If your travel plans do not include the family pet(s) you may find yourself asking the questions... "Who takes care of the pet(s) while I'm away from home" and "How do I find a reliable caregiver"? There are several options available, such as using a kennel, imposing on family or friends or hiring a pet-care service. Determining what is best for your pets takes careful consideration.
It is possible that your pet(s) may do well in a kennel but in most situations the pet would fare better in his/her own environment without the additional stress kennels may create. Many pets do not like the unusual smells or unfamiliar surroundings that a kennel will have. Few kennels will provide adequate space like your pet is used to in his/her home environment and are typically confined to runs or cages which is not good for large breeds and those with possible hip issues.
Other causes of concern are the effects of 'lonliness' from such confinement as well as the possibility of 'fighting' among dogs unfamiliar with each other. Many kennels will charge a client extra to feed the pet the food they are used to being on... which quite frankly is ridiculous as it is best for a pet not to have a diet change especially on top of an environmental change. This can cause digestive upset and intestinal issues that the client will have to deal with for several days upon their return.
Pets are also at risk of getting parasites or kennel cough from kennel facilities... even if you have the Bordetella shot there is no guarantee your pet will not get sick as the shot only covers 2 of the 20 known Bordetella strains. Most kennels will charge extra if the pet is on any medication (per dosage), if the pet is to have extra treats and/or if you wish your pet to get out to potty more than twice per day.
If a kennel overbooks or experiences high traffic during peak periods often the extras that you pay for are overlooked. Another thing to consider when using the kennels is that you often have to pick up the pet by a certain time to avoid another days charge and many kennels are not open for pickup on Holidays or Sundays which incur additional charges.
Often people choose to kennel their pets thinking that they will have more human interaction there than from a sitter visiting them in their home, this is not the case. In most kennels, animals are let out in the AM and PM and spend the rest of their time sitting in their cages... not in the comfort of their homes. These are all things to take into consideration when choosing to kennel.
Choosing a friend, relative or a neighbor is always an option but is it the best solution for your pet? Often this option can prove quite challenging for not only do you need to make sure that the person is reliable (many have forgotten to show up) but there is a good chance that they will lack proper-pet care experience and/or a friend or relative may actually resent the frequent requests to look after your pet.
So if you do not wish to kennel or impose on others then what do you do? This is where the professional pet sitter comes in!
The first thing you need to know is that not all pet sitting companies are alike and just because someone says they pet sit does not mean that they are qualified to do the job.
So how do you find a qualified, dependable pet sitter?
You can start by asking for a recommendation from a friend, neighbor, veterinarian, groomer, dog trainer or humane society. Check the local Yellow Pages under "Pet Sitting Services". You can also contact Pet Sitters International at www.petsit.com for sitters in your area.
What should I look for?
The important thing is to learn all you can about the prospective pet sitters' qualifications, experience and services. Be sure to interview the potential sitter over the phone and ask the following questions:
Remember that using a sitting service requires someone coming into your home... Can the sitter provide written proof of their liability insurance (to cover accidents and negligence) and bonding (to protect against theft by the sitter)? Some pet sitting companies use the term 'fully insured'... this does not mean that they are 'more' insured than another who states 'insured' or 'insured & bonded'. There is no 'half way' insured services, either you 'are' insured or you 'aren't'. One thing to remember though is that 'fully insured' does not mean that they are 'bonded'. Be sure to ask for both.
Are they registered with the state? Either as a DBA, Corporation or an LLC and do they have proof that they are in good standing with the state.
How long has the sitter been in business? This is very important as most new companies do not last a year much less 2 years. The longer a sitter is in business the more committed they are to the animals and the service they provide. Many professional sitters use a 5 year mark as a good indicator when determining who they should recommend for services outside their service area.
How quickly does the sitter respond to your request for information on their services? A qualified successful pet sitter can be expected to have a busy schedule but all potential clients should be responded to within a 24 hour time frame.
What experience does the sitter have working with animals? Owning a cat or dog does not constitute pet-care experience. You want someone who has a broad range of experience with animals such as a vet tech or assistant, a rescue group volunteer, a dog trainer, a farm hand, someone involved in the foster care program, etc.
Has the sitter received and/or pursued any additional training or education to provide a top quality service? All professional pet sitters should at least have Pet First Aid and CPR certification. Honestly, not a bad idea for any pet owner as well.
Is the sitter capable of, or willing to learn how to administer medications if the pet needs them?
Can the sitter handle an emergency situation and does the sitter have a veterinarian they are able to contact in such a case?
What if the sitter becomes ill or has car trouble… do they have a backup plan?
