Leaving on a Trip — without the dogs

A reader asked if I’d go through what I do to prepare for a trip when I can’t take my dogs along. I thought it was a good question for all of us, and a lead in to what could be a fruitful discussion. After all, leaving one’s dog(s) is hard, and the only way I can do it myself without being a wreck is to have a system in which I feel like I’ve covered as many bases as I can. Here are some of my tips, I’d love to hear yours:

1. Put a big-lettered note by the phone that says YOU ARE HERE and give the address and phone number of your home. House sitters rarely can spit out your address in a crisis, and that’s when they need it the most.

2. Also by the phone, leave EMERGENCY phone numbers for your usual vet (who you’ve called to approve any charges in advance) and if need be, an Emergency Vet Clinic that you trust. My experience with Emergency clinics has been mixed, so do due diligence before you leave a number. I also leave the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Hotline Number, which is 888 426-4435.

3. Leave TWO copies of a list of all contact numbers: your cell, where you’re staying and a full  itinerary, close neighbors to call in an emergency, plumbers, electricians, heating cooling service. I tell the sitter to put one copy in her car–if she gets stranded away from the house, (snow? accident?) she needs the phone number of neighbors to call to help with the animals.

4. Leave a copy of your will, being sure it specifies what is to happen to your animals. I have a friend who has agreed to take Willie, and a friend who has promised to find a home for Sushi. (Come to think of it, I haven’t made arrangements for the sheep. Better take care of that before I go!) If you don’t have a formal will (you should, honest), download a simple one from the internet and get it signed by 2 witnesses. Keep it simple, and say where your pets should go. I designate a considerable sum of money for that animal’s care. I freaked out one house sitter by leaving an envelope labeled “In the Even of My Death” under the sitting instructions, so now I’ll leave it in an easily accessible but less intimidating place. None of us want to think about this happening, but I feel much better knowing that I wouldn’t take my last breath heartsick over not knowing what would happen to Willie and Sushi.

5. If the sitter isn’t there when you leave, have her call and leave a message at your destination right away when she arrives. (I’m going to use a generic ‘she’ just to save space. Apologies to all male house sitters.) I never can relax until I know that the sitter is at the house, and always breath a huge sigh of relief when we connect. Ideally, the sitter is there when I leave the house, but that just can’t always happen. The sitter for this trip is in vet school, and will be in classes when we leave for the airport.  She’ll call my cell phone the instant she gets to the house, and I’ll finally feel like I’m “on the trip” once we talk. I don’t make this suggestion lightly: I have friends who had a sitter who never showed up, and yes, the dogs all died, and yes, it was as horrible as our worst nightmare could possibly be. I’m amazed at the number of people I’ve talked to who don’t even call the house to check in with the sitter, or do so 4 or 5 days after they left. I also strongly advise calling often if you have a new sitter. I once had a sitter who never answered the phone at the farm, but always was on her cell phone “just leaving” or “just arriving” including one night at  one in the morning. When I got back, there was no garbage… nothing, not a piece of paper, after a 10 day trip, to suggest that she had stayed the night. Hummm. Same thing happened the next time, and then, well, there wasn’t a next time.

Also, arrange to call your sitter when  you are back at the house if she will have already left. What if your plane is delayed? What if you were in a car accident on the way home from the airport? All my sitters are “on call” if for some reason they don’t hear from me. They have a list of my flights, both in and out, and know when I should be returning. If they don’t hear from me by X hour, they’ll drive back to the farm or call a neighbor.

6. Less is not more. I leave incredibly detailed notes, including not just what everyone eats and when and where, but also a long “diary” of a “day in the life.” I describe our daily routine, including that Willie and I spoon every night before we go upstairs and that’s one of his (and my) favorite times. I write out a description of each animal, their behavioral quirks, health issues, things to watch for, things I’m working on, what they “know,” what they like and don’t like, what they are allowed to do and not allowed to do. It might seem a bit compulsive and frankly it takes me forever, but I’ve never heard a sitter complain about too much information. On the other hand, I’ve heard LOTS of complaints about too little.

7. If necessary, desensitize your animals to suitcases. If your pets get anxious when they see you preparing to leave, try leaving suitcases out when you’re not going anywhere, going through your ‘leaving’ routine without actually going anywhere. Pack up, and then go watch TV. You can also sneak the suitcase into the car when you actually go away, but if you travel a lot, your dog or cat will react long before you are ready to actually are ready to leave. If  your dog or cat really does have Separation Anxiety, get a copy of I’ll Be Home Soon and go through the steps, adapting it for packing and for travel.

