A pet sitter is guardian, caretaker, person in charge when cat moms and dog dads are away.  Many also look after our rabbit and pocket pet as well as feathered, finned and scaled best friends.  They need to know and do everything you do for your animal family member when you aren’t available.  You  pet sitter is your animal pal’s 9-1-1, so shouldn’t he or she be the best human for the job?  A true pet PROFESSIONAL?!

Lots of people LOVE animals, and I’m glad of that, but our definitions of what love and care differ drastically.  Needs of many pets are unique and although it might be nice to help the teen down the street earn money and gain responsibility, is that truly the best choice for your fur kid, pet pal, four-legged, feathered, finned or scaled family member?  Encouraging that teen to shadow a Professional Pet Sitter would be an awesome idea, but the number one person in charge of your pet’s care when you are aware should be more than someone who just loves animals and wants to be around them.  This person must know how to tend to their every need which could include handling household or even neighborhood emergencies that threaten your pet’s safety.

Whether it’s an impromptu get away or a long-planned and anticipated summer vacation, it is your responsibility to have a plan in place for your furry, feathered or slithering family members as well.  Research the companies that service your area, interview several potential sitters considering them as you would a nanny for your human child, and observe each person’s interaction with your pets.  Also, be sure that the person who meets you and your pal is the one who will actually be doing the visits.

“When it comes to finding pet care, don’t prioritize convenience over quality,” says Pet Sitters International® Vice-President Beth Stultz.  “Just because you can quickly find and book the services of a pet lover with a profile on a pet-sitting or dog-walking app doesn’t mean you are choosing a qualified pet-care provider.”

As The Pet Safety Crusader™, you can imagine the grilling I put my poor pet sitter through and the training and certifications I want to see as well as the questions I hope he or she will ask me.  Knowing how to properly secure my dog in his harness and seat belt, what to do if a stray dog charges him on a walk, how to handle a cut paw or upset tummy, what to do if the power goes out or where to turn off the water main.  Many animal lovers are observant, but a professional pet sitter can recognize the signs of dehydration in a pet and has a plan in place with a veterinarian should I be “off the grid” and unreachable.  These are just some of the basics I look for in a pet sitter.

Driving home recently, I slammed on my brakes just in time to miss my neighbor’s Yorkshire Terrier fleeing from her home.  I noticed an unfamiliar car on the driveway and a woman frantically running circle around the house calling, “Emmy, Emmy!”  Fortunately, the scared little pooch let me scoop her up in my arms, and I walked over to the house to meet the “pet sitter.” I then learned she had just arrived, having never met the dogs before (Emmy’s sister luckily was safely inside), and upon opening the front door little Emmy dashed out!

Not only should this lady have met and established a rapport with both dogs, but she should have discussed with the pet parents an ‘air-lock’ system to enter and depart the home.  I suggested next time she go in and out of the garage, closing the door behind, so that if a dog slipped out one door, she would not be out in the street.

Obviously, even people who love pets just don’t think of all that can go wrong, so that is why it is imperative you hire someone to care for your fur kids (and others) that has gone through training in all aspects of pet care giving.

According to a PSI Poll taken December 2017-January 2018 of more than 1,000 pet owners, almost 61% say they hire professional pet sitters for the well-being of their pets. Professional pet sitters also offer additional services such as plant watering, securing mail and packages and helping make the home ‘look’ like someone is there.  The majority of people who hire professional pet sitters achieve peace of mind knowing their pets are left in the hands of someone who is adept at knowing what to do and how to care for their pet, and don’t have to rely on a family member or friend.

I could go on and on but rather, I’d like to offer you a list of things I look for in a pet sitter, and hope they are ones you will consider as well:

 

