Its beginning to look a lot like boarding

November 27, 2019
Emily Shiver, CVPM, CCFP

Emily Shiver, CVPM, CCFP, is regional director of operations at the Family Vet Group, headquartered in Chicago, Illinois. Shiver resides in Florida.

Manage the crazy influx of Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's lodgers this year with preparation and some of these best practices that help my high-performing veterinary team.

No cats or dogs were harmed in this delightfully festive photo. (vvvita /

It's almost Christmas, and you know what that means: Many of our veterinary hospitals are mere weeks away from the busiest time of the year for the boarding team. I've fine-tuned my practice's prep for this busy season, which makes the entire process much more enjoyable for everyone involved. Here's what I've found helpful.

Get more at reservation

My team does much more than secure dates, select cages and note quantity of pets. In the first point of contact, my team members get details on:

  • Dates, including checkout and check-in time

  • Cage type

  • Number of pets

  • Vaccine history

  • Feeding instructions

  • Medications to be given

  • Bathing or grooming requests

  • Amenities requested

  • Emergency contact info

  • Special instructions (“separate to feed,” “no blankets,” “caution about … ,” etc.)

  • Collect a holiday deposit (if it's just a one-night stay).

Confirm-then confirm again

Confirmations are vital to ensure a full kennel for the holidays. We let clients know that we'll call them 10 days prior to check-in and again three days prior to check-in. During these calls, they review the information we collected during reservation. Every time team members make contact with a client, they also note who they spoke to. (You may laugh, but I can't tell you how many times this has saved our butt when spouses aren't on the same page.)

Get paperwork done early

No way do we have time to make release forms or track down vaccine records at check-in. This is what we prepare in advance to make heavy check-in days easier:

  • Release forms

  • Report cards for cages/kennels (for check-in and checkout info)

  • ID collars, because every pet staying with us wears a collar with first and last name (I bet none of you have ever had three yorkies named Bella, right?)

  • Appointments scheduled if vaccines need to be updated

  • Housing assignments finished.


Keep a waiting list

One of our big secrets to a full kennel during the holiday season is a waiting list monitored hourly-yes, hourly. When we're full and need to add clients to the waiting list, I tell them we are constantly checking for an opening for them by confirming reservations, and there's always a chance we'll have a cancellation. We've had clients cancel reservations at other facilities because we show we care so much that their pet has a place to stay.

Label everything

We have bins for every cage, labeled with the coinciding cage number. We discourage clients from bringing extra bedding and bowls so they don't get lost in the mix. Everything else they bring, including food, is labeled with name and cage number and placed in the bin of the cage where they're located. This makes checkout go sooooo much smoother.

Laminate alert cards

We made and laminated several brightly colored alerts for:

  • “Caution”

  • “Controlled drugs”

  • “Medication in fridge”

  • “Separate to feed”

  • “In bathing”

  • “In grooming.”

It's insanely helpful to have these colorful reminders popping out at you from housing. We are all human, and when you're caring for 80 pets, something can get overlooked.

Speed up checkouts

Because our team got the expected checkout time when the reservation was made, then confirmed that time prior to check-in, then asked again when they checked in, we know pretty well what time to expect the clients.

We gather all of the boarder's belongings and put them in a bag outside the cage. We never send home a stinky pet, so we make sure they're smelling and looking great about an hour before checkout in the event an emergency bath is necessary. When the client arrives, boarding staff bring the boarder out with all the belongings and deliver them all quickly to the client.

Provide a parting gift

Every holiday season, we send home a small gift of thanks to our clients for trusting us with their cherished pets while they're away. The lodging staff writes personal notes in cards, and our vendors provide us goodies to give away. Each year, it's something different, and it helps us stand out among other facilities in our town.

Every year, we find more and more ways to make boarding more efficient, and preparation is key to a successful holiday lodging season. Get information up front, set clear expectations for the clients, lean on your lodging team, and make sure the rest of the team supports them. Then have a great (and busy) holiday season.

Emily Shiver, CVPM, CCFP, is practice manager at Cleveland Heights Animal Hospital in Lakeland, Florida, and is the advice writer behind “Ask Emily.” Got a question for her? Email us at