If you’re in search of a pet sitter, perhaps one of the most important things you can do is watch out for red flags. A sitter who refuses an initial consultation or “doesn’t have time” to meet your pet is probably not the kind of person you want taking care of your furry one. Another worrying sign? A sitter who does not check in with you while you are gone.
“When I was a dog sitter, I used to send a text during each visit to let pet parents know what we did and how the dog was doing,” says Alyona DelaCoeur, a dog trainer, certified veterinary assistant and AKC Evaluator, and the founder of Why Does My Dog.
Before you go on to hire your next pet sitter, read a few funny—and pretty scary—pet sitter horror stories, and learn how you can avoid a similar disaster.
Lost Dog Nightmare
Vikki Mark of Coral Springs, Florida says she lived her worst nightmare when she left for a business trip to New York. “I was anxious about leaving my Westie with a pet sitter (he usually stays with my sister, but she was out of town that week), but the sitter had good recommendations and she seemed to click with my dog, so I booked her,” Mark explains. Mark adds that she was very clear about never letting her dog off the leash, as he is prone to taking off after phantom scents or to chase after random squirrels.
On the second day Mark was away, she received a phone call from the pet sitter. Despite Mark’s warning the sitter had let the dog off the leash because “he seemed fine” and he immediately took off and disappeared. Mark took the train back into town early and searched for the dog for days. “He turned up at a local shelter almost a week later,” Mark says. “I’m so happy that I microchipped him when he was a puppy!”
Traumatized Cat Catastrophe
When Lorri Isaac of Renton, Washington, hired a pet sitter to look after her cat for a weekend, she went with somebody a friend had recommended. “The daily reports seemed to indicate everything was fine but when I got back, Trixie was hiding under a wardrobe and wouldn’t come out,” Isaac says. “It took almost a week before she started to act normal again.”
It was then that the pet sitter admitted that the first day she stopped by, she brought her own dog along – a massive 140-lb. St. Bernard. Apparently, Kitty wasn’t fond of dogs and it took her a while to get over the shock.
An Unplanned Haircut
When his dog Gus was six months old, Nick Braun of Columbus, Ohio took him to a very well respected boarding facility because they wanted him to be comfortable. “My wife and I were only going to be gone for three days and two nights but it was his first time in a new place,” Braun remembers.
Upon their return on Sunday, Braun and his wife were shocked when they brought Gus out and his fur had been buzzed off. “Apparently they had Gus confused with another dog and took the shears to him,” Braun says. “It was a funny mishap but I will never forget the horror on my wife’s face that day!”
The No-Show Sitter
When Lucie Sotelo of Frisco, Texas, returned from her trip two days earlier than expected (because of a family emergency), she didn’t have time to warn her pet sitter in advance. “I figured she would show up that evening and I would let her know I was home and she didn’t have to come the next day,” Sotelo says. Too bad the pet sitter never showed up to walk Sotelo’s Cocker Spaniel that evening.
“My original intention had been to just pay her the full amount but tell her she didn’t need to come the last two days of our agreement,” Sotelo says. “I still wonder just how many times she actually showed up and gave my dog any kind of attention while I was gone. I was furious.”
Diabetic Dog Disaster
Leeann Madsen of Grand Forks, North Dakota, has a dog that needs to follow a very specific feeding schedule. “She’s diabetic and also has gastrointestinal issues, so she shouldn’t eat regular treats, table food or basically anything besides her prescription food,” Madsen says. “She also needs insulin on a regular basis.”
Despite hiring a pet sitter who confirmed having experience with diabetic dogs, the sitter forgot to give the dog her insulin the first day and then fed him bites of pizza. “Dex got sick and the pet sitter ended up driving him to the vet hospital and then refusing to pick him up,” Madsen says. “I came home to a very stressed dog and a huge vet bill.”
How to Avoid Pet Sitting Problems
To avoid any of the above scenarios from happening to you and your beloved pets, take head of the following advice:
Look for the right experience. The best way to avoid disasters is to make sure you choose the right pet sitter from the beginning. And that starts by picking somebody with the right level and quality of experience. “There is nothing in particular you want to look for, but you want to know that this sitter has taken care of [pets] before,” DelaCoeur says. “Walking a lot of dogs is not enough, look for someone who has experience in a training environment or has read, studied, or researched behavior.”
Ask for proof of insurance. Another thing you should expect from a professional pet sitter? Insurance and liability coverage. “You should also consider whether they have bond coverage in the event something goes missing in your home,” DelaCoeur says. “Do not be afraid to ask for proof. A professional sitter will show you their copy or refer you to the information.” In addition, DelaCoeur recommends picking a pet sitter that is licensed in your city or state—a sign that they run a business and aren’t just pet sitting as a hobby.
Be clear about your pet’s needs. During the first meeting with your potential pet sitter, you should discuss your pet’s needs in detail and make sure the sitter can handle them. “The more your pet sitter knows about what to expect from your [pet] in advance—say, for instance, a phobia or bad habit—the better able the sitter will be to recognize and safely handle the situation if and when it arises,” says Jeffrey Lauterbach, CEO of CritterSitters, Atlanta’s largest network of pet sitting and dog walking services.
Be upfront about medications and behavior issues. It’s also important to discuss any phobias your dog may have and divulge important medical information such as allergies, seizures, and injuries, adds DelaCoeur. “Discuss your pet’s hiding spaces—especially with cats,” she says. “And discuss any abnormal behaviors that are normal to your dog; for example the dog ‘smiling and talking’ when you arrive so the sitter does not take it as dog is growling and showing his teeth.”
Leave written instructions. Once the interview process is done and you’ve found the perfect pet sitter, you should still put everything in writing. “You should leave the pet sitter detailed information, in clear handwriting, in a place that’s easy to find,” Lauterbach says. “This information should include your dog’s medications, feeding instructions, your vet’s contact information and address, and contact information for a trusted neighbor, or nearby friend or relative.”