Having been a pet sitter for over 8 years – I’m home on average for 3 months of the year and the rest of the time I live in various clients’ homes, caring for their pets while they’re away.
This of course puts me the purrfect position to share the inside scoop on how to find that brilliant pet sitter and how to make the experience positive for you, your pets and that new pet sitter too.
THE FIRST DECISION TO MAKE
You’ve decided that you’d prefer your fur-children to remain in the comfort of their own homes while you’re away, rather than having them stay at a pet boarding service such as a dog kennel or cat hotel.
WHERE TO START THE SEARCH
ASK YOUR VET – most vets have a list of reputable pet sitters they recommend. With luck, one of the staff members at the clinic may look after pets in their spare time too (and naturally they’ll also have the vet on speed-dial and be able to access patient records, medication info and what not in an emergency) – just brilliant.
ASK FRIENDS / FAMILY – personal recommendation is key. Never randomly pick a sitter from a list of adverts on Google or in the community newspaper. You need to be able to trust this person with your pets’ safety, your home and property, security access codes and so on.
CONTACT PET SITTING AGENCIES – have a look at their websites and ask for various references for the person who is recommended to you.
COMPARE COSTS – get an idea of average costs for pet sitting services in your area, so you have a ballpark reference. Fees vary considerably, but should roughly match what you’d pay for a stay at the kennels, with a little extra built in for the sitter’s personal time and travel costs.
NOTE – when it comes to said dash of extra cash, just bear in mind that your pets will be at home, enjoying their usual routines and receiving personal care and attention, rather than being in a cage / run which was probably the reason you’ve decided to go with a pet sitter in the first place.
CHAT TO THEM ON THE PHONE before you even arrange a meeting, find out whether the sitter is available on the dates you require them and ask about their rates. You don’t want to find out right at the end of the process, that this wondrous being you’ve set your heart on to look after Max and Bella is either unavailable, does feed-only visits when you want them to stay-in or falls outside of your price range.
SET UP A MEETING at your home (if you feel comfortable doing so) or at a local park / pet-friendly coffee shop. This is where you need to pay attention to your gut-feel. Ask all the relevant questions and MOST importantly, watch your pet’s reaction the person.
DON’T FEEL AWKWARD ABOUT SAYING NO because you’re under NO obligation to book a sitter just because you’ve met with them. If you have any reservations at all, thank them for their time and let them know you’ll contact them to confirm.
ARRANGE A FOLLOW-UP MEETING the week before you leave to run through last minute details, discuss feeding routines, how appliances work and hand over those keys.
TOP 5 QUESTIONS TO ASK A POTENTIAL SITTER
- DO YOU STAY-IN / VISIT TO FEED? This is super duper important. If the person stops in to feed, rather than staying in clients’ homes, discuss how often you’d like them to visit.
- DO YOU PET SIT ALONE / WILL SOMEONE BE JOINING YOU? Some people are happy for a pet sitter to have a partner (or even friends) visit at their home, particularly if they’re going away for an extended period of time.
However, some people do not feel comfortable with a partner staying / may have pets who are frightened of children and these things MUST be discussed up front.
- SHOULD I PAY BEFORE HAND / PAY A DEPOSIT / SETTLE THE PAYMENT UPON RETURN? I personally prefer clients to pay me on their return, so I can be sure they’re happy with the service.
If your sitter does not ask for up-front payment or a deposit, consider leaving cash or a credit card to be accessed in the event of an emergency, and/or a deposit at the vet, should medical care be required for your pet.
TIP – expecting your sitter to fork out for such eventualities and be reimbursed later is unreasonable.
- WOULD YOU MIND DOING X, Y OR Z? If there are any additional things you require the sitter to do, eg. open gates for domestic helpers, be around for a maintenance appointment, walk the dogs, feed pets at certain times, dose/inject medication, water plants and what not – DO check that these requests fall in with the sitter’s work commitments and capabilities.
- DO YOU NEED ME TO STOCK THE FRIDGE FOR YOU? Many sitters supply their own food and only make use of basics like coffee and tea at the client’s house, but others may ask you to stock up on a few items for them – find this out ahead of time.
