Whole Dog Journal's Blog June 10, 2012

How NOT to Hire a House Sitter

Posted at 12:01AM - Comments: (38)

My husband and I recently went on vacation for a week. I hired an acquaintance to house-sit and take care of all the animals while we were gone. She had performed this task for us many times before, although not for about two years. But she and our dog Otto were familiar with each other, and she knew all the plants in our yard and garden that needed watering (the last time we went on vacation, we had hired someone else, and half of our azaleas died for lack of water while we were gone), so it seemed like a good idea. She is actually between jobs and staying with a friend right now, and told us that she’d appreciate having a place of her own to live in for the week. The one possible hitch in the plan was that she was bringing her young Pit-mix dog.

I wasn’t actually that worried about the dog. I had met him about a year and a half before, when he was a little puppy, and it seemed like she was socializing him well. Otto generally does well with young, playful dogs, and the dog lives with a cat, so I figured my cats would cope. However, I was surprised to see, when she showed up at our house – only about 10 minutes before we had to leave for the airport, instead of the hour I had asked for – that the dog was still intact. Ah, she had been meaning to get around to neutering him, just hadn’t found the time or money at the right time.

As I said, we had only about 10 minutes to gauge how well the dogs would get along – and go over all of our instructions – before we HAD to be on the road to the airport. The first indications were good. The young dog seemed friendly and playful, and bounced around with Otto, offering a few play bows. Tito the Chihuahua bristled and growled at the much-bigger dog – and the dog backed off. “Okay, fine, you’re no fun.” Otto himself seemed interested and playful, too – no bad vibes. The cats were up on a table on the back porch, and the dog gave them a few glances, but didn’t have a “cat killer” kind of intense response at all. I had to cross my fingers and get in the car.

Several times while we were gone, I texted the house sitter and asked about everyone. She posted a few pictures of a happy Otto to her Facebook page and said everyone was “fine.”

When we got home after midnight a week later, Otto and Tito were overjoyed to see us.  They looked fine, and the whole garden, azaleas included, looked great. The chickens were fine. But there was no sign of my cats. And no sign that the cats had eaten ANY of the food I left. Oh crud.

I woke up super early the next morning (still on east coast time) and went outside and called for my kitties. One appeared rapidly, meowing up a storm and startling at every little noise. She was much thinner than when we left (admittedly, she was a little overweight previously). The other cat took a few more hours to venture back into my yard. He, too, was noticeably spooky and thinner. So, the guest dog obviously spent the week chasing the cats out of their own yard. I was hoping that was all the bad news.

Then I got a report from one of my next-door neighbors. “Otto was so sad while you were gone!” she told me over our fence. “He barked and barked and barked all night! I kept going outside to tell him everything was ok, but he just kept barking!” Otto doesn’t really like her, so this wasn’t a tactic that was bound to work; he barks at her once or twice every night in the wee hours, when she goes out in to smoke cigarettes on her patio, adjacent to the deck where Otto sleeps. Then she added that another neighbor (who also smokes outside late at night!) had asked her if she knew why Otto was barking; Otto was keeping him up all night. I asked, “Didn’t our house-sitter come out to talk to him or bring him inside?” and she said, “Well, I don’t want to tattle, but she wasn’t there every night.” Grrr.

I received the final bad news from my next door neighbor on the other side of our house a few days later. Apologizing in advance, I asked her if she had heard much barking. She said she hadn’t noticed it much (she’s on the far side of the house where Otto sleeps). But she mentioned that she saw that the guest dog was chasing my cats out of my yard into her yard, so she fed them whenever she saw them. (THANK you!) And then she added that one day, with the house-sitter absent, she heard a commotion and went into her back yard to see what was going on; she saw the guest dog and Otto in a fight that lasted over a minute – and that Otto was definitely the loser. “I felt so bad; he ran off yelping. I couldn’t do anything with the gates locked,” she said. Well, she could have CALLED ME; she has my cell phone number! Poor Otto! I thanked her for looking out for the cats, and apologized for the barking again.

I can’t tell you how bad I felt for Otto (and my cats, and the neighbors). Unwittingly, I made a number of errors in trying to do the right thing for my animals while I was on vacation. Using a house-sitter has always seemed like the best thing to do for a whole house full of pets. However, next time, I would definitely say that no other dogs were welcome. Period.  (Even though another time I used another house-sitter – a couple, actually -- and they brought their dog, and it worked out fine… But no more. And I guess if I ever hire a house-sitter again, I would make it crystal clear that I expected the sitter to actually stay there all night, each night.  And I would explicitly ask all of my neighbors to call me if they observed anything awry while I was gone!

