March 5, 2014

Choosing A Professional Pet Sitter

Author: Kristin Skelton


Seven Questions You Should Ask When Choosing A Professional Pet Sitter

Professional Pet Sitters Week is coming up on March 2-8, 2014 and Floofins & Co. will be celebrating with our pet sitters across our service areas of Elmhurst, La Grange, Wheaton, Woodridge and Oak Park. Well, maybe we will just have to meet our sitters in the middle, like Downers Grove. In honor of this event, we thought it might be useful to put together some questions to help those that aren’t really sure what to ask when trying to find a professional pet sitter. Hopefully these items will help you either validate your current pet sitter or dog walker, or help you think through the process if you are new to the world of in-home pet care.

There are always a few initial buzz words that pop up when it comes to choosing any service, including choosing a pet care professional. These words include “insured and bonded” and “ICs/employees”.

1. Are You Insured and Bonded? It seems anyone new to the world of in-home pet care immediately asks if we are insured and bonded. While anyone can reply with a confident “yes”, what exactly does or should that cover? As a baseline, a professional pet sitter should carry commercial liability insurance to cover any negligence or damage to your pet or property. These lines of insurance can vary based on the amount of coverage they provide. A professional pet sitter should also carry a bond to cover theft. One thing, dog owners especially, should ask their potential sitter is if they have extended their liability insurance to cover dog walking/taking pets off of your property. This extension is important, obviously, for daily dog walking services or in the event your sitter needs to drive your pet off of your property in an emergency or for a planned grooming visit, etc. Another wild card that depends on the set up of the company is workers compensation insurance. If a company hires employees, this insurance would cover medical care/missed wages for your pet sitter if they were bit, slipped or fell on your property, etc. While discussing workers compensation, this brings me to another good question…

2. Are Your Sitters Independent Contractors or Employees? While this may be a moot point if you decide to hire an independent pet sitter, some companies are structured with a team of independent contractors (IC). Typically these folks are required to carry their own insurance, pay self employment taxes, and come to the table with previous experience in pet care as the amount of guidance or training an owner can provide them is minimal with this classification. Other companies utilize employees which means owners can have additional control regarding how a sitter performs their job. They can also require additional training. Often times this question of structure can be the cause of differences in pricing as additional taxes and insurance fees are required with the latter structure. While there are excellent sitters available that follow the IC model, most of the owners that hire employees feel the benefits outweigh the additional fees and paperwork. A typical service that you may find a fairly drastic price difference is an overnight pet sit that can include anywhere from 7-12 hours of a sitters time. A company with an IC on the job may be able to charge a substantially lesser rate for overnight care, while companies with employees are bound to minimum wage/overtime pay and other labor laws causing an increased rate for the same type of care. Speaking of overnight care, another great question is…

3. What Services Do You Provide? Be it vacation pet care, overnight vacation care or daily dog walking, companies sometimes provide similar services in different ways. Some companies provide extras for vacation pet care like mail pick up, plant watering, light and blind/curtain rotation, etc. Some provide timed visits, while some do not time visits and base times on the pet’s needs. Some charge for emergencies while others wrap that potential risk into the cost of service. Some provide add-on services like poop scoop and pet taxi as well as vacation updates while you are out of town. Discuss what is available and the details of what exactly is provided. Find what services and methods you are most comfortable with. When booking services, especially for vacation care, a question to ask is…

4. What is Your Back Up Plan? There are excellent private pet sitters in the field as well as excellent pet siting teams. The great thing about private pet sitters is, you know who is coming over. The bad thing, sometimes they don’t have a back-up plan or can, over time, experience burn out. The great thing about companies with teams is they usually have a back-up plan. The bad thing is that sometimes there may be a sitter you haven’t had a chance to meet providing the service due to illness, time off or an emergency. This question is really about the comfort level of the client. And speaking of scheduling, a question to pose is…

5. How Do You Manage Your Sitters Schedules? How do sitters track their visits/manage their calendars? Some sitters might use paper calendars, some may use their iPhone. Larger companies often have online software that is intended to eliminate scheduling mistakes and can also offer email confirmations and online billing. After understanding the tracking and technology your sitter might have in place, another thing to look at is…

6. How Do You Manage Keys? How are keys tagged, who has possession of keys and where are they stored? Look at sitters that take security seriously and provide measures to keep access to your home secure. And speaking of the people holding on to your keys, another inquiry should be…

7. What Are Your Hiring Practices or in the case of an independent sitter, what is your experience level? For individual sitters it is always good to ask about their experience with dog and cat behavior as well as experience with other types of pets. In the case of a larger company, learn the owner’s story and what made them open their doors to the public. What do companies look for in employees? Are they background checked and/or drug tested? How are they trained?

When getting ready to take the plunge into professional in-home pet care, it is best to do your preliminary research online and then speak with the potential choices on the phone. Most pet sitters and pet sitting companies are happy to speak with you and answer any and all questions you may have about the service. Many companies will require a new client meeting in order to make sure everyone is comfortable with the job and to ensure instructions are clear and contracts and required forms are signed.

Finding the right pet sitter is like finding a nanny for your fur kid. Take your time, but start your research early to ensure your travel dates are available. Be prepared to invest some upfront time to prepare yourself and your sitter so that you can feel confident while on your trip. With a professional pet sitter, your pet is sure to have a great time in their own home and be terribly spoiled when you return!

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