TIP – at the risk of ruffling feathers, my personal feeling is that sitters are being paid well enough to supply their own food. … but it’s a lovely surprise to arrive and find a box of choccies or a nice bottle of wine.
TOP 5 THINGS YOUR SITTER NEEDS FROM YOU
- A DETAILED LIST of your travel arrangements and contact details. If you’ll be out of the country or unreachable, ensure the sitter is able to contact a friend, family member or neighbour who can assist in a home or pet emergency.
- VET CONTACT DETAILS and vaccination books for all pets, as well as CAT CARRIERS, LEADS and HARNESSES, should an emergency vet visit be necessary. Important, although unpleasant to mention here is to please discuss with both your vet and your sitter exactly what medical treatment you’re prepared for your pets to undergo and should the unthinkable happen in your absence, what arrangements you’d like made for a pet who passes away.
- COMPREHENSIVE INSTRUCTIONS for feeding the pets, any household tasks OR domestic support required (incl. dates and times helpers are expected to arrive for work), garden maintenance etc. Your sitter is there for your pets and is not responsible for keeping your home / garden maintained (unless they advertise these as additional services).
However, they can absolutely be expected to clean up after themselves and keep your home tidy – to this end, please remember to show them where cleaning products and appliances are kept.
TIP – most sitters are well accustomed to attending to poopies, oopsies and things to scoopies, so ensure they know where plastic packets and POOP SCOOPS are located, as well as cat litter trays and fresh CAT LITTER. So show them where to deposit refuse and when to put bins out for collection, if necessary.
- ACCESS TO A FIRST AID KIT – you don’t want a desperate call from a sitter saying he can’t find a plaster and have to direct him to your smalls drawer to rummage through your personals.
- CLEAN LINEN / TOWELS … you may not be the world’s tidiest person and no sitter expects to walk into the RITZ, but please show them the courtesy of providing a clean, tidy and comfortable environment before you leave.
TOP 4 THINGS TO ASK YOUR SITTER FOR
- A COPY OF THEIR I.D. DOCUMENT – unless the person is a family member or good friend, do yourself a favour and ask for an I.D. copy. If you’ve booked a private sitter, it’s unlikely that a contract or any kind of agreement will be drawn up, so you do need some sort of protection. This should not cause offence. Again, go with your gut feel – if in doubt – don’t.
- CONTACT DETAILS FOR A FRIEND / FAMILY MEMBER – so there’s someone to reach out to if you don’t hear from them. Ask your sitter to give your details (as well as the period of your absence, pets’ details etc.) to a trusted friend / family member so that that person can alert you if they are taken ill or unable to care for your pets for any reason.
- RESPECT FOR YOUR HOME – responsible sitters will always treat their client’s home as they would their own, but ensure your sitter is aware of any specific preferences you may have eg. no smoking inside etc.
- UPDATES – if you’re in mobile contact, ask your sitter to message you when they’ve arrived safely at your home, and keep you updated on how your pets are doing. Most will automatically send photos or videos, as we know how much you miss the fur-children.
TO WRAP IT ALL UP
A final request is – don’t expect your sitter to play Bad Cop. When you go away, the bottom of your pet’s world falls out and it takes all our animal-loving skills to put them at ease and support them through the experience.
A good sitter aims to keep animals’ routines as normal as possible, taking them for walks and feeding them at the usual times, allowing them to sleep on/in the bed (if this is what they’re accustomed to).
TIP – while your sitter may be an expert in animal behaviour / nutrition, don’t expect them to help make dietary changes, retrain your pet out of bad habits or leave the yucky jobs like giving deworming tablets / applying tick and flea preparations and what not while you’re away. Otherwise your pet may spend the entire period of your absence under the bed, glaring at the sitter in fear.
Now that you’ve found the purrfect sitter – you can relax and enjoy your holiday.
When you get home, things will be in order and the furballs will be happy and health. If you’ve been good to your sitter, they’ll probably shuffle their diary entries and make sure they’re available because you’re on the VIP Clients list when you call them for your next booking!