Have you ever had similar issues with a house sitter, whether as a paid service or a friend or relative? What lessons did you learn that could prevent future problems?

Comments (34)

If you use a real professional pet sitter, someone who carries insurance ans has certification through a reputable organization, this would most likely never have occurred. I am a pet sitter and always do a meet & greet well before the job and bring my dog at least 2 times prior to the job. Many clients also have web cams in the "dog room" so they can check in on pets but without infringing on my privacy. I think in order to be safe, never have an unfamiliar large breed dog around small animals- the 25 pound rule. And definitely never an intact male - not ever! Even a small dog is likely to mark everywhere.

Posted by: miss 415 | January 28, 2015 8:50 PM    Report this comment

I like how Nancy points out that the breed of dog the sitter brought over is a "pit-mix". Really? Was that necessary? Are you 100% sure it had "pit" even in the breed? Oh that's right. You just call them a "pit-mix" because of what they look like. The breed of dog had NOTHING to do with Nancy's lack of disregard for leaving her cats to fend for themselves OUTSIDE. Nor does breed have anything to do with what many dogs do, which is chase cats. Just another way for Nancy to plug her dislike for bully breeds and show us how great of an animal lover she is by keeping her domestic cats OUTSIDE.

Posted by: Therapy Dog Mom | October 1, 2013 11:20 AM    Report this comment

I am an in-home groomer in Miami, Fl and have been housesitting (primarily for clients) for 30 years. The reasons I hear for using a professional are varied: 1) clients don't want the neighbors going through their underwear drawer (really, someone did that); 2) they want their feeding/care instructions/ visiting schedule followed as requested; 3) it's not easy to medicate cats; 5) not everyone likes reptiles (I did wildlife rescue for 15 years); and finally: 6), with a professional, YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR.
On a local care-finder site, a woman said she wouldn't pay anyone to stay in her house because, " you would be using (her) water and electricity." Good luck with that--I not only commit to stay there for 12 hours (6 pm to 6 am), but I also run my own house and business concurrently. If someone wants me there for 24 hours (2 clients), I charge a flat fee and put the rest of my life on hold.
If it was easy, anyone could do it--kind of like grooming.......

Posted by: Laura S | May 9, 2013 5:48 AM    Report this comment

I am an in-home groomer in Miami, Fl and have been housesitting (primarily for clients) for 30 years. The reasons I hear for using a professional are varied: 1) clients don't want the neighbors going through their underwear drawer (really, someone did that); 2) they want their feeding/care instructions/ visiting schedule followed as requested; 3) it's not easy to medicate cats; 5) not everyone likes reptiles (I did wildlife rescue for 15 years); and finally: 6), with a professional, YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR.
On a local care-finder site, a woman said she wouldn't pay anyone to stay in her house because, " you would be using (her) water and electricity." Good luck with that--I not only commit to stay there for 12 hours (6 pm to 6 am), but I also run my own house and business concurrently. If someone wants me there for 24 hours (2 clients), I charge a flat fee and put the rest of my life on hold.
If it was easy, anyone could do it--kind of like grooming.......

Posted by: Laura S | May 9, 2013 5:47 AM    Report this comment

I am a petsitter/housesitter, and I can only imagine what hell this must have put you through. I have seen many people talking about travelling with their animals, and if you can do this it is always great to have your furry family with you. I do have my own animal but he does not stay with me when I am housesitting. He does come to visit during the day on occasion but only after the dogs have met each other and if the home owner has given consent. When the owners are gone these animals become my responsibility and it is something that I take very seriously. You should always give your neighbours a heads up that you will be away and ask then to contact you if they think anything is wrong, and don't hesitate to call on them yourself. I often tell clients that if they want to have someone come over and check on things while I am there I have no problem giving them my time and showing them what is going on. I am always trying to be as transparent as possible so that my clients don't worry. I rarely have clients who don't feel comfortable with me the first time and I have never had anyone ask to check on things the second time. A Pet Sitter should be asking detailed questions. A big indicator of their experience and their commitment is the questions that they ask. You can also check sites like Pet Sitters International who have listings of sitters in your area but also guides on how to choose a good and reliable pet sitter. My clients often joke that their dogs are sad for a few days after I leave, and that to me is a sign of a good sitter. Your animals should want to be with them. I have nothing against kennels and I have taken my own dog to kennels before. He loves the socialization so it is a good choice for him. I have also used other sitters. You need to find what works best for your dog and then to find the best person to provide it. Always have a meeting well before you decide on the sitter to see how they interact with your animal and never discount any feelings of trepidation that you may have. Gut instincts can be very helpful when choosing someone to look after a very important part of your family. I hope that everything goes well next time you decide to travel. Don't let one bad experience stop you from doing what you want, just learn from it and next time you can be sure that you choose the right person for your pets.

