How To Safely Hire A Pet Sitter

If you’re considering hiring a pet sitter (or if you already have one) I have some very important information you probably don’t know. Not knowing this can cost you your pet.

Pet sitters do much more than provide a pet with food and water while their guardian is away from home.

A good pet sitter spends quality time with the animal, gives him exercise and knows how to tell if he needs veterinary attention. What's more, pet sitters typically offer additional services, such as taking in mail and newspapers and watering plants.

Not everyone can, or should, care for an animal. Some individuals seek out pet sitting jobs because they pay well, are short-term, and can be relatively easy.

If the wrong person is hired, he or she could put your animal’s happiness and safety in serious jeopardy.

1. Before your next trip, dedicate some time to learn about the measures every pet guardian should take when hiring a pet sitter. While these steps are simple, they make all the difference when your pet’s welfare is at stake.

2. Just because you've used a pet sitter before without a problem doesn't mean they’re not dangerous to your pets. Even if you have used your pet sitter multiple times without incident previously, it can lure you into a false sense of security.

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In retrospect, other than your pets being alive and apparently healthy when you come back, how would you know what care they actually received? Animals can’t talk, and there is a lot of opportunity for unscrupulous pet sitters who are “in it for the money” to cut corners.

If you paid for 2 visits a day by our pet sitter, how would you know if she only came once? Or every other day?

3. Online reviews, a Facebook page, a professional-looking website, they can be misleading. Hiring a pet sitter or house sitter is an intimate transaction, which means there’s usually a feeling of a personal connection there. If there’s a problem, the vast majority of people don’t post bad online reviews, they just stop hiring the sitter.

People used to be able to post anonymous Google reviews without even using a nickname. Because of that, some business owners certainly previously “cheated” with Google reviews and wrote their own glowing reviews. (So take older “anonymous” older Google Places reviews with a grain of salt.)

However, now the pendulum has swung the other way: Currently, in order to post a Google Places review now, you have to be a registered Google Plus member (Google Plus is the attempt of Google to try to to compete with Facebook), which means people have to post their full name/Google Plus name in order to review a business.

As you can guess, this has a “chilling effect” on getting honest reviews… People say, “Why would I post a bad restaurant review in my town on Google Plus with my full name and picture?

If I go back I’ll wonder if they spit in my food!” so it’s fairly rare for new reviews on Google Places to be critical, especially in smaller towns where you’ll run into those people socially.

4. Have the pet sitter meet you in your home and make sure he/she interacts well with your pet. Pet sitters will collect information from you regarding your pet's care, and should have a contract outlining the scope of service as well as policies and procedures.

5. Just as parents leave a checklist for a babysitter
, you can leave a checklist for your pet sitter.

Include important information like:
  • The vet’s phone number and address 
  • The closest 24-hour emergency hospital 
  • Any medications they will need while you are gone 
  • Allergies 
  • Feeding schedule 
  • How often to check their water bowl 
  • Any behavioral problems 
  • Whether you allow them on the furniture 
  • Whether they get people food 
  • How often they get a treat 
  • And any other information that will help keep your dog or cat, as happy, fulfilled, and balanced as possible while you are away

What Should I Look For?

It's important to learn all you can about a prospective pet sitters' qualifications and services. Before selecting a pet sitter, interview the candidates over the phone or at your home.
Find out the following:
  • What training has the pet sitter completed? 
  • Will the pet sitter record notes about your pet - such as his likes, dislikes, fears, habits, medical conditions, medications, and routines? 
  • Is the pet sitter associated with a veterinarian who can provide emergency services? 
  • What will happen if the pet sitter experiences car trouble or becomes ill? Does she have a backup? 
  • Will the pet sitter provide related services such as in-home grooming, dog walking, dog training and play time? 
  • Will the pet sitter provide a written service contract spelling out services and fees? 
  • If the pet sitter provides live-in services, what are the specific times she agrees to be with your pet? Is this detailed in the contract? 
  • How does your pet sitter make sure that you have returned home? 
  • Will the pet sitter provide you with the phone numbers of other clients who have agreed to serve as references?
Even if you like what you hear from the pet sitter and from her references, it's important to have the prospective pet sitter come to your home to meet your pet before actually hiring her for a pet-sitting job.
6. Watch how she/he interacts with your pet - does your pet seem comfortable with the person? If this visit goes well, start by hiring the pet sitter to care for your pet during a short trip, such as a weekend excursionThat way, you can work out any problems before leaving your beloved pet in the pet sitter's care for longer periods.

So How Can You Be Safe?

The First Place To Start: At Your Vet’s Office…and don’t just ask once. Ask again in a year to see if their opinions have changed.

Why? Because the staff at your vet’s office is in contact with more dog owners than you’ll ever meet, and they meet them when there’s a problem. (ie, “My cat is dehydrated because my pet sitter forgot to feed it”, “My pet sitter sat on my dog and I think its leg is broken”, etc.)

Why Should You Keep Asking Your Vet’s Staff?
Because situations change. Even if you used your pet sitter for years without any observable problems. And when you started using her, maybe she didn't have any complaints at that time.

But over time, those complaints start stacking up, and it’s your job as a pet owner to stay on top of it.

Ask Friends, Ask Other Dog Owners, Check Online Reviews
Of course you should ask around from other sources as well… Friends, other dog owners, online reviews (which aren't really reliable, as shown above… Everything helps.

How Do You Know Your Pet Sitter Is Doing A Good Job?

Unfortunately, pets can’t talk. So unless they’re dead, lost, or visibly wounded, you can’t really know how their level of care was.

If you were paying for your pet sitter to come twice a day to feed your dog and cats, how do you know the sitter was really there? What’s easier for a sitter than coming to your house twice a day? Coming once a day and just cleaning up the poop your dog makes in the house. What’s easier than that? Coming every other day.

A local pet sitter told someone that a pet sitter has called her multiple times in the past to ask her to “sub out” pet sittings jobs she has.

In other words, after getting hired to take care of pets and for whatever reason she’s overbooked or can’t do it, she tried to have someone the pet/house owner has never met come to their house to do the work. Are you comfortable with that?

Does your pet sitter promise to take your dog for a long walk every day? How do you know that actually happens?

How To Make Sure Your Pet/House Sitter Does Their Job

One word: Webcam...

During the interview point them out to the prospect sitter, maybe gauge their reaction. No need for them to be secret or hidden.

The point isn't to catch abhorrent behavior, the point is to prevent it in the first place.

Even buying a couple of big, ugly, fake cameras with a bright red led and pointing them, obnoxiously obviously towards the door, pet area, back yard, etc., would have the desired effect… heck, they call ‘em pet cams.

You need something that documents what’s going on in your house, that at the very least can confirm how often the sitter comes over, and how long they stay.

At the most basic, you can set up a webcam that takes a snapshot every few seconds. And then, of course, tell the pet sitter about it.

That’s half the point. Trust people, but follow up on them.

1. They're not going to sneak their friend over if there's a webcam set up
2. They can't "just not show up" sometimes and figure it'll be OK
3. They can't send someone else to do what they're supposed to do

The bottom line is, most people behave better when they have to. Just like employees try to look busier when the boss is there, you need to keep your sitter on their toes as well.

Finally, have a safe and fun trip.

And remember to bring your pet sitter's phone number in case your plans change - or you just want to find out how Fluffy and Fido are doing.

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