A Pet Owner’s Guide To Pet Sitters

In this day and age of modern technology and fast-paced living, travel is as easy as the touch of a button. Either through the internet or your smartphone, you can make travel arrangements to suit your vacation needs or fill a work request. But, if you happen to have one or more cats, you have a responsibility to that feline friend.

You aren't always able to leave at your own whim. So what do you do?

Before the Pet Sitting Industry

Prior to 1997 when Pet Sitters first became a commonplace word there were only a few options available for away-from-home pet care: Ideally, a family friend or relative to come in and feed and care for the cat would be the best option. But failing that, the only other alternatives were boarding at a cat and dog kennel or boarding your cat with your vet. Neither of these latter two options took into consideration how cats become comfortable with routine, and dislike change.

Boarding at a kennel, that oftentimes contains other stressed-out animals, exposed your cat to stressful, unfamiliar situations and even sickness.

While boarding at the vet, the same applies to being surrounded by stressed animals in unfamiliar surroundings. The only difference is your pet is monitored so if your pet becomes ill, there is help available quickly.

How to Choose the Right Pet Sitter

Enter the professional pet sitter. Someone will come to your home, feed your pet, administer meds, make sure that your pet has company at least for a portion of the day, and make sure your pet is safe until you return home. Sounds like a great idea right? You bet, but how do you find the right pet sitter for you? Opening up the Yellow Pages and looking under Pet Care (depending on what area you live in), you are confronted with a virtual buffet of names to choose from.

The same applies to the internet. There are websites that try and help you by listing pet sitters by state, but still, it can be confusing.

If your cat has a special need, your best bet is to ask the girls at your vet's office if they know of a qualified pet sitter. Many pet sitters have worked, or still do work in the field of veterinary medicine, and are skilled at pilling cats, getting a finicky cat to eat, or simply watching out for the very real danger of the cat becoming ill in the absence of the owner.

Also, talk to other cat owners and find out if they have someone they use which they can recommend. Use the internet and network on cat boards and in emails.

Make sure that the person you find will give exemplary care to your cat

Once you secure the phone number, call and see if the pet sitter is receptive to meeting you in their home first. This is a good way to gauge the person you wish to entrust your pet(s) to because while you are there, you can observe their animals and make your own determination.

Some pet sitters will only meet with you at your home. If that be the case then during that meeting, watch how they interact with your animals, and how your animals respond in kind to them.

Trust your instincts

If something unsettles you, be polite about it, but tell the person you need to keep looking and interviewing and you will let him or her know. And always follow-through, don’t leave the person hanging about the job. Give them a courtesy call and let them know you have found someone else. It is the proper way to do things.

Be Prepared

Have a list of questions beforehand to ask. Here are a few samples: (I am using the female gender for ease of writing only.)

  • Does she have assistance in caring for your animal? If something should happen to her is there back-up?
  • How many clients does she have - and insist on referrals
  • Is she licensed, bonded and insured?
  • Formal training to handle emergencies should they arise?
  • Why does she feel she is different from other pet sitters?
  • How long has she been in business?
  • What types of jobs did she hold before becoming a pet sitter?
  • What led her into the field?
  • Are there certain pets she enjoys over others?
  • Request a copy of her resume.

Once you determine that you have found the right person, and that person has also passed your inspection in your own home with your animals, it is now your turn to make the pet sitter's life easier in caring for your pets.

How To Help Your Pet Sitter

Prior to leaving town, make sure that you have gathered all the extra feeding and water bowls in one central location in your home. Leave a list of feeding instructions taped to your refrigerator or wall.

Leave out leashes and collars if there is a dog to walk. If it is wintertime, arrange for a neighbor to come and shovel snow, or mow the grass (if you are going to be gone awhile).

Before you leave town, take a ratty old pair of sneakers and slip them on barefoot and wear them as you do your housework. Get them all nice and sweaty, slip them into a Ziploc bag and leave them with a note for the pet sitter to put one shoe down the day after you leave town, and then the other a few days later. (This just reinforces your scent to your cat, and comforts her to let her know that you are near).

Make sure you have an emergency plan in effect

Leave a photo of your cat on the refrigerator (in case the worse thing happens and the cat gets outside). Leave alternate numbers of people the cat knows who would be able to capture the kitty outside more so than a stranger would be able to.

Leave all the phone numbers where you can be reached and an itinerary of your trip.

Leave your vet's phone number and name and the hours the clinic keeps, provide an after-hours phone number if available.

Shut all extra room doors to other bedrooms and bathrooms. Leave your cat access to the living room, your bedroom and master's bathroom. Make sure all closet doors are shut, and if your cat is talented and likes to open cupboards and closets, use the childproof safety locks in your absence so the cat doesn't get shut up into a cupboard and become trapped.

Leave enough food and litter to compensate should you have to be gone longer than expected. Make sure your litter pans are cleaned and full of new litter right before you leave town.

Kitten proof your home before you leave

Take off all breakables that are on shelves and dressers, put up any cleaning products, etc. When a cat is left to her own devices in an empty home, many things can and do happen. What you want to happen, is for your cat to remain safe, and so kitten-proofing is a good way to maintain the home.

When you get back, you can return things back to normal, it only takes a few minutes. In being prepared ahead of time, you can then achieve peace of mind and enjoy your trip.

Written by Mary Anne Miller

Mary Anne Miller is a freelance writer and member of the Cat Writers' Association. She is a web copywriter, and passionate about feral cats/kittens and bottle babies. You can read more by Mary Anne on her Feral Cat Behavior Blog.

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