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March 2014

Mary's Modern Homemaking

Keep Your Pet Happy While You're Away
By Mary Frances

Mary's Modern Homemaking archive


Both you and your pet can relax when you have a professional pet sitter.


In 1995 I decided to start a pet-sitting business. I went to the library and found two books on the subject, checked them out, and read them.

Soon after that another pet sitter found my business card and invited me to join a local group of pet sitters. I have to say it was the best thing I had done in a long time. The group had more than 100 members in different phases of their business, and I truly learned a lot.

In one meeting we discussed the advantages of hiring a professional sitter versus the kid next door. One pet sitter said her sister mocked her business and thought it ridiculous for a grown-up to waste her time on such foolishness when you can hire a kid for almost nothing.

By coincidence another pet sitter had brought in a letter she received from her sister. The letter was basically an apology. You see, the sister went on a two-week vacation and left her precious cat in the hands of a neighbor boy. While it only cost her $5 a day versus the $20 she would have paid a professional, it cost her a lot more than that in the long run.

The boy failed to show up after a few days. The sister returned at the end of fourteen days to find her cat lying in its bed almost dead. The veterinarian at the emergency clinic delivered the sad news. The cat was in very bad shape: liver gone, kidneys failing, and so badly dehydrated there was little hope he would survive. With that news, they both agreed it was time to let him go.

The next day the woman sent praises to her sister for always being there for other pet owners and for doing the work she loves. She asked for a recommendation on finding a good sitter in her area and vowed never to use the kid next door again.

Finding a good sitter is not that hard. Ask other pet owners and local vets. Care.com is a good resource. You can also look at the websites of Pet Sitters International (PSI) and the National Association for Professional Pet Sitters (NAPPS). Both are excellent resources and have members all over the United States.


With a dependable sitter, your pet will have a good time while you're gone.
~ photo by Leslie Phillips


What to look for

When choosing a sitter, make sure he or she is licensed, bonded, and insured.

Pet sitters offer a variety of services. Some live in, many offer boarding, and many will come to you once or twice a day, depending on your needs.

Don't be shy about asking for references. Just be aware the sitter will only give you the best ones, so do not rely solely on them.

Do interview as many sitters as you feel you need to. Honest ones will come for the first interview for free. If you sign an agreement with the sitter, then change your mind, be sure to cancel in writing. This protects both parties.

Not only should you feel comfortable with the sitter, your pet should, too. Watch closely as the sitter interacts with your pet. One good way to double-check this is to have the sitter pick up payment when you return home. This gives you a chance to see how your pet reacts to the person after having spent time with them.

If your pet is on meds, make sure the sitter is capable of giving them. Make sure he or she is able to handle any other medical needs your pet has.

Becoming a pet sitter does not require any special type of education. Only a few people in the group I attended were veterinary technicians, who decided their skills could be best served in pet sitting as opposed to working in an office. Do not hesitate to ask about education. Not that it matters, but some skills can be helpful.

Find out how much the sitter charges and what is included in the fee. Also ask about payment options.

Just as you would do for a baby sitter for your children, be sure to leave detailed instructions. If you have multiple pets, including photos and names is helpful.

Also, it is a good idea to let your vet know who will be in charge in case of an emergency. Make sure the vet has some way of collecting payment. You can arrange to leave a credit card with the vet, or sometimes they will bill you. Please do not rely on your sitter to pay the bill and then get reimbursed.


Make sure your pet gets responsible care while you're away.
~ photo by Leslie Phillips


Pet sitters can do a lot

Most pet sitters stay about 30 minutes. Many include the obvious chores, such as feeding, cleaning up poop or scooping out cat boxes, and freshening up the water. Others may also give your home a lived-in look by opening and closing blinds and turning lights on or off. However, if you have lights on a timer, tell the sitter not to touch them and let him or her know which lights are okay to adjust. If the sitter is staying at your house, be sure to let him or her know of any "oddities" the house might have, such as a noisy refrigerator or doors that stick.

Other services may include watering indoor or outdoor plants, bringing in the mail, and possibly vacuuming the carpet if necessary.

Another popular service is midday walks for Fido. If you work long hours, you don't need to worry about getting home during the day. Often it is cheaper to hire someone to take care of Fido. Whether he needs a long walk or wants to play in the park, a pet sitter can meet his needs.

When you hire a sitter who will be taking your dog for a walk, ask about the sitter's "off-leash" policy. I never let a dog off his leash when I sit. Dogs can act like children when you're gone. While they may behave with you, they may not be as obedient to a stranger.

Sitters can watch over all sorts of animals. I have tended sheep, goats, and chickens. Your birds and other small pets will get good care as well as cats and dogs.

No pets? No problem

Going away but don't have pets? Many pet sitters also provide straightforward house services. After all, a lived-in look for your home is a great deterrent to burglars. If you have a block watch group or security system, be sure to let them know who will be coming to your home while you are away. I once had a customer who gave her block watch leader my license plate number.

Pet sitters can help make your life easier. Just ask.


Your pet will thank you for a reliable pet sitter.


Mary Frances lives in Ravensdale, Washington, and loves finding healthy ways to keep her castle clean. She believes that what we clean with can be just as important to our health as what we eat. When she's not cleaning, Mary Frances battles the blackberry vines in her yard. Also enjoy Mary Frances's blog, All American Gal.


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