For those of us who love our pets like family, finding the perfect pet sitter is no small chore. Not only will we be entrusting them with the safety and care of our beloved pets, we will also be allowing them access to our home unsupervised. Finding someone you can afford who is trustworthy, honest, and reliable and who also has the maturity, knowledge, and compassion necessary to care for your pet isn't always easy. Like babysitters and nannies, good pet sitters are hard to find and should be screened carefully. Here are some things to consider when looking for a new sitter.
Where to look - The first place I always look for a pet sitter is my vet's office. In the last two cities I've lived, I started by calling to ask for referrals. Both times they had women working right there in the office who also did pet sitting on the side. At my current vet's office, there are actually two ladies who pet sit, so on the occasions when my primary sitter is booked, I've got a convenient back-up. The benefits of using someone who works at a veterinary hospital are that they obviously have a good understanding of pet care, and they have emergency advice readily available if needed.
When to look - If you travel a lot, you should start looking for a pet sitter as soon as you move to a new city. Good sitters book up early, so waiting until the week before your trip will probably not give you the result you need. I love my sitter and have actually chosen travel dates that fit her availability because she is so busy. This is one area where you don't want to procrastinate.
Check references - It's not enough to just ask for a person's references, you need to thoroughly check them out as well. Ask open ended questions rather than ones that can simply be answered with a yes or no. This gets the person to open up and provide valuable information that you may not have even asked. If you have pets with health issues, be sure to ask the potential sitter's references about their ability to administer medication or handle emergencies.
Do a background check - The inherent problem with references is that people only tend to give you names and numbers of those who will speak positively of them. Using one of the simple background check services that are now available to individual consumers can help paint a fuller picture of your applicant and will be money well spent. Be sure to get the sitter's permission prior to doing the check, however. If they refuse, then you probably just saved yourself a lot of headache.
Hold the interviews in your home - Have the sitter come to your home to do the interviews. Be sure to allow plenty of time to observe their interaction with your pets. Is she at ease with them ... are they with her? Does she ask intelligent, informed questions that let you know she is knowledgeable and experienced? If you have specific concerns, address them directly. If you don't feel confident in your gut, then keep looking.
Taking the time to find a sitter you know you can trust will allow you to relax while away and enjoy your trip. If things are in good order when you return, be sure to tip them well and offer to be a reference for them in the future. Nurture the relationship like a close friendship, and if you're lucky, you won't have to find another sitter for a long time.
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