Summer nightmare

A pet sitter horror story

I've heard so many canine horror stories and many of them were true. These tales give me worse nightmares than any tale Stephen King ever wrote! If someone should publish an anthology of canine horror stores, this one would definitely be included.

As the summer of '95 was winding down, some friends of mine made plans to take a week's vacation to New York to visit family. This couple usually rented a van or mini-van to drive on the trip to accommodate their child and six Shetland Sheepdogs. Mini-vans were very popular this summer for this purpose, so all my friends could find available to rent was a sedan. So, the decision was made to travel with two dogs. Being very responsible dog owners, they arranged for a pet sitter to come and care for the other four shelties who were left in their crates in the basement.

The pet sitter never showed up!

Evidently there was a misunderstanding over which weekend the sitter was to come. When my friends returned home after being away for five days and nights, they spotted the instruction sheet for the pet sitter still neatly tacked to the garage door their first clue that something was wrong. After they entered the house, they found the second instruction sheet still on the kitchen counter, untouched dog food, and an overwhelming smell.

Luckily, these friends have a lot to be thankful for. While the dogs had been confined in their crates without any food or water for five days, they were all alive. Their 14-year-old Sheltie did need to be rushed to the emergency clinic; but after a stay of a few days, he was back to normal. They did incur a lot of expense, and the mess was monstrous to clean up, but things could have been much worse.

These people live in a neighborhood where the neighbors are fairly close by. Surely someone heard the dogs barking, or noticed the mail and newspapers piling up?? My friends wish someone had called the police or humane society. Neighbors seem to have noticed nothing.


There are bad apples found in every profession, and even the best businesses make mistakes if communication is unclear or misinterpreted. The bottom line when choosing a pet sitter is, do your homework and go with your gut feelings about the individual. A seasoned professional pet sitter is used to being grilled and held up to scrutiny during the get-acquainted visit. Those who are reputable expect you to check them out thoroughly, so please do so.

Leslie Eufrazio who runs Pet Services by Leslie in Franklinton, North Carolina, sent the following suggestions for dog owners looking for a pet sitter:

  1. Get and check at least five references.
  2. Be sure the pet sitter has professional affiliations, i.e.-PSI (Pet Sitters International) or NAPS (National Association of Pet Sitters). These organizations offer seminars and newsletters that help pet sitters provide knowledgeable and ever-improving care for pets. Memberships can be evidence that the business has some permanence in the community. Other memberships such as Chamber of Commerce are good too.
  3. Ask the sitter what he or she would do in the case of illness or inclement weather?
  4. Choose a service that promises to spend a set minimum amount of time with your pet.
  5. What pets does the sitter own? (Leslie would only want "real dog people" caring for her Rottweilers.)
  6. Why did the sitter get into this business? What did they do before? (In addition to being "animal people," the sitter should come from a background that promotes excellent judgment and communication skills.)
  7. Is the service bonded? Licensed (if required in your area)?
  8. Is the sitter insured with a policy written specifically for pet sitters? Does it include "care, custody and control" of your pet and belongings; and re-keying of your locks if your key is lost or stolen?
  9. How are the employees selected? These people will be entering your home; is a criminal background check done annually on each one?
  10. Always insist on a get-acquainted visit with the sitter prior to your trip. Schedule this well in advance; a reputable, successful pet sitter does not squeeze you in to his or her schedule.
  11. At the get-acquainted visit, does the pet sitter ask to see shot records?
  12. Does he ask good questions about your pet's feeding, exercise, and clean up requirements; and get detailed information regarding where you can be reached?
  13. Does he get the number of a friend or relative, in case of emergency; as well as your veterinarian's number and the pet's medical history?
  14. Learn up front what else is included in the fee. Will they bring in mail, change lights, rotate blinds, or water plants?
  15. What are the extra costs? Some services charge for the get-acquainted visit or charge an initial registration fee. Some charge extra for each pet over a certain number.

Pet sitting is a specialty service tailored to meet your pet's individual needs. If you have only a couple of pets, and are seeking to economize, a pet sitting service may not be your best option.

We'd add a couple of other questions:

Then, use the telephone. I would call the day before you are leaving to confirm the pet sitter's schedule and make sure the emergency contacts are handy, and call again a couple of days into the trip, just to make sure everything is all right. I'd also call a relative or neighbor and ask him to drive by or walk over and check the house just to see if things look normal. On the few times that Rick and I have had to board our dogs at a boarding kennel, I always insist on calling the kennel mid-trip. Rick always accuses me of being paranoid, and says the kennel manager is sure I am insane, but I do it anyway.

Ozzie Foreman

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