Isn't it true that anyone can be a pet sitter?
Technically, yes. I got my start taking care of the neighborhood pets when I was twelve years old. Looking back, I definitely left room for improvement. I was a pet sitter, but I was not a professional. I was a neighbor. I was a kid. I was cheap. Would I have hired me? Even though I was probably more responsible than the average twelve-year-old, I'd have to go with "no."
There is definitely a difference between a pet sitter and a professional pet sitter. Pet sitters can be neighbors or friends. If I had a dollar for every time a potential new client informed me that they "tried the neighbor, but it didn't really work out," I'd be a retired pet sitter. Neighbors and friends are great–as neighbors and friends. They have other stuff to worry about, so it's rare that your pets are their top priority. A professional pet sitter has chosen to make pet sitting a career and will place your pet's needs first. Sure, you'll pay more for a professional pet sitter than a neighbor, but, in the long run, it's worth it.
There are several things that set professional pet sitters apart from pet sitters:
• Being bonded and insured. A professional pet sitter should be bonded and insured. If something happens, everyone is covered. If the neighbor leaves the water running and floods the house, you're SOL.
• Having a license. It is important to have a license to do business in your city and state, but realize that a business license does not require any knowledge in a field. A licensed pet sitter is simply one that is registered.
• Professional associations and knowledge. A professional pet sitter will likely belong to professional pet sitting organizations and will have training such as pet first aid.
• Will do a consult. Professional pet sitters should come to your home to do an initial consult where you will see them interact with your pet and they can get a good feel for your pet's routine. Never hire a pet sitter you have never met.
• References. A professional pet sitter will have references you can call upon to verify the quality of his or her work.
• Service contract. A service contract should be signed in order to protect both parties.
• Experience. Depending on how long a professional pet sitter has been at it, he or she likely has much more experience dealing with animals and vacant homes than the neighbor does. A professional has a list and checks it twice and can draw upon their knowledge to deal with difficult or unusual situations and circumstances.
• Love. Professional pet sitters become such because they love animals. You should be able to see that love during the initial consultation and feel assured that your pet will be in the hands of someone who will not only provide food and water, but will go the extra mile to make sure your pet feels happy and secure in your absence.
Since a professional pet sitter is being contracted to take care of your pets and your home for a designated period of time and they are being paid to do so, a quality sitter will honor that or even go above and beyond. Even though a neighbor or friend may be receiving some sort of compensation, it is more likely that they will rush the visit and not spend an optimum amount of time with the animals. Details may be overlooked.
This past holiday season, I was sharing the care of a client's pets with a neighbor. It's not something I like to do, but I was flexible about it because I know the client really needed to save money. Whenever another party will enter the home during the service contract period, I remind my client of my "dual care clause (included in the initial service contract)," which releases me of all liability during the service period. Since I don't have complete control over the situation, I cover my butt. I was contracted to go in once a day in the middle of the day to walk the dogs only, and the neighbor was making morning and evening visits, in charge of feeding and cleaning and what not.
The pets were all healthy and seemed happy, and nothing disastrous happened, but I definitely noticed some things that I would have done differently, had the care been contracted to me 100%. For example, I don't believe the litter box was scooped at all during the course of the four days, and the area around the litter box was never swept. In addition, I noticed a puddle of piddle on the tile floor. I let it sit for two days to see if the other party would notice or clean it. When that didn't happen, I cleaned it. Newspapers were brought in by me...they may have sat in the driveway otherwise, alerting passers-by to the client's absence. The pets were fine, mind you, but the differences between what was being done by the neighbor and the care I would have provided as a professional were marked.
When choosing a pet sitter to care for your fur babies, there are many factors to consider. Whether you choose to go with a neighbor, friend, or professional, it's important to be educated about the differences between pet sitters and professional pet sitters.
Pet photo source: petsgetslim.co.uk