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Published: Thursday, 7/26/2012

Kennels face competition from Web site host services

10,000 hosts, sitters registered nationwide

Aaron Easterly of Rover.com holds his dog Caramel as he pet sits Charlie. The site has about 10,000 hosts in more than 40 states. Aaron Easterly of Rover.com holds his dog Caramel as he pet sits Charlie. The site has about 10,000 hosts in more than 40 states.
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SEATTLE -- A year ago, the main competition kennels faced were friends and neighbors who looked after each other's dogs. Today, at least two Web sites are taking this network of neighbors and turning it into national businesses.

Targeting owners who treat their dogs like family, Rover.com and DogVacay are growing by leaps and bounds.

Since its launch in December, Seattle-based Rover.com has approximately 10,000 hosts and sitters registered in more than 40 states ranging from certified dog trainers to perspective dog owners.

A couple of years ago, Greg Gottesman found that his yellow Labrador retriever, Ruby Tuesday, had a cough and scratches after staying in a traditional kennel. Mr. Gottesman thought the poor treatment and $50 per night price tag created an opportunity. As managing director of Madrona Venture Group, he pitched Rover.com when Startup Weekend, a 54-hour proving ground for entrepreneurial ideas, came to Seattle in June, 2011. The idea received top prize; six months later he launched Rover.com in Seattle.

Madrona entrepreneur-in-residence Aaron Easterly, a former general manager for Microsoft, succeeded Mr. Gottesman as CEO several months later.

One of the biggest advantages of finding a host for your dog, Mr. Easterly said, is that the dog will receive personal attention rarely found in a kennel.

For example, when Mr. Easterly boards dogs from the site, he allows them to sleep in his bed. "The chance that a kennel supplies that is zero," he said.

But LaVonne Wilson, owner of Seattle kennel Central Bark, said kennels are secure and provide a trained staff and an atmosphere where dogs can interact with other dogs. "Dogs are social creatures. They like being in an environment with other dogs," she said.

On the Rover.com Web site, hosts post pictures and descriptions of themselves and their homes. Dog owners search the listings.

DogVacay opened internationally a few months after Rover.com. Based in Santa Monica, Calif., DogVacay includes 4,000 hosts in several hundred cities in the United States and Canada.

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