We all lead busy lives and, as much as we love them, it is sometimes necessary to temporarily place our beloved pets in the care of another. There are several options available to us but in this article, I am going to focus on just one, namely, in your home pet sitters. By this I mean someone who agrees to stay in your home, at least overnight, to look after your pets while you are away.
When Colette and I were running our own pet sitting business in Arizona we had many clients who would go away multiple times every year and, for them, having a pet sitter living in their home did not give them a moment’s pause. They had come to trust us completely and they knew that their pets were happy and well cared for and that their home was secure. But what if this is your first time contemplating this? You are most likely asking yourself……..
How Can I Possibly Leave a Complete Stranger in My Home?
Many people never come to terms with the concept of having a complete stranger staying in their home and, if you fall into this category, it is not my purpose here to try to persuade you to the contrary. BUT, the fact that you are reading this article means you are, at least, a little curious and if by the time you have finished reading, you have a better understanding of what is involved, and are feeling a little more comfortable with the concept, then my goal in writing this article will have been achieved.
Realize also that a pet sitter is only a stranger on their first assignment with you and that, assuming all goes well, you are going to feel increasingly comfortable on succeeding assignments. With this in mind, several of our first-time clients opted to make that first assignment a single night only, and under very controlled conditions. This reduced their anxiety level just enough to allow them to take the plunge…and they never looked back!
What are the Benefits of Having a Pet Sitter Stay in Your Home?
Later in this article, I briefly mention a few alternatives to using an in your home pet sitter but these will almost always involve removing your pets from their home environment, and therein lies the problem. Almost all household pets develop a relationship with their caregiver and are therefore going to experience some level of stress if separated from that caregiver. The most obvious examples are dogs and cats but most animals, including reptiles and rodents, and even fish and some insects are going to be affected to some degree. If, in addition to that separation, they are also taken out of their home environment, with all its familiar sights, smells and sounds, then, for most pets, that stress level is going to rise exponentially. While still missing you, your pet is going to be a lot happier in its own home.
Other benefits include:
- Eliminates the stress of travel and/or an unfamiliar environment
- Easier to keep to regular meal times and maintain diet
- Healthier environment, because there is no exposure to other animals with their diseases, parasites, etc.
- More reliable administration of medications
- Much easier to maintain a healthy exercise regimen
- Not having to impose on family or friends
- Great home security for you
To Pay or Not to Pay
When Colette and I had our pet sitting business in Arizona it was just that, a business. That’s not to say we didn’t love what we were doing or the pets we were looking after, but the fact was the pet sitting provided us with a liveable income.
Over recent years a new breed of pet sitter has emerged and they offer their pet/house sitting services for free or, more accurately, in exchange for free accommodation. These pet sitters are, typically, world travelers who are seeking to eliminate accommodation costs while they travel by offering to look after (for free) the homes and pets of homeowners who are themselves traveling away from their home. It’s a barter arrangement that has grown dramatically in popularity over the past few years.
In this article, I am not going to get into a discussion on whether paid or unpaid pet sitting is best. There are pros and cons to both. What I will say is that paying a pet sitter is not of itself going to ensure a better pet sitting experience and you will have to do the same due diligence in choosing your pet sitter (see below) whether you are paying them or not.
What exactly does an In Your Home Pet Sitter do?
Apart from staying in your home overnight, the very minimum a pet sitter should do is feed your pet, as close as possible to its regular meal time(s), ensure it has an adequate supply of water, and, as appropriate, either provide ample opportunity to pee and poop or otherwise maintain clean and healthy living conditions. Most pet sitters will also automatically include some play and ‘cuddle on the couch’ time for dogs and cats and appropriate handling for other animals. Beyond that it is for you to ask whatever other services are included (for the price) and/or stipulate what other services you require, bearing in mind there may be an additional charge for some of those other services.
Your pet sitter may also include, or you can ask for, some other, non-pet related services such as putting out the trash, watering plants, collecting the mail and even basic pool maintenance.
You should bear in mind that the ‘standard package’ offered by many pet sitters only includes the overnight stay so, unless you negotiate one or more additional visits through the day (and for which there could be an additional charge), your pet is going to be by itself throughout most of the day.
The minimum a pet sitter should do:
- Stay at your home overnight for an agreed minimum number of hours
- Provide food and water on an agreed schedule
- Allow adequate pee and poop time and/or maintain a clean and healthy living environment
- Include some play or handling time
Additional, pet-related, services you may wish/need to ask for:
- Dog or cat walking
- Doggie daycare visits
- Dog park visits
- Vet/groomer visits
- Additional daytime visits
- Administer medications
- Dog training (if the pet sitter is qualified)
Additional, non-pet-related, services you may wish/need to ask for:
- Put out the trash
- Collect mail
- Maintain the pool
- Accept deliveries
- Manage service/repair people
- Water plants
What do I have to do and/or provide?
