Not all pet sitters are created equal

Pet Sitters International offers tips to pet owners seeking pet-care professionals

Pet Sitters International, the world’s largest educational association for professional pet sitters, asks that pet owners do their homework before hiring a pet sitter this holiday season.

According to the American Pet Products Manufactures Association, pet sitting is one of the top six spending trends in the category of New Pet Services. This comes as no surprise to the pet-sitting industry, which has seen steady growth over the past 11 years.

However, with the ever-increasing demand for at-home pet care services, PSI wishes to offer the following tips to pet owners seeking professional pet sitters for their companion animals:

Plan ahead—The holidays and summer months are the busiest times of the year for professional pet sitters. Many seasoned pet sitters are booked two or more months in advance of major holidays. Waiting to book a sitter until the week before a holiday or event may ground your travel plans, or compromise your ability to acquire the best sitter for your pet.

Always check credentials—Not all pet-sitting businesses are truly “professional.” In reality, expertise, education and credentials can vary greatly within the industry. Checking credentials is an effective way for consumers to evaluate the legitimacy of any prospective business.

Reputable businesses will have no problem sharing their credentials with potential clients, especially since such documentation doubles as an effective selling tool.

Remember, simply asking the right questions is not enough. Pet owners should always take the time to verify the information provided to them. True professionals will expect this level of due diligence from potential clients. Here are three questions that should always be asked and verified by the pet owner:

1. Is the pet sitter a member of a creditable trade association like Pet Sitters International?

2. Is the pet sitter bonded and insured?

3. Has the pet sitter completed any pet-related training (i.e. PSI Accreditation, pet first aid/CPR training, trade conference or industry-related workshop training). If not, does the sitter plan on pursuing any continued training in the near future?

Membership in a trade organization typically shows a desire to increase one’s level of professionalism. Associations like PSI offer members access to bonding and insurance at an affordable group rate. Sitters who carry bonding and insurance are taking the necessary steps to protect both themselves and the clients they serve. Such coverage also carries with it a certain level of comfort for the pet owner.

Like any business, having a continued education plan is a vital component of growing a successful business. Businesses that choose not to take advantage of educational opportunities like industry-related conferences and workshops often fail to grow with the industry.

Always ask for references—The human testimonial is an invaluable tool when determining a potential sitter’s level of competence. Written testimonials are acceptable, but a name and phone number are better. Only accept references from recent or existing paying clients. Never accept a reference from the sitter’s family or friends—true professionals won’t even offer this as an option.

Be sure to ask for at least one reference from a client who has pet-care needs similar to your own. For example, if your sitter claims to have experience with exotic animals or pets with disabilities, they will more than likely have a reference to match. Regardless, pet owners should request and follow up with, preferably, three references. A sitter who refuses or hesitates to provide references may not be the right sitter for the job.

Set up a face-to-face interview—The first appointment should not be a pet sitter’s first visit to a new client’s home. Professional pet sitters understand the importance of the initial interview. In fact, it is as important to the sitter as it should be to the potential client.

A face-to-face interview allows both parties to ask questions and capture expectations in writing. A professional pet sitter will always provide literature that clearly states services and fees. Most importantly, this first meeting will allow the sitter to become acquainted with the pet they are being asked to care for.

Trust your senses—When it comes to the well-being of a beloved pet, no pet sitter should be hired simply because the company has a catchy name and a business card. Instead, pet owners should use the initial interview process to judge the professionalism of the potential sitter.

The pet sitter should be held to the same standards as any other business professional. During the interview process, pet owners should ask themselves questions like, “Does the pet sitter present herself as a professional? Does the pet sitter seem knowledgeable about my pet? Does the pet sitter understand my pet’s special needs? Have all of my questions been answered in a professional manner? Did the pet sitter interact well with my pet? Do I trust this person with my pet?”

It is also important to pay attention to the sitter’s body language. If the potential sitter lacks confidence, creditability and professionalism, or simply fails to meet individual expectations, it is best to keep looking.

Pet Sitters International encourages all pet owners to read its Recommended Quality Standards for Excellence in Pet Sitting at before hiring a professional pet sitter. These standards can be used to help pet owners find the best sitter from the more than 7,400 members listed on’s “Locate a Pet Sitter” feature.

From the Dec. 21-27, 2005, issue

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