Posted by: rustic | May 8, 2013 11:55 AM    Report this comment

We hired a highly recommended house sitter, a former vet tech, to stay at our house with 8 cats and two dogs. One of our cats, a senior, had diabetes and required daily medicine.I called her every day, but one day I could hear a bird in the background. She told me she had just picked up a client's bird to take to her house. When we arrived home on a hot July afternoon, her car was in the driveway with two dogs she was sitting for in the back with the windows open only a crack. I was very upset about this because the dogs in her car were in danger of heat exhaustion. It was so hot that she had opened all the windows in the house. She told me she had doubled the diabetic cat's medicine. The vet she had worked for later told me that she did things like that, going against the vet's orders. What I learned: always check the reputation of a vet tech and NEVER hire a sitter who takes care of multiple pets while sitting for you. This same pet sitter, while taking care of a friend's two dogs, took them to another client's house where the dogs were so upset that they messed on the bed. My friend found out about it when the owner of the house called her to complain. I learned about this after she sat for me. Now I take my dog with me when I travel and have a trusted employee stay at the house to care for my cats, who stay indoors. I call every day to check on them and all has been well.

Posted by: Victoria O | May 7, 2013 6:19 PM    Report this comment

This was a setup for failure from the start, with wildly inadequate screening and apparently nothing put in writing. I run a home boarding business in Colorado and we hear a few of those disaster stories every year from clients who confused trust with knowledge and detailed screeening. Now they'll "never ask a friend again." Sadly, sometimes the outcome is much worse than this tale. I very much appreciate her honesty, so others can learn from her story.

When we get those dozens, sometimes more than a hundred calls at holidays after we're already full, from people begging for help because "everyone is full" we try to educate people to be savvvy about screening their friends and neighbors to step in. It MUST include the pets and meeting any dog long ago as a young pup doesn't even count as having met the dog.

If you are sending your dog to stay with friends or neighbors, besides having detailed info about your dog in writing--yes, as thorough as if you were using a professional service--be sure you've screened every single member of the house, whether two or four-legged, winged or slithering. Are you okay with your "sitter" bringing others into your home? If your dog is going to their home, have you inspected their home, fence and yard for hazards and soundness? A bad gate latch or a launching pad like a compost bin next to a fence can make "stairs" for your dog to jump out and in either case be killed in traffic. There are a hundred things to ask about. ASK, as if you were taking your toddler for care.

Seriously, more than ninety percent of "accidents" aren't accidents at all, but sad stories born of inattention and neglect. These things happen every day. You take care of the details and all will be well. Cutting corners is signing up for disaster and you first, are responsible for any harm done.

Posted by: Cheri Hoffer of Canine Campovers, LLC | May 7, 2013 1:33 PM    Report this comment

We bought a small motorhome many years ago when I came to the realization that my dogs could no longer stay with my parents due to dad's hearing loss and mom's arthritis. It was a great decision and tho expensive we've never really regretted it. Our dogs go on vacation with us and have traveled many, many miles with us. We also show our dogs in AKC obedience and conformation at dog shows in nearby states. We take precautions when leaving them to visit attractions a/c on with additional fans in case of generator failure etc. We never leave them alone in campgrounds, always pick up after them. I kud I'll never get to Ireland( home of my ancestors) because the motorhome won't 'float' that far, but that's OK. The dogs are with us, safe and happy and that's what counts.