Your pet sitter will be sleeping in your home, sometimes for multiple nights, so a bed will always be appreciated, although, if there is no spare bed available, and you draw the line at a stranger sleeping in your bed, they will usually be prepared to sleep on the couch. If you are providing a bed, clarify who is supplying bed linens (a pet sitter will usually be happy to bring their own) and, if it is you, who will be responsible for laundering them. The same applies to towels.
Apart from the sleeping arrangements your other principal concern is to make sure there is a sufficient supply of pet food, treats and (if applicable) medications.
Here is my recommended checklist:
- Name and contact information for your Vet and nearest Emergency Vet service
- Forewarn your Vet that you are going away and that Mr./Mrs Pet Sitter has your authority to seek treatment (subject, perhaps, to a financial limit)
- Your contact information when you are away (give as many options as you can)
- The contact information of a trusted friend or family member who can make decisions if you are not contactable
- Front door key (kind of obvious but overlooked so many times)
- Security alarm code as well as contact number of security company and password
- If you live in a gated community, the access code for the main gate
- Location of the breaker box
- Water and gas shut-offs
- Telephone numbers of utility companies
- Information about anyone who may have authorized access to your home when you are away, e.g. cleaners, gardeners, family, etc.
The Rules of the House
You have already established your expectations regarding your pet and also any additional services, such as bringing in the mail, that your pet sitter will be providing. Now you have to establish the rules of the house and by this, I mean ensuring that your pet sitter will respect the house itself. This has four main elements;
Ensuring your home is in the same physical condition when you return as when you left it:
For practical purposes, this should entail nothing more than the pet sitter cleaning up after themselves. You are not hiring them to provide a cleaning service but they should be more than happy to clean up their own mess. So, just point them to where the vacuum cleaner and/or dustpan and broom are located and that should take care of that.
Use of the kitchen:
Most pet sitters, especially on a limited stay of one or two nights, would not use your kitchen, even if you offered it, and will rely on take-out and the like. However, some may ask if they can use the kitchen, particularly if they are staying for multiple nights, and you should be prepared for such a request. If you agree, establish the ground rules should anything get broken.
Use of the television(s) and other electronic equipment:
Your pet sitter will likely be in your home for the better part, if not the whole, of each evening and, unless you have a good reason for denying this privilege, you really should allow them to, at least, watch the TV. Just make sure you fully explain to them how everything works, particularly that, pesky, ‘universal’ remote control!
Can the pet sitter bring/allow anyone else to enter your home:
This is important. You need to know that, except for anyone previously authorized by you, no one but the pet sitter is in your home. Most professional pet sitters would not even consider asking for such a privilege and anyone who does ask should not be upset if you say no. Of course, you can also say yes but the fundamental rule should be no one else in the house, at any time, without your clear, prior approval.
How Do I Find a Good, Reliable In-Home Pet Sitter?
There are a number of resources available to you.
This is absolutely the best way to go, particularly if this is your first foray into pet sitting. If a friend or family member, whose judgment you trust, has used and been happy with, a dog sitter in your area then that should be the first person you interview. Not only will that friend or family member be able to tell you a lot about the dog sitter, but they can also explain what to expect in terms of the process itself.
Colette and I started our pet sitting business from scratch and so, in the beginning, we had to rely on the more traditional methods of marketing ourselves, local advertising, the web, etc. Within a couple of months, we were starting to get referrals from our new clients and by twelve months the referral calls were flooding in and we even had to turn business away. That was the power of personal recommendation, albeit from the other side of the coin.
Sign-up with a house sitting website.
There are now many house sitting websites to choose from, some operating nationally while others operate internationally. Each one maintains a registry of house sitters who are seeking assignments and most will include a profile of each house sitter, including a brief bio, house sitting experience, and preferred area/country. Homeowners can usually either browse the registry for someone suitable or post their particular assignment on the website and wait for house sitters to contact them.
Although these websites are, technically, for “house sitting”, as distinct from “pet sitting”, the fact remains that the vast majority (around 80%) of all posted assignments involve taking care of one or more pets. The registered house sitters are naturally aware of this and are invariably more than happy to take care of your pet as well as your home.
Because the primary objective of most house sitters is to get free accommodation, most house sitting websites are geared more towards a no-payment service although many do give the house sitter the option to seek payment if both parties agree.
