As many of us look towards the sunny climates of the south for a winter getaway, what to do with our pets can be a problem if no friends or family are available or willing to pet sit while we are away. Or, perhaps you have some business trips coming up or periods where you will be working long hours on a regular basis, and need someone to feed your pets and ensure they are ok. Pet sitters are becoming a popular option, but there’s a lot to consider when choosing one. Most often, these services will check on your pets, walk them, feed them and spend some time with them. They will also check on the house. Not only are they caring for valued family members, they’re coming into your home. So, they need to be trustworthy, professional, knowledgeable and able to handle emergencies. And your pet should feel comfortable around them
It’s important to interview your potential pet sitter, and have your pets meet them to ensure there are no issues and that you feel this is the right person. Always ask for references and follow up on them. If they can’t or will not provide them, you may want to move on. But, sometimes, you just need to trust your gut and go with what feels right for you.
Here are some other tips to aid your search:
The internet and bulletin boards of local stores and veterinarian offices are great places to start. Reading online reviews and even checking out candidates’ Facebook pages can help narrow down your search. You can also ask family, friends and co-workers for referrals.
Make a list of questions for potential pet sitters before you reach out. You can start by asking about fees, since there’s no point in moving forward if you can’t afford their services. At the same time, don’t just go with the cheapest rate; you want a qualified professional. And don’t be afraid to have a long conversation. Some good questions to ask are what services they offer, how long they’ve been in business, what their backup plan is if something prevents them from coming to your house and if they know about your pets’ species. Ask candidates if they can accommodate your pet’s specific needs, such as medications; whether they have special training or certifications; and whether they’re bonded and insured (which could protect you in certain situations, such as if your dog bites another person while on a walk with the sitter). It’s also good to pose one or two emergency scenarios to see how candidates respond, such as what they would do if the furnace breaks down when it is -30 degrees outside or your pet starts vomiting. All candidates should provide a criminal record check before being hired.
Meet and greet
Before you book a pet-sitting date, you and your pets should meet the candidate. This will allow you to get to know the person better, discuss any special needs or instructions you may have and observe how the sitter interacts with your pet. Go on a walk with them and your pet or go in the yard for some playtime. This may give a good sense how things will go when you are away and if your pet, particularly if it is a dog, trusts and responds to the sitter.
You can also look for some of those ‘little’ things that can indicate their level of professionalism – for example, did they offer to take their shoes off when they entered your home, were they respectful of you, your home and your pet. If children were present, how did they interact with them?
Unfortunately, no matter how thoroughly you screen sitters, you may still hire the wrong person. But there are signs to help you determine whether the person is doing his or her job. Are things put away as they should be? Is the proper amount of food or medications being used? Are there suddenly ‘accidents’ that are happening that would not normally? There was one story of a woman who suspected her sitter was not even coming to the house, so she left a broom propped against the inside front door where the sitter would enter the home. When she returned and the broom had not moved, she knew here sitter had not attended to the animals as she was paid to do and she was promptly fired.
You may ask your pet sitter to leave notes about each visit or send pictures of the visit via cell phone. Or you can go to the extreme and install cameras or an alarm system to monitor who comes and goes. There are also GPS collars available that can be tracked to ensure your pet was walked as planned.
While it’s good to be cautious when starting with someone new, keep in mind that most people who choose pet-sitting as a career are animal lovers and will show your pet and your home nothing but tender loving care. Over time, a sitter can become a trusted friend to you and your pet, and even be part of your pet’s extended family.