By Nick Thomas
Families are frequently faced with a dilemma during the Christmas season: What to do with pets while out of town on vacation? Let’s face it, sometimes you just don’t feel comfortable imposing on a neighbor to take care of your pets. And as for family, well, could you really relax on the beach in Hawaii knowing that you have left your precious little poodle, Fifi, in the care of Cousin Bob, the over-zealous taxidermist?
While kennels offer an alternative for vacationing pet owners, animals will generally be happier staying at home in their own, familiar environment. So another solution to the vacationing dilemma is to hire a professional pet sitter.
With more than 6o million pet-owning households across the U.S. today, it’s not surprising that the professional pet-sitting industry has seen tremendous growth in recent years.
But finding a responsible pet sitter isn’t always easy. Advertising in the local newspaper is probably not wise. For example, the following ad: “We need someone to feed our pets while we are skiing in Vermont for two weeks” could easily be interpreted as meaning: “Our house will be vacant, please help yourself to our jewelry, electronics, and ‘Gilligan’s Island’ DVD collection.”
To find a reliable pet sitter in your community, there are several national pet-sitting organizations with lists of members all across the country. Pet Sitters International is the largest with thousands of members who can usually provide references from past clients.
Many professional pet sitters will likely be bonded and insured, and may also be required to be licensed, depending on the state. Often, they will have completed a short Red Cross course in pet first-aid. This is not to say you can expect them to untangle your 15-foot Burmese python who may have twisted himself into a Dutch marine bowline knot or perform mouth-to-mouth on your hamster found floating in its water bowl. But they will be able to quickly respond to a medical emergency or pet behavior problem and seek veterinary assistance when appropriate.
Most pet sitters will also walk dogs, give medications, and provide playtime to keep an animal’s routine as normal as possible during their owner’s absence. This helps to reduce stress, depression, and separation anxiety for the animals – and their vacationing, anxious owners.
Usually, pet sitters will also perform other minor household tasks such as watering plants, collecting the mail, rotating lights, and opening/closing curtains and blinds. These provide a home with a lived-in appearance and can reduce the risk of burglary. At your request, they would probably be happy to scatter dirty laundry and food scraps throughout the house to enhance that homey look.
Since pet sitters don’t usually charge additional fees for this service, be sensible with requests. Expecting them to re-shingle the roof in your absence is a little unreasonable.
So if a petless Christmas or New Year’s vacation is in your plans, consider hiring a professional pet sitter. In fact, don’t leave home without one.
(Thomas’ features and columns have appeared in more than 250 magazines and newspapers, including the Washington Post, LA Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle, and Christian Science Monitor. He can be reached at email@example.com).