The next time you're going out of town, you don't have to leave Fido with your slacker brother or at a kennel where the dog might be cooped up in a cage all day.
With Internet startup Dog Vacay, you can drop off your pooch at the home of a fellow dog lover. Hosts watch your pet while you're away and set their own rates (usually $15 to $80 a day).
It's free to become a member. Hosts share information about themselves, their homes and their experience with animals on the website; they're encouraged to send photo updates and review the pets they've watched. Owners also leave reviews of hosts after they pick up their dogs.
Chief executive Aaron Hirschhorn co-founded Dog Vacay, based in Santa Monica, Calif., with his wife, Karine Nissim, after they had trouble finding a place for their dogs, Rocky and Rambo, to stay. Before launching the site, the couple tested the concept themselves, opening up their Culver City, Calif., home to more than 100 dogs during a nine-month period last year.
To ensure safety, the company calls hosts and checks social media networks such as Facebook and LinkedIn to verify their identities. Dog Vacay also offers training with an instructional video and has relationships with local 24-hour animal hospitals in case of emergencies. Insurance plans are available, and GPS-enabled dog collars to track the pets can be rented.
"We ask about people's motivations," Hirschhorn said. "If they were truly a bad person who was trying to game the system, we think that comes out pretty quickly."
The website is quickly becoming a tool for professional dog sitters to advertise their services, and enabling dog lovers who don't have their own pets to spend time with one.
"I never found I was in a place with my life where I could take on a dog full time," said host Lauren Meyer, a 27-year-old production designer who charges $38 a night for dog-sitting at her 3,000-square-foot home in Silver Lake, Calif. "I was looking for a way to be involved with the animal community with a no-commitment-type style."
Dog Vacay has seven employees and takes a service fee of 3 to 10 percent from each dog-sitting transaction. Hosts who have better reviews and are booked more frequently are charged a lower service fee.
Hirschhorn said the company planned to quickly expand to other cities and would roll out iPhone and Android apps in the next few months.
To find a host or to apply to become one, go to dogvacay.com.