Entrusting your cats to a sitter while you leave town can be very stressful — and may not always go perfectly — but you can take steps the help make the best choice possible.
Types of sitters
Your first decision is whether you want to hire someone to visit your home daily (pet sitter) or to live in your house while you are away (house sitter). Your choices may be limited by the options available in your area, the length of your trip, and your animals’ needs.
The most common option is to hire someone to come to your home daily to feed your cats, freshen their water, scoop the litter, and give them some TLC. Pet sitters will often provide additional services such as bringing in your mail and newspaper, watering plants, filling bird feeders, and other household tasks.
Choosing a pet sitter
Once you have decided to use a cat sitter, you will have to find one. The yellow pages will often list pet sitting businesses. You can also get references from your veterinarian, local shelter, businesses that cater to companion animals and friends, or look online at the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters.
Hiring a professional
When looking for a new cat sitter, you will want to call well in advance of your trip and, if you are satisfied with your initial telephone conversation (or email exchange), set up an in-home appointment. Ask each prospective pet sitter for references and the same set of interview questions (see sidebar). Watch how the person interacts with your cats and also how the cats respond to the person.
Asking a friend
If you ask a friend, you will want to go through the same process to the extent that is practical. You must consider that if anything goes wrong for which the friend is responsible, your friendship may be damaged or even destroyed. You also may feel less inclined to be firm with a friend than a professional and that may not serve your cats’ needs the best. If you do choose to use a friend, you should think about the friend’s history with companion animals, his or her interaction with your cats, and most importantly the individual’s demonstrated level of responsibility.
When to use a house sitter instead
Pet sitters are a very good choice, but if your trip is very long, you might consider looking for a live-in house sitter for the additional companionship. Again, some people housesit on a regular, professional basis, or you may find friends, or friends of friends.
Prepare written instructions
Three written documents will help your cat sitter do a better job.
- First, write down all your instructions, no matter how trivial something may seem. Your house and cats are new to your cat sitter so every little thing will be helpful.
- Second, make a checklist of tasks that are to be done daily so that nothing is forgotten.
- Finally, write a letter to your veterinarian informing the veterinarian of your travel plans, naming your cat sitter, and authorizing the veterinarian to provide any treatment necessary while you are away (including euthanizing the cat if in the cat’s best interest), and guaranteeing that you will settle your bill when you return (or call the veterinarian and make other arrangements).
You should expect to pay a pet sitter or house sitter for his or her services. Professional pet sitters and house sitters will charge a daily fee that may vary based on how many animals you have and whether there are any special needs. The fees are likely to be higher in bigger cities. Friends or other acquaintances may charge less, but remember that often you get what you pay for. Finally, if you choose a friend and are willing to trade services, you may save an out-of-pocket fee, but you will have to pay them back by sitting for their pets. Are you willing to make that commitment?
Lastly, listen to your instincts. Your animals are part of the family — make sure you’re comfortable with any individual with whom you’re entrusting your cat’s care.