Posted by: AnnM | May 7, 2013 1:05 PM    Report this comment

Well, I must add that boarding a dog can be the very best option available! I happen to know, because I own and run one of those great kennels! I have been boarding dogs for over 23 yrs., been "in" dogs one way or another for over 30 years, and have many repeat clients that truly appreciate what I offer. I am totally enlightened when it comes to vaccination, I am small, and my guests all have their own indoor space, play space and a beautiful, large grassed yard for socializing, IF they are sociable. I specialize in individual care, have a lovely facility, and keep a clean, stress-free environment. Classical music is the order of the day and the dogs love it.

I can't tell you how many times I have heard these horror stories of less-than-perfect house sitters and supposed caretakers that have actually permanently lost dogs/pets they were supposed to be caring for. The last one, just last week. The dog was let out and was hit and killed by a car.
The owner's comment to me was, "I just wish I'd left her with you!" So do I!

Oh, and I'm no more expensive that the other kennels in the area that consistently throw a lot of dogs in a yard and hope for the best! You wouldn't believe how many lovely dogs/clients I have acquired over the years because the dogs were deemed unsuitable for these places and thrown out.....stupid kennel owners who know nothing about canine behavior.

So, that said, there ARE kennels out there that are really worth checking out. I do no advertising, but work through referrals, so ask a lot of people, vets, friends, pet supply stores, etc., about their arrangements when they leave their pets, and you just might find ME! Lucky you, if you do!! Just remember to do a LOT of homework before you leave your pets with anyone. I know sometimes reliable help is difficult to find, but it is out there!

Posted by: VALERIE H | May 7, 2013 10:13 AM    Report this comment

I am so sorry to hear this. I am a professional pet care giver and trainer. I have run a safe , fun place near Zion National Park for over 20 years. We individualize each dogs day. Please just take your time choosing your vets sitter or boarding facility. And always have a plan B especially if your sitter is solo and has no back up. I am really concerned about Rover.com. You must do your home work you are your dogs or pets voice.

Posted by: Filomena D | May 7, 2013 9:43 AM    Report this comment

ps although safer, I am never going to board either. Too stressful for all, and too many untrustworthy people.

Posted by: robin r | May 7, 2013 9:24 AM    Report this comment

My pup(s) are my kids. So I would never leave with any uncertanties. Nothing matters more. I have friends, I have family, and at this point I wouldn't trust anyone to take care of my little one. Overprotective? Maybe. But I would never forgive myself if harm came to my little one in my absence, especially if I were an airplane ride away. I miss my sister who visits rarely, but she is not the one who is there for me every day and night. So when I go on vacation I find a pet friendly hotel and take her with me. Then it is a real vacation.

Posted by: robin r | May 7, 2013 9:23 AM    Report this comment

I have one dog,Remy and one cat, Keegan. When ever possible, We take Remy with us. But whenever we have to fly, Remy has to stay home. I always check out the facility first without Remy. Then I bring him for an interview. If the interview goes well, then we do a day care stay. REferences are always checked.
And the most important thing I do is have a backup. Someone I can contact to physically check on him. Keegan prefers to stay home. For trips 1 week or less, she stays home and I have someone visit. She has an automatic waterer and fountain for water. I leave out 2 litter boxes just in case something bad happens. The last time we went away for 2 weeks we brought her to my inlaws. She just hid for the two weeks so I know if wasn't the best for her, but I knew that she would be cared for. We also had a backup facility, just in case they couldn't care for her. It is key to have backups, just in case.

Posted by: Remysmom | August 7, 2012 11:42 AM    Report this comment

Care of the animals (in our case dogs) is not the only important issue. We used a vet tech we knew to stay at our house & care for the dogs on the few occasions we needed to leave them home. We were very happy with her. Well, until the time she asked if she could bring her nephew who was visiting. We (easily) gave permission. Arrived home to find that this boy, who, it turned out, was a troubled kid, had nearly burned our house down. (We heat with wood & he had put a box of matches on top of the woodstove.) We also learned that he had been firing a rifle at coyotes which came down to our fenced yard. (Yes, we do have coyotes, but have NEVER seen them near our yard.) Needless to say we have not had a pet sitter since.

