The Washington Post

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    Sitting between two teenagers is the back seat of a car or waiting in an unfamiliar hotel room while everyone else is out skiing is not a dog's idea of a vacation. For the family pet, the best vacation is no vacation. Second best is keeping the routine and environment close to normal with belly rubs on demand, favorite toys nearby and no change in the food.
    Since that kind of attention usually is available only in a family setting, and because her own dogs were mishandled by airlines a couple of times, Barbara C. Perrino decided to take matters into her own hands. She called the Minneapolis headquarters of Pets Are Inn and, after determining there were no franchises in the Alexandria area, she bought one. That was in 1988.
    For the Schwartz family of Falls Church, Pets Are Inn is a part of their vacation planning. "I was never one to farm the dog out to neighbors," says Lisa Schwartz.  "We had one bad experience flying with the dog so we don't do that anymore. We figure this arrangement is better for the dog and I don't feel like I am deserting her."
    On the day Perrino picked up the Schwartzes' 10-year old brown standard poodle, Permission-Mish for short-the dog was ready with her bowl, package of daily food, leash, toys and bed.
    Permission traveled only about a mile from home to spend a week with a woman whose children are grown and who had raised many dogs over the years. She now lives alone and welcomes the short-term company of dogs like Permission, who will get a long walk in the morning an d the evening, play in a fenced yard, watch old Lassie movies and curl up around the the legs of her caretaker, Ann-Whitney ( who asked that only her first name be used), while she works at her computer.
    The "kennels without cage" arrangement is applauded by Petaluma, Calif..,animal behaviorist C.W. Meisterfeld as a "beautiful option, 10 times better than commercial kennels." He is opposed to commercial kennels because they tend to keep dogs close together and in a state of constant excitement. He once ran one for a short time and remembered the dogs spending their time "crying, yelping and hollering."
    Maisterfeld, the author of four books on gentle dog training, says that while owners often believe they are doing their dog a favor by taking them along on a trip, travel can create a whole set of problems for the dog.
    "A dog is used to his surroundings and when all of a sudden you put him in a car and take him a long distance, your are introduction him to a lot of new scents and  humidity," he said. "That can be very stressful on a dog, especially a senior dog. On a trip, a door to a car or hotel room can be accidentally left open and boom, the dog is gone."
    Perrino says she interviews pet owners extensively before taking them on as customers. She needs medical records showing the pet's shots are current and a thorough knowledge of the dog's habits.
    Perrino looks for foster families who are home during the day so the visiting pet can have company-retired people, those who work at home and families with young children.
    "I look for someone who is dependable and mature and I prefer they have a fenced in yard," she said.
    "It is fun for me when I take them back home and see their owners so happy. The dogs come home so well adjusted. We are the next best things to family.