For pet owners, it's great having a friend or relative watch Fluffy or Scamp while you're on vacation. But extra consideration is in order. This setup may be cheaper than hiring a pet sitter, but you can't put a price on a good — or strained — relationship.
Lizzie Post, spokeswoman for The Emily Post Institute (emilypost.com), brings not only etiquette expertise but also personal experience to the topic: This year she asked a friend to pet-sit her border collie mix, Benny, and her cats, Taco and Denim.
Where the pets will be cared for is key, she said. If you're expecting a friend to drive out of the way once or twice a day to your home, consider covering the cost of fuel. If you'll leave a pet at their house, you need to weigh other factors.
In either case, both parties should scrutinize the animal's personality and behavior. Does Muffin have accidents during thunderstorms? Does Daisy chew shoes? Will Hodgepodge behave differently at a sitter's house versus his home if certain conditions are not met?
"It's important to talk not only about your animals' routines, but also about the naughty things they do," Post said. "Be honest and upfront about needs and issues your pet may have, so your friend or family member can determine if they will be comfortable with it.
"You have to know your pet," Post said. "If it has a lot of quirks, you do not want to leave it with a novice pet person."
For that reason, hiring a professional pet sitter may offer peace of mind, said Beth Stultz, spokeswoman for Pet Sitters International (petsit.com).
Set the stage. "Preparation is key," Stultz said. If the sitter is coming to your place, have everything your pet needs in one visible area, such as pet food, water bowls, leashes, cat litter, toys, etc. Adjust your thermostat before leaving and advise your pet sitter within what range to keep it. Likewise, if you're delivering Scruffy to a friend's home, bring everything he'll need. And, because travel plans can change, pack extra supplies.
Are introductions necessary? If Fluffy is staying at the sitter's house, a preliminary visit is recommended; even if Fluffy knows your friend, she may not know other members of the household — including other pets. This will help the animal acclimate and also helps owners assess compatibility, according to the Pet Sitters International website. If the sitter is coming to your home, it's a good idea to have her stop by shortly before your trip.
Grooming: Unless the animal has a distinct odor problem, you don't need to arrange a full grooming. But the fur should be free of burs and tangles, and nails should be trimmed.
Protect pets and lighten your sitter's load by making sure animals are wearing ID tags (if they're not already microchipped).
Key point: If the sitter is coming to your home, leave an extra key with a trustworthy neighbor, advises the Humane Society of the United States website (hsus.org). Give your friend and the neighbor each other's phone numbers. And be sure the extra keys work.
Spell it out. Provide all relevant information in writing, including your pet's feeding schedule, veterinarian and emergency contacts, and any health problems, fears or behaviors unique to your pets (such as a favorite toy or hiding spot). "Explaining what you need to have happen when you are away is very important," said Post, who says Denim will not use the litter box if it's dirty. (And, as cat owners know, this can promote urinary tract infections.)
Spread the word. Contact your veterinarian to authorize your sitter as a pet's temporary caretaker.
Showing gratitude: Base the value of a gift for your sitter on the length and difficulty of the assignment, says Post.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun