When vacations beckon, finding reliable care for a beloved family pet is too often an afterthought, a detail to be left to a friend, neighbour or the teenager down the block.
It shouldn’t be, experts warn, and disasters can and do happen.
But with the right planning, a family holiday can be as enjoyable for the pets who stay home as it is for their travelling humans, said Beth Stultz, spokeswoman for Petsitters International, an educational organization for pet sitters with nearly 7,000 client businesses in 27 countries.
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“There’s a misconception that anyone can care for a pet, but it’s a lot tougher than it appears,” Stulz said.
Find a sitter who is experienced with animals, trained in basic first aid and insured, she said, and even if you know the person, it’s a good idea to have a signed contract with expectations clearly stated.
Rachel Bowers, owner of a pet-sitting company, Brooklyn Bark in Brooklyn, New York, says, “Friends often offer to help, but they tend to be flaky and bail at the last minute, or they show up but really don’t understand that dogs need to go out three times a day and cats need their litter changed regularly,” she said.
What to do with a pet while you’re out of town depends on the type of animal and its temperament.
Many people see their pets as family members and take them along on vacations. The North Carolina-based Tripswithpets.com provides details on pet-friendly travel options.
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But other animals don’t take well to travel: for example, dogs who suffer from motion sickness or stranger anxiety, or breeds prone to respiratory problems.
Kennels are a popular option, and range from modest to full-scale resorts. And then there is a home setting, either yours or that of a pet-sitter.
“Some kinds of dogs, like older or very young dogs, or dogs with special issues, are better off being cared for at home,” said John Caro, owner of Camp Bow Wow, a “vacation camp” for dogs in Stamford, Connecticut. “If they don’t do well in a play area with other dogs, home is probably the best choice.”
Many pet owners ask sitters to visit frequently or spend the night in their home, or housesit to care for pets full-time.
Thousands of qualified pet sitters are listed on the Petsitters International website. Because an estimated 80 per cent of housesitting arrangements involve pets, housesitting organizations like Trusted Housesitters or HouseCarers.com can also help.
Stulz said contracts can be downloaded from the Petsitters International website, and pet owners should check a sitter’s references thoroughly.
As for first aid, “If your pet is diabetic or older, make sure the pet sitter is comfortable and experienced with that,” she said. “And even if your pets are in great shape, a pet sitter should be capable of dealing with emergencies.”
Book well in advance, advised Bowers, of Brooklyn Bark. “There’s always the guy who calls while changing planes and says he totally forgot to figure out pet care – we don’t recommend that,” she said.
Her business offers discounts to those who book early. Depending on the pet’s needs, she said, sitters can stop by several times a day to care for the animal. They also are frequently asked to spend the night in the house.
“We care for all kinds of pets. We have a pig who thinks she’s a dog, birds, rabbits, guinea pigs, lizards, snakes and fish. No tigers. But way more than just dogs and cats,” she said.
For the many people who turn to people they know for pet care, Caro said to choose “a responsible adult with good common sense, because things can get dangerous very fast.”
“If your niece decides to take your bull dog for a walk on a hot day, the dog could pass out from exhaustion after just a few blocks. Or we heard a case where a dog got into the Tylenol. A dog could die from that,” he said. “Common sense, a good understanding the pet involved, and knowing where to turn in an emergency are essential.