Who is Taking Care of Me? Ensuring the well-being of your pet when you are away

by Jennifer Barrows

It’s every pet owner’s nightmare. How many of us leave our animal companions in the care of a pet sitter and assume that everything is being taken care of? One pet owner recently learned that such services are not always reliable. She returned after a 12-day trip in Italy to find that the professional pet sitting service she hired had never come to take care of her two dogs while she was away.

Imagine the shock, heartache, and anger this pet owner experienced when she entered her home to find two extremely ill pets. Imagine her angst as she rushed them for emergency medical care in an effort to save them from what had become a dire situation. For the first few days, it looked as though one of her two dogs wouldn’t survive. In the end, he did, although he suffered permanent kidney damage resulting from lack of food and water for nearly two weeks.

Memories of this pet owner’s lovely European trip are now tarnished with agonizing guilt of how her dogs suffered each and every one of those days she vacationed.

Pet owners never like leaving their pets behind, so when they do, they do their best to hire someone they hope will reliably care for their animal companions. Unfortunately, due diligence in hiring what appears to be a good pet sitting service may not be enough of a guarantee of a good outcome. As this pet owner pointed out, even if you’ve had a good experience with a pet sitter in the past, as was the case in her situation, there is no guarantee they will always be reliable.

In her case, the service declined a house visit just prior to the trip to discuss details, requesting instead that she leave a note with details. Although the pet owner also made a confirmatory phone call to the pet sitting service the week before her trip, she believes there might have been a better outcome if an agreement had been made in writing. Regardless of how reliable your pet sitter may have been in the past, she recommends asking a trusted neighbor, friend or relative to also stop in for a visit as a backup.

Kim Thomas, co-owner of West Hartford Pet Sitters, LLC, urges clients of animals with special needs to check in frequently with their pet sitting service during their time away. This is particularly important for elderly or very young pets, as well as animals with diabetes, hyperthyroid or any serious medical condition.

“This is an area where pet owners really still need to share responsibility for the care of their animals, even while they are away,” said Thomas. “Making periodic calls to the pet sitting service is just a precaution in most cases, but sometimes checking in really helps – for instance, a pet owner might remember something important that we should be on the lookout for and that may come up during the course of a routine call.”

Critter Sitters, LLC, of Newington, co-owners Tim Reed and Susan Osborne maintain that pet sitting is about more than taking excellent care of pets. Thomas agrees. Both services go above and beyond for their clients and pay close attention to the house and property as well.

Osborne emphasizes the “extras” that a good pet sitting service will offer. “Taking in the mail each day, bringing in packages from the doorstep, taking out the garbage on garbage night, and alternating lights on and off all make the house less of a target for would-be vandals who may be casing the neighborhood for signs of homeowners being away,” she said.

Be wary of pet sitters who charge for an initial interview, and pay close attention to how your pets react when meeting a potential pet sitter. Try to ascertain how large the business is; ideally it should be small enough to provide proper attention to clients. Steer clear of any service that cannot offer consistent and individualized attention or seems to have what may be an unmanageable client load.

In closing, Osborne says, “Look for a comprehensive service and, most importantly, trust your instincts when choosing a pet sitter – as a person who loves animals, you know compassion when you see it.”

What to Look for in a Pet Sitting Service:

  • Obtain written confirmation of dates and details
  • Request proof of bonding and insurance
  • Confirm background checks are conducted
  • Meet the pet sitter in person and confirm that the same person will visit each day
  • Ascertain other services included
  • Look for pet sitters trained in animal First Aid
  • Review policies and procedures
  • Ask about back-up plan in case of pet sitter illness or accident

Checklist for Pet Owners:

  • Leave contact information at your veterinarian’s office, along with a letter authorizing medical treatment for your pet in your absence
  • Set out supplies (food, medications, treats, dishes, leash, litter, etc.)
  • Leave detailed notes for any issues of concern to be watching for
  • Leave a number where you can be reached along with contact info for someone who can help if you are not reachable
  • Check in via text, email or phone
  • Keep several lights on inside
  • Place several bowls of water throughout the house
  • Leave instructions and a watering can for plants and/or garden