By Dr. Beth Leermakers
A friend spent this weekend interviewing pet sitters. Her senior dog is incontinent and has to be hand-fed several times per day because of a medical condition. She was reluctant to leave her special-needs baby at a boarding kennel, so she’s looking for someone to care for her pup in the pet sitter’s home. My senior dog Zane couldn’t be vaccinated (except for rabies) due to a medical condition, so he wasn’t allowed to stay at a boarding facility or in a pet sitter’s home. When my parents weren’t available, I needed someone to stay with Zane and my other dogs at my house.
In addition to caring for your animals, pet sitters water your plants and bring in your mail and newspapers, possibly deterring burglars by making your home look occupied. Good pet sitters do more than just feed your animals and let them outside for a quick potty break. They love on your cat or dog, walk them if they need more exercise and know when to take Mittens and Spot to the vet. Finding the right person to care for your little darlings isn’t always easy.
How Do You Find a Reliable, Caring Pet Sitter?
Ask your friends, vet clinic staff or neighbors (perhaps via NextDoor) for recommendations. You can also contact the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters (NAPPS; petsitters.org; 800-296-PETS) or Pet Sitters International (PSI; petsit.com; 800-268-SITS) to find an accredited pet sitter in your area.
Questions to Ask A Prospective Pet Sitter
Before you trust your fur babies with a stranger, find out more about her qualifications and services. Interview the potential pet sitter by phone or at your home, asking these questions:
1. Can you provide written proof that you have commercial liability insurance (to cover accidents and negligence) and are bonded (to protect against theft by a pet sitter or her employees)?
2. What training have you received? The NAPPS and PSI offer pet-sitter certification to people who complete pet-care-related home study courses, demonstrate professional experience, attend professional conferences, and follow a code of ethics set by the organizations.
3. [If your pet has medical needs] Are you experienced at giving eye or ear drops; insulin injections; or oral medications to a reluctant pet? Do you have pet CPR training?
4. What will happen if you get sick or have car trouble? What’s your backup plan? I’ve used Dallas pet sitting companies that request two house keys — for the primary sitter and backup sitter.
5. Will you take notes about my pet’s preferences, fears, medications and special needs? I give pet sitters very detailed instructions about my dogs’ meals, treats, potty schedule and other needs. Because my foster dogs have to be separated from each other in various combinations, it’s not as simple as just opening their crates and letting them out in the yard. I don’t want to risk a dog fight. I even provide written descriptions of my dogs (e.g., Panda is the black and white dog with the red collar) and where to feed each one.
6. How long are your visits? Some visits may be as short as 20 minutes. Those quick “touch and go” visits may be sufficient for cats or independent dogs, but my needy dogs want more snuggle time. When Sparky feels neglected, he pulls the 10-lb box of dog biscuits off the counter, eating 1/4 of the box. Sharing a bed with him afterward isn’t a pleasant experience.
7. Will you provide related services such as in-home grooming, dog walking, dog training or extra play-time? If so, what’s the cost of these services?
8. Do you provide a written contract detailing the services and fees? Knowing exactly what to expect is important.
9. [If the sitter is providing live-in/overnight services] How much time will you spend with my animals? Some pet sitters make a brief dinner visit, leave and then return at 10 p.m., staying until 7 a.m. the next morning. By 10 p.m., my dogs are asleep. They want attention and play time earlier in the day.
10. How will you make sure I’ve returned home from my trip? Some pet sitters ask their clients to text them when they return. They’ll continue making regular visits until they hear from you, to be sure your pets are covered if your return is delayed.
11. Can you provide references? Ask to speak with someone who has a pet with similar needs. Caring for a healthy, young cat is very different than caring for a fearful senior cat that needs daily insulin injections.
Set up a Meet and Greet
at Your Home
Have the pet sitter come to your home, and watch how she interacts with your pets. Does your cat seem comfortable with her? If your pet is terribly shy, he may not immediately warm up to even the most gentle, caring pet sitter. Panda, my shy foster dog, wouldn’t approach my pet sitter until he got to know her. My other dogs love their sitter, so I know Panda’s reaction isn’t a reflection of her.
Some pet sitting companies will charge you for this initial meeting, at which time you’ll sign the contract and give them one or more house keys. Hire the pet sitter for a short visit (perhaps a weekend) before you leave your pets with her for a week-long vacation.
“Choosing a pet sitter is like choosing your children’s care giver. It’s a very important decision,” says Missy Redding, president of The Pet Divas, a Dallas pet sitting company. “Leaving your loved ones with someone you trust is a precursor to enjoying your time away. Choose a pet sitter who loves her job and has great references. Our clients refer us to their friends and family because we go out of our way to keep our clients and their pets happy. We truly love what we do, and it shows.”