal companions. Following the advice below should make the transition a little easier for both you and your pets.

Veterinary Care

Whether for routine care or treatment of serious illnesses, choosing the right medical services for your pet can be one of the most important decisions you make. Dr. Michael Smith of Beaver Crossing Animal Hospital in Lilburn suggests that you start with personal referrals. But be choosy about whom you ask. “Ask a neighbor who not only has a dog, but takes good care of their dog, playing with it, interacting with it, walking it,” he says.

Once you’ve settled on a potential provider or two, schedule a visit to determine your rapport with the vet and his or her staff—and your pet’s rapport as well. Beaver Crossing tells potential new clients that they’re welcome to schedule a meet-and-greet appointment to assess the client’s level of comfort with the operation. “Are they greeting and meeting you properly?” Smith asks. “Is the vet willing to meet with you? Some folks do everything out of sight, and the technicians act as the liaison between the client and the vet. In certain instances, the pets do better when the owner is out of the room, but most of the time, it’s better to meet. The client and the vet need to be able to meet during the exam particularly.”

During your visit, make sure the facility meets your needs. “Every practice doesn’t offer the same things,” Smith says. “Some pet owners might require boarding, grooming, bathing, dentistry and surgery or hospitalization. Do they have their own X-ray machine?” And take note of the cleanliness of the facility. “Extreme odor is not a good thing,” Smith says.

Grooming, Boarding and Doggie Daycare

For services that may require you to leave your pet behind, asking the right questions is even more important. After all, it’s not as if your dog or cat can tell you whether he or she had a good or bad experience while out of your sight.

If your pet requires grooming on a regular basis, your search can be made easier with a few simple questions. Aside from inquiring about a groomer’s experience and certification, “probably the most important thing is to ask how many dogs they do a day,” says Barry Bourgeois, a nationally certified Master Groomer and owner of Canine House of Style in Atlanta.

Be wary of someone who claims to routinely groom more than seven or eight dogs in a day—especially if they claim to groom 15 or 20 dogs a day, or that they have no limit.

“There’s no way to be gentle and do a good job if you’re going that fast,” Bourgeois says. A high-volume groomer can also produce a stressful environment for your dog, as too many animals in one space make so much noise that the other dogs become nervous, he adds.

Doggie daycare can be a great way to socialize your dog and make sure he or she gets plenty of exercise while you’re at work. And many vets and other providers offer boarding for different occasions, as well. As with any other service, it pays to know what to look for ahead of time.

When screening potential daycare centers, start by asking about the maximum number of dogs per caregiver. “You don’t want any more than 10 to 12 dogs per person,” Bourgeois says.

The Pet Care Services Association recommends one staffer per 15 dogs, although one person for every 10 dogs is preferred when dealing with more active pets.

Mixing large and small dogs is also generally not a good idea, Bourgeois says. In addition, make sure the provider separates dogs by age, activity level and other traits.

With a daycare or boarding facility, treat the screening process much as you would when selecting a daycare center or school for your child. Is the staff screened and properly educated? Is there proper supervision at all times? Are there adequate security and emergency measures in place?

The same process applies if you’re hiring a pet sitter to stay with or check in on your dog or cat while you’re away. Check for sitters who are bonded and insured and are members of a professional pet-sitting organization. Be sure to meet the sitter in person, and ask for references.

Finding a Trainer

Once you’ve found a new vet, you’ve also found a good source of recommendations for a trainer. Certified Master Trainer Ashleigh Kinsley suggests asking friends and searching the Internet for trainers with positive reviews. “It’s important to find a reputable, experienced trainer with good references,” she says.

Always ask about a trainer’s experience, accreditation and certifications, as well as whether the trainer offers any sort of guarantee. Ask whether training includes the owner as well as the dog. If you’re trying to address behavior problems, you may wish to stay away from group classes.

If the trainer has a facility, he or she should be willing to let you see it. Reluctance to schedule a visit to tour the facility should be a red flag. Other warning signs include lack of certification, lack of references or numerous bad references.

With a little research and the right questions, you’re that much closer to finding the right providers for your four-legged friend, and Atlanta should feel like home for you both in no time.

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Ask for personal recommendations.

  • Search online reviews on sites such as
  • Ask about certifications, licenses and accreditations.
  • Speak with the provider before you decide—preferably in person. You want to feel comfortable with the people who’ll be taking care of your pet.