Pamela Jamieson, an animal education and adoption associate with the Hamilton-Burlington SPCA, says asking questions is the key to finding the right sitter. Jamieson has over 20 years of experience working with animals, and has three dogs and a parrot.
Here are her some questions you need to ask a potential caregiver.
1. Can I visit your facility?
Jamieson says boarding your dog at a kennel is better than hiring home care: kennels offer more interaction and better safety. Cats usually prefer staying home, however. Either way, previewing a potential caregiver’s facility or home is key.
If it's a kennel or other boarding facility, this should be no problem.
If you're asking a candidate who'd be pet-sitting in your home if you can come visit her house, the question will come across as unusual, Jamieson admits. "But if you go to their home, you can see how they care for their own pets," she explains. Sweeten the pot by asking if you can interview her there, and paying her for her time.
Scratch the kennel or caregiver off your list if the facility is dirty, unsafe or otherwise unsuitable. Likewise if they say a look-see isn’t possible, cross them off your list.
2. What do you charge and what does that cover?
"Remember: you get what you pay for," says Jamieson. The cheapest boarding facility isn't the best deal if it means your dog gets fewer walks or play time, or if there's a high dog-to-caregiver ratio.
If you're hiring someone to pet sit in your own home, get in writing how many walks per day or hours of interaction per day they are committing to.
Keep in mind someone with many years of experience will always charge more than a newbie.
3. Can you give me three references, including your vet?
Happy repeat clients are a good sign. But don't limit your reference check to them. Ask a vet to vouch for the caregiver/facility, too. Most boarding facilities have a relationship with a local vet. And a reliable pet sitter presumably has his own pet who receives regular veterinary care.
Alternatively, start your search by asking your vet for recommendations of local caregivers and boarding facilities. This is crucial if you have an exotic pet like a bird or reptile, says Jamieson.
"An avian vet can either board your bird or recommend a good bird sitter. Birds are very sensitive and will pluck their feathers if they're stressed out, so a good match is important," says Jamieson.
" Reptiles are low-maintenance, but you'll want someone experienced who understands how the equipment works," says Jamieson. Most reptile habitat includes lighting, heaters, and possibly water and filters, so another reptile lover would make a good sitter. Again, ask your vet for reccomendations.
4. Are you bonded and insured?
Generally, most service providers who come into your home (whether working for a company or as sole proprietors of their own small business), should be bonded and have liability insurance.
Whether it's your cleaning lady or pet sitter, this provides you with peace of mind, and assures you you're dealing with professionals, not dabblers.
5. What would you do if my pet was injured?
Run them through a couple crisis scenarios. How would they respond? You want someone who knows how to take proper action during a potential life-and-death emergency.
Move on if your candidate can’t answer the questions immediately. If they're flustered now, imagine how they’d be during a real emergency.
6. How long have you been in business?
"Experience is always a good thing," says Jamieson. Ask potential caregivers:
• Are they pet owners?
• How long have they worked with animals in a professional or volunteer capacity?
• Have they taken a dog obedience or other type of course?
If it's a boarding facility, ask the above question of caregivers, and also find out how long the company’s been in business. (Don't forget to Google for reviews.)
7. Do you love animals?
You know how some sales clerks love working with the public, while others clearly hate their job and take it out on unwitting customers? Same deal here: some dog sitters love dogs, others only do it to pay rent. Who do you want caring for your baby?
When talking with a potential caregiver, read them for clues. How do they interact with animals, including yours (make sure your pet meets them before you commit).
Trust your gut.
8. Can we go over my folder of pet care information?
Always prepare a binder of emergency info for your pet sitter or kennel. It should include your vet’s contact info, your pet’s microchip registry info, vaccination records, and contact info for a family member who can be contacted in an emergency, advises Jamieson. It can be helpful to include a half page of notes about your pet’s personality, likes and dislikes.
Consider handing over the file the final phase in the interview process: if your potential caregiver rolls their eyes or is otherwise unreceptive, this could be a red flag.
"Cross your Ts and dot your Is,” says Jamieson. It takes work to find the perfect caregiver for your pet. Make the effort now, then tip well and stay loyal!
Your pet will thank you.