Posted by: DEBORAH A | June 30, 2012 2:59 PM    Report this comment

I have a wonderful licensed, bonded, dog sitter that I have used for 15 years. I trust her and she has always been great. My dogs cannot be boarded (wouldn't do that anyway) due to health issues so being at home is great and less stressful for them and for me. The sitter comes 2 times daily and feeds and plays with the dogs. I dog sit for all of my neighbors as they know their dogs will be well taken care of, mostly I bring the dogs to my house and they become our guests for however long the neighbors are away and I do it for free because I love the dogs(I would make a fortune if I charged) but I don't think they would ever consider hiring a pet sitter and having to pay. The neighbors have volunteered to feed my dogs when I am away but they are not as attentive as I would like so I prefer the pet sitter even though it is expensive. It always amazes me that caring for their dogs is usually an after thought for my neighbors and left to the last minute to ask me. A good pet sitter is well worth the money if you are a concerned pet owner and the pet is truly "one of the family"

Posted by: Carol M | June 13, 2012 3:07 PM    Report this comment

I am so sorry to hear about your experience. I own a small pet care services company (four employees and me) and it's always very upsetting to hear these stories. Unfortunately, I hear them pretty frequently. I urge potential clients to always asks for several references and actually contact those references. It's also a good idea to ask for proof of insurance since many petsitters say they're insured but really aren't. Important (and telling) questions to ask when screening potential petsitting companies include what kind of training their employees undergo, what qualifications they require, how long they've been with the company, what kind of techniques they use (give an example: what would they do if the dog snapped at them when they went to put the collar on?) and whether or not they have a handbook or other formal document in place stating their policies on what is and is not expected of them in the course of their job. I tell all of my employees to behave as if the client is home with them at all times, and to assume there is a nanny-cam somewhere ;).

So many people hire friends, neighbors or friends of their kids' to care for their pets while they're away. While I'm sure these arrangements usually work out fine and these pet owners save a few dollars, these people may lack the skills and experience necessary to know when something is wrong and what action to take. Loving animals is critical, but it's not the only important aspect to caring for other peoples' pets.

Good luck and I hope you are able to find a good petsitter going forward.

Jill Freifeld
Happy Hound Pet Care, Inc.
Silver Spring, MD

Posted by: JILL F | June 13, 2012 7:02 AM    Report this comment

Hamsters Dead
Rabbit near death.
All plants dead.
Cats VERY hungry.
House flooded.

The pet sitter came around every 3-4th day to feed/water the cats and clean the litter box. She flushed the cat litter!! Enough to cause pipes to back up and eventually burst. The rabbit and hamsters she never even looked at. The neighbors said they saw her come the first week or so, not at all the last week before we came home. Water filled up the forced air vents in the floors - flooding the furnace. Went through the floor and caused the ceiling below to come crashing down. The main level of the house was 2 feet deep, the (formerly finished) basement had 5-6 feet of water.

This was with a "professional" pet/house sitter that worked for a pet/house setting company. Our insurance company went after them for damages. The vet bill was well over a $1000 but my rabbit was saved. The cats had been with out food for 7-10 days, but they at least had plenty to drink.

Posted by: Kate S | June 12, 2012 8:25 PM    Report this comment

In 1999, I had a housesitter watch my three dogs. She was single parent who I met at church who was living with her parents. So this would be a break for her. I had feeding instructions and everything.

The oldest dog collapsed with about one week left in my overseas vacation. To her credit, she called for help and our church friends got the dog to my Vet where he stayed until I got home.

But to add salt into an already emotional wound: when I got home and my smallest dog came running to see me, I could have died. She was twice her size in three weeks. It seems that the housesitter fed her twice the amount of food listed in the instructions.

Posted by: Jewell H | June 12, 2012 5:28 PM    Report this comment

Ugghhh. Just terrible. I'm really sorry you and your pets went through this. I have had unsatisfactory pet care, too. As a result, I haven't taken a vacation that didn't include my pets for several years now. That makes my vacation kinda stressful, but my three dogs sure find it to be a lot of fun!

I'm glad that your neighbors were understanding of the situation for the week, and as helpful as they were able to be toward your poor cats.

Posted by: Natalie H. | June 12, 2012 2:17 PM    Report this comment

As a professional Pet Sittter for 25 years, I can only mention the many clients acquired after the disastrous results they had with neighbors, friends, and the always changing 'High School/College Student'. Even if they are paid the going rate of a professional(unlikely), they do not have the responsibilty or obligation to put the needs of your household above their own.This is especially important for a multi-pet household, and yours is not that big. Stick with an experienced professional who does this work for a living and presents a caring but business-like attitude toward your furry family. Cardinal Rule- no other pets or people are allowed in the client's home.

