Selecting a Professional Pet Sitter

Planning a trip this summer, but can't take your dog? Before you call a kennel or impose on a neighbor, you may want to consider hiring a professional pet sitter to care for your best friend while you're away. Professional Pet Sitter and Author Lori Mangold shares what she's learned about the type of person who makes a great pet sitter -- and how to find them. She may even inspire you to start your own pet sitting service...

by Lori Mangold

When I was a flight attendant, I learned firsthand the problems that arise when travel separates people from their pets. My husband Scott and I even postponed our honeymoon for a year because we didn't live near our families or know our neighbors well enough to trust leaving our pets in their care. We knew they would be happier and safer in our home -- and we were sure that other people preferred to keep their pets at home, too. So, in 1988 we started our pet sitting business called Paws for Awhile.

Because we are so particular about who cares for our own pets, we understand what people want and need in a pet sitter. And in the process of setting up our business and teaching others how to start their own pet sitting services, we've put together guidelines and checklists that may help you find the right person to watch after your beloved animals.

A pet sitter is someone who, by agreement and for a fee, comes to your home and provides the pet care you require while you're away. When you hire a professional pet sitter, your "babies" can stay in the comfortable, familiar surroundings of home. And you don't have to worry about them being exposed to other animals' illnesses in a kennel. You can also arrange to have your pet sitter water your house plants.

Having a pet sitter regularly visit your home offers security advantages as well: your pet sitter will check your house, bring in the mail and newspapers, and alter lights and window blinds so your home looks lived in.

A couple of years ago, I saved the lives of two kitties--and a brand-new home. A man and his wife moved to our cold climate from Florida and hired me to care for their kitties over the holidays. During my first visit, I heard water running. I went into the garage and found water pouring out of the wall. Their garage was flooding! They had neglected to disconnect the outside water hose, and when the water froze, the pipes burst. Luckily I was able to turn off the water and prevent further damage.

The best way to find a good pet sitter is to ask around. Talk to other pet owners. See if your veterinarian has a list of pet sitters they recommend. Inquire at pet stores and grooming shops. Look in the Yellow Pages under Pet Boarding and Sitting.

As you narrow down your candidates, you'll want to ensure that your pet sitter is reputable. Make sure they have liability insurance and bonding, a business license or home occupation permit, and references. And check those references!

You should always interview pet sitters in your home and have your pets present during the interview. People may be able to fool you, but they rarely fool your pets! You'll also want to see how they relate to your pets and whether your pets like their prospective sitter.

Here's a list of important questions to ask:

  1. Tell me about your pets. (You'll recognize that animal-lover's smile when they answer.)
  2. How much time will you spend with my pets? (Their voice may be the only one your pets will hear for days.)
  3. Have you ever been in an emergency situation? How did you handle it?
  4. What is your service routine? (Ask them to describe in detail what they will do when they visit your home. A reliable professional pet sitter will have a disciplined routine.)
  5. If you become ill, who will care for my pets? (Do they have a business partner, spouse, or family member they can call on?)
  6. What happens if your car breaks down? (Responsible pet sitters should have a contingency transportation plan.)

Always complete, date, and sign a Service Agreement between you and the pet sitter. This is a must! This agreement should document descriptions of your pets, travel dates, emergency contact information, people who have access to your home, location of food and supplies, your veterinarian's name and telephone number, services to be performed, special instructions, and fees.

Here are a few helpful suggestions:

  1. Make sure they try your key in your door. You could give them the wrong key!
  2. Never mail your key; it may not arrive in the envelope.
  3. Do not put your name on the key. Use a number for identification instead.
  4. Show your sitter where to find the pet carrier, carpet cleaner, and manual can opener (in case the power goes out).
  5. Discuss the "big four" of pet care: food, fresh water, potty breaks, and lots and lots of affection!
  6. Ask that before leaving your home, the pet sitter locate all pets to ensure they have not been accidentally closed in a room or closet.
  7. Call the pet sitter to let them know when you get home. They will worry until they know your pets are being cared for.

If you invest the time to locate a competent, caring professional pet sitter and clearly define instructions for them, your future trips will be worry-free. Because you'll know your "babies" will get the best possible care--in your own home!

Lori Mangold is a professional pet sitter who is now teaching the pet-sitting business to other animal lovers. She and her husband Scott wrote the how-to book: The Professional Pet Sitter (Paws-itive Press, $29.95). To contact Lori or learn more about her book, visit Paws-itive Press.

Copyright © 1999 by Lori Mangold.

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