How to commission a pet portrait, find a lost dog, and more

By Mary Jo DiLonardo and Tess Malone

How to commission a portrait of Captain Snugglepuss
First decide: Do you want a painting to hang over the mantel? A nice framed photo? Alpharetta-based Lauren Hammack uses snapshots to paint acrylic portraits on canvas. A 12×12 creation is $169. Kirkwood’s Julia Ann Starke sketches watercolors from high-res photos. An 11×15 is $95. Photographer Parker Smith of Decatur will shoot Snuggles in a studio or at home. Portraits range from $500 to $2,000 and include session fee, print, and framing.

How to create a pet-friendly yard
When choosing plants, be aware that many—from azaleas to ivy to daffodils—are toxic to animals, while others won’t stand up to the pounding of paws, says Atlanta landscape architect Danna Cain, of Home & Garden Design. Her favorites include creeping jenny, mazus, and blue star creeper. She also avoids dyed mulch, which can result in paw prints on the couch. Mud can also be a challenge. If you have a digger, she suggests creating a special pit of half sand, half soil—and placing it far away from your pansy beds.

How to make sure my dog is getting a jog
Keep your pricey dog walker in check with a Fitbit for Fido. One popular device, Whistle ($99), attaches to your pet’s collar and tracks the amount and type of activity, from swimming to playing. Data syncs to your phone, where you can compare it with other pups in the same breed. FitBark ($99.95) weighs just eight grams, making it good for small breeds, and includes many of the same features—plus it enables your vet to check the stats, too.

How to watch my dachshund from my desk
Whether you just need a lunchtime dose of cute or want to keep your dog from tearing up the new sofa, you can install Dropcam ($199) to monitor your pet long-distance. Mount the camera (with 130-degree field of vision and 8x zoom) and watch the live feed from your phone or computer. You can even give commands (“Drop that shoe, Max!”) using the built-in mic and speaker.

How to find my runaway-prone pet
For $25, Atlanta Humane Society will embed a 24PetWatch microchip the size of a grain of rice and register it with a national database. The brief procedure is no more painful than vaccination and saves a lot of time and pain. The next time Skippy takes off, any vet or shelter can scan the chip and return him home.

Flying can be stressful, especially if your pet is traveling in the cargo hold instead of tucked under your seat. But if you send Buddy via Delta Cargo, you can add a GPS tracker to your pet’s crate. The technology measures temperature and humidity levels, among other factors, and if conditions become unsafe—for example, if it gets hotter than 85˚F—the device alerts Delta’s call center. (Owners can also check their pets’ status online.) The $50 service is available for pets shipped on Delta out of Atlanta and nine other airports.

How to negotiate pet custody with my ex
“The court is not legally allowed to award visitation,” says Atlanta attorney Randy Kessler of Kessler & Solomiany Family Law Attorneys. Did you have the pet before the marriage? If so, it’s yours. Did you acquire it during the marriage? “Then the pet is treated as property, like a couch or a car. One of you gets it; one of you doesn’t.” If you want to avoid legal wrangling, Kessler has drafted prenup agreements in which spouses decide ahead of time on custody and visitation rights. “For most people, it’s obvious who gets custody,” he says. “You’re not going to punish your wife’s dog because she cheated on you.”

How to board my pet while I’m on vacation
Finding a good boarding kennel is like finding a good daycare—you have to do your research. Ask friends and family for recommendations, then swing by for an in-person tour. Below, the Atlanta Humane Society offers a checklist of what to look for:

  • An airy, well-lit, and clean-smelling boarding area. Housing should be spacious enough to accommodate your pet and his personal belongings, like a bed, crate and/or toys.
  • A crate large enough for your pet to easily stand up and turn around.
  • A dry, clean area for food storage. Food should be kept in airtight containers.
  • An experienced caregiver with a certificate or degree in animal welfare or on-the-job training. Ask if you can meet those who will be directly caring for your pet. Staff should be able to administer medications if necessary and there should be a vet on call as needed.
  • Playmates that match your pet’s temperament and level of activity.

Think your pet will do better at home? Go to to find pet sitters (who can host in their home or yours) and sort by references, location, cost and more.

How to learn more about my mutt
DNA testing can offer a hint as to what breeds are in your puppy’s family tree—but warning, it’s not foolproof. At-home test kits are cheap and easy ($60-$85; just swab his cheek and send it off to the lab), but accuracy depends on the quality of the sample as well as the number of breeds and genetic markers in the testing database. Wisdom Panel 3.0, for example, compares DNA to more than 250 breeds and species (including wolf and coyote), while DNA My Dog has just over 80 breeds in its database. As a result, different tests may yield different results for the same dog.

To get the best sample, wait at least two hours after your dog has eaten and check his mouth for food particles before swabbing. If you have more than one dog, make sure they haven’t shared food, water bowls or even toys for several hours before the test.

Alternately, you can find a vet who performs DNA blood testing. Since the sample comes from a blood draw rather than a cheek swab, there’s less potential for contamination. The results won’t necessarily be more accurate, though, depending on the size of the DNA database being used. And it’s more costly: typically over $100.

Still, “benefits of DNA testing can go beyond satisfying an owner’s curiosity,” says Gloria Dorsey, DVM, of the Atlanta Humane Society. “There is potential to make you aware of breed-specific predilections or propensity for certain illnesses, like hip dysplasia in German shepherds or cancer in boxers.”

Illustrations by Paul Blow.

A version of this article originally appeared in the August 2015 issue.