Hiring a pet sitter is a big responsibility. You are entrusting someone to care for your beloved furry (or scaly) family member, and often you are letting that person into your home for hours at a time.
The stakes are high. As a July CNN investigation into the US pet-sitting platform Rover showed, negligent or non-responsive pet sitters can lead to lost or dead pets. That’s why asking the right questions of a prospective pet sitter is so important.
Here are the most important things pet sitters said pet owners should ask in order to suss out whether someone may be an unprofessional pet sitter:
1. Are you a people person?
“When I am interviewing [pet-sitter] applicants, I always ask, ‘Are you a people person?’ May sound idiotic at first, but it is literally the single most important question to ask, in my opinion – of course, other than experience and such.
Why? Because we are really dealing with human emotions, fears, anxiety, their beloved pets and homes. ... Dogs and cats will operate fairly smoothy with whomever – dogs a bit more adaptable than cats, barring no special needs or personality stuff. But we have to make sure their humans feel good, which is why the answer ‘I’m a dog/cat person and can’t stand people’ is a red-flag answer.” – Andrea Fenner, owner of the Philadelphia-based service The Cat Peeps
2. How do you handle an animal who is uncomfortable due to fear, anxiety or stress?
“Most pet sitters say they ‘love animals,’ but this question helps you ascertain if that’s really true. To love animals, you need to understand them and their body language, and you need to want to treat them on the most basic level with kindness.
If your pet sitter uses negative force – physical or verbal – or ignores your pet’s body cues for stress or fear, your pet could react in ways that can negatively impact themselves, the pet sitter and you!
Good responses [to the question]:
‘I only utilise positive reinforcement.’
‘I’m familiar with Fear Free practices and can utilise those principles.’
‘I understand how important it is to be patient and let the animal come to me and never force the animal.’
‘I’m familiar with leash reactivity and know how to use distractions and training techniques if this occurs.’
‘I know how important it will be to ensure your animals’ gear is correct and that they are healthy.’
‘I know how to understand animals’ body language to give them space or help them with positive distractions as needed.’
‘I don’t have that problem, all animals warm up to me.’
‘Animals know I like them by my alpha energy.’
‘Well, I’ve never had an issue with that.’” – Katie Pape, owner of Windy City Paws in Chicago
3. Do you have a backup in case of emergencies?
“If someone is looking to hire and they hire someone in the neighbourhood or a family member or a friend to walk the dog or take care of their cat, and then that person has an emergency – if the person is not part of a team and doesn’t have a backup – then the pet parent is out of town and in a bind to try to find coverage. A red flag would be if there is no backup team member or reliable transportation.” – Lindsay Laughnan, owner of Raleigh Pawz in Raleigh and Asheville, North Carolina
4. What is your vetting process for pet sitters?
“With companies like Rover, Wag and such that operate like Uber, there is not much of a vetting process in the hiring process. Background check is something, but definitely not all.” – Fenner
“I would ask: First of all, how do you find your sitters and do you do background checks? Are they CPR-certified? Are they first-aid certified? [You want to check] that the company they are going through is a legit background check company.
What I look for – because I have 1099 contract workers – is to make sure they have no criminal history as far as theft. No bad driver records because they do a lot of driving, and I need to be able to know that they have valid drivers licenses, that they are able to work here [in the country] and they are over the age of 18. I provide training that they go through beforehand. It is a requirement that they come onto my team with CPR certification. It just gives that extra security for clients to know that ... in the event of an emergency, the sitter would know exactly what to do to maintain your pet’s health.” – Mark Carter, owner of This Lil’ Dog of Mine Pet Services in Austin, Texas
5. Do you have a website with reviews and prices I can see?
“If they are a legit company, they would have a website with their information, with their policies and procedures of how everything works. That will tell you the level of professionalism in any type of pet-sitting company. Most pet-sitting companies, they are going to go that extra mile to have a website so that you have something to go off of [to know] they’re not making up prices off of the top of their head.” ― Carter
Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.