Protect your Prized Pet: How to Choose a Trustworthy Pet Sitter

[Article by Melissa Grant, North Bend resident and pet trainer at Miss Lola’s Academy for Wayward Dogs]

By now most of you have heard the awful stories of some local beloved pets being lost by pet sitters. [See bottom of article to learn about Wally, who has been missing for two months.] This article was originally run (in part) as a response to the viral video of a “trainer” beating a dog at a local training facility. We decided to rerun part of the article because some of the tips are helpful when choosing a pet sitter. You can read the original article here.

Like most everyone else, the situation made me question who I could trust and wonder what I would do if I had to put one of my animals into another person’s care. Over the course of a pet’s lifetime, there are many reasons to have someone else in charge for as little as a few hours or as long as a few weeks. How can we know that person is trustworthy?

Note: I did a bit of research into a few national dog sitting services before re-running this article and found some interesting things:

  • Most are merely large databases connecting pet owners and pet sitters. They do NO vetting on the pet sitters they list in your area.
  • They occasionally kick sitters off their databases for serious problems, but have no way of knowing if that sitter then rejoins under a different name and some say sitters stay on even after being responsible for death or serious injury
  • Medical costs are covered if a mishap happens while in the care of one of their sitters, but there is a relatively short window of time to claim those expenses. If your pet has an ongoing issue due to an issue while in that sitter care, your expenses will not be paid.
  • If the sitter causes damage to your home you are not covered
  • Since pets are considered your property, legally you have little recourse if that pet dies while in the care of a sitter.

With some input from Hera Minkove of New Pawspective dog training, I decided to tackle how to choose a professional to board, pet sit, walk and/or provide a daycare for your pet.

  • Research-Go online, research what’s available in your area and start reading reviews. Don’t rely on just one source; use different sites. There is Yelp, Angie’s List, the BBB, Facebook, Foursquare or just do a basic internet search- Name of Company-reviews.
  • Referrals-Ask people you trust and who have knowledge of that particular area who they would hire. Yeah, it’s great if 12 people on Facebook say they’ve been somewhere but a personal recommendation is one step better.
  • Visit-Never hire a pet professional blind. Go see the facility or if they’ll be coming to your house have a nose to snout meet and greet. The good ones will ask for that initial meeting. The excellent ones will require it. I personally would find it odd if someone agreed to walk or board my dog without meeting her first. One must know what they’re getting into with the Bee-st.
  • Observe- If you can go to the business unannounced, absolutely do it. Look “under their hood” on the down low. Is it clean? Do the animals look well cared for? Do the employees look happy?  Are they professional and helpful? If you have your dog with you, do they show interest in your pup? Ask to see where the animals are kept, they should be happy to show off their facilities. Sniff the air, accidents can happen but there is no reason it should smell bad. There should be proper light and ventilation. Do the outdoor areas look adequate? Hera adds “Does the temperature seem right for the season? I ask this because a boarding facility in a different state lost power to their dog housing area and all the dogs died of heat exhaustion overnight” If you’re hiring someone to come into your home see how they interact with your pet. Is their response to how your pet behaves in line with your philosophy? For instance, Bee may bark at newcomers, perhaps even jump up a little bit (Hey, I’m working on it) if someones natural instinct was to knee her or yell at her, they’re off my list.
  • Questions you ask-Ask what the training philosophy of the facility is, even if its only for boarding. What will happen if your dog misbehaves or does not comply with commands? I had a client go to a local playgroup and her dog didn’t want to go into a kennel. The dog was manhandled and bit someone. You want to know how your pet will be dealt with in every circumstance. Find out the ratio of staff to dog at any given time, especially during playgroups. If they are transporting your animal how do they do it? Does the facility have someone trained in pet first aid on site at all times? Better yet is there a human on site at all times? Is there an emergency plan in place in case of a disaster? What vaccinations do they require? How do clients prove they’ve complied with those requirements? Are playgroups divided by size and temperament? Find out how much experience and training the staff has and if continuing education is a requirement. Is it licensed, bonded and insured?
  • Questions asked of you- Personally my red flag goes up if the right questions aren’t asked of me. You should be asked for emergency contacts, for a veterinary release, what to do in the case of your death, if your animal is friendly to other animals on and off the leash, for a health history, if your dog is prone to separation anxiety, is an escape artist, an aggressive chewer and would I like daily updates? YES, OF COURSE I DO! Some places even have webcams so you can see your dog any time you want.
  • Trial-Personally I would schedule a short trial before I went ahead and planned that three-week vacation or signed up for a month of board and train. Do a day or two and then observe your dog’s demeanor afterwards. A dog shouldn’t behave drastically differently upon returning home. If you notice that your dog seems off, don’t hesitate to call and inquire about it. I have a pet sitter who is worth her weight in gold (No, you may NOT have her name or number…she’s MINE!) If you find your own, feel very lucky.

Finding the perfect place for your pet can be a difficult process but the right one can put your mind at ease in those times when you need to be away from your pet parenting responsibilities. You can’t completely eliminate risk, but taking the time to find one that suits your needs as well as your pets’ needs will pay off in the long run and make everyone happier and healthier.

It’s been more than 2 months since Wallace (Wally) Taylor went missing from his pet sitter’s home on E. Reitze Street in downtown Carnation. The Taylor family misses him dearly. Please continue to forward any leads about Wally to the Taylor family at  206-293-1343. They are offering a reward for his safe return.

 

 

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