TAMPA — Copper needed somewhere to stay when Stephanie went out of town. He didn't require anything too fancy, but he doesn't like being alone.
As he looked around Bill Rogers' home in Town 'N Country, he seemed pleased. Plenty of space, two levels, friends to socialize with.
He made his way to the screened-in pool out back, raising his head and looking around, the red in his hair catching the light. And then he bent down and lapped up some pool water.
"Copper, no," Stephanie Towns said, chiding the 4 ½-year-old beagle.
Copper just grinned and trotted away, ears flapping.
Towns recently moved to Tampa from New York City and was looking for a safe, affordable, friendly place to leave Copper when she and her husband went on vacation. She doesn't know many people in the area yet whom she would trust to come to her house, and she doesn't like the idea of leaving Copper at a kennel. So she logged on to DogVacay.com and started browsing.
Founded in 2012, DogVacay.com seeks to alleviate pet owners' guilt over leaving their pups behind when they go on vacation. The site puts owners in contact with prescreened and approved pet lovers who are willing to open up their homes to temporary doggy visitors.
"Anyone who leaves their pet spends much of their vacation worrying about their pet," site founder Aaron Hirschhorn said. "We want humans to enjoy their vacations and dogs to have vacations of their own."
By choosing one of the hosts on DogVacay.com, Towns said she feels more comfortable that Copper will get the love and attention, including walks and playtime with other dogs, that is usually lacking at a kennel. And it's more affordable, she said.
"In Manhattan, the price of boarding your dog will rival a hotel room, so forget about taking a vacation," Towns said. "And here, (boarding) is not really any cheaper (than DogVacay), but he's in a house where he gets to run around and play."
Hirschhorn said the average rate on the site is $25 a night. Rogers has been hosting dogs for about eight months and charges $30 a night for dogs to stay at "Casa de Canine," the nickname for his two-story home complete with a pool, more than 4,000 square feet of dog-friendly space and close to an acre of running room.
"Their dog's in a home getting a lot of personal attention, getting to be one of the family versus being stuck in a cage and maybe walked two or three times a day," Rogers said. "I don't think there's even a question of where I'd rather put my dog."
Hirschhorn and his wife developed the idea after paying $1,400 to kennel their two dogs when they went on vacation. One dog, Rocky, was so shaken up by the experience that he hid under the desk for a week.
"I didn't understand why I had to pay so much money for the privilege of leaving them in a cage 23 hours a day," Hirschhorn said. "What do dogs really want? What we know is they want to be in a pack and they want love and individual attention."
Those wishing to host dogs must go through a five-step vetting process, Hirschhorn said. The company also provides pet insurance in case anything goes awry. And, to put the pet parents at ease, hosts are asked to send a photo of their pooch each day of the stay. Hirschhorn said some hosts take this a step further, sending videos or pet journals written from the dog's point of view.
"What we understood from the very beginning is that you're dropping off your baby, your child, at somebody else's house," Hirschhorn said. "So it really is all about trust."
Caitlin Johnston can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 661-2443.