By Natasha Baker
TORONTO (Reuters) - Dog owners need not worry about leaving their pets at home alone or finding a kennel because new apps can locate and book sitters in their neighborhoods who will lodge, feed and entertain their animals.
There are about 78 million dogs in the United States, according to the American Humane Society, and finding a dog sitter is not always easy.
DogVacay released a free app for iPhone and iPod Touch on Monday that has been dubbed an Airbnb for pets, referring to the app that connects people who have space to spare with those looking for a place to stay.
Although DogVacay caters primarily to dogs, it can also find sitters for cats and other animals. The app, which lists more than 10,000 sitters, can also locate hosts for dogs with special medical needs through its concierge service.
"People view their dogs as family members," said Aaron Hirschhorn, co-founder and chief executive of Santa Monica, California-based DogVacay.
"Instead of putting your dog in a kennel, you can have one person or family paying attention to your dog. You know that your dog is in a loving home with maybe one or two other dogs," he said.
The average price through the app for an overnight stay is $28, which Hirschhorn said is about 40 percent less than most kennels.
Pet owners can message sitters through the app and receive notifications when a sitter adds a photo or updates about the dog.
Hosts range from stay-at-home parents who want extra income or to teach their children responsibility, to retirees, college students and professional pet sitters.
Pet sitters are put through a vetting process that includes an online application, phone interview, reference check, training and a meeting with the pet owner. There is also a review system for sitters.
Rover is another website and app that connects pet owners with sitters across the United States. Its Android and iPhone app also lets sitters track their schedules and share photos and messages with pet owners.
The company said it had more than 20,000 approved sitters who charge about $30 to watch a pet overnight. The company partners with animal rescue, adoption and advocacy organizations and allows sitters to donate a portion of their proceeds.
"It fulfills our broader mission of having loving homes, because they know they're doing it for the love of dogs," said Aaron Easterly, CEO of Rover.com, based in Seattle.
Both DogVacay and Rover provide health protection for pets for each stay. With Rover, sitters can get property and liability insurance, tags that track pet location, and 24/7 vet advice for an additional fee. DogVacay also offers premium insurance to hosts for an additional fee.
"We've had a horse go through the system, a pot belly pig, and an iguana," said Easterly.
(Editing by Patricia Reaney and Peter Cooney)