Paula Touchstone’s Art Deco cottage is already filled with playful barking from five Labrador retrievers when her cellphone’s ringtone joins the chorus. It’s a rendition of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5, as performed by still more barking dogs.
It’s a ruckus, but for Touchstone it’s just another day playing host to a visiting pack at her Old Jefferson home. Touchstone has hosted 32 different dogs in her home, with many becoming repeat visitors, since she started using DogVacay in 2012.
Following in the pawprints of services like Airbnb and Uber that have proliferated recently in New Orleans, DogVacay is an app that connects dog owners seeking service with hosts willing to offer overnight boarding, day care, walks, bathing and grooming.
“I went online and I found the (DogVacay) site and my husband and I talked it over,” Touchstone said about how she began working with DogVacay. “So three weeks later, I had two dogs and it was a fun experience.”
DogVacay was very new at the time, and Touchstone turned out to be an early local adopter of the service, which is now active nationwide. Dog owners can swipe through profiles of hosts, message them to ask questions and even set up meet-and-greets. Owners can find hosts in their town or their destinations out of town. There are currently 22 hosts in the New Orleans area.
Touchstone hosts dogs alongside her own two chocolate Labs — Maddy, 12, and Rowdy, 2 — and charges $35 per night.
Jan Brenan, owner of a black cocker spaniel named Oreo, found herself without a dog sitter one Christmas when her normal sitter was also headed out of town. She began researching nearly a dozen local pet boarding options and was finally sold on DogVacay, and in particular by Paula’s Paw-Some Dawghouse, the name of Touchstone’s online profile. The idea of Oreo staying in someone’s home struck a chord with her.
“This service offers a personal touch and an alternative that gives me a peace of mind that Oreo is well cared for and in as close to a home setting as possible,” Brenan said.
The dogs follow Touchstone around her house, waiting for the next treat, belly rub or even time in a special puppy pool on really hot days. She texts the owners pictures of their pups daily, sometimes with frames, words or little stickers of hats superimposed on them through the DogVacay app.
She treats them like her own dogs, but stops just short of letting any of them sleep in her bed. Instead, they spread out around her living room floor, sleepover style, in their own beds or crates.
“One night I was sound asleep and Maya (a returning black Lab) had gotten the door open, and the next thing you know I feel this big ‘womp’ right on my feet. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, what was that?!’ I realized it was just Maya jumping in bed.”
DogVacay is as hands-on with their hosts as the hosts are with the dogs. The service handles the billings and payments, runs a 24/7-support line and offers pet insurance, marketing tools and training for hosts.
“It’s a huge business,” Touchstone said. “I wish I had thought of it before this guy did because it’s amazing. They’re very, very good to their hosts.”
Alicia Smith, Maya’s owner, found DogVacay through a Facebook advertisement. She says she has had a great experience with the service and that the appeal has grown beyond convenience.
“I feel comfortable and confident in knowing that she is being taken care of as if she were (Touchstone’s) own dog,” Smith said. “Maya gets so much love and attention from Paula and we wouldn’t have it any other way. I am so grateful that we found her. Not only is she our Dog Vacay ‘go-to,’ she has become our friend and we care for her very much.”