Does the sitter provide literature and use a contract spelling out their services and fees?
Does the sitter ask pertinent questions in regards to the care of the pets and property in order to provide quality care?
Is the sitter willing to provide you with references from long term clients, if requested?
Is this a fulltime commitment or do they pet sit as a hobby or for extra money?Does the sitter have knowledge about animal care, differences among breeds, behaviors and temperaments, nutrition, etc. in order to notice if an animal is having an issue and determine the appropriate course of action for the pets care?
Make sure the sitter can adequately provide for your needs... they may all do well with cats, dogs or small animals but if you have any special needs pets, exotics, birds, large breeds or high risk pets that only a few companies are actually qualified for and experienced with in those areas. Many sitters (esp. new ones) seem to focus their services on low maintenance, easy pets to care for that require the least amount of effort on their part... cats, small dogs or caged animals.
If you like what you hear from a service it is still important for the sitter to meet with you and your pets. Watch how your pet and the sitter interact, does the pet seem comfortable with the sitter? Does the sitter seem comfortable with your pet? Do you feel comfortable with the sitter? If you are not comfortable with the sitter you are talking to or meeting with then DO NOT use that sitter. The whole idea is that the sitter will be there for your pet and property so that you, the client, can have the peace of mind you deserve while you are away. Even if this goes well, you need to keep in mind that your animals' temperament may be extremely different from what you're accustomed to when you're away from home and a stranger (ie. Petsitter) is there to provide care. Some of the most docile of pets can become extremely territorial or protective of their home when their family is away (usually it's a rare occurrence, but it can happen). Are you confident that the sitter could handle such a situation... If this is a concern will the sitter provide a trial run prior to you leaving town to address your concern.
A professional pet sitter does much more than provide your pet with food and water while you're away. They will spend quality time with your pet, giving the pet exercise and socialization. The best pet sitters are trained to spot potential medical problems and handle emergencies. Their experience often makes them wise counselors when it comes to what foods are best for pets, what toys are best and what type of bedding would be good for an animal with hip issues. If the sitter is involved in networking, they will be up-to-date on who is the best groomer or veterinary chiropractor in town. They also will provide additional services free of charge such as bringing in the mail and papers, watering plants and security checks of the home.
Some things to be cautious of:
Beware of 'Franchised Companies'... Anyone can buy into a franchise if they have the money! This does NOT mean that they have any experience working with animals or any idea on how to provide a quality service! Someone who buys into a franchise is not as committed to building a 'personalized service' in their community and developing a direct relationship with their prospective clients (which are crucial in building a 'good reputation') as others in the business are! They are taking the 'quick and easy' route to 'make the buck'... someone else has done all the research, developed all the forms, contracts, fliers, business cards, etc... so they have put virtually NO effort into 'building their business'! They also depend on 'others' to 'do the actual work' and use 'independent contractors' and occasionally may actually 'hire' a staff to send out on the jobs they secure... so, 'you may never actually know who is being given access to your home, pets, property... your entire life'! Moreover, the individuals they send to your home may or may not be 'qualified care givers' for your pets and property! Be very cautious if you are considering such a company... there is typically a 'high turn-over' rate among the employees and independent contractors who have 'no stake' in the company and typically are only getting paid 'half' of what the 'company' charges you for service... what do they have to loose?!!
Someone who has recently purchased a pet sitting company (usually a client list) from a previous owner, may think this is an easy way to 'jump start' their business... usually without adequate research. Often they will increase their rates immediately and overcharge their clients. Usually these new owners are out to make the 'quick buck' and in a year or so they're out of the business.
Does the sitter work 9 - 5, if so, it may not suit your needs. This job requires a sitter to be there when needed whether that be last minute emergencies, holidays or weekends. Many of the professional pet sitters average a good 60+ hours per week.
Be careful using a sitter that does this as a hobby or for a little extra cash, as they often let other things take precedence to the animals in their care. A sitter that does this for their livelihood will ensure the pets are taken care of first.
Be careful of companies with too many employees (5 or more)... will you know exactly who will be coming into your house? Often there are too many distractions and proper management is difficult to maintain.
Someone who has left the 'typical day job' and has not been involved in working with animals, tend to see pet-sitting as an easy service to start, yet they lack the knowledge of animals needed to provide adequate care.
Well, now you should be armed with the vital information needed to search out and secure a good reputable pet sitting service. Be sure to ask your questions, a professional sitter will have no problem answering them for you. Always keep in mind that a reputable pet sitter is going to be knowledgeable, experienced, well organized and professional.