Posted by: JENEVA O | June 12, 2012 1:10 PM    Report this comment

We do not board our dogs; they always come with us as we always go camping. If we visit someone who doesn't like dogs, we just camp out in their driveway and visit with them at our "campsite." This is a rare occurrence as, with only one exception, everyone loves our dogs. They are very well behaved!

We do board our cat at a high end, well staffed pet spa which is across the parking lot from our Vet. In our cat's condo he has his own window and bird feeder just outside. He is also free to roam around the whole room several times a day (the various cats in residence take turns). There is a 24 hour a day camera which can be accessed online. They love him there. He is one of the few non-aggressive cats.

I have been the pet sitter of choice for my neighbors for several years. I was told their one dog was aggressive and had bit the previous caretaker. They warned me that their dogs fought over their food on a daily basis. I have never had a problem with their dogs or their cat. I disobeyed their instructions and fed their dogs separately. No fighting, no problem. I was also told I could not walk them at the same time as they would pull my arm out of my socket. I walk them together and they do not pull me. If they walk calmly next to me, treats appear.

There came a time when my husband could not be home to care for our crew for several days while I was doing my caretaking job. I had to bring my dogs with me (our cat stayed at our house). My dogs are not cat or dog aggressive, but I knew from behavior exhibited outside that their dogs wanted to attack mine. I took over baby gates and played musical dogs. It worked very well and their dogs responded well when really great treats appeared when they behaved well when my dogs were near the gates. Eventually I desensitized them (it took a while).

All the years I have cared for their pets, I have been training them. They respond much better for me and I am now able to have all the critters loose in the house without a problem and take all the dogs on walks together. They all sleep next to me at night.

The dogs are NEVER loose if I am not there (grocery store run or doctor appointment). All the critters are reinforced for positive behavior. I take better care of their critters than they do. I actually saved their one dog's life when she had a stroke one morning. I have had pet CPR classes from the Red Cross. I have dealt with a flea infestation at their house which I wasn't told about until they were walking out the door. Their poor dogs had massive open oozing sores from the flea bites. I have brushed out their badly neglected coats, bathed them, trimmed their over grown nails, and cleaned their ears. They love the massages I give them. The owners are surprised that their dogs do not bark when I come to their door, they wag their tails.

I actually demand more information from them than they think to give me, and I make them write it all down so I don't have to remember.

Make sure you are asking the right questions and make sure the prospective caretaker is asking the right questions. There are dream caretakers out there. Just make sure you have one.

Don't you wish I was your neighbor? LOL

Posted by: ThrpyDogTeam | June 12, 2012 12:47 PM    Report this comment

Thank you for sharing this story with us. It's always stressful going on vacation and entrusting our loved ones to people, even close friends and family. When I was a child we used to send our dog to this farm in Gilroy he always seemed fine when we took him home until one trip when we picked him up it was raining. He was outside in the cold in a kennel that wasn't really covered and he was sitting in his own urine! We never took him back after that. Our dog loved the vet so we had him stay at the vet after that and he would hang out at the desk all day with people and then at night he would go in the crate and he was so funny if he had to pee he would manage to pee outside the crate. Now that I'm an adult I have my parents watch my cat while I'm gone and I bring my dog to a friend who spoils her dog like crazy or I bring him to his breeder to have so much fun with his original family on the farm. I also have family friends young adult children who are capable of watching the pets. In the end though I just try not to travel that often because it's hard for me to leave my pets. After all we are the only voice they have and if something happens we bear the responsibility. Unfortunately I think incidences like these happen a lot and we just have to move on and make sure we do our best for next time. I think the plan you have in place is a really good one and I hope things go smoothly next time.

Posted by: Avital W | June 12, 2012 12:32 PM    Report this comment

Thank you for sharing this story with us. It's always stressful going on vacation and entrusting our loved ones to people, even close friends and family. When I was a child we used to send our dog to this farm in Gilroy he always seemed fine when we took him home until one trip when we picked him up it was raining. He was outside in the cold in a kennel that wasn't really covered and he was sitting in his own urine! We never took him back after that. Our dog loved the vet so we had him stay at the vet after that and he would hang out at the desk all day with people and then at night he would go in the crate and he was so funny if he had to pee he would manage to pee outside the crate. Now that I'm an adult I have my parents watch my cat while I'm gone and I bring my dog to a friend who spoils her dog like crazy or I bring him to his breeder to have so much fun with his original family on the farm. I also have family friends young adult children who are capable of watching the pets. In the end though I just try not to travel that often because it's hard for me to leave my pets. After all we are the only voice they have and if something happens we bear the responsibility. Unfortunately I think incidences like these happen a lot and we just have to move on and make sure we do our best for next time. I think the plan you have in place is a really good one and I hope things go smoothly next time.