Use a reputable pet sitting agency.
As the title suggests, the primary focus of pet sitting agencies is the actual care of pets and the pet sitters involved perform a number of varied tasks including day visits (for feeding, exercise, administering medications, etc.), dog walking and pet transportation and payment is invariably involved. Many pet sitters will also stay in your home overnight if asked but, because free accommodation is not their primary objective you will again be expected to pay for any such stay.
There are a number of agencies and registries out there, some local, some national, and some international, who will hook you up with a local, independent, pet sitter from their membership/register. Most do not have any screening process and so, if using one of these agencies, you should not make any assumptions about the bona fides of the person you select and the agency itself will certainly not accept any responsibility if something goes wrong. However, there is a cost to the pet sitter to join, and remain with, the agency and which, perhaps, of itself implies some commitment to the profession.
Using one of these agencies is, typically, very simple. On their website, you tap in your area (zip code in the States) and the species of pet you have and a list of local pet sitters will appear along with some information, usually supplied by the pet sitter, about themselves. From this, you make a shortlist and then start the interview process (see below).
When Colette and I had our pet sitting business the two largest, and best organized, agencies were The National Association of Professional Pet Sitters and Pet Sitters international. Both offer certification courses to their members and our recommendation is to choose a pet sitter who has completed one of these courses. This means not only that the pet sitter will be better educated in pet care but also that they have demonstrated a real commitment to their craft because these courses are lengthy and expensive.
On Facebook, you can find a growing number of private groups dedicated to house/pet sitting. Some are limited to specific countries while others are international. Most require that no payment is involved.
Web search or local advertising.
This really should be your last resort but if you have no other choice you will need to rely 100% on the interview process.
No pet sitter should expect to get hired without a personal interview with you and your pet, either in your home or online (Skype, Face Time, etc.), and if they refuse or even show hesitation in agreeing to this then disregard them immediately and move on the next candidate. Furthermore, there should be no charge to you for that interview even if you may be paying for the actual pet sitting service.
In the interview, you are foremost seeking to satisfy yourself that you can trust this person both with your beloved pet and your home. You also need to see that the pet sitter has the knowledge, as well as the physical ability, to provide the services and level of care you are looking for. Finally, they have to be able to bond with your pet because if they cannot then the whole purpose of having a pet sitter in the first place is defeated.
What the pet sitter should bring to the interview (agree on these beforehand):
- Names and contact numbers for at least two of their clients who will act as referees
- Evidence that they are bonded and insured (if such is available in the area)
- Clear criminal record
- Any written Agreement, or other paperwork, the pet sitter will need you to complete and sign
What should be covered at the interview:
- The pet sitters experience, both in years and the animals they have looked after
- Whether they are comfortable dealing with any special issues, or needs, your pet may have, such as administering medications (have they taken a pet first aid course?)
- Whether pet sitting is their full-time occupation or whether they have another job (that could end up taking priority over looking after your pet)
- The minimum amount of time they will spend in your home
- The services to be provided (be very specific, refer to the lists of services above)
- The time they will likely arrive at your home on the first day and the time they will leave on the last day
- The price and the payment terms (some pet sitters will require full payment upfront, particularly on a first booking, while others will invoice you after providing the service)
- Their cancellation policy
- What to do if there is a medical emergency with your pet, including the possibility that the pet sitter is unable to contact you and, in which case, are there any financial limits on any veterinary services they may commit you to?
- What, if anything, you require by way of regular reporting on how your pet is doing
So, what are the alternatives?
What do you do if, notwithstanding the foregoing, you remain uncomfortable with the concept of in-home pet sitting? Here are a few suggestions;
- Enlist the help of family, friends, or neighbors, possibly on a reciprocal basis? Just be absolutely certain you choose someone who is reliable
- If you like the idea of your pet remaining in a home-type environment, many pet sitters will take your pet into their own home. All of our earlier recommendations, regarding finding someone suitable and the interview process, will apply, save that the interview will take place in the pet sitter’s home, not yours
- Pet hotels and boarding kennels. These vary considerably in quality so make sure you carry out a thorough inspection and clearly establish where your pet will be sleeping or kept and also the daily routine in terms of eating, exercise, peeing/pooping and, in the case of dogs, socializing with other dogs.
- Some veterinarians offer limited boarding facilities
- Take your pet with you!
I hope you have found this article informative and helpful and that if you are contemplating hiring an in-home pet sitter for the first time, you are now feeling a little more comfortable with the process.
If you have any comments or questions please leave them below and I will get back to you as quickly as possible. If you have used an in-home pet sitter in the past then please share your experience (good or bad) with our readers below.