Honey, Can You Call the Sitter?

Dont give this important job to just anybody. Heres what to look for in a reliable pet sitter.

Youre about ready to leave on that European vacation youve been planning for the past year. Before you pack your bags and purchase your airline ticket, theres an important decision to make – who should care for your cats while youre away?

You may not like the idea of leaving your cats at a kennel or boarding facility. Most cats find unfamiliar surroundings stressful and would be more content remaining at home. However, you dont necessarily want to entrust a neighbor with the task of feeding your cat two to three times a day, cleaning the litterbox, administering medications if needed – and rushing her to a veterinarian in an emergency. You also need a person who has the time to regularly take in the newspaper and mail, water the plants, and adjust the blinds and lighting to give your home that lived in look.

If you dont have access to a reliable person who can devote the time to taking care of your pets, its probably time to seek the services of a pet sitter.

Professional pet sitters are licensed, bonded, and insured individuals who care for four-legged family members when youre away from home.

The Service Is On the Rise
The last several years have seen a dramatic rise in the popularity of professional pet sitting services. Patti Moran, president and founder of Pet Sitters International (PSI), the worlds largest and most progressive organization for professional pet sitters, states that the PSI Web site lists more than 5,700 pet sitters from all over the world. Many people may not realize that professional pet sitting services exist, but once they do, they often prefer their services to that of a boarding facility.


Cats are happier and less stressed at home, where they are surrounded by familiar sights, sounds and smells, says Moran. When a pet sitter cares for your cat at home, customary diet and exercise routines are followed, with no interruption to upset them. There is not the inconvenience of having to transport your cats to and from a boarding facility, and in-home care minimizes your cats exposure to illness and parasites such as fleas.

What should you look for in a pet sitter and how much can you expect to pay?

Depending on the area in which you live and the level of service requested, in-home care rates can range from $13 to $25 per visit. Unlike kennels, which charge a daily rate for each cat, pet sitters normally charge a flat rate per visit; this makes in-home care especially affordable for a multi-cat household.

Moran suggests doing some homework before selecting a pet sitter. Asking the following questions will help you determine the most qualified person:

Is the sitter bonded and insured?
Does she keep regular business hours?
Does she return calls promptly?
What are her qualifications? (This can include experience with specific breeds and/or various medical conditions.)
How would she handle an emergency?
Is she qualified to administer pet first aid and CPR?

Wendy Balleaux, a member of PSI and owner of Petcentric, a professional pet sitting service with offices in Central Contra Costa and Santa Barbara, California, knows firsthand the importance of hiring a professional pet sitter to care for your cats.  

I was once caring for a clients male cat when I noticed that he wasnt using the litter box. I made an emergency appointment with his veterinarian and he was treated for a urinary obstruction. Left untreated, the cat would have suffered life-threatening consequences. A neighbor looking in on the cat may not have noticed a problem until it was too late.

Both Balleaux and Moran recommend setting up an in-home interview between the client and the pet sitter to discuss services and fees. This is a very important step and it cannot be stressed enough, Moran says. Observe how the sitter interacts with your cat to be sure they are comfortable together. The pet sitter should have a written contract that spells out the terms of the job including fees, dates of service, contact information, emergency information and specific notes for caring for your cat. A good sitter will call both before the date of service and once the guardian is scheduled to return home. This ensures that no visits are missed. Finally, ask for references and be sure to check them.

Balleaux agrees. A pet sitter should always ask a new client to fill out paperwork, she says. Thats a sign of a professional.

Balleaux requests that clients call her office when they return home so she knows they arrived safely. And every person on Balleauxs staff leaves a report card in the clients home, noting how often they visited and what services they performed. Its this attention to detail that gives clients peace of mind, knowing that their cats and their homes are being cared for by a professional.