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Norwich Bulletin - 11/8/2009

When The Pets Can't Go

There was a time that my husband and I would have huge anxiety attacks when we knew we both had to be away the same weekend. And we never even thought about taking a vacation. Who would take care of the dog and all the cats and what if I have kittens at the time? Well, I decided to do something about it and I went on a quest. I knew that it could not be the normal way of leaving my pets at a kennel – I have too many and could not afford it, and besides, the cats would be miserable.

But I am not the only one who has had this problem. In fact, 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, and some of the better ones also offer doggy day care, which enables your dog to interact with other canines during the day and therefore, be less lonely.

I know it is a lot harder with multiple cats as some of them tend to dislike extreme change. Plus, most kennels are more dog oriented. There are a few "cats only" kennels that have gotten extremely good reviews. If you only had one or two cats then this would be a great solution. Or, 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 the alternative: have someone come into your home to care for your pets or if you have a pet that needs more care, maybe someone who will stay at your house. This way your cat and dog will never have to leave their comfortable home, or have their routine completely changed. That was my family’s choice.

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.

My first pet sitter was a vet tech and she was awesome. She was someone we depended on for years and I actually cried when she started grad school and could no longer pet sit for us. My next search took me to one of my volunteers who has a pet sitting service. She stayed at the house with one of her five children and they had their special time with mom while dad stayed home. Her kids socialized the kittens and the rescues and when our pets were adopted out, we knew they could go to a home with children.

It was a match made in heaven, until she decided to have another baby. Babies can really cramp your style. So I went back to my vet and found another tech who was looking to make extra money. And of course, eventually my other sitters child grew up and she was again available. Since I am going away so much now, we find we realized we needed more than one and now we utilize both these wonderful people.

o if you are looking for a pet sitter for yourself or perhaps to buy a gift certificate for a friend or relative for Christmas, send me an email and I will refer you to a couple of my volunteers. Of course you can always use 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. Remember they also have to travel to get to your house, so these rates are very reasonable. I have to have my sitter spend the night because my dog is very old. That is a whole other negotiable deal.

Always ask for references when you interview a potential pet sitter. Make sure you talk to them about their experiences. Are they used to sitting for one quiet Persian while you have a house full of Abyssinians, who require lots more interaction and care? And throw out some possible emergencies and get a feel for their common sense by their answers.

Does your cat or dog like them? How do they interact with each other? 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 make lots of lists and put them on my kitchen bulletin board - a detailed feeding schedule, any type of necessary medical information, including my vet’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, and interactive toys, are also important. 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.

We call our cats on the telephone every night and tell them to be good and that we are thinking about them. Even though we are not there, 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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