Posted by: Avital W | June 12, 2012 12:32 PM    Report this comment

After many years of problems with house sitters and etc I have finally found the best way to have my pets cared for while I am out of town and that is to have them boarded at my Vetinery clinic, it is expensive but gives me peace of mind knowing they will be safe and sound and if a health problem arises they are at the right place to be cared for.

Posted by: ed L | June 12, 2012 12:15 PM    Report this comment

After many years of problems with house sitters and etc I have finally found the best way to have my pets cared for while I am out of town and that is to have them boarded at my Vetinery clinic, it is expensive but gives me peace of mind knowing they will be safe and sound and if a health problem arises they are at the right place to be cared for.

Posted by: ed L | June 12, 2012 12:15 PM    Report this comment

We had a similarly disappointing experience recently. We hired a dog sitter who came highly recommended by a friend. She was a nice person -- quirky, but smart and funny -- and we were willing to look past some initial flakiness (including not showing up for the first appointment she made to come and meet the pup) because our friend spoke so highly of her. We shouldn't have. She was difficult to contact-- voice mail, text and email were equally ineffectual -- and when we did talk with her, her communication skills were terrible...she spent half of every phone call baby-talking to our dog instead of to us and when she did talk to us, it was obvious she had not read the instructions we left her, even after I brought them up several times.

Note to any dog sitters who may be reading this:

If your client leaves you instructions, READ THEM, even if you've gone over the broad strokes in person before the gig. There will be vital details in those notes, and it's not too much to ask that you familiarize yourself with a single page of bullet-pointed text.

For instance, if the instructions say the dog gets two good walks, morning and evening...four smaller walks are not an acceptable alternative. That will only cause the dog to *expect* four walks every day for weeks after the owners return, driving said owners crazy and making them want to put a flaming bag of dog poo on your porch.

I could go on and on...actually, I guess I already have....Suffice it to say that although our dog was fine when we got home, we will not be hiring that sitter again.

Posted by: Laura C | June 12, 2012 11:56 AM    Report this comment

My husband and I, our PWC Bosun and Ninja Kitty lived for several years in the Carriage House of a lovely old Victorian belonging to long time, older friends. We frequently looked after their PWC, two cats and the main house when they were away. All the animals got along well together and went back and forth between the two houses. The time came when we people wanted to vacation in the UK together for several weeks and so we hired another long time friend and semi-professional house/critter sitter. She had often looked after the main house and it's animals before we arrived. Time had marched on for all of us, and our house sitter friend was now quite deaf, but was sure she could manage, especially since Bosun and Ninja were perfectly comfortable staying in the main house. At the last minute the house Corgi went off to stay with a relative for a weight reduction/exercise program, leaving one dog, three cats and a very large house in our sitter/friend's care. So off we went, letting her know we'd check in periodically by phone. When I could not get through to her for several days in a row and had no response to my increasingly frantic phone messages, I called a neighbor and asked her to check on things for us. Thank goodness she did! Our sitter had developed an infected knee and because the electric stair chair went out, was unable to care for the upstairs cats and could barely manage to look after herself. Bosun, who needed three potty walks a day wasn't getting them, and Ninja Kitty had not been seen for days. Fortunately our neighbor (allergic to cats and usually indifferent to dogs) came to everyone's rescue. She cleaned things up for the upstairs cats, heard frantic meowing from the uppermost attic and freed a slimmer and very pissed off Ninja. She then came over daily to check on everyone, including the house sitter, and to take Bosun home with her to spend afternoons in her large, fenced yard, a place he'd always wanted to explore. Fortunatly, it was a happy ending, but we've not hired a house sitter since!

