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Pet Sitter or Puppy Boarding?

by Dawn McMullan

All About Puppies

There are times when you go on vacation to a place that isn't conducive to bringing your favorite four-legged friend, and that means your puppy spends a few days in a boarding facility or overnight daycare—even though you wish more than anything he could be right by your side for the entire trip.

Just as nannies have become more common when it comes to watching children, pet sitters have helped to revolutionize the boarding businesses. By hiring a pet sitter, your puppy can stay at home while you're away, making the distance easier to handle--and more comfortable.

"It's just a known fact that if a pet stays home in familiar surroundings and is kept to his schedule as close as possible, owners come home to happy and healthy pets," says Linda Valentine, owner of While You R Away Pet Sitting in Ladera Ranch, Calif.

Finding someone you can trust with your puppy and your home is the tricky part of the equation. Experts recommend asking for referrals from friends, your veterinarian, or checking online. Therese Kopiwoda, owner of Austin, Texas-based, connects pet owners with pet sitters over the Internet. But just because a pet sitter is on a Web site doesn’t mean she is an automatic fit with you and your dog.

"You'll often find most pet sitters have their own personal Web sites," Kopiwoda says. "Read about that person to see if they give you a good feeling. The next step is interviewing."

During the interview process, Kopiwoda and other experts recommend asking the following questions:

  • Can you share your puppy and dog experiences? The pet sitter you choose should be someone who loves to be around furry friends, and has the experience to take care of them. Ask her questions about her own pets, ask about funny pet stories, and you can even ask her about experiences with other people's dogs or puppies. The goal is to find out how this person deals with pets. You can even give a scenario and ask the sitter how she would handle it.

  • What is your backup plan? If the pet sitter gets sick (or his child gets sick), there needs to be a backup person. Ask your sitter for a back up, and then find out as much as you can about that person.

  • What are your emergency procedures? Make sure your pet sitter has your veterinarian's information and knows where the local emergency clinic is. Pet sitters should call an owner (if time permits) in the event of an emergency.

  • Are you insured? Insurance covers you if your pet sitter accidentally breaks something inside your home, and it will cover an injury to your pet should something unexpected happen.

  • Do you have references? They should. Be sure to call every one of them.

  • How much time are you going to spend with my puppy? If the pet sitter is hired just to give your puppy a potty break once or twice during the workday, 10 minutes for each visit is reasonable. For longer trips, like if you're away on vacation, your pet sitter needs to spend a minimum of 30 minutes with your puppy several times a day. Be sure to tell the pet sitter some of the things your puppy enjoys doing (tossing the ball, going to the park, etc.) so she can be sure to spend her time with your best friend on those activities.

  • Are you certified in pet first aid and CPR? This is important in the event of an accident.

  • How do I get in touch with you? "They should be able to call that pet sitter at any time," Valentine says. "Maybe they'll get voice mail, but they should get an answer within a few hours. People call just to check on their pets for peace of mind."

Because a pet sitter is going to be an important part of your puppy's life while you're away, she should visit your house before the job begins. She should have a contract for you to sign and a list of questions, including information on walking and feeding routines, veterinary information, questions on any medicine your pet is taking, and anything else related.

"We actually require owners leave written instructions," Valentine says. "We've had everything from a short note to a three-page novel. We want to know where the leashes are kept, food, cleaning supplies. We have a complete checklist we go over." While the pet sitter is there, notice your puppy's reaction.

"If the pet sitter makes your docile, I-want-to-lick-everybody-in-the-face puppy bark and growl, that's a clue that they may not be the right person," Kopiwoda says.

When you return home, there will no doubt be a long, excited reunion between you and your best friend. Be sure to take a few moments to call your pet sitter so she knows you weren't delayed by weather or anything else unexpected. A good sitter won't finish the job until you are safely at home, trying to reclaim your side of the bed.

How did you find your puppy sitter?


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