Home pet-sitting – a popular alternative to kennels
Sheila Hamilton Andrews is a firm believer in home pet-sitting as a pet owner and a clinical animal behaviourist. In this article she tells us how a lifetime of pet care and professional pet study have led her to a belief in home pet-sitting as an ideal for
I’m writing this not so much as a Clinical Animal Behaviourist but more as someone who has employed pet-sitters for over 30 years and long before it became a popular profession. In the early days it was a necessity, rather than just preferable, when we went away, as we had not only dogs and cats but also rabbits, guinea pigs, a goat, chickens and a pony!
Finding the right sitter for your home pet-sitting
We were fortunate enough to find a wonderful single lady who had been brought up on a farm, now living alone and she was in her element spending time here.
Now we are reduced to four dogs and a cat but prefer they stay in their own environment, they prefer the home pet-sitting alternative rather than being put into kennels and a cattery. When my pets are happy and healthy, so am I.
The advantages of this are, the house is not left empty and therefore a temptation to burglars and our pets routine remains relatively undisturbed.
In recent years many organisations offering a pet-sitting service have evolved but how do you decide who is the right person for the task? Personally I want someone who is caring, experienced, trustworthy, is covered by the appropriate insurance and comes with personal recommendations.
For home pet-stting – the ‘meet and greet’ is important
Before a home pet-sitting assignment starts a ‘meet and greet’ is essential from both points of view so that you can see how the proposed sitter relates to your pets and whether he or she feels that they can look after them in the manner to which they are accustomed.
For example, my dogs are used to a good one-hour walk morning and afternoon. I feed a natural diet rather than commercial pet food and have one dog that suffers from epilepsy. Will the proposed sitter be able to cope, taking four dogs for a walk, making up the natural diet twice daily and dealing with a dog that might have a fit?
It’s important to explain at the meet & greet exactly what duties you expect your sitter to cover. Do you wish them to wash the dogs beds once a week, vacuum up the pet hairs or do you have a cleaner who attends to those tasks? I had one sitter that upset my cleaner of many years because she wouldn’t allow her to do the jobs she normally did on a weekly basis, so clarification of expected responsibilities is crucial.
What if the dogs/cats sleep are used to sleeping on your bed, is the sitter, happy to have a dog or cat snoring at your side all night?
And just in case
Were one of your pets to have an accident, does the sitter have a basic knowledge of first aid? If your pets are insured have you instructed the sitter where to find the appropriate forms should veterinary care be necessary?
You may well consider the above as par for the course from both the clients and pet-sitters point of view but as a professional animal behaviourist Id like to make a few added suggestions to make life easier for client and sitter alike and most importantly the pet(s).
Change can be stressful for all pets but dogs and cats in particular even the sight of a suitcase being packed can trigger anxiety. I had one cat that used to sit in the case I was trying to pack as if to say, I’m coming with you!
There are simple devices available that can help to reduce anxiety when home pet-sitting. A DAP (Dog Appeasing Pheromone) room plug in, available form a veterinary surgery or good pet store, can help reduce any anxiety a dog might experience when their owner goes away and they are left to the care of a comparative stranger. A Feliway plug in, is a similar device for cats.
A printed list of the words your pet understands and the behaviour expected will help to avoid any confusion. For example does down mean stop jumping up, get off the sofa or lay flat on the floor? So often I come across pets that are bewildered because even family members are not consistent in the words they use.
Animals in general are happiest in a predictive environment so the clear advantage of home pet-sitting is the possibility of sticking to the regular routine the pet is used to, is so important. A simple record of what happens when, i.e. feeding/exercise times can be really helpful including house rules, which can vary tremendously from home to home.
By following a few simple guide lines owners can go away in the knowledge that their pets’ well-being will in no way be compromised in their absence and the pet-sitter can
enjoy the company of the animals for whom they are caring. Home pet-sitting, it is my firm belief , is the best option for care of your pets in your absence.
Sheila Hamilton Andrews MSc CCAB
Certified Clinical Animal Behaviourist, Member of the UKRCB
Picture credits to the RSPCA.
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