(Photo Credit: Shutterstock)

If you’re hankering to take a vacation, or if your daily routine simply keeps you away from your furry friend for long periods of time, you may want to consider enlisting the services of a pet sitter. Pet sitters are more than providers of your dog’s food and water. Professional pet sitters take your dog on regular walks, offer play time, and have the experience to recognize if your dog is in need of a veterinarian. When you are away on a vacation, your pet sitter can also give your home that “lived in” look by picking up newspapers and mail, turning on lights, radios, etc.

However, anyone can place an ad in papers or on the internet and call themselves a pet sitter. Only a certified professional has the training and skills to keep your dog healthy and happy when you can’t.

Why hire a pet sitter?

When you are going away from home, you have several choices for your dog’s care while you are gone: a boarding kennel, friends or family, or a pet-sitting professional. There are pros and cons for each.

Boarding kennels can range from a bunch of cages in a backyard, to posh, hotel-like accommodations that provide your pet a luxury stay at a luxury price. Because that option requires taking your dog out of his or her comfort zone, many opt to leave Fido at home and have a friend, neighbor or family member come in a couple times a day to check his food and water, and walk him around a bit. This can work, but you’re asking a lot of someone who may not have the time to spend with your dog each and every day. It’s also possible that they won’t know what to look for should your dog have any medical conditions that require attention.

Another option is to hire a professional pet sitter, who can offer the type of visiting plan to meet your dog’s needs, with the professional knowledge and expertise to keep your buddy healthy and happy while you are away.

Your dog receives:

  • The comforts of the home and area he’s familiar with.
  • His usual food and feeding schedule.
  • Not having to stay in someplace he doesn’t know or feel at ease in.
  • Quality attention on a daily basis.

You receive:

  • Family and friends who are not burdened by having to take care of your dog.
  • The serenity that comes your pet being watched and taken care of by an experienced pro.
  • A person who will give your home a “lived-in” look to thwart potential thieves.
  • Being able to come home to your dog instead of having to drop him off and pick him up at a kennel.
  • Other house-watching services such as taking care of plants, bringing in papers and mail, and keeping your dog groomed.
(Photo Credit: Shutterstock)

(Photo Credit: Shutterstock)

Where do I look for a professional sitter?

Family, friends, your vet, and others who care for your pet may be able to recommend someone they know. The National Association of Professional Pet Sitters (800-296-PETS) or Pet Sitters International (336-983-9222) offer referrals to accredited pet sitters who have completed pet-care courses, attend professional conferences, and abide by a code of ethics set by the organizations. You can also check the Internet or yellow pages under “Pet Sitting Services.”

What makes a good pet sitter?

A pet sitters’ experience and services offered are important to ascertain before hiring. Interview them over the phone and/or meet with them at your home.

Ask the following:

  • Can they show proof of commercial liability insurance (to cover accidents and negligence) and are they bonded (to protect against theft by a pet sitter or her employees)?
  • What training have they gone through?
  • Do they take notes of your dog’s habits, schedule, health problems, medications, veterinarian, emergency contacts, etc.?
  • Are they either associated with or aware of emergency veterinarians who are available during off hours or holidays?
  • If they cannot make it to your home because of illness or personal emergency, do they have a back-up person they can call on?
  • Do they offer services such as basic grooming, walking, training, and play time if needed?
  • Do they put all fees and services into a written contract?
  • If you want the sitter to stay in your home while you are away, are the specific times he or she agrees to be with your dog written into the contract?
  • Will they check to ensure you have returned home on time and continue services if you have not?
  • Will they give you references who you can contact?

If you like what you hear, be sure to have the sitter come to your home and meet your dog. Observe the interaction between your dog and the sitter–does your dog seem happy and at ease? If so, it is a good idea to hire the sitter for a weekend get-away or while you are away at work for a couple days before you go on a long trip. That way you can both address the services, times, or other issues before they become problematic.

What can I do to help?

Regardless of a pet sitters’ experience, you will still encounter problems if you haven’t done your own preparation. Here are things you must do:

  • Plan ahead and reserve your sitter in advance, especially during holidays.
  • Be sure to train and reinforce doggy socialization. If your dog growls or runs away from other people, how will he react to a stranger trying to feed or walk him?
  • Be sure your dog has current collar ID tags or, if he has a microchip, be sure to let your sitter know.
  • Ensure your dog’s vaccinations are up to date and give your sitter copies of these records.
  • Leave clear directions detailing pet-care responsibilities and emergency contact information, including how to reach you, a nearby friend or family member, and your veterinarian.
  • Stock up on supplies, enough for longer than you plan to be gone, and keep them a clearly designated area.
  • Before giving your sitter a key, be sure it works. An extra key should be left with a nearby friend, neighbor, or family member. Your sitter should have their phone numbers and they should have hers.
  • Go over all safety and security features of your home with the sitter. Fire extinguishers, alarm systems, breakers, fuse boxes are just a few of the areas to cover.

Don’t forget to bring your pet sitter’s phone number along with you in case of changes in plans, unexpected delays, or just to check in and see how your buddy is doing…Have a wonderful trip!

Source: Adapted from the Humane Society of the United States

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