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Norwich Bulletin - 7/11/2004

Vacation Without The Pets

Everyone I know gets nervous when they have pets and are going on vacation or on a business trip and cannot take their furry friend. Now some dogs are perfectly happy going to a responsible boarding kennel. In fact some of the kennels also have doggy day care, which enables your dog to interact with other canines during the day.

I think it is a little harder with cats as they tend to dislike extreme change and most kennels are more dog oriented, although there are a few "cats only" kennels that have gotten extremely good reviews. If your pet has a serious medical condition, your veterinary clinic can offer the proper care in your absence and should be your first choice. And of course, if you have relatives or friends willing to take your pet while you are away, that can also work out very nicely.

But if none of that is right for your pet, then consider having someone come into your home to care for your dog and/or cat without them ever having to leave or have their routine completely changed. And that means you need to start your search for the perfect pet sitter!

Start with your own circle of friends. Do you have someone you know who absolutely adores your pet? Perhaps a neighbor who always stops in the yard to pet the dog - or a responsible teenager who likes dogs better than kids? You can also check with your vet or groomer and I have found a great resource to be your local animal rescue organizations.

Many of my volunteers do pet sitting on the side and I have pet sitting services contacting me all the time with their information. Of course there is always the telephone book or the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters at www.petsitters.org.

Prices for pet sitting should compare favorably with the cost of boarding your pet at a kennel, approximately $20 to $25 a day, depending on how many animals you have and how many times a day you want them to come to your home. I need to have my sitter come twice a day because of the dogs - if I just had my cats I could probably get away with once a day as long as the sitter spent time playing and interacting with the cats so they were not lonely.

When interviewing a pet sitter, one should always ask for references and talk to them about their experiences. Are they used to sitting for one quiet Persian while you have a Saint Bernard that requires a lot more care? Ask them how they would handle certain possible emergencies, get a feel for their common sense.

How do they interact with your dog or cat? If your pet obviously dislikes them, I certainly would not consider hiring them - animals tend to be smarter than people when it comes to gut instincts.

Once you find that sitter, it is time to make sure the experience is a success for your pet and the sitter. Make sure the sitter has your complete schedule and itinerary, from the time you leave until you arrive home. Include phone numbers so that you can be reached in case of an emergency.

I would make lots of lists on my refrigerator - a detailed feeding schedule, any type of necessary medical information, including my veterinarian's name, address and telephone number. I would include a letter of treatment for my pet, specifying to my vet that if there were any type of emergency that I would be responsible for the bill for my pet.

Exercise instructions as well as where to find all the necessary "tools" of the trade, i.e. leashes, brushes, interactive toys, etc. Let the sitter know what the main rules of the house are - are the cats allowed on the counters? Does the dog normally sleep on the bed? And if there are any behavior idiosyncrasies, be sure to describe them - whether it has to do with food aggression, toy possessiveness or fear of thunderstorms. The more your sitter knows about your pet, the easier it will be for everyone.

The other thing you can do to make it easier for your pet is to leave things around that make him feel you are nearby. I like to make a tape to played for my cats if we are away more than two nights - or even a home video so they can see and hear us on TV!

We also call them on the telephone and talk to them via the answering machine. The dogs get t-shirts or an old blanket to curl up with and we leave either a radio or our white noise machine on in the bedroom so everything is familiar, even though we are not there. It takes a little work but we feel better knowing that our pets are not stressed when we are gone and also that they are well cared for!

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