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How Do I Find a Trustworthy Pet Sitter While I’m on Vacation?

Advice from a professional — and several pet owners who’ve had to leave their furballs in someone else’s hands

Parenting a pet, no matter what kind, can be a frustrating and bewildering experience. Animals can’t tell you what they want and need (directly, at least), so we’re here to help you answer any questions you have about your favorite companion — whether they be furry, slimy, feathered, scaly or anything in between — with insight from the experts. This is “Basic Bitch,” an advice column for pet parents who just want the best for their best friend.

The Very Basic Concern

I recently adopted a dog, which helped me discover that I might as well be the most paranoid pet parent ever. I have an extremely hard time leaving him home alone, and when I do, I make sure I’m only gone for a couple hours. Of course, during those hours, my mind races with awful thoughts of my little guy eating things he shouldn’t be eating or somehow managing to escape the house, which in reality, is impossible.

I’m going on vacation to Cabo in a few weeks — I’ve had this trip planned for almost a year, and I definitely need a break from work, but the problem is, I can’t cross the border with my dog, which means I need to find someone I can absolutely trust to watch him. As you can imagine, this is going to be really tough. Help?

Basically: How can I find a trustworthy pet sitter?

The Expert Advice

Ally Tagavi, pet sitter: Most people find me for pet sitting by word of mouth, either from other people I’ve watched pets for or by talking to me directly (most of the people I pet sit for are coworkers). For people who I don’t know well, I often have a meet and greet with their animal before they actually leave for their trip, so I feel comfortable and they can make sure their pets feel comfortable around me. We usually also take the time to show me their routine: When, what and where they’re fed. For me, the more detail the better. If someone leaves me a list of things that need to be done, that’s super helpful, especially if their pet has specific needs, like taking medications or needing X amount of walks during the day.

Which brings me to a good point about choosing pet sitters… The only questions I get asked by most people are: (1) If I can stay in their home or come and go so their animals can be in their environment, and (2) how often I plan on being around. But a good dog sitter will then ask all the necessary questions to make sure we’re set up for both success and an emergency. Some questions that potential pet sitters should ask (most of which are for dogs) are (1) how the animals act around other animals, and (2) whether they act differently on a leash.

Now, I’ve watched both cats and dogs: Cats are definitely the easier animal in my opinion. They’re much more independent, don’t need to be taken out to go to the bathroom and they don’t need as much exercise. The cats I’ve watched have been equally as needy for attention, though.

Ryan Trontz, who regularly has to find sitters for his two dogs, Maximus and Julius: There’s a lot that goes into finding a pet sitter. First, you have to do a meet and greet: If they have pets, my dogs have to meet their pets. If they have cats or birds, that’s a hard pass. Ideally, it would be great to go to their house and see what kind of environment they have. Do they leave food out for their pets? Mine will eat it instantly. Do they leave human food out on the counter? Mine will eat that, too. Do they feed their pets human food?

Here’s a huge one: Does the sitter seem like the kind of person who puts your instructions above all else, or do they seem like they think they know your pet better than you do? So, for example, I’m good with having my dogs on the beds and couches. Some sitters don’t allow pets on furniture, so my dogs can’t go there, since they’re used to chilling on the couch all day.

I prefer when the sitter has big dogs, like mine (or no dogs at all). If they have little dogs, it’s best when the dogs meet somewhere off-leash, like at a park, so they can meet calmly. If the sitter has little dogs, and the meetup doesn’t go well, we’re all done there.

I also prefer sitters who are active and like to do long walks, runs and hikes, as well as ones who play lots of fetch with my guys.

I lived in Vegas before I moved to Los Angeles, and I found two incredible sitters on Rover. It was a great experience. But since moving to California, I’ve had a really hard time finding a sitter on there — it’s way more expensive, and the sitters just don’t seem like they have their shit together.

Adra Graves, who recently had to leave her pup behind while she went on a three-week Eurotrip: I was recently on vacation in Europe for three weeks. That’s a long time to ask someone to look after a dog, so in that case, I split the sitting between my parents — for the first week and a half — and a family friend for the remainder. The family friend has a dog about the same size and age as my dog, and they’re best buds, so I know my dog had a wonderful time with them.

For weekend getaways, though, I have another friend who watches my dog. She knows my dog from when we both worked together and brought our dogs to work. She has a few dogs, and my dog gets along with them as well. I always try to text her as soon as I know we’re going away.

I prefer my dog stay with someone she knows, but if I didn’t have these options, Rover would be my next stop, and once I found someone I liked, I’d go back to them on a regular basis. The most important thing is to meet the sitter ahead of time, ask questions about whether or not they’ll be watching other dogs at the same time and so on. It’s specific to the dog: I know my dog is needy, doesn’t like children and is intimidated by bigger dogs, so I look for someone who will let her sleep in bed with them and who has no kids around or other big dogs. 

To thank my pet sitters, I usually try to bring something back from wherever I’m traveling. In this case, I couldn’t find anything, so I sent some really nice flowers.