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Finding a pet-sitter

Tips for choosing your pets' second best friend

All Animals magazine, November/December 2016

by Ruthanne Johnson

Finding a pet-sitter you trust can be tricky, but read on for tips. Illustration by Shaina Lieberman/The HSUS.

Even as a puppy, Wendy Pridgen’s cattle dog Angus was distrustful of strangers and other dogs. She knew he wouldn’t do well in doggie daycare, but she couldn’t leave him in a crate for 10 hours while she was at work.

Pridgen, who lives in Boyds, Maryland, decided a pet sitter would be the best solution. The person could come to her house, let Angus out and play fetch with him in the backyard. And the sitter could check on her horses and give her the peace of mind of knowing all her animals were safe during the three days a week she commuted to her job in Washington, D.C.

Finding that person, however, was a bit harder than Pridgen realized. The pet sitters she located online either didn’t call back or wouldn’t work with puppies. She eventually hired a college student recommended by her veterinarian. The young woman had experience with horses, and Angus liked her. But almost a year later, Pridgen discovered the student was skipping visits.

So once again, Pridgen was searching for a person she could entrust with the care of her beloved pets.

Pet-sitters should be trustworthy, professional, knowledgeable and able to handle emergencies.

It’s a common quest among today’s pet owners. Faced with hectic schedules and long commutes, more people are hiring professional sitters to ensure their animals’ health and happiness. But there’s a lot to consider when choosing a sitter.

Not only are they caring for valued family members, they’re coming into your home, says Cory Smith, director of companion animals public policy for The HSUS. They should be trustworthy, professional, knowledgeable and able to handle emergencies. And your pet should feel comfortable around them.

When everything works out well, pet sitters can bring great relief to busy pet owners. “Even for people with a dedicated family member or friend to watch their pets, it’s a good idea to have a pet sitter in the queue,” says Smith.

Pridgen finally found a good pet sitter through an ad on the bulletin board of a local convenience store. She interviewed him and called references. His fee was affordable, and he was flexible and mature. “But mostly, I just had a good feeling about him,” she says.

That’s part of the strategy for identifying the right pet sitter, Smith says: “Sometimes you just have to trust your gut and go with what feels right to you.” Here are some other tips to aid your search.

The search

The internet and bulletin boards of local stores and veterinarian offices are great places to start. Professional pet-sitting associations such as the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters (NAPPS) and Pet Sitters International have websites listing their members. Reading online reviews and even checking out candidates’ Facebook pages can help narrow down your search.

You can also ask family and friends for referrals. Or connect with your veterinarian and local humane societies, which may have employees who are part-time pet sitters. Just keep in mind that people with full-time jobs may not have the availability you need, says Yvette Gonzales, president of NAPPS and owner of As You Wish Pet Sitters in Colorado.

The interview

Make a list of questions for potential pet sitters before you reach out. You can start by asking about fees, since there’s no point in moving forward if you can’t afford their services. At the same time, don’t just go with the cheapest rate; you want a qualified professional. And don’t be afraid to have a long conversation. “You should be able to get a good sense on the phone of someone’s personality and how they are in business,” says Gonzales. Ask what services they offer, how long they’ve been in business, what their backup plan is if something prevents them from coming to your house and if they know about your pets’ species.

Prepare questions ahead of time, like what the sitter would do if your pet starting vomiting.

Ask candidates if they can accommodate your pet’s specific needs, such as medications; whether they have special training or certifications; and whether they’re bonded and insured (which could protect you in certain situations, such as if your dog bites another person while on a walk with the sitter). It’s also good to pose one or two emergency scenarios to see how candidates respond, says Gonzales, such as what they would do if the air conditioning breaks on a hot day or your pet starts vomiting.

Meet and greet

Before you book a pet-sitting date, you and your pets should meet the candidate. This will allow you to get to know the person better, flesh out special instructions and observe how she interacts with your animal. You may even want to ask a candidate to do a trial walk to see how she handles your dog. “They should also provide information on themselves—references and copies of their bonding, license and a criminal background check,” Smith says.

For Gonzales, professionalism during the meet and greet is huge. “Did they offer to take off their shoes when they walked through my house? … If they are going to respect my home, they are obviously going to respect my animals.”

Quality assurance

The best screening in the world may not prevent you from hiring the wrong person. But there are signs to help you determine whether the person is doing her job. Pridgen became suspicious of the college student she hired after she discovered pee puddles just outside Angus’ crate. She also noticed untouched treats that she’d left for the sitter to give to Angus. Pridgen placed a broom against the front door and left through the back to be 100-percent sure she wasn’t unjustly accusing the young woman—and fired her when she found the broom still in place.

You may ask your pet sitter to leave notes about each visit or send pictures of the visit via cell phone. Or you can go to the extreme and install cameras or an alarm system to monitor who comes and goes. “You can also get a GPS for your dog’s collar to see if they are being walked every day,” Gonzales says.

While it’s good to be cautious when starting with someone new, keep in mind that most people who choose pet-sitting as a career are animal lovers. Over time, a sitter can become a trusted friend to you and your pet. Smith herself once worked as a pet sitter and recalls that a few clients asked to add her to their wills. They wanted to ensure that if something happened to them, she would get their pets.

That’s not unusual, Smith says. “When you are a pet sitter, you are kind of an extension of someone’s family.”


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