By Deborah Filipek, Special to Tribune Newspapers
May 30, 2012
For many pet owners, planning a vacation includes deciding who will take care of the four-footed friend left at home. Do you ask a neighbor or friend, board him at a kennel, or hire a professional pet sitter?
All are viable choices, but frame your decision by thinking of the animal's needs first, says Inga Fricke, director of sheltering and pet care issues for the Humane Society of the United States (humanesociety.org).
"The main issues are of the comfort, safety and health of your pet," Fricke says. "If you have a trusted neighbor or friend who has a history with your pet, has an understanding of your pet's needs and that you feel would take responsible care of your pet, there are many times it would be preferable to have that person take care of your pet than taking them to a boarding kennel or hiring a pet sitter."
If you're considering a kennel, the humane society advises working with your veterinarian to find a good facility, inspecting the kennel and even having your pet stay there for an overnight test run.
But if your pet is timid, elderly, requires regular medications and/or needs the comfort of familiar surroundings while you're gone, the humane society recommends hiring a pet sitter — a selection process that should begin long before you buy that plane ticket.
Be thorough with your search. This person will be watching your beloved pet — and entering your home. (For this reason, they should be bonded and insured.) Call your vet's office for recommendations; they may even have employees who are pet sitters. Fellow pet owners or local animal shelters may also be good sources. No surprise, websites exist too. The National Association of Professional Pet Sitters (petsitters.org) and Pet Sitters International (petsit.com/locate) both offer listings, as well as interview tips for pet owners. And once you've found a few prospects, the sitters themselves may also have websites to explore.
You'll need to check references, of course, and both you and your pet should feel comfortable with a sitter. Basic services will include feeding, playtime and adhering to your pet's exercise or walking routine and ensuring kitty's commode is clean. Many sitters are willing to take in the mail, water plants, switch lights off and on — but don't expect them to do housework. Some may also offer additional fee-based services such as providing excursions to the local dog park or Reiki (healing energy) treatments, to alleviate stress and anxiety for some animals. If your pet has specific medical issues, some sitters are better equipped to handle what's demanded.
Visits per day will vary, depending on your pet and its needs.
Professional pet sitter Janet Mitchell of Orlando, Fla., suggests having a new sitter make one or two caretaking visits before the actual trip.
"This is particularly important because dogs are territorial animals and they want to protect the house from strangers," Mitchell said. She usually suggests a day when the owner has things to do after work, allowing her to visit the house two or three times, to "provide an afternoon walk or let the dog outside so both the dog and I get used to the routine of my house visits," she says.
Mitchell recalled one client, a miniature pinscher named Bruno:
"While normally not friendly with strangers, Bruno figured out after only a couple of initial visits that I was there only for him," she said. "Now, I can go a year without seeing him before that next visit. He is so excited to see me, it's as if I just walked him a few days earlier."
What it costs
Average pet-sitting fees, from a 2011 survey of Pet Sitters International members. Prices will vary by region, sitter and services:
Basic pet care: $17.75 per visit
Overnight visits: $61.90 per night
In-home boarding: Some sitters let pets stay in their home; $39.90 per day.