Before you entrust the care of your pet to anyone, you should ask them the following:
Have you had formal training in pet first aid, and can you apply first aid if necessary?
- What experience do you have with pet health issues such as diabetes, seizures, and bloat?
- Do you have experience giving pets medications such as pills, ointments, drops, or injections?
- Have you had training and experience supervising interactions between pets that do not regularly interact with other pets? Are you familiar with canine and feline body language?
- Do you agree that force, fear, pain, and specifically shock collars, prong collars, and choke collars should never be used in the care or training of a pet? Members of the Pet Professional Guild (PPG) and Pet Industry Advocacy International (PIAI) have pledged to abide by those principles. That is why my facility is a member of both organizations (FMI – PPG Guiding Principles). I would never entrust my pet to someone that did not agree with these principles.
Family, Friends, and Neighbors
Having a family member stop by your home or having them take your pet to their home while you are gone is certainly an option worth considering. However, it is in your pet’s best interest that a friend or a family member has the same basic qualifications as noted above. Also, consider that the holidays are incredibly hectic for most families and are probably less than an ideal time to take on pet care responsibilities for someone else. You will want to ask a friend or family member many of the same questions you would ask a professional pet sitter. You will also want to review where your pet will be staying. For example, is there a fenced yard where your dog can spend some time outdoors? If your dog has a quiet area for sleeping at home, ask if they will have a similar place where they will be staying? If your friend has pets of their own, and they do not get along with your pet, will the friend be able to keep all pets separate, safe and happy?
Professional Pet Sitter
A pet sitter can often be the best alternative for a pet unsettled by change. For example, a pet that is anxious in new environments or is uncomfortable around other animals may do better staying in their home. Likewise, a senior pet no longer in the best of health may find it easier to stay at home.
When using a pet sitter, I recommend choosing one that stays in your home with the pets. If that is not possible, minimally, they should check on the pets at least three times per day and stay in your home at night. You want to keep your pet’s schedule as normal as possible, so a pet sitter should be in your home at the same times of the day that you and other family members are there.
Most legal jurisdictions do not regulate pet sitters, so check them out thoroughly. In addition to asking the questions above, I suggest you also ask:
- Are you a member of the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters, Pet Sitters International, or the Pet Professional Guild? Although not the same as being licensed, a pet sitter that is a member of at least one of these associations is demonstrating a commitment to their profession.
- Are you and your employees bonded and insured? Remember, a pet sitter will have keys to your home.
- How much time will you be spending with my pet(s)? In addition to feeding your pet and taking care of bathroom breaks, a pet sitter should be playing with and exercising your pets and, depending on your pet, just spending some time with them relaxing.
- What steps will you take if my pet accidentally gets away from you and runs off? First, ensure they can safely handle your pet when taking them outside so that your pet does not inadvertently run off.
- How many employees do you have?
- What happens if you get sick, are in an accident, have car trouble, or there is a blizzard? What will you do to ensure that my pets will be cared for on schedule daily? Many pet sitters are one-person businesses. Please be sure they have a contingency plan in place and that you are comfortable with how they will ensure your pets are cared for if they cannot do so.
I am repeating the following from above, but that is because I believe it is so important. Do you agree that force, fear, pain, and specifically shock collars, prong collars, and choke collars should never be used in the care or training of a pet? Members of the Pet Professional Guild (PPG) and Pet Industry Advocacy International (PIAI) have pledged to abide by those principles. That is why my facility is a member of both organizations. I would never entrust my pet to someone that did not agree with these principles.
Professional Boarding Facility
Professional boarding facilities are regulated and licensed in many states. Laws vary by state but may govern housing, feeding, sanitation, record keeping, and basic standards of care. However, these rules are typically very rudimentary, and the best facilities will do far better. The best facilities will have staff training requirements for pet first aid, pet behavior, health, and handling skills. They may often include daily playtime as part of their package. Most facilities will have detailed contracts you will be asked to sign to benefit you and the business.
Most pets do very well when boarding, and many facilities suggest you give your pet a “test drive” by either boarding during the day or maybe even trying an overnight before booking a weeklong vacation. In addition to the questions above, the following are some suggested questions for the kennel:
- Are you licensed? Even though it is a legal requirement in most jurisdictions, some try to get around the law.
- Are you a member of the Pet Professional Guild? A boarding facility that is a member of the PPG is demonstrating a commitment to its profession.
- Has an independent agency credentialed anyone on your staff as a professional dog trainer or pet behavior consultant? Understanding pet behavior is critical when caring for someone’s pet. Changes in a pet’s behavior can be subtle and may often be the first sign that they are not doing well physically or emotionally. Individuals with the above certifications have been accredited by internationally recognized organizations. They must continue their education to maintain their certification. Having at least one such person on staff signifies a superior facility.
- Do you allow interactions between other dogs, and if so, how are they supervised? Supervising dogs at play, especially dogs that do not interact frequently, requires knowledge of canine behavior and communication. Staff training will include professionally developed programs on these topics. Staff will evaluate each dog for size, age, and playstyle. A staff person will always supervise dogs when at play. My facility has one pet technician for every five dogs playing. Be aware that some facilities may have as many as 20 to even 30 dogs loose at once with only one or two technicians supervising them.
- Does someone stay at the facility at night? In some cases, owners may live on-site, but there are facilities where that is not the case. For example, before purchasing Green Acres, my wife and I boarded our pets. Having someone on-site at night was and is still an essential requirement when boarding our pets.
- I am repeating the following from above, but that is because I believe it is so important. Do you agree that force, fear, pain, and specifically shock collars, prong collars, and choke collars should never be used in the care or training of a pet? Members of the Pet Professional Guild (PPG) and Pet Industry Advocacy International (PIAI) have pledged to abide by those principles. That is why my facility is a member of both organizations. I would never entrust my pet to someone that did not agree with these principles.
Hopefully, you now have some ideas of what to look for if you need someone to care for your pets. If you are considering using a professional to care for your pets, understand that pet care providers are busiest when pet owners travel, which often corresponds to when the kids are out of school. Plan early, or they may not be able to accommodate your needs.
About the Author
Don Hanson lives in Bangor, Maine, where he is the co-owner of the Green Acres Kennel Shop and the founder of ForceFreePets.com, an online educational resource for people with dogs and cats. He is a Professional Canine Behavior Consultant (PCBC-A) accredited by the Pet Professional Accreditation Board (PPAB) and a Bach Foundation Registered Animal Practitioner (BFRAP). Don is a member of the Pet Professional Guild (PPG), serving on the Board of Directors and Steering Committee and chairing the Advocacy Committee. He is also a founding director of Pet Advocacy International (PIAI). In addition, Don produces and co-hosts The Woof Meow Show podcast, available at http://bit.ly/WfMwPodcasts/, the Apple Podcast app, and Don’s blog.
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