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Tips for picking a pet sitter
Sunday, June 20, 2004

Our thanks to Alexa Hackbarth of the Washington Post for providing this information to pet owners!

You've planned the trip. Everything's set -- except the arrangements for the pets staying behind. Hiring a sitter to come to your home circumvents the travel trauma and interrupted routines that boarding can bring. But giving someone access to your personal space requires more than trust. Here are five tips to make choosing a pet sitter worry-free:

1. Consider hiring a pro. Pet sitters come in two varieties: independent individuals or companies that specialize in pet care. If you have neighborhood kids familiar with pets, hiring them is an option. But local companies offer other advantages: Their sitters often are trained for emergency situations and can provide services such as watering the plants and picking up the mail. Just make sure a firm is bonded and insured -- two things that offer more security than you get with an independent sitter. Also be sure the company is a member of the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters (

2. Start searching early. You're asking for trouble if you wait until the last minute to find a sitter. Put the word out early (anywhere from one to two months) and ask friends and co-workers for suggestions. Interview every candidate thoroughly, and do it at home. The sitter should want to meet your pet right away and should ask detailed questions about habits, schedules and medical conditions. Becca Bowes, co-owner of Capital Petsitters of McLean, Va., suggests asking for references from longtime clients.

3. Watch the sitter interact with your pet. Nonverbal cues -- such as whether a sitter gets down on your animal's level and interacts with it without hesitation -- will give you a sense of the kind of care you're contracting. A sitter should be at ease whether your pets are tiny Chihuahuas or huge Great Danes. Just as important is watching how your animal reacts. If Blackie growls or Fluffy raises its fur, you might want to find another sitter.

4. Leave instructions. Although your verbal directions might seem straightforward, write everything down. You don't want confusion about where you keep the food or extra kitty litter. Also write down all the walks or play times you expect, and ask that the sitter take notes detailing what happened during each visit. You'll want to know if anything unusual occurred.

5. Make plans for a worst-case scenario. Even if your sitter does everything right, things can go wrong. Be sure to leave your contact information, vet's number and any pertinent medical information. Outline what you want the sitter to do if a trip to the vet is needed, and, as hard as it is to think about, decide what you want to happen if your pet needs surgery or to be put down. "The person must be prepared for and trained to handle any emergency that might arise," Bowes said. "You're entrusting them with your most precious possessions."