Everything was set for my vacation when I realized my aging dog had too many medical issues to be boarded, sending me on a frantic search for a pet sitter.
My dog and home survived my eleventh-hour hire, but I wish I knew then what I know now.
“I’ve hired pet sitters, and I’ve hired a nanny. It’s the same process for me,” said Dr. Tim Hackett, an emergency and critical care vet and director of the James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Fort Collins, Colo. “Make sure they have good training, references and know what to do in a crisis.”
To begin the search, ask for recommendations from your vet, dog trainer or local Humane Society office or check databases for the National Assn. of Professional Pet Sitters or Pet Sitters International.
You can find other options by searching online or asking friends and family. To begin, start with a telephone interview and ask lots of questions.
“Are they familiar with common problems that dogs or cats may run into while their owners are away?” Hackett said.
Determine whether the sitter will stay overnight or stop by once or twice a day, and discuss specifics such as the frequency and duration of walks.
“I know people who, as they’ve grown their dog-sitting business, they watch two or three [homes] at a time,” said Jennifer Holmes of Fort Collins, a pet sitter and vet technician who is trained in animal CPR. “I do one at a time, because I think the quality of care is better; they can have my full attention.”
Invite the sitter to meet your pet and study how they interact. Discuss expectations, such as whether the sitter will get your mail, and your house rules, including whether the caregiver can partake of your food or drink.
I learned an important lesson when our return flight was delayed and the sitter replied to my text by saying she had left my house.
“I’m sure he’ll be fine,” she said of my dog.
“Fine” was a relative term. Besides the accident he had while being cooped up, he was hungry when I finally got home.
It’s imperative to have a friend as backup. Make sure your sitter has the number and that both have keys to your house.
Include these details in a contract. Samples can be downloaded from the Internet (search “pet sitter contract”), but customize it with clear instructions, adding contact information for you, your vet and the emergency clinic.
Finally, leave a medical directive with the caregiver that outlines how much treatment you want for your dog or cat if it were injured or ill and how much you would be willing to spend.
I first heard about pet medical directives when I hired Holmes as a dog sitter after my initial less-than-satisfying experience with someone else.
She insisted we draft one before leaving town, explaining that her 12-year-old dog died the day after she flew to the West Indies. She had the foresight to leave a directive with the vet and had told the couple watching her dog what to do.
It made it easier on the sitters, and Holmes said that having her wishes carried out helped her find closure.
I now have a network of experienced pet sitters whom I trust, and we all have the same expectations. That makes going on vacation and coming home that much more relaxing.