Advice on finding a pet-sitter

March 2, 2019

Growing up in a family of six, when my parents wanted to escape they’d just call a neighboring teenage girl to watch us. The only qualifications required were that the person was breathing and could drive.

When our parents did go out, they rarely left a contact number. We were expected to handle the mundane problems — thunderstorm warnings, dogs escaping, puppies being born — on our own. If there were at least six alive and relatively clean children when the parents returned, all was deemed well.

Flash forward to today. In our topsy-turvy world, where left is right and helicopter parents rule, it isn’t about babysitters that we stress about, it is about who watches our pets when we take off for a couple of days … or months. Let’s face it, today pets are the new kids.

Welcome to the world of the fast-growing profession, the pet-sitter. Like other gig jobs, the pet-sitter is one of the high demand, but never-know-what-you’re-going-to-get jobs. Some folks are in for a fast buck and then there are those who are dedicated and love animals, who can think of nothing more fun than hanging with your pets.

How, as you are planning that spring getaway, can you find one of the dedicated ones?

I talked to two of my favorite and most experienced dog-sitters, Lindsay Balmer and Kyle Miller, to find out.

Here is what I discovered:

• Pet-sitting is primarily word-of-mouth, underground-economy business.

• It’s important to get references and call them. Let’s face it, as owners, we have massive trust issues when it comes to allowing someone to take care of our pets. Do the research and don’t settle for your cousin’s out-of-work son-in-law. Find an enthusiastic animal-loving professional. (You won’t come home to distraught pets and maybe a destroyed room or two.)

• When you’re talking to a potential pet-sitter, be truthful about your pet’s behavior. Nothing is worse, Miller said, then when she is told a dog is not aggressive and then she takes it to the dog park,and all hell breaks loose. You can never underestimate how dramatic the dog world can be, so be honest.

• Ask to meet face to face, don’t just do an interview over the phone. You want to be comfortable with your potential caregiver so that you won’t worry while you are drinking margaritas. Meet the pet-sitter, let him or her meet your animals and see if they click. You don’t want to get that call that your dog has penned an innocent, young dog-sitter in the bathroom for hours. If you expect the dog-sitter to walk your dogs, have them do a trial walk to see if they are compatible.

• Set clear expectations about the pet-sitter’s responsibilities. This was a big one for Balmer and Miller. Do you want poop cleaned up? How many walks each day? Are they off-leash or on-leash walks? Be detailed.

• Make a list. It should include the vet, food, feeding schedule, eating habits, food allergies if any, medical issues, walking schedule and phone numbers.

• Be clear about dog rules. Many dogs I’m acquainted with — I’m not naming any names — (our dog Tank) will push the boundaries when they are allowed. They’ll sleep on couches or beds, attack pillows, beg for snacks and ignore all the rules when people are gone. Some dogs assume that when a dog sitter is in the house, it’s time to party. Share the dog commands that you use for things like “sit,” “stay,” “quiet” and “please tell me where you hid my shoes!”

• For some dogs and cats, having you gone can be stressful. It’s important to let your pet-sitter know how to make the animals comfortable. What are their favorite toys? What do you do to comfort your pet? What is their standard day-to-day structure? Keeping the same routine will reduce their stress.

A final confession. We often ask our dog-sitter for random pictures of our dogs when we are traveling just to make sure everything is OK — something we never asked for when we left our kids with a sitter. I can’t explain it. Best just to admit our dogs are our new kids and leave it at that.

For more writings by Hersch Wilson on dogs, firefighters and life go to herschwilson.com. Contact him at hersch.wilson@mac.com.