July 21, 2014

DogVacay Says Dogs Deserve Vacations Too

When a dog becomes part of your family, it’s not easy leaving it behind when you’re away. Pet hotels can be as pricey as their human counterparts, and kennels can be a crapshoot in terms of how your dog will react to his or her new environment. 

Want your dog to have a sweet pad while you’re away? Nicole Ellis, DogVacay’s Community Accounts Manager, is standing (er) sitting by.

Enter DogVacay. Created by Aaron and Karin Hirschhorn, the online community matches trusted dog lovers with dog owners. With more than 10,000 hosts, the service has revolutionized pet care and is now the leading online hub for dog-boarding. It’s a safe, convenient, and affordable way to make sure your pet is in good hands when you’re not on hand.

We chatted with Nicole Ellis, DogVacay’s Associate Product Manager, to find out how the doggone thing works. She’s not only been working with the company since the day it started, she’s also a dog owner, a dog trainer, and, of course, a DogVacay host herself.

Zipcar: Can you tell us the story behind DogVacay?

Nicole: The founders, Aaron and his wife Karin, went on a trip to the East Coast and left their two dogs Rocky and Rambo in a kennel. When they came back, not only was the bill expensive, but Rocky spent a few days hiding under the table and acting different. After this bad experience, Aaron decided to host dogs himself, turning their home into a dog-sitting center; as a result, they ended up hosting more than 100 dogs.

Today, the company is growing very quickly, operating nationwide in the U.S. and Canada. Our service is becoming more popular each day and the demand is increasing in major metropolitan cities, such as LA and NY.

How does DogVacay work?

It’s easy! DogVacay brings together dog lovers and dog owners into a trusted community marketplace. The hosts can be either professional sitters who have certifications and training, as well as more casual dog lovers.

We operate through mobile and our website. Owners have to search their city or states and browse for hosts in the area. The next step is to schedule, book, and pay! Rates start at $25/night and all reservations include free pet insurance, 24/7 customer support, and daily photo updates. 

How do you make sure you select appropriate hosts to join the DogVacay community?

Being a dog owner myself, I understand how a pet can become part of your own family. We take the host selection very seriously; out of all the applications we get, we usually accept only 15%. In order to become a host, you have to go under a 5-step vetting process and different layers of verification, ranging from connecting to social networks to even interviewing the person and seeing how they interact with dogs. We also encourage our members to write reviews for the hosts on our websites. This way, others can read for themselves individual experiences and testimonials. 

Nicole doesn’t just help your dog find a home-away-from-home — she’s also the proud mama of rescue dog Maggie.

How do you manage to gain the owners’ trust?

We are always looking to find the best and safest match between owners and hosts. We understand leaving your dog in the hands of a “stranger” for the first time isn’t easy; it’s like leaving your own baby! This is why we always recommend owners to “meet and greet” the hosts prior to leaving; this way they can see where their dogs are going to stay and who will be taking care of them. During the stay, hosts send photo updates to owners. It’s always nice to see your dog having a good time while you are enjoying yourself, too.

Do you provide the same service for other pets — let’s say, cats?

We actually have CatVacay! We are always looking for new ways of expanding and including more pet species is certainly one of our plans. In fact, we recently hosted a hedgehog! We’ve also hosted chickens, ferrets, guinea pigs, horses…you name it! 

What’s working at DogVacay like?

The whole culture of the company is great! We are located a few blocks away from the beach, which makes the day even better. The office is full of candy, dog treats, dog beds, toys, and of course, dogs… In fact, I have three dogs sitting at my desk right now! We also have a dog walker who takes employee dogs for walks throughout the day.  

You mentioned you are a dog owner. Can you tell us more about her?

I have a dog named Maggie. She is a bichon, mini poodle, golden retriever, border collie mix with a dash of Shitzu. She’s amazing — she even knows how to skateboard and play piano! She is also a therapy and working production dog. I rescued her from the North Central Animal Shelter in Los Angeles, and since that day, she changed my life.