As the Holidays are upon us, many of us are either looking to go home for the holidays, or escape the cold. Travelling often brings up one issue for pet owners: What do we do with Fido? Whenever possible, many pet owners choose to bring their pets with them, which is great, if it is possible! Sometimes, limited flights or hotels that allow pets, pets health concerns, or even convenience may inhibit the ease of travelling with your fur baby.
So now two options remain, a pet sitter, or a kennel?
Over the years I have had pets who I have had to leave at home to travel, and pet-sat for vacationers and travelers. Through these experiences, I have gained a few insights that could be helpful to you as you get ready for vacation, or that visit to home!
- Consider the environment
Whether you are choosing family, friends, kennel, or pet sitter, consider the environment. If you have a cat, you probably don’t want to leave him/her with someone who has allergies to cats, or owns several dogs. Even if the dogs are familiar with cats (and good with them), your cat may not be thrilled in his new environment. If you have a 3-month-old Golden Retriever, then your sister with 3 kids (that is running from daycare to soccer to ballet) may not appreciate having an energetic pup dropped on her doorstep. What’s more, is that your pup might not receive the attention and energy he needs, no matter how well-intended the gesture of taking him is. Be considerate of the people you are leaving the pet with, and how your fur baby might feel in their environment – or, are they willing / able to stay at your home? (Assuming the pet needs more attention than just being fed – this may not apply for a fish).
- Choose family first
Whenever possible, I’ve found that family who enjoy pets are happy to take them for a few days, maybe even up to a few weeks. If you have family nearby who are able and willing to take your pet, it’s probably the best bet. Your family knows how much you love your pet, and the best ways to get a hold of you in case of an emergency. Be considerate of your family too though! Most of the time my family has been kind enough not to take payment for looking after my pets, but they appreciate a token of appreciation like gifts from the places we visited.
- Ask family and friends for references
Okay, so either you don’t have family nearby, or for one reason or another they can’t take your furry friends or are just not the best fit. What now? Asking a friend to take a pet can sometimes be difficult, so ask for recommendations instead. This way, the people you ask for a recommendation have the opportunity to say ‘I’d be happy to take the pet for the week!’, or – you get a personal referral from someone you trust, without putting anyone on the spot. It’s a win-win-win.
- Check out the place/ people/ things
I’m always such a nervous nelly when leaving a pet behind. Will he be okay? Will he get all the attention he needs? Will he get into trouble, or get into something that will make him sick?
There are a few things you can do to ease these worries, and a good pet sitter shouldn’t mind them either.
- Ask for references.
- Have they looked after pets before? How did it go? Would the pet owners ask them to look after their pets again? Would the sitter do it again? Why or why not?
- Take a look around the place.
- Is there enough room for the pet? Is it clean enough, and things are put up and away that they could get into? Does the garbage can have a lid on it? Are there fish? (You don’t need any animosity between your sitter and cat while you are away – depending on your pet, consider their pets!).
- How does your pet fit in?
- Does your pet get along at least okay with the sitter? What about their pets, or children? They may not get along perfectly with everyone, but they shouldn’t be a threat to anyone in the household, and should get along with at least 1 individual fairly well.
Another thing to consider is payment. You can expect a kennel or professional pet care-taker will require it, but don’t assume friends and family don’t. Clear this up ahead of time, including terms (payment ahead of time, or once you return, or split? What method? Cash, e-transfer, or cheque?).
When I was a student and pet-sitting, I always appreciated weekly e-transfers. If a family was gone for several weeks, I always knew I had enough to cover any extra treats, food, transportation, or anything I needed while they were away. This kept both me and their fur-babies happy while they were away.
I have been very lucky to have family that don’t, but it is nice to offer, so they know that taking the pet in and caring for it is appreciated. If nothing else, bring back a little token of appreciation from your travels. I usually recommend things that can be used, alcohol, spices, sugar, coffee, whatever your destination is famous for! Make sure to double check things like duty allowances, or prohibited items when doing so!
If someone is staying at your house, also be clear on what they are, and are-not allowed to have. Can they eat your perishables in the fridge? What about your frozen ready meals like pizza pops or frozen taquitos? Do you expect they will eat them, or would you rather they didn’t? If the sitter is staying at your home, make sure to let them know!
- Finally, make sure the sitter has all of the resources required!
Like I said earlier, I’ve looked after quite a few pets, and have learned a few things I love having when the owners are away (and thank you to the lovely owners who taught me to ask for these things!!).
- Vet information!
- Things happen! Make sure you have the vets contact information, location, and a means of getting there! A record of vaccinations is often helpful, but what I have found very reassuring is owners who have left a credit card on file with their vet. Hopefully I never have to use it, but if I do, I don’t have to worry about my credit card limit, or having the funds for an emergency. Pet parents – this is important! No matter how young or old, things can happen. Make sure your sitter has the means to look after your pet in an emergency if you are away. The great thing about this is you can also leave information with your vet, like a pre-authorized amount (you can charge up to $2,000.00 while I am away if needed – please get in touch with me for additional amounts by phone and/or email).
- General instructions
- Write it down! Make it easy for the sitter, and re-assuring for yourself. If they have the instructions, everyone knows what is to be done, and how to do it. What time do they eat? How often? How much? Do they have any medications? How frequent, through what method are they given? Are they allowed any types of human food? How often are they walked / let out? This also helps keep your pet as on-routine as possible. Also, be sure to leave plenty of food and treats – there is no reason a sitter should be buying these for your pet, and by leaving a stock, you know there is no reason your pet will not receive the right kind/ amount.
- A back-up
- Although I’ve never had to use one, I have always appreciated having an “out”. Life happens. If for one reason or another, I can’t continue to care for the pet for the entire length of time, what do I do? Have a reliable kennel, or back-up option (like a family member who would rather not look after the pet, but would if needed) if possible. Provide the contact information to your sitter on the just-in-case – and the best way to keep you informed! Do you want a phone call if this happens? Or do you want to be emailed?
- Requested updates
- Be clear about your expectations for updates. You may not want updates every day while you are on vacation – but maybe updates every few days with a photo of your pet? Or maybe just if there is an issue or concern? This is up to you, and what you are comfortable with.
- Lastly – be available!
- You might be on vacation, but (like having kids) being a pet-owner does not stop completely. Leave a phone number and / or email, and let the sitter know the best way to reach you. That’s not to say leave your phone on at all times, but maybe make a commitment to check your email or social media account every day. Or have your phone on only for text messages (check with your provider about roaming charges though!). Just ensure there is a way for the sitter to reach you.
These tips are to provide secure mind for you, proper care for your pet, and ease-of-care for the sitter. Going away does not mean your pet needs to be locked up! Find the right option for you and your pet, and have fun!
What are some of your away-from-home pet sitting tips!? Is there anything specific that has helped you or been difficult for you as a traveller leaving a pet behind? As a pet-sitter?