Professional pet sitters…just who are these people and what exactly do they do for a living? How are they different from a neighbor who comes to care for your pet or a person who has a full-time job and cares for pets on the side?
Well, professional pet sitters are just that – professional. According to Sherry L. Suhosky, president of The National Association of Professional Pet Sitters (NAPPS), “Professional pet sitters are viewed as experts in the pet care industry. I think that more and more pet parents are recognizing this and making it a priority to keep their furry family members feeling safe and comfortable while they’re away on business or vacation.”
In my personal and professional experience, the title, “pet sitter,” does not come close to describing what is involved with the pet sitting profession. Professional pet sitters are individuals who dedicate their working hours to caring for other people’s pets during the times they are unable to do so themselves for any reason such as extended hours at the office, a hard-earned vacation and/or a change in familial circumstances. In general, professional pet sitters are trained in first aid for pets, bonded, and insured. Many professional pet sitters have also created a business entity such as a limited liability company or an S-corporation that is formally recognized by their respective state’s Attorney General’s office as well as the Internal Revenue Service.
In addition to having their insurance and tax paperwork in-line and caring for your pets, professional pet sitters do many other things. Their presence when you are not home serves as a deterrent to thieves, for instance. Professional pet sitters will handle many of your usual household chores during your absence, including taking your trash and recycling bins to and from the street on the appropriate day, watering your plants and retrieving your mail and packages. Depending on the service you use, your professional pet sitter might even fill your fridge and pantry with sundries for you and your pets so you won’t have to run out to the store when you return from a lengthy trip!
So, now that you know what professional pet sitters are and what they do, let’s look at some specific reasons why you should you consider using a pet sitter instead of a kennel when you can’t tend to your pets yourself.
1. Risk of disease – In a boarding facility that houses many animals, the risk of infection is greatly increased compared to when pets are allowed to remain in their own homes during their owners’ absence. According to Jessica Gutmann, owner of Milwaukee Pet Services, “When dogs go to a boarding facility their regular routine is disrupted and they are in an unfamiliar environment. Dogs go out to potty at the same time, get fed at the same time and go to bed at the same time. This can cause considerable stress for them. Stress can cause dogs’ immune systems to be weakened making them more susceptible to illness, like kennel cough and intestinal issues like diarrhea. It's not just dogs, cats can go to boarding facilities too. Cats are very territorial, making them incredibly sensitive to a change in environment. Just like dogs, cats can get sick from stress, usually being respiratory infections.”
2. Stress to your pet – It isn’t uncommon for dogs and cats to refuse food while in boarding facilities since all of the animals are usually fed at the same time next to pets in neighboring kennels who they’ve never encountered before. Pets also do not get much one-on-one attention when they are in a kennel. In fact, Jessica estimates that a typical boarding facility has only one caregiver per every 10-15 dogs.
3. Inconvenience – When you leave your dogs and/or cats at a kennel, you have to drop them off and pick them up during certain hours. Even if you pick your pet up only a few minutes after the prescribed time period, you’ll usually be charged an additional fee. In general, you will also have to prepare your pet’s meals and snacks, too, before he or she will be accepted by a boarding facility.
4. Affordability – Using a professional pet sitter ordinarily costs the same or only slightly more than temporarily housing pets in a kennel. If you have multiple pets, it is probable that using a pet sitter will actually be less expensive than boarding all of your pets!
As was mentioned earlier, an increasingly larger number of people see their pets as family members…and rightly so. If you are included in this group, consider coordinating care for your pets that is comparable to the care you arrange for your children when you are unavailable to be with them. I mean, you wouldn’t leave your child behind in a cage surrounded by other kenneled children they don’t know, would you? Of course not! So why would you do that to the animals you loved enough to bring home with you in the first place?
There was a time when I thought boarding was okay for one of my dogs. After I started asking some questions, however, I discovered that my dog was kenneled from 6pm until 6am every day after I checked him in until I picked him up. I remember asking myself, “How is that right?” Knowing there was no reasonable way to justify leaving an animal in a cage for half of every day, I became an immediate advocate of the pet sitting profession and vowed to never kennel any of the pets I have or will own in the future ever again.
Individual care, that’s what a professional pet sitter provides for you, your home and your pet(s). When a professional pet sitter enters your home his or her attention will remain on your pet until the person leaves. This focus enables professional pet sitters to recognize changes in eating patterns, potty habits etc. that could indicate your pet needs medical care or is under duress. This focus is also what gives those who hire professional pet sitters the peace of mind that their pets are being cared for by people who are experts in their field and genuinely care about the animals they have the privilege of watching over.
Regardless of whether you decide to hire a professional pet sitter or put your pets in a kennel, it is critical that you do some research. Laura Capra, owner of Keep Me Company Pet Sitting in Longmont, Colorado, offers the following advice for those who choose to board their pets, “Just like researching online for a hotel for your own needs, think of the kennel as your dog’s hotel.” If you choose to hire a pet sitter, interview the person as if he or she were applying to be a nanny to your children. Selecting the right professional sitter or kennel to care for your pets while you are away can be the difference between you returning home to happy, relaxed pets and coming home to pets who are nervous, sickly wrecks.