We recently went to visit the beach in Pensacola. We heard the beaches were pretty quiet and we needed to get away for a bit. The pandemic has hit hard in many ways, but it was taking an emotional toll. Getting away for the weekend was just what we needed. Luckily, we were able to bring along Lefty and Neto to our pet friendly Airbnb and we had a friend to care for the kitties and Hugo, the bearded dragon. We can't always travel with our pets, though. Sometimes it just isn't realistic. When you have to fly, travel for business, or even if your pet just doesn't like to travel, you may have to hire a pet sitter.
Why hire a pet sitter?
There are a few options for pet care when you head out of town. There are kennels, boarding, family/friends, even on-demand apps that can help. For my own personal pets, and the pets of family and friends (as well as everyone else) I highly suggest hiring a professional pet sitter. There is a difference between a pet boarder and a pet sitter. The main difference between the two, is that a pet boarder cares for your pet in their home, and a pet sitter cares for your pet in your own home. The benefit of having a pet sitter, is that your best friend can stay in their own home, where they are comfortable. They can most likely stick to a very similar routine. For pets with anxiety, or other behavior issues, this is the best option for them. An anxious pet will feel uncomfortable, or even afraid in a new environment. A pet that doesn't enjoy the company of other animals will also do better in their own home. Some dogs absolutely love daycare and having a blast with their friends, but for others, home is where they will do best.
My friend said they could help, why should I hire a professional?
Chances are, the things you are leaving behind while you are away, are your most valued and prized possessions. Not to mention your beloved fur family members. Hiring a professional can leave you with the peace of mind that you need to enjoy your time out of town. A professional pet sitter will have references, be able to provide a background check upon request, will be bonded and insured, and lots of experience caring for pets. They may have training in pet CPR and the know-how of what to do in case of crisis.
What about Rover or Wag? They seem convenient!
I used to work for Rover and Wag, in my experience with them, I would not use them for my own pet care needs. There are a lot of wonderful dog walkers and pet sitters who utilize these platforms, and I don't mean to diminish their experience or credentials in any way. My issue is with the companies themselves. They require very little proof of knowledge or experience, believe a few short training videos will suffice for training, and they are somewhat notorious for not taking responsibility when unfortunate situations arise. For these reasons, I would not use the apps myself.
Ok, so how do I find a professional pet sitter?
Word of mouth is your friend when searching for a pet sitter! Nextdoor can be a great resource. Ask family, friends, your veterinarian, or other local pet businesses. No matter what, your pet sitter should have references available, be able to provide a background check upon request, and be bonded and insured. This protects you, your pet, and your home. A Google search may work, but be wary of basing your decision off of Google reviews alone, it is always better to speak or hear from someone directly regarding their experience with a pet sitter.
A found a pet sitter I like, what do I do now?
Set up a meet and greet. This is most often a free service provided by pet sitters for an initial consultation and meeting with you and your pet. The pet owner/pet sitter relationship is often an interesting one. You may meet your pet sitter only once before handing them keys to your home and entrusting them with your pet. A client once joked with me that, I had worked for them for quite some time, but they wouldn't be able to pick me out in a grocery store. Your entire relationship may be entirely through the phone or email. Your pet on the other hand, will come to know their sitter's scent, the sound of their car pulling up in the driveway, or the jingle of their particular set of keys at the door. For this reason, the meet and greet is best spent letting your pet and new sitter build a positive rapport with one another. This is also your chance to go over your expectations, services you are looking for, and to agree upon prices. A professional pet sitter should have a service contract for you to sign, be able to provide proof of insurance, and be able to provide a background check when requested.
If you decide that your sitter seems to be a good fit, you will need to provide pet care instructions, including feeding, walking, and any medication instructions. Make sure that all of this information is written down or provided to your sitter on paper or in a pet-sitting software program. Give your sitter a tour of your home and show any important, pet related items. Where the food is located, treats, collars, harnesses, leashes, medications, etc.
You will also need to provide access to your home, including keys, door codes, alarm codes, etc. I like to have keys on file for all clients, even those with alternate access methods. Batteries to a door keypad could die, a garage door could malfunction. It is always best to provide your sitter with actual keys, in case of emergency. You do not want any of these unfortunate situations to occur while you are out of town.
Please inform your veterinarian that a pet sitter will be caring for your pet while you are away. I have clients fill out a Veterinary Release form, allowing me to seek veterinary care for their pets in case it is needed immediately. Confirm with your veterinarian what paperwork you pet sitter may need in order to legally seek care for your pet. Some vets require payment up front for care, so you may need to leave a card on file, or some other preparations in advance.
In addition, you may also want to inform a neighbor, so they know to expect a strange car or person in your home. You may also consider asking a friend or neighbor to keep an extra key to your home, in case the sitter loses theirs. This is why I require two keys on file to begin services, because accidents can happen!
What should I leave for my pet sitter?
On your day of departure from home, go over a quick checklist of what should be left behind for your pet sitter. Make sure your pet's care instructions are written (or typed!) down and left for your sitter. We use a professional pet sitter software, called Time to Pet, that makes this even easier and more convenient. Leave detailed instructions on feeding and any medications that may need to be administered. Remember to include any instructions about special routines, like grooming, fetch in the yard, or that special treat they get after their evening meal! To make things easy, leave all pet related items in only one or a couple of places. Ensure there is enough food, etc. to last for the time you plan to be out of town. Close doors to any off-limits areas of your home, and ensure all windows and main doors are locked and secure. Pet-proof your home, leaving any dangerous items or substances out of reach.
When you are going out of town, more than anything, you want to trust that your beloved pet is happy and safe. Consider leaving some worn clothing with your familiar scent, a recording with your voice on it, or even investing in a security camera, specially designed to monitor your pet and home. The Furbo camera is one of my favorite additions to my home! I can check on my pets while I am away, shoot them treats, and even speak over the camera! It was a great investment!
Planning a trip out of town is stressful, so make sure to find a professional pet sitter that you can trust, one that leaves you with peace of mind. For you, your home, and your beloved pets.
Have any other tips about preparing for your pet sitter? Feel free to leave it in a comment below!