Pet sitters and dog walkers do much more than provide a pet with food and water while you’re away. Perhaps the most important thing s/he does is develop a bond with your pet, providing that all-important love and attention in your absence.
A good pet sitter spends quality time with your pet, provides exercise, and can spot the need for veterinary attention. Many pet sitters also offer services like collecting mail and watering plants.
A good dog walker, according to Patricia McKinney of the award-winning business, Portland Mutt Strut, says: “Experience separates the professionals from the teenager down the street. Ideally you want someone with professional training and knowledge and the skillset to implement this knowledge. They should only practice positive reinforcement, and be able to interpret canine body language, handle any issues that arise, take appropriate steps to avoid conflicts, or protect your dog in the event of attack by a loose dog. They should also have current Pet First Aid and CPR certification, and notify you if they detect a health concern. A dog walker can customize services based on a dog’s age, needs, and abilities. Jogging may be what one dog needs, while another may just need a potty break and ‘love time.’”
FINDING A PET SITTER OR DOG WALKER
Start by getting recommendations from friends, neighbors, your veterinarian or dog trainer. Check online under “Pet Sitting” or “Dog Walking” Services, and read the reviews. McKinney says, “The best resource for reviews is Yelp, but even better is references and firsthand reviews from clients.” McKinney also recommends portlandpetsitters.com, calling it “the most comprehensive website in Portland to find professional pet sitters/dog walkers.”
Once you’ve selected a few promising candidates (who should be licensed, bonded and insured), conduct home interviews. “It is very important for both two- and four-legged clients to meet the dog walker,” she says. “The client should observe the interaction with their dog and care provider: does s/he wait for your dog to approach? Does the dog seem comfortable and eager to engage?” The care giver’s interaction with your pet should be gentle and kind. If s/he is shy or afraid or meeting new people, the sitter’s/walker’s response should accommodate him or her.
IS CERTIFICATION IMPORTANT?
“Pet Care Certifications 101” by Meghan Ross on care.com states that professional certification demonstrates commitment. "Certification helps us professionally by letting our clients know that we are serious about our work and willing to invest time, money and energy in educating ourselves," says Debra Farrington, a pet caregiver in Hershey, PA, adding that certification shows pet care workers are "true professionals who take pride in their business."
YOUR SITTER OR DOG WALKER SHOULD:
• Be licensed, bonded and insured
• Have Pet First Aid certification
• Have backup in the event he/she is unexpectedly detained/indisposed
• Provide a service contract detailing services, fees and time committed to being with your pet
• Take detailed notes about your pet’s routines, likes/dislikes, exercise/medical needs
WHAT YOU CAN (AND SHOULD) DO
• Reserve care well in advance
• Microchip your pet, and have current ID tags on his or her collar
• Keep your pet’s vaccinations current
• Leave clear instructions regarding feeding and/or medication routines, and contact info for you, as well as your regular and emergency veterinarians
• Have sufficient food and supplies in stock, in one place (best to stock more than needed)
• Have a friend or neighbor check in while you’re away. Give the sitter and friend/neighbor each other’s contact info
• Show the sitter features of your home, like temp control, circuit breaker and security system
There is a wide range of pet sitting and dog walking services. Whether your pet is a young, high-energy dog or cat who needs exercise and attention, or is a mellow senior who just likes to lounge and get a little love, take your time to research, meet, and qualify the care you choose, and you’re bound to find someone who will become an invaluable member of your family’s care team.
“I would hope that a pet parent would respect the care and love the pet sitter is giving their pet and appreciate the time and energy that goes into their care,” says McKinney, “and I would ask that they honor the policies outlined by the company, including payment, cancellation, and responsibilities in their agreement. They also need to know that while the pet sitter becomes somewhat a part of their family, it is still a business to earn money, and to not take advantage of the relationship.”
When she started Portland Mutt Strut in 2009, McKinney says she hadn't thought about experiencing the depth of loss and grief when one of “their” pets dies. “We feel the gut-wrenching loss as if it was our very own pet. We counsel and console our clients and grieve with them.”
Portland Mutt Strut, LLC — portlandmuttstrut.com
National Association of Professional Pet Sitters (NAPPS) — petsitters.org
Pet Sitters International (PSI) — petsit.com
Kristan Dael is a freelance writer and the alter ego of Jennifer Mccammon. She lives in Portland with her 4-pack, and strives to produce articles that inform, edify, engage and entertain.