Posted by: Kate R | June 12, 2012 11:48 AM    Report this comment

Nancy, as a professional pet sitter, dog walker, a PetTech CPR, First Aid & Care instructor, member of the Pet Professional's Guild, National Association of Professional Pet Sitters and PSI, and a five year professional pet sitting and walking business owner with employees, safety of all pets, the appropriateness of In Home professional pet sitting services for each pet based on personality, behavior and health, as well as the myriad of external influences and "requests" that clients give us all come into play when determining and establishing our services for each individual. A little later today I will compose a more formal letter to the editor on this subject but in the meantime, you can check out my blog post on some of the common issues/requests I get in my business that may be of help to you in determining first what a professional in MY industry looks like and second why its super smart to do your research first and not rely on friends family and acquaintences unless they are professionals as well.

Posted by: Theresa J H | June 12, 2012 11:47 AM    Report this comment

I highly recommend hiring a professional licensed and insured pet sitter. Verifying references from long term customers and local vets is your best bet. Go to petsitfinder.com and search by zip code. Lee

Posted by: Leeb | June 12, 2012 10:33 AM    Report this comment

Thanks for a great blog Nancy. What an unfortunate and upsetting experience. For many years we were convinced that the best thing for our two large dogs was to be in their own home whenever we were out of town. I have used numerous "petsitters" who were bonded; licensed; came with good referrals; knew my dogs and their routine very well; etc. After many bad experiences I have concluded that the only person who will treat my dogs with the care and love that I do is my sister. Unfortunately she lives 2500 miles away! You should NOT be worried about your animals when you are away--it is already difficult enough to have to leave them behind.
After much research, we found an excellent boarding facility that is staffed around the clock; is connected to a 24/7 emergency vet center; does not allow dogs to interact with each other (for reasons stated in your story); has a large play area; and a major plus--has a web cam so that you can view your animals at any time. This is the only facility in my area that is staffed 24/7 and that was a critical factor--who wants their animals left alone for up to twelve hours confined to a small indoor run? It was a journey to get to this point as there is no perfect solution to having to leave one's animals but I highly recommend it. We know that we will come home to healthy dogs and happy neighbors!

Posted by: IdahoKat | June 12, 2012 10:31 AM    Report this comment

I am with Olivia, I too have lots of dogs and they are both resident and fosters; I DO NOT board my dogs, I use a pet sitter and have had really good luck with the new one I found for last year's vacation; very good and trust her with my pets. Since I have multiple dogs of all different ages I have a long list of instructions and go over everything a few days ahead of time, she is really good with doing what is asked. I have had problems with boarding in the past (basically the only place to board here in my area is at a vet's office and was really peeved the one and only time I boarded my dogs, my shy baby ended up with a UTI and the vet at the time was a real bi*** about it). Because I do have a lot of dogs, most of the time I just don't go on vacation or if I do, its an at-home vacation, which to me is just fine, its a time to relax, catch up on things at home and not have to pay a pet sitter....I think everyone always has issues with either boarding or pet sitting in some form or fashion, they just aren't you and that is what your pets are used to.

Posted by: Kelli | June 12, 2012 10:14 AM    Report this comment

I always board just because I have very active dogs and don't trust anyone to give them the amount of exercise that they need. However, I did have a really bad experience with a neighbor I was paying to come over and let my dogs out mid-day. He was supposed to come over immediately after school (between 1:30 and 2:00) since I didn't get home from work until around 6. I arrived home around 5 one day and he was just coming out of the door. He had something to do after school and figured it would be okay! My dogs hadn't been out since I left for work at 7:15 am! He insisted that was the first time, but I just didn't trust him after that. I hired a professional sitter who was wonderful and reliable.

Posted by: CAROLYN E S | June 12, 2012 9:54 AM    Report this comment

I would add to prevent future problems, tell your neighbors that you will be gone, and if possible, have the pet sitter meet the neighbors. Pet sitter "knows" that neighbors will be watching, and neighbors will feel free to call you if they suspicion a problem. This has worked from me - all communication done in a friendly manner. And if pet sitter has a problem, knows that the neighbors are available to help.

Posted by: BARBARA C | June 12, 2012 9:33 AM    Report this comment

This is my worst nightmare. We have a lot of dogs..resident and fosters....and we always board them. It is very expensive we have had boarding bills of over $3000.00 but the facility was fabulous and I knew they were be well cared for. We did buy a vacation home on the OBX so we could take everyone with us. We are currently on the OBX with 9 dogs. Not exactly a relaxing vacation for us humans but it is fun to be with our best friends.

Olivia Bergner and the Pack on the OBX

Posted by: Olivia | June 12, 2012 9:26 AM    Report this comment

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