Finding the Right Pet Sitter

Sarah Sypniewski

My partner, Kim, and I have five dogs. Four small Chihuahua and Terrier mixes (one of whom has a heart condition) and a 70 pound Pit Bull who got kicked around in her previous life and, as such, requires a skilled handler. Between medical conditions, personality dynamics, and plain old logistics, our pack is not the easiest to manage. It’s extremely tough to find someone to take care of them, should we have to go out of town--so tough that Kim and I haven’t traveled together for several years. This is the first year in many that both of us will be traveling – together - for the holidays.

Even if your pet’s maintenance isn’t as high as ours, I understand your concern in finding the right fit for pet caretaking. So here’s a little list of tips and tricks based on our years of finding and losing pet sitters. Maybe they’ll help you find and keep yours!

Start Early

Start the search as soon as you know you’re going to be away. This is especially important during holidays, peak travel times, and if you have special-needs or high maintenance pets. No matter your situation, it doesn’t hurt to begin looking for someone immediately - it could take longer than you think.

Ask People With Pets Like Yours For Referrals

We’ve found our pet sitters by asking other people who have Pit Bulls or multiple pets. We also use social media. Hiring within one or two degrees of separation gives us peace of mind. If we can’t find someone we know to watch our pets, we want someone who knows someone we know.

Tip: If you don’t know many pet people, start by asking at your vet’s office - many techs offer pet-sitting services.

Identify Your Needs

Before you start asking around, make a list of what you need:

  • Do you want someone to come to your house or is it okay for your pet to board somewhere else?
  • Do you want a home setting or commercial facility?
  • Do you want day visits or someone to stay overnight with your pets?
  • Should they be walked?
  • Are there any special handling requirements?
  • Medical issues?

Other Obligations

Make sure you find out what your potential pet sitter’s schedule is like during the time you need her services. If your sitter is a professional, chances are very high that she has other clients at the same time. Ask her honestly about her obligations so that you can figure out if she will have enough time for your pet.

When we hire, we understand that our sitter will have other clients, but we always ask that she make our house her “home base.” Steer clear of sitters who seem to have too much on their plate, whose phones are buzzing off the hook, or who have trouble scheduling a meeting with you to begin with. Being busy is okay; being overloaded and unable to juggle competing priorities is not.

How Close Do They Live/Transportation

All else being equal, a sitter who lives close to us wins out. If the sitter is coming to stay at your house, her familiarity with your area could prove to be vital in the event of an emergency. If the sitter is not staying at your house, but rather, providing day visits, her proximity becomes more important. Think about worst-case scenarios, like natural disasters or a house fire, where your sitter might have to hurry to reach your pet. If that’s too far-fetched for you, consider that the less she has to deal with traffic or other commuting factors, the more time she has to spend with your pet.

Tip: Your sitter should have reliable transportation and a current driver’s license. Even if she’s staying at your house, there might be a situation that requires her to drive (like an emergency trip to the vet). In the past, our sitters have brought their own cars, but we also leave our car keys for them to use if needed.

Experience with Special Needs

If your pet has any special needs, make sure your sitter has experience with them. This could be a life-saving conversation. I don’t mean that you have to hire a medical and behavioral expert, but your sitter should have some experience and a high level of comfort and confidence when dealing with whatever the need is. Don’t leave any circumstance un-addressed. The more you share directly with your potential sitter, the better prepared everyone will be.

Experience with Pack Management

If you have multiple pets, you want to hire someone who knows how to manage a pack. In a multiple pet household, things can escalate quickly if not under the supervision of an experienced manager. We need sitters who have professional experience with this, but a more mellow pack might simply need someone who has spent time with 2 dogs before.

Meet With Them

Once we’ve identified some potential matches, we typically email a few times to get a sense of their experience and give them a glimpse of what awaits them here. If they “pass” that round, we invite them over to our house so they can meet the dogs and get a sense of who they are. Then, if they pass that round (usually by now, we have it narrowed down to one), we invite her over for a second visit that includes training. We take her through our regular walk and feeding routine and we talk to her about safety, including lost pet prevention and emergency protocol.

We also have this embarrassingly massive set of notes that we leave for her when we depart. It details all information she could ever want - from the day’s play-by-play, to how to read each dog’s idiosyncrasies, to vet info.

Be Honest

Do not hold back. Your sitter wants to do a good job. She wants to know how to prepare. Pet sitters are pet sitters for a reason: they love and have experience with pets--good and bad! Establishing a direct, honest line of communication right from the start is an important precedent to set.

Bribing--Er, Keeping--Them

Always treat your pet sitter with respect, care, and hospitality. Make your home comfortable and accessible. We ask our pet sitter what her favorite foods are and we stock up! We also make sure she has our WiFi password and knows how to work the TV (although, we kindly ask her to clear any guests with us ahead of time). This approach is twofold: first off, it demonstrates how much we appreciate her. Secondly, providing little extras makes it more likely she will spend extended amounts of time here. We take care of her needs so she can take care of our pets’.

While you can't predict when your pet is going to get sick or injured, you can protect yourself from expensive veterinary bills. Embrace Pet Insurance gives you the freedom to do what’s best for your pet without stressing over the cost. Easily personalize your coverage to fit your budget and your pet’s needs, then visit any vet for nose-to-tail coverage. Check out what the Embrace plan covers or compare pet insurance providers to learn more.

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