Are pet sitters right for your fur kids? Each year as the holidays approach, pet parents consider their options about vacation plans. While time off from work and routine offers people some stress release and fun times, our pets don't always feel the same way. And if our dogs and cats aren't happy, we can't relax and enjoy our vacation, either.
Why Choose a Pet Sitter over Travel or a Kennel?
In the best of all possible worlds, the pets get to go with their people and enjoy holiday vacations, too. In reality, many cats hate travel, dogs get carsick, and they may not be welcome at the relatives' place. Besides, cousin Lydia's toddler, your brother's teenagers, and Grandma's spoiled cranky Chihuahua puts your pets' tails in a twist and your heart in your throat.
Boarding your cats and dogs may be an option, but it takes pets out of their comfort zone and adds stress to the situation. Pet sitters offer one of the best options to keep your pets happy and safe and keep you worry free. Cats especially prefer staying in their home in familiar surroundings. Older dogs and cats benefit from the care of professional pet sitters who know first aid, how to give required medications, and are bonded and insured so you feel comfortable entrusting your fur kids and home into their care. Not all pet sitters are created equal, though. Here are some questions to ask and information to seek to help you choose a pet sitter.
Questions to Ask to Choose the Right Pet Sitter
1. Are you a professional?
Perhaps you have a friend or neighbor you trust to come into your home several times a day while gone, to look after your pet. The advantage may be that you know the person, and your pets know and like them. But are they well trained, and will your pets be their top priority?
2. Do you have the proper licenses for your city/state?
If they're a professional pet sitte, what's required depends on the local, but a professional will know what's needed.
3. Are you bonded and insured?
Remember, you're not only trusting your pets to this person's care, but also opening up your home and all belongings to the pet sitter.
4. Are you a member of an official pet sitting association or an agency?
Business owners typically act like professionals and belong to professional associations.
Does your prospective pet sitter have a website, and can provide references? Does s/he keep regular hours? How soon in advance must you make arrangements?
Find out how long has the pet sitter been in business, and if s/he belong to the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters and/or Pet Sitters International. Each of these organizations have professional standards or certifications that members follow.
Does the person run his/her own business, or work as an employee of a pet sitting agency? Ask the agency what sort of training or screening process they use to qualify pet sitters? Professionals often offer proof of a clean criminal history before you even ask--and if they don't offer, be sure to ask. Find out how the candidate keeps your home and property safe.
5. What kind of contract and payment do you expect?
Find out what sort of written agreement or contract will be offered, and the payment plan that's expected. There's no industry standard for this.
6. What services do you provide? How much do they cost?
Ask for a list of specific services provided, and what fees cover what services. Fees for standard visits and services like dog walking, feeding, cleaning litter boxes and the like should be readily quotable, while more individual requests may be negotiated, such as giving medications or continuing training.
How much time does the pet sitter spend with your animals during each visit? In most cases, the average visit is 30 minutes (longer for medication or extra walks), and 2 to 3 visits a day are standard when you're gone. Ask if there is a discount for multiple pets.
7. Do you have a disaster plan in case a blizzard or something else prevents your visit?
What if the pet sitter gets in an accident or their car breaks down? And how would s/he confirm your safe return? Either you should call or the pet sitter should check so that if you're delayed, the pets won't be left unattended.
Be sure to notify your veterinarian about your chosen pet sitter, and provide authorization to seek medical care for your pets should the need arise. You could also give your vet the name of a family emergency contact who could be consulted if you don't fully trust your sitter to make big medical decisions.
8. Can you come meet my pets first?
It's important to see if the candidate interacts well with your cats and dogs. Interview the potential pet sitter and have him/her meet your pets. Some may feel more comfortable with dogs or cats, or have less experience with pocket pets and parrots. See how the person reacts to your animal companions (and the pets to them) and have them describe what a typical visit would be.
Be sure to leave caretakers with detailed information about each pet's care needs, veterinary contact information, and emergency phone numbers where you can be reached. Leave your pets' leash, medications and other "must haves" in an easy access area and show the pet sitter where to find them. Alert the neighbors that a pet sitter or family friend will be coming and going from your home so they won't be alarmed at strangers in the neighborhood, and give the pet sitter your neighbor's name and phone number.
Preparing for your pets' comfort during your vacations gives you peace of mind so you can enjoy your time free from worries. After all the joy they bring you throughout the year, don't your cats and dogs deserve happy howl-adays, too?