San Jose Mercury News

    Come vacation time, Patty Watson dreaded asking relatives to-once again take care of Randy, the family dog.
    "I hated imposing on them," says Watson, a Saratoga homemaker. "And I didn't want to leave him in a kennel-that would be too lonely for him. Randy is part of our family." Watson's worries disappeared when she called Pets Are Inn, a company that removes one of the biggest deterrents to traveling: What do we do with Sparky?
    The national franchise service, with 20 locations in 10 states, places pets in local homes while pet owners are out of town. There is no time limit to the pet's stay, which can range from a single weekend to months at a time.
    Any domestic pets are accepted, from dogs and cats to bird, rabbits, hamsters and reptiles, but the majority are dogs.
    Before a four-day vacation in May, Watson,34, called Mary Lee of Pets Are Inn in Saratoga, the only Bay Area franchise.
    The service cost her $20 a day, plus $25 for pickup and delivery of her Shih Tzu.
    "I love animals and I like being self-employed and making my own hours," says Lee, who opened the Saratoga franchise in May with her mother,    Theresa Lee. They advertise through fillers in travel agencies, pet stores, veterinarian offices and real estate agencies. A $25 deposit is required to hold the reservation.
    "Typically, our caretakers are retired, homemakers or work at home or part-time, so the pet gets almost 24-hour care, and there's no mass boarding, one pet per house, unless the pets are from the same home."
    Applicants for care taking are carefully screened, Lee says. After an initial phone interview, the applicant's home is inspected.References are checked. The home must be clean, orderly and have a fenced yard.
    Children are a plus. "A lot of clients' pets are used to having children around," Lee says. "Golden retrievers, for example, like having munchkins climb all over them." If you are interested in learning more about Pets Are Inn please call: (800) 248-PETS (7387)