By Laura Vorreyer
Tips for pet sitting and avoiding CATastrophes
Pet sitters, (whether professional or just helping out a friend) must be able to think fast on their feet, make sound decisions and exercise excellent judgment. After all, a furry friend’s life just may depend on it.
In order to set yourself up for a successful pet-sitting experience, it is vital to gather all the pertinent information before your client departs and leaves you in charge. This means making a visit to their house and meeting their pets. Arrange for a time close to, but not the day of, their actual departure. A week in advance is usually good. This way, the pet will remember you (hopefully) and you will still be familiar with the surroundings. Go during the daytime if possible. Everything looks different at night and you want to avoid awkwardly fumbling around in the dark for the key while trying to figure out which way it turns in the lock.
On that subject, on your way out of the meet-and-greet, take the client’s key and check that it works while the client is still there. If it doesn’t, count yourself lucky that you found out beforehand and then make arrangements to get a working key.
Carry the client’s key with you when you go to their house. This might seem like a no-brainer, but I can’t tell you how many times an I.C. (independent contractor) has called me and told me they’re going to be late to a client’s place because they had to go back home and get the key. If necessary, copy the client’s key and attach it to your own set of keys, this solves the forgotten key problem.
If the client has one, learn the alarm system. Practice the disarming and arming procedure with your client beforehand. Once the key is in your possession and you have entry into the client’s home, turn off the alarm. This is really important. If a client’s alarm goes off while you are there and it’s because of your error, you may be liable for any fee charged by their alarm company. This has happened to me. Don’t be a cautionary tale. I had to write a check to my client covering the cost of the security company coming to her house, all because a pet sitter I hired was careless, couldn’t read her own handwriting, input the incorrect alarm code too many times and the alarm went off – – on Christmas, while I was 30 miles away. I had to leave my family, drive while panick-stricken to the client’s home; all the while knowing the police and my pet sitter were waiting for me to straighten it out. Do your due diligence in the beginning and you won’t have to face the unpleasant music later.
Remember, preparedness is key. Using your cell phone to screen-shot vital information so you don’t have to keep track of a bunch of paperwork has personally been a time and (often) a lifesaver.
In other words, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. I’m not sure who to contribute this quote to, but I’m sure it was somebody’s mother.
Because emergencies happen when you least expect them (that’s why they’re emergencies), be ready for anything. Know where the pet’s regular veterinarian is and the location of a 24-hour emergency vet as well.
Speak with your client about their wishes in case there is an emergency and they can’t be reached. Where I live, natural disasters such as fires, floods and earthquakes might give you and the pet you’re caring for little to no notice to evacuate. Be prepared by carrying spare leashes, blankets, treats and a pet carrier (if you have the room), in your car. A first aid kit is always a good idea, too.
Something you probably haven’t considered, but should, is if you are looking after a sick or elderly pet, in the extreme and unlikely situation that it passes away on your watch, never make the decision to cremate if you have not received written permission from the client. It is never a bad idea to ask a client what to do in a situation such as this — Be clear about the expectation.
Unfortunately, I know from two personal experiences what it’s like to have a beloved pet pass away while it was in my professional care. In both of these experiences, the death of the pet was completely shocking. However, in the case of the dog that passed, I was able to contact the client and receive instructions as to next steps.
My cat experience was completely different. Though the client instructed me to take the cat to the vet “in case something happened” and I did exactly that, it was the veterinarian’s policy to cremate deceased animals. Unfortunately, the client was unhappy with this decision, as it would have been their choice to bury their pet. Due to the fact that the client and his entire extended family were traveling together in Africa, I could not reach them, even after several days. When I was finally able to make contact with them, they were beginning the first leg of their journey home, and naturally they were distraught to receive this sad news.
However sad this experience was, it is a pet-sitting anomaly. In my over fifteen years as a professional pet sitter, only two pets have passed away. These are great odds! The majority of the time, you will be left to take care of exuberant pets with robustly wagging tails and lots of energy. In fact, I’ve taken care of more puppies than elderly pets and you might, too. Embrace the slobber!
Laura Vorreyer pioneered the dog-walking industry in Hollywood over 15 years ago and is the author of the new book, “The Pet Sitter’s Tale.” She is the owner of the pet care company Your Dog’s Best Friend, a premier dog-walking and pet-sitting business in Los Angeles. Laura has taught pet-sitting and dog-walking classes in Los Angeles and is also a passionate advocate for animal rights. She remains dedicated to pet rescue.