Dashing out the door for yet another day of shopping, it's hard not to feel guilty at the sight of Fluffy's sad "puppy dog eyes."

The holiday season often involves traveling, parties and changes in the daily routine. Maybe you have relatives coming to visit or will be hosting an event at your home. Pets can be a joy, but the added stress of caring for them while planning trips or parties can be overwhelming. Pet boarding and home-sitting can help you focus on enjoying the season without worrying about the well-being of your furry family members.

If you need a dog-free home for a few hours, consider taking your pet to playcare for the day. Leaving your pets in the care of others can be nerve-racking, but there are plenty of quality playcare centers and pet boarders in the Greater Cincinnati area, including Puppy Playcare, owned by Mark and Christe Patt (which also boards cats, despite the name).

"I knew from the moment I met Mark that I trusted him with my dog," says Brooke Niehoff, who regularly takes her puppy there to play while she is at work. "He got down on the floor to meet her and actually took the time to ask questions and play with her. Mark greets Zoey, my dog, by name each time she visits, and I know she really likes it there "” she starts getting excited the moment we pull into the parking lot."

If you will be out of town for a night or more, boarding your pet is a great option. Boarding isn't what it used to be; many companies have eliminated long periods of kenneling, instead adding playrooms, where dogs can interact with one another. A Doggie's Day Spa near Cheviot lets dogs romp and play for 12 hours a day, employee Leann Finley says.

"Our kennel is a doggie day care, so our dogs get to play and be active for the majority of the day," Finley says. "It is a more social environment for your pet."

Today's kennels offer a wide variety of services, from aquatic fitness to massage therapy, and play time and human interaction are often included in the price. Red Dog Pet Resort & Spa not only houses pets, but pampers them as well, with staff doing rounds 24/7 to ensure the safety of the pets.

"Our swimming pool is great for dogs with joint problems, and we have a special-needs room for older dogs or dogs with separation anxiety. We have couches, love seats, TVs and a fireplace in the playrooms as well," says Sherry Agar, director of operations at Red Dog Pet Resort & Spa. "Our cat room is away from the dog activity and is a lot quieter, and we have multiple options for cats. There are windows with bird feeders so they have visual stimulation. Our cat playroom features a real tree trunk designed with cats' interests in mind."

The Pet Spot, too, offers luxury accommodations that look nothing like a traditional kennel. "Villas" for dogs feature themed rooms with toddler beds and TVs with canine-related shows. "Cat condos" include multiple tiers for climbing and aquariums for viewing entertainment.

Red Dog Pet Resort & Spa opened in December 2007, and even with the economic slump, they've had no decline in sales, something Agar attributes to the superb care animals receive at the facility.

"The care we give here is exceptional, and even with the economic downturn, and we have continued to grow," Agar says. "Our team really cares, and that makes a world of difference."

Camp Bow Wow, a dog-exclusive facility, divides dogs into playgroups and has playrooms equipped with web cams, so you can check on your pet at any time (pictured). "We divide dogs by size, age and temperament, and all playgroups are supervised by counselors during the day," says Carol Neckel, owner of Camp Bow Wow. "Our facility is unique because dogs can go inside or outside whenever they like. At the end of the day, they are exercised and tired, so they sleep and eat better."

Boarding can be a mini-vacation for pets, but staying in the comfort of home is also a possibility for them. Instead of asking a neighbor to watch your pets while you are away, consider hiring a professional pet sitter who visits your home. Homesitting is becoming a popular option for owners of pets that don't do well in overnight boarding facilities or who own multiple animals.

Affordable Critter Sitters has been serving the Hyde Park area since 1993 and takes care of dogs, cats, fish and other animals where they are most comfortable "” at home. The benefits of homesitting include reduced stress for your pet and knowing someone is keeping an eye on your house while you are away.

Kyle Maushardt, owner of Professional Pet Nanny serving Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, says her clients appreciate her willingness to accommodate special requests. "We work with a broad spectrum of pets," including those with specially prepared diets and medical conditions, she says. Some clients, for instance, keep their dogs on a raw-food diet that involves mixing ground bones and different enzymes.

Regardless of what option you choose, it is important to schedule boarding or homesitting early. To guarantee a "cabin" for your pet at Camp Bow Wow, Neckel says to book 30 days in advance, especially for the days before Christmas through New Year's Day. Some places, such as A Doggie's Day Spa require a pet evaluation before being boarded, so Finley says to check availability at least three weeks in advance during the holiday season.

"We have to be sure they are able to interact with other dogs and staff members safely," Finley says.

In the end, whether you need your pet boarded for one night to host a party or will be traveling for a week, pick a company that you feel good about that offers the care your pet needs so they, too, can have a happy holiday.