  1. Is the company run like a business?
    • Business license: Shows the company is compliant.  Rules and regulations vary from city to city and state to state in regards to what is required to legally operate a business.  Obtaining a business license demonstrates that the humans caring for your pets are playing by the rules.  If a pet sitter is caring for your pet in his or her own home, be sure that they have the proper authorization and license to offer this service as well.
    • Professional Website: It’s the standard these days and makes a company’s “first impression,” so any business with merit takes the time to make sure that first look is a good one; 78.2% of people surveyed in the above-mentioned poll expected a professional pet sitting business to have a website.
    • Insured & Bonded: Just in case the worst happens.
    • Proof of background check: The person or company you hire will have access to your property and your beloved animal companions. Ask for third-party credentials that verify the sitter has a history of honesty and integrity. Official verification documents will contain a current date (within one year), a Social Security number trace, county-level court search results and the contact information of a reputable investigator. This documentation can provide the peace of mind you seek when admitting a new pet-care provider to your home.
    • Current client references: A referral is the sincerest form of flattery!
    • Supplies a service contract: A well-written contract outlines the details associated with each service the sitter will provide. The contract includes fees, amount of time that will be spent with your pet, exact services provided to pet (walks, feeding, medication, etc.) and other obligations. This ensures that both you and your sitter have agreed on and understand what is expected during your absence.
    • Responds quickly and courteously to calls and/or emails.
    • Belongs to a professional organization: Look on their website for a logo from Pet Sitters International®, National Association of Professional Pet Sitters® or other place where like-minded pros share, learn and grow together.  Membership shows initiative tor stay current on the latest trends and information.  It demonstrates a pet sitter’s commitment to their profession and the industry at large enabling them to have the most up-to-date educational resources and business tools thereby providing the best possible service to clients and their pets.
  2. Professional Certifications
    • Pet First-Aid & CPCR: You had to anticipate this would be on the top of my list!  It’s Murphy’s Law that problems are more likely to occur when you are away from home.  A professional pet sitter will know how to treat an upset canine tummy, or help kitty cough up a fur ball.  He or she will know what to do should your bunny stop eating or your bird begin feather-picking.  Your professional pet sitter needs to be trained to handle an emergency with all species in your household and should refresh training at least every two years because human brains lose memory files and protocol is often enhanced.  Over the years, students of mine who are professional pet sitters, have jumped to the task to save a life:  I have heard back from sitters who have had to perform CPR, recognized the early signs of dehydration, spotted a seizure and got the dog to a safe location before it took hold, have bandaged, splinted, treated for bee stings, heat stroke and many have had to use the doggy Heimlich-like Maneuver to open an airway blocked by a toy or food.  This isn’t something people without training are confident enough to do.  In the words of Tina Kenny, Professional Pet Sitter, ““There is nothing as rewarding as knowing that one day after taking Denise’s Pet First-Aid class, I saved a helpless little dog from choking…and her wagging tail and thankful licks let me know she feels the same way.”
    • Certified Professional Pet Sitter® designation or other comparable training as it just shows this person wants to stay on the top of their game and is truly a pet professional, the kind of caretaker your best friend deserves.
  3. Household & Neighborhood Knowledge
    • Require a walk-around your home and property, having the sitter note water & gas shut-off locations, where fire extinguisher is stored, exits and entrances, garbage cans and what lights to leave on?
    • Make sitter aware of any dangers your pet is likely to get into. Do you have paint, chemicals or anything your pet likes to seek out?  Let your professional sitter be in-the-know as to what to be on-the-lookout for!
    • Share information about neighbors — who they could call on in an emergency, what other pets are nearby and can they come in contact with yours? Is there a stray always stopping by or are rattlesnakes a concern?
    • Location of a spare key…just in case.
    • Ask the sitter his or her contingency plan should he/she fall ill or injured, if there is some type of local disaster (even a roadblock) preventing them from getting to your pet?
  4. Pet Specific
    • Make sure they know exactly where your veterinarian and closest animal ER Be sure you have filled out required paperwork at these locations to allow your professional pet sitter to sign-off on treatment in your absence and that a method of payment has been worked out in advance.
    • Provide written instructions as to food, medications, playtime and sleeping locations. Be specific with amounts and time schedule.  List which toys and treats are okay and which are not; what areas you like your dog walked and any you prefer the sitter not take your dog to.  How much time you’d like spent with your cat and if an animal has any sore spots or locations that they do NOT like touched.  Much of this will be outlined in the contract/agreement, but do not leave anything out that could help the sitter better care for your buddy.
    • Alert your sitter to your pet’s medical history and any on-going conditions. If injections or pills need to be given, it’s a great idea to have your sitter present when you do so prior to going away, so that he or she may observe exactly how your pet does best.
    • Instruct your sitter of your pet’s routine down to when and how your dog’s harness is put on, what door you exit and if he gets a cookie upon return. Sticking to your pet’s normal schedule, as much as possible, creates less stress.

 

We all have our personal preferences, so other things you may feel important could include:

  • Do they offer a free initial consultation to meet with you and your pets prior to booking?
  • Will they text photos of your pet at each visit?
  • Can you book online or through an app?
  • Can they accept your preferred form of payment?
  • Do they use GPS to track staff sitters to monitor dog walks?
  • Do they accept last minute/same-day requests?
  • Does the sitter have signage on their car? Some people don’t like that as it alerts neighbors to the fact that the homeowner is not there.

 

YES!  It is a lot to think about, but your fur kid deserves you taking the time to research his or her care giver.  A professional pet sitter may hold your pet’s life in his or her very hands and should be considered your pet’s SECOND BEST FRIEND (you, of course are his first)!  Therefore, they must know as much about your animal family member’s health, care and safety as you do because when you’re away, anything could happen.  Even when you are home though, your professional pet sitter just might be your “go-to” person for many of your pet’s needs.  He or she should not be expected to be, an expert at everything animals, however…if you have taken the time to choose well, for your pet’s sake, your professional pet sitter will either have the 4-1-1 you need or is well-connected enough to send you in the right direction to handle whatever your furry, feathered, finned or scaled family member may need or encounter.

 

Four paws, two wings or fins and a whole lot of scales UP to professional pet sitters!  They are our pet’s lifeline when we can’t be and should become a trusted friend to animal and human alike!

 

Please also view my VLOG on this topic:  https://youtu.be/r2cJ8Gz0hs0

 

My sincere thanks to the VBAS Photo Team for these awesome animal photos!

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For 20 years Denise Fleck’s Sunny-dog Ink motto has been “Helping people to help their pets,” and she has…teaching more than 15,000 pet lovers animal life-saving skills and millions more on “The Doctors,” CNN, “Kirstie Alley’s Big Life,” Animal Planet and other TV shows.  Denise is a frequent conference speaker, developed a line of pet first aid kits and now offers classes online.  

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