While the leisure industry may put out the welcome mat for pets across America, it’s not always possible to take them with you when you travel. The biggest dilemma is finding someone responsible and caring to pet sit in your absence.
These days, with companies such as DogVacay, CatVacay, Rover.com and Fetch.com, it’s easier than ever to find a professional caregiver in your neighborhood.
Like Airbnb – for pets
If you’ve ever picked up your dog from a kennel after your vacation and received a massive bill and a very unhappy dog, you’ll immediately understand the value of startups like DogVacay and Rover.
DogVacay, for instance, is kind of like Airbnb for dogs, connecting dog owners to 10,000 screened and trained dog sitters around the country. Hosts set their prices, usually about half as much as a kennel. The idea is that dogs staying in a sitter’s home will get better care, one-on-one attention, and a chance to take walks or frolic in the park. And dog sitters usually send vacationing pet owners photos or videos as proof that their furry companion is having gun.
As for concerns about the safety of dogs, CEO Aaron Hirschhorn says the company addresses that in several ways: “We provide all the quality control; we have a five-step vetting process, comprehensive insurance, and 24-hour customer support.”
“You can even do a no-obligation meet-and-greet,” he adds, “so you can visit the host family and see how they interact with your dogs.”
Vet before you commit
Taking your dog or cat to stay in the home of someone who is essentially a complete stranger (despite their detailed online profile) is a relatively new concept compared to having someone move into your home, or having someone check in daily on your pets in their home environment.
And while it’s easy to research and book a sitter online, the onus is still on pet parents to personally vet the sitter. The person you are considering should be both willing and able to answer all your questions before you commit to anything.
Set up a meet-and-greet so that you’re absolutely sure you have found the right person for your pet’s needs and personality. And if the sitter doesn’t answer questions to your satisfaction, or are “too busy” for a meeting, consider it a red flag and find someone else.
Go to the pros
If you’re uncomfortable finding a pet sitter through an online service, talk to your vet’s office. They often have staff members who are licensed and bonded pet sitters.
Finding a sitter this way has huge advantages. First, they have access to your pet’s medical history. Also, if you have pets that require daily medication or the administration of subcutaneous fluids, these sitters are trained to provide such services.
If you’re “old-fashioned” and like real personal recommendations (as opposed to online reviews), the veterinarian’s office probably also has sitters on file they are comfortable recommending.
Don’t wing it
It’s never a good idea to casually ask a neighbor to pop in to keep an eye on your furry companions. There has to be a firm commitment.
Also, think twice about having your neighbor’s teenager do the job. While many teenagers are very responsible, some don’t take the commitment of looking after a pet seriously enough.
Finally, it’s never advisable to leave pets alone with lots of food and water – even overnight- because things do happen in the home. A sudden invasion of ants taking over the food bowl will leave your pal without food, or raucous play could result in the water bowl tipping over and your pets going thirsty.
Considerations for at-home sitters
If you choose to have a pet sitter stay at your home or check in on pets there, it’s important to provide plenty of information about both your home and the pets you are planning to leave in their care.
Here are some topics to cover:
- Other services, such as bringing in the mail and putting out the garbage, the sitter is prepared to do.
- If it’s a live-in arrangement, specify the time(s) you want them to be with your pet.
- If it’s not a live-in arrangement, make sure the pet sitter knows where to switch on the lights when they’re checking in on your pet in the evenings.
- Find out if the pet sitter is associated with a particular veterinary office or is willing to take your pet to your veterinarian.
- Make sure you point out salient features of your home, such as an alarm system and where you keep the remote control for the garage door.
- Before you leave, make sure you’ve written out all instructions regarding your pet’s food, medication and general routine. Remember to provide your contact information and give the pet sitter at least one neighbor’s name and phone number.
- Make sure they have access to a spare key in case they get locked out.
- These days it’s common for pet sitters to text you and send photographs. Ask if they are prepared to do this.
- If you have a pet video cam set up, be sure to inform your sitter. It’s a common courtesy.
- Also make sure that your pet is micro-chipped and wearing a sturdy collar with proper identification. After all, if something goes awry and your pet goes missing, proper ID will be your pal’s ticket home.