At one point or another, everyone needs someone to care for their pets while they’re out of town.
Many people prefer that their pets stay home — a familiar and relatively stress-free environment. This means they need to find a pet sitter.
Pet sitters don’t just take care of your pets. They also take care of your home, where they have access to your possessions as well as your pets. So it goes without saying that you need to choose your sitter carefully.
Quick Tips When Hiring a Pet Sitter
When you’re going away, it’s always nice to know that Scruffins or Mr. Fuzz-budget is being taken care of by the best.
So here’s a list for those of you currently looking for a great pet sitter to watch over your furry loved ones:
- Arrange for a pet sitter early — like, several weeks in advance, if not earlier.
- Don’t choose a young person as a pet sitter without having a reliable adult backup. Have a personal conversation with the parents of a young pet sitter to make sure they are aware of the responsibility their kid is taking on.
- Require the pet sitter make a house visit or visits to become acclimated to your home and your pets. Check references, even if this is someone you know personally — a good friend or acquaintance does not necessarily make a qualified pet sitter.
- If something develops with your pet’s health just before the trip, make sure the pet sitter feels comfortable with the new health problem and nursing care.
- Outline a contingency plan with a friend or relative in case the pet sitter lets you down. Someone should be available to bring your pet to a veterinary or boarding facility if the pet sitter is unavailable or unable to deal with the pet.
OK, let’s dive in a little deeper. You want to choose a pet sitter. What’s your first step?
Reach out to other people with pets and see who they use and if they’re satisfied with their sitter’s services when they go on vacation.
Network in your community, and don’t be afraid to ask tough questions, such as:
- How did the pets look when their humans’ returned home? Were they groomed? Infested with ticks? Underweight? Nervous and/or scared?
- How did the house look afterward? Was it a mess — were floors/counters dirty? Was the mail collected? Was the house locked up? These may seem like strange questions, but don’t forget: Pet sitters should always respect their clients’ properties.
- Was anything missing? This is a big one, and don’t be afraid to ask it.
Find sitters who are responsible, have good references, maintain happy former/current client relationships and may even have a website for their services. And, please, don’t post on Craigslist, where you can’t verify someone’s identity or background in pet sitting.
Meet and Greet
When you have a pet sitter in mind, schedule a meet and greet in your home before you leave for your trip. Any good pet sitter will insist upon it, so be wary of those who do not.
There are several reasons for this:
- Your pets will be more comfortable with a stranger in their space if they have met him or her in your presence before.
- You can engage the sitter in conversation and evaluate his or her reaction to your pets in person.
- Good pet sitters will ask about your pets and want to see how you handle security in your home.
- You can go over any medications and show the pet sitter where things are kept — as well as areas that are off-limits to the sitter and the pets.
During this meeting, your pet sitter should engage with you and your pets by asking several questions and taking notes. Many pet sitters — including myself — do not charge for this meeting regardless of how long it takes. It is considered part of the job. If your chosen pet sitter does not believe this meeting is necessary, reconsider your choice.
Once your sitter is a regular visitor, these meetings won’t be necessary unless you need to go over something new, but your sitter should always be open to meeting with you at your request.
Taking a trip? Here are some more helpful tips to prepare your home for a pet sitter:
Security matters, particularly in today’s digital world. Thieves often troll social media to find out when homes will be empty in addition to watching properties to see any activity changes. Good pet sitters are aware of this and make every effort to maintain your preferred level of security.
I can’t emphasize this next statement enough: Pet sitters should never post photos of your home or pets on social media without your permission. If you do grant them that permission, they shouldn’t ever post anything that identifies you or your home directly.
When leaving your home during the day, pet sitters must always ensure that the property is locked up and alarm systems are activated. Sitters should raise and lower blinds and shades, ensuring that exterior lighting is turned on at dusk.
In short, sitters should care for your home as well as your pets.
Take Your Time
Finding the right pet sitter can be challenging. Our pets are our babies, and we want what’s best for them. We also need someone who will respect our privacy and security while in our homes. So it may take a while to find the perfect pet sitter for your household.
Do your research, ask around and don’t be afraid to interview several people before you pick the right person for the job.
Compile a List and Gather Pet Records
Once you’ve chosen a pet sitter to take care of your pets while you’re away, you will discuss with them the usual things, like food schedule, walks, medical conditions, bathroom schedule, etc.
But before you get too caught up in your own packing and last-minute planning for your long-awaited vacay, take a moment to sit down and compile the following list:
- Vet’s phone number. Make sure your pet sitter has transportation and knows how to get to that vet.
- Emergency veterinary hospital number and location. Again, leave directions to the hospital for the pet sitter.
- Neighbor’s phone numbers, if applicable.
- Other emergency contacts, if applicable, like family members and friends who know the pet well.
- Your complete itinerary, including flight numbers and the hotels where you’ll be staying.
- All possible ways you can be reached, including cell phone numbers and hotel phone numbers.
- A method of payment in case of a pet emergency. Your local vet may extend credit, but your pet may end up at another vet or emergency hospital. It’s best to have the pet sitter pay any bills, and then you can reimburse the sitter after.
- Leave out all pet medications in their original prescription bottles or boxes where the pet sitter can find them — but keep them out of pets’ reach!
- Leave pet medical records in a folder.
- Make your wishes about your pet’s care as clear as possible to your vet and your sitter in case you cannot be reached. In fact, leave a detailed letter, if you feel that is appropriate.
Don’t forget to print this list out in BIG TYPE and place it where the pet sitter can easily find it.
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The writer, Melissa Smith, operates Fresh Start, a highly rated pet sitting service on Cape Cod. A veterinarian, Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD, also contributed to this article on choosing a pet sitter.