What To Look For In A Pet Sitter: Use This Checklist for Peace of Mind

woman hugging dog

Leaving your beloved pet(s) at home is a bummer, but sometimes it’s unavoidable. Here’s how to find a pet-sitter you can rely upon.

I’ve worked as a dog-walker and pet-sitter off and on for over a decade, and as someone who’s experienced both sides of the pet-care coin, I’ve picked up some tips on what to look for in a pet-sitter. May your next trip be less stressful, for both you and your furry or feathered friend(s). Here’s how.

Growing up on a small ranch, we had a live-in caretaker, because my dad had to travel not infrequently for work (he’s a retired large animal vet and equine behaviorist, and still lectures all over the world).

Having someone who lived on the property and loved our animals almost as much as we did mitigated a lot of the anxiety incurred by leaving them at home, but it certainly didn’t eliminate it. My mom, in particular, missed her dogs and fretted over them. And as sometimes happens, a few beloved pets…expired during our travels. Accidents happen, but in a couple of instances, the passing of our pets was due to negligence, and to this day, it rankles my family.

Here’s how to ensure your pet sitter is prepared and trustworthy (as well as what you can do to give them the tools they need to do their job well):

  • Ask for references, and follow up with them on the phone.
  • A company that’s bonded or insured is a good sign, but it’s not a guarantee of a good sitter. Word-of-mouth and having potential pet-sitters meet at your home and interact with your pet will provide you with a much better idea of their knowledge  and skill with regard to animals.
  • If your pet has special medical needs, ask your vet for a sitter referral.
  • Determine beforehand exactly what you expect of your sitter. Are they planning to stay in your home, or drop by/how many times a day/for how long, or take your pet into your home?  Outline a clear schedule and put your expectactions in writing.

tabby kitten

Image:  Sean Molin, Flickr

  • Ask  what their course of action is in an emergency. Do they know the location of the nearest 24-hour emergency vet clinic/have a rapport with doctors on call? Do they know the signs of an animal in distress?
  • Will the sitter just perform the basics, or are they going to act as a substitute pet owner? You want someone who will not just interact with your pet, but love them up. Walks, play, socialization, cuddling, treats: All of these  (depending upon species, of course) are essential for the physical and mental well-being of your pet while you’re away.
  • Do they have experience dealing with animals other than dogs and cats, if applicable?
  • Don’t neglect your home: In addition to feeding pets, will the sitter also water plants, keep things tidy, scoop litterboxes, take out the trash, etc? Note that most pet-sitters who stay in a client’s home should offer these services as part of their fee.
  • If your sitter is just doing daily visits, how reliable are they? Ask references if they set alarms, lock doors and windows, bring in mail, leave a porch light on, and otherwise leave your home secure. (Just remember that you’re hiring a pet-sitter, not a caretaker or maid.)
  • Be sure that your sitter is willing to provide you with brief email or phone updates on your pet, but be reasonable. A 500-word daily email about Princess Fluffy’s adventures with her fishing pole toy is over-the-top. Don’t blow up your sitter’s phone or email with messages, be a “helicopter parent” or have unrealistic expectations; it’s a surefire-way to ensure you lose a reliable pet-sitter. Remember that while your pet may be your child, it’s still an animal, not a human.

walking dachshund

Image: Alfie Goodrich, Flickr

  • Leave a list of your contact information/itinerary, and emergency numbers for your sitter, as well as details on feeding instructions, etc.
  • I never used contracts for clients; other sitters may present you with a formal document. If you feel better drawing up a contract yourself, however, by all means do so. This protects both parties, and ensures you’re in agreement about payment and services to be rendered.

Top image: Michael Fletcher, Flickr

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