Wednesday, December 29, 2010

What Do I REALLY Do?

I read an interesting article the other day about a pet sitter detective! Pet owners noticed that their pet wasn't acting quite right when they were away, so they hired a pet sitter detective to see what the pet sitter really did in the owners' absence.

At first I thought it was a little creepy, I wouldn't want to be followed without knowing it. But then I thought that it was actually a good idea- there are so many people who think that all you need to be a pet sitter is a leash and a business card, and they are the ones who would cut corners or worse, not show up at all!

So I thought that I would be my own "Pet Sitter Detective" to give you a glimpse of what I do on a typical pet sit.

The first thing I do as I pull into the driveway is look around. I am checking for security risks. Open doors or windows, unknown people or vehicles, that kind of thing. I am not a security expert, but ideally, I like to see a home looking just the way it did the last time I was there. I also check around for wildlife, including bears, coyotes, foxes, and raptors like hawks and eagles, which can take off with a small dog. I usually encounter lots of deer, many who love to graze in yards or at feeders, and I keep my distance even from them, because deer attacks are not unheard of! Here in Northeast PA, knowing your wildlife is very important. I carry a canister of bear mace with me now after a too-close encounter with a black bear.

The next thing I do is enter the home, and I make note of the lock. Was the door locked? If not, why not? I make sure to not only lock every door after I leave, but to double- and triple-check it, security is definitely important to a pet sitter!

When I enter, again, I glance around the entryway and make sure things are as I left them. I don't check all over the house unless specifically requested to by the owner, I just observe the rooms that I use to enter and care for the pets, to make sure there are no signs of trouble.

I always check to see if a note has been left for me before I do anything else! The last thing I want is to come in after a dog walk to read "Please don't walk Fido outside today as he's recovering from a fall". I LOVE when owners leave me notes - I like to say "You can never give me too much information!"

After I read the note, THEN it's time to work with the pets! If I'm sitting for a dog, the dog gets leashed and we go out right away. I only let dogs out if they are in a secure, fenced area, or on a leash. I follow the walking route the client has established, and usually the dog knows the way. A pet sitter detective would probably note that I tend to let the dogs sniff and meander a lot - unless the client directs otherwise, I like to let dogs enjoy their walks and sniff at their surroundings. If there's snow on the ground, and the dog likes the snow, we usually spend some time playing outside, and I'll throw snowballs for the dog to chase, or I'll let them run through the drifts. I love watching dogs enjoy the snow! If dogs are not fans of the snow (or excessive heat in summer), I'll get them out and in quickly so they don't feel too uncomfortable. Just yesterday I actually shoveled an area for some small dogs who don't like the snow, and I could tell they were grateful! It's hard for a dog to squat when the snow is up to their bellies. Years of dog experience help me to read the signs of a dog who really wants to potty but just can't get comfortable, and it's my job to help make it as easy as possible for them. Of course, poop pick-up is included with service. In many of the areas we serve, it's a requirement to clean up after your dog. No client should ever have to worry that they'll get a call from their association or neighbor saying that someone left a mess! We have poop bags and lots of 'em, and we aren't afraid to use them! Unless the client specifies otherwise, we dispose of pet waste off-site, so that clients don't have to come home to any unsavory smells.

Once the potty break is over, we'll spend some time playing or cuddling, (or both!) depending on the pets' preference. I like to have playtime before mealtime, so as not to upset any tummies. If it's mealtime, I feed the pets based on the client's instructions. These are as varied as the pets themselves! Some pets get dry food measured into a bowl, some get meals with meat and gravy that are warmed up, some are on special diets. It is absolutely essential to me that pets are fed exactly as the client describes. Firstly, because my clients know their dogs best, secondly because part of my job is to reduce stress for the pets as much as possible, and keeping to the exact routine helps to achieve that, and thirdly, it's a sound business decision! If I were to just feed pets whatever _I_ thought was best, disregarding client instructions, the pet could get sick and I would be to blame! I take no chances with that. There are times when I have to use my judgment, for example, if a pet is sick, it might not be the best idea to give them food or treats. But I will always report to the client so that they are informed of the situation. We usually take dogs out after eating, too, since that's when many dogs prefer to do their business.

We follow client instructions when it comes to water too - for some it's just a matter of keeping water bowls fresh, and for others, there are specific watering instructions. If we observe food or water bowls that are getting a little grungy (they all do at some point!) we clean them - that's just part of our job.

Cat litter gets scooped once a day or more (and again, waste disposed of off-site unless instructed otherwise), kitties get fed and if they're social, they get cuddles and playtime too! Some cats prefer to hide from those who aren't family, and in those cases we leave them alone. Cats don't like to be chased from room to room, it stresses them out, and that's exactly what we don't want! If they hide, we check to see that the food and water levels are lower, and the litter box is being used and the bowel movements look healthy. Cats, especially male cats, or older cats, are prone to bladder infections, so we like to see that they are urinating normally. Urinating outside of the litter box can be a sign of trouble so we keep our eyes open for those kinds of problems as well.

We take care of other animals too - lizards, fish, birds, and small mammals. We follow client instructions, and if they aren't the kinds of animals that like playtime, we at least talk to them and pay attention to them as we feed and water, so that they know they are loved. True, snakes and iguanas may not care if we tell them they're beautiful, but it doesn't hurt to tell them. :)

Before we leave, we review our checklist or client paperwork to make sure we took care of everything. We tidy up after ourselves and the pets, and leave a note to let the client know how everything went with that visit (we also record the date and time so clients know when we were there.) We do a headcount - VERY important in homes with multiple pets! In fact in homes with more than two or three pets, I record my headcounts on my cell phone audio recorder, noting the date, time, and I recite each pets name as I look at them, so I know that I had visual confirmation of each pet as I said their name on the recording. We make sure doors and windows are secure, water faucets are turned off, lights are off (or on, depending on the client), plants watered if need be, mail brought in and packages taken in (so as not to alert potential burglars that nobody is home). Then I check to make sure that the keys are in my hand and my cell phone is in my pocket. I check that again, and then I triple-check. THEN I lock the door, close it, push it and pull it to make sure it's latched, check it again, and when I am fully satisfied that the door is secure, it's time to go.

Whew, that's a lot to do in each visit, and every pet sit is different! But each step is important, because we are entrusted to provide the best care for the homes and pets we watch over. Your Best Friend Pet Sitting has been in business for almost 5 years now, and we wouldn't still be in business, with glowing client testimonials, if we didn't take our job seriously!

So if you're considering hiring a pet sitter detective, these are the types of things he or she should be looking for. And if you're using a pet sitter who you think is cutting corners or not doing the job you asked them to do, call Your Best Friend Pet Sitting, and we will do the job RIGHT!


  1. Awesome post here.It's very nice and interesting too.Thanks for posting and keep sharing :)

  2. Interesting. I always thought of a pet sitter as someone who just had a "leash and a business card". I saw your business card at Ace Hardware in Daleville, and took down your info for future use. After reading a few of your blog posts, I'm even more confident that I'll be using you when the need arises.

    Thanks again!