After 10 years of owning and operating the pet services agency Pattering Paws, Lynne Parriott has developed a respect for the bond between owners and their pets. “The pet may be the most important thing in this person’s life,” she says. “Pet sitters need to understand the client, as well as the pet.” And because pet owners care so strongly about their furry (or feathered) friends, it takes a lot of trust to place them in someone else’s care when they go away on a trip.

We asked several experts, and they all suggested meeting with the potential pet sitter—preferably in the pet’s home—before the job starts. One of the first things to determine is where the pet, and the sitter, will stay. Will the sitter spend the night with the pet, and if not, how often

will they visit? Pet sitter Kara Chapman says she sometimes brings the pets to her own home, or if the client prefers, she stays at their home and cares for other needs around the house, such as bringing in the

mail. “It helps because looks like there’s someone at the house, coming in and out and turning on the lights and being seen with the dog.” Staying at the owner’s home helps maintain the pet’s normal schedule and can be less stressful for the animal, she notes. In addition to caring for the pets, she often takes photos or video on her cell phone that she sends to the owner throughout the trip. “You can see them playing or sleeping. I think it’s cool that you can see what the dog is up to,” she says.

Kaya Gaut, owner of Kaya’s Pet Nanny Service, says references are a great way of getting to know more about a potential sitter. “Call someone the person has dealt with, and hopefully more than once,” she says. “Have a list of questions—not only did they take care of the dog, but did they respect your home, did they respect your privacy? Ask about the things that are important to you.” When you have an initial meeting with the sitter, pay attention to how they conduct themselves and whether they communicate with you well, she says. “A level of integrity is important when you’re staying in someone’s home,” she notes.

Whether you’re considering an individual or a pet-sitting company, Parriott suggests looking into their track record. “Look at the longevity of the company. You want a company that doesn’t have a high turnover in their employees; and if you use them more than once, it should be the same employee on a consistent basis.” Also, when they meet the dog, note how they’re interacting with it. If they’re not talking to the dog, petting it or offering treats, that might be a red flag, she says—unless the pet is extremely shy around strangers and obviously doesn’t want the attention.

Although it’s hard to leave your pet at home, “dogs transfer their affection faster than most owners would ever believe! Once the owner is gone, if you love on them and feed them, they’ll be jumping for joy when you come in the door,” Gaut notes. “It’s a rare dog that doesn’t warm up to you pretty quickly. I tell my clients that to help them feel more comfortable: It’s not like they’re abandoning their dog. The dog doesn’t feel abandoned as long as he’s loved and taken care of.”

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