A Vet’s View on Pet Sitting Disasters and How Best to Avoid Them

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Whenever I’m asked how I feel about pet sitting as an alternative to traditional kennel boarding, I always reply strongly in its favor. I treat my own pets to the safety and comfort of an in-home stay whenever I’m out of town… so why wouldn’t I recommend the same for my patients?

But as with any kind of service on offer, its success or failure depends to a very large degree on the service provider’s skills, resources and ethics. By which I mean to not-so-subtly imply that not all pet sitters are as skilled, resourceful and ethical as others — just as not all boarding kennels or even (gasp!) veterinarians are the epitome of perfection too.

What Could Go Wrong?

I feel compelled (and qualified) to comment on this issue not just because the summertime travel season is on the horizon but also because, as a veterinarian, I’m often treated to a front-row seat when it comes to pet sitting disasters. Consider these excerpts sourced from the personal stories of friends, family, clients and colleagues:

  • “The dogs got into a fight while I was away. The sitter, who’s also a veterinary technician, took it upon herself to clean the wounds and administer antibiotics — all without consulting me or my veterinarian!”
  • “Sasha's a nervous cat, and we knew she would escape, which is why we isolated her so the sitter could see how much food was being consumed and what was happening in the litterbox. Turns out the sitter never even went in the room the whole week! ‘So sorry. Forgot there was another cat. I’ll give you a discount.’ Good thing Sasha had the toilet, or who knows what would’ve happened!”
  • “Came home early and thought we’d walked into a party scene from Risky Business. At least the dogs looked like they were having fun.”

Not impressive enough? How about this doozy:

  • “The neighbors called while I was away to say my dog was roaming the streets. The pet sitter was clearly home and not answering. When I opened the front door, the sitter was passed out drunk on the sofa.”

Wow. Just… wow.

What to Look for in a Pet Sitter

Not to scare the bejeezus out of you, but these things happen. To mitigate the risk, here are some simple tips I recommend:

1. References, references, references: It’s always easier to check out an Angie’s List or Yelp, but the truth is that asking for references and calling them yourself is a way better approach.

2. Basic professionalism: Business cards, good telephone manners, prompt email replies, references at the ready, even a website. It all means you’ll pay more, but...

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