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Doggy couch surfing website has in-home vacation lodging for dogs

Doggy couch surfing? Website has in-home lodging for dogs when their owners go on a vacation and don't want to coop their pooch up in kennel caging.

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There had to be something better, they said. They let everyone know they were going to start dog sitting. "Business was booming. We got multiple calls a day," he said. They watched more than 100 dogs during eight months.

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At the end of their experiment, they had two things: enough money to pay for their 2011 wedding and a business model. They quit their day jobs, joined forces with former MySpace CEO Mike Jones to create an online community and raised $1 million in venture capital.

The company's website provides host bios, location, home photos, prices, availability, notes on what they can handle and reviews.

DogVacay provides insurance (up to $25,000 per animal) for emergencies, the company has a partnership with VCA Animal Hospitals and owners can rent GPS-enabled dog collars if they want to track their pets constantly. Most hosts will email, text or telephone owners once a day with updates on their dogs, Hirschhorn said.

About a third of the hosts are professional pet care providers while two-thirds are casual dog lovers who might be retired, unemployed, stay-at-home moms or veterans, Hirschhorn said. Nine out of 10 hosts have their own dogs.

Hirschhorn wouldn't divulge the number of stays logged in the first two months, but said about half of all boarders are repeat customers.

DogVacay takes credit cards for payment when reservations are made, then pays the hosts.

Interviews and security checks by DogVacay and meet-and-greets with host and owner are designed to overcome concerns about adjusting to the new environment.

"If they don't want to check me out, it means they don't care about their dog very much," said host Lauren Meyer.

Meyer has a 2,500 square-foot (232 square meter) home in a quiet neighborhood in Los Angeles and charges $38 a night. She has always had older, larger dogs with medical problems, so she's not afraid to keep dogs with special needs, she said.

The biggest problem for the Hirschhorns is keeping up with demand and updating the website with new features, he said.

DogVacay has a concierge, a customer service representative who can help if there is a problem or if someone can't navigate the website.

Personal dog chef Danielle Rapin of Brooklyn, New York, has been hosting for three months for $40 a night. She has had four boarders so far, but has six meet-and-greets lined up in the next two weeks as people prepare for summer vacations.

DogVacay has been good for her 4-year-old mini-Greyhound mix too, she said. A 12-pound (5.4-kilogram) rescue, Baci once had to fend for herself on the streets, so didn't have much time for socialization.

But she has turned into a remarkable hostess. "It's been rewarding to see her develop," Rapin said.

For the Hirschhorns, dogs may be just the beginning. They own the domain names for a variety of vacays, including pet, animal, cat, iguana, bird, hamster, rabbit and snake.

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