8. And then, once you leave the house . . . give it up. I don’t enjoy writing the notes, making the preparations, because I worry I’ll forget something and end up causing trouble. And I hate driving away. Like a dog with separation anxiety, I practically start to shake, pace, and sweat through my paws, although I do my best to remain cheerful as I’m leaving. I am happy to report I have never been known to drool, but my eyes can get pretty wet as the car pulls away from the house and the farm disappears behind a forest of oak and hickory trees. And then, finally, once I’m on the plane it’s better. Once I’ve talked to the sitter it’s much better. By the next day I’m okay, I am where I am, secure in the knowledge that I’ve done everything I can to make life good for my animals, and with gratitude for the wonderful person with whom I’ve trusted my life, my loves, my precious animals who will be there, eyes catching the light, bodies wagging from the shoulders back, tongues lapping all over me, to welcome me home.

I’d love to hear what you do before you leave home without your pets… any advice from your own experience?

MEANWHILE, back on the farm: Trip preparations are in full swing. Every time I cross something off the list, I add two more things. Before I go I have to finish my next Bark column, finish a chapter for a new book about training best practices for American Humane Association, finish a detailed outline of the booklet that Karen London and I are working on for adopting adult dogs, finish last tweaks of my NZ seminars, arrange for demo dogs, and oh yes, run a business. And, of course, the farm is hopping, with the lambs going to market each week and buyers being notified, preparations for winter continuing and squeezing in time to work sheep and prepare to walk 10-13 miles a day with a back pack.  Wheeeee!

Here’s a sunrise from last week, and what we call the “Slasher Movie Sheep” with Rosebud painted red from having been bred by Redford. You can see Redford’s red chest underneath fat, piggy Brittany, who started the habit of standing on the feeder to get her hay (thus negating one of its purposes, to keep hay off the wool of other sheep) and now Rosebud is doing it too. Sigh.

Comments

  1. says

    I get my mother to pet sit if I can — though she’ll spend the week with the dogs in her lap because she doesn’t want to “wake the babies”. Yes, she has.

    I go through the same things you do, but I have the pet sitters email me daily. If i don’t hear from them by noon, I email them. Oh, my husband and I do the same thing when we are on seperate trips.

    My dogs go back to my breeder!

  2. JJ says

    Thank you for providing such a nice, comprehensive list.

    I think it is implied in your list, but I would add that I go everything and then some personally with a sitter. A lot of perfectly intelligent people are not willing or able to follow written directions. Plus, my directions may not be clear. So, I personally show where the food is, etc.

    Also, if there is anything at all that I think might be difficult, I have the sitter do it herself while I watch after I show her. One example is putting on the head-halter. Not everyone knows how to do that. I can show the sitter, but it is not something that will sink in until she does it herself. Another example of something that really must be shown is the “getting in the front door routine”. I can explain it, but until I watch the sitter doing it herself to see what problems there might be, I don’t believe the information has been properly imparted.

  3. JJ says

    A tip: I recommend that people keep their instructions in an electronic file. It is a huge pain to write out the first time. But the next time you go away, you only have to update changes. It becomes a lot easier. Plus, you will find that you will want to add to your written instructions over time. If the instructions are in an electronic file, it will be easy to add info over time.

  4. JJ says

    Your list above includes a lot of planning for emergencies. I think that is great. While perhaps not necessary if all the above steps are taken, I also make sure that I have great amounts of extra food available.

    In other words, say I’m about to leave town for three days. I make sure that there is at least 9 days worth of food in the bin in case I’m not back in time. This is especially important since my dog eats a brand that I order from the internet. But even if that were not true, I would not want the sitter to have to worry about food if possible.

  5. Laura Anne says

    ONe of the things that I do, (and need to update) is keep a document on my computer that explains all the whys and wherefores of care for my dogs; Then, when I go out of town and a someone is going to care for them either at home or somewhere away from home, I just have to print out the sheet with all contact information for me, the vet, feeding instructions, etc.

    This makes getting ready to go a lot easier, since I don’t have to “re-invent the wheel” of information for the sitter!

  6. JJ says

    Here’s a tip that I have learned the hard way more than once. I thought I was being so detailed, but what I was thinking and what the sitter was thinking was two different things. So, try to imagine how your words (spoken and written) can be mis-interpreted or where you might be leaving out important information.

    Avoid words like “few” *even if you are doing live demonstrations*. Don’t assume the sitter is on the same page even if you are showing an example.

    An example: Don’t say things like, “Only give a few treats at a time.” I have come back in the past, shocked that the entire bag was gone. Instead say things like, “Only give a few treats for tricks at a time. This means that you could use up to 5 treats at a session with sessions being at least 2 hours apart. Here are the tricks you could ask for….” The point is to actually give numbers.

  7. Jane says

    Fantastic information for all of us who hate leaving the pets behind! I always seem to have young (20-something) sitters who are so busy and on the move, so one thing I try to do is make my home as enticing as possible to them, in the hopes that they’ll spend more hours at home with my dogs. Leave a six-pack of beer, a selection of movies, access to your computer (create a separate “guest” account for login), instructions for your washer/dryer and a box of soap, coffee on the counter so they don’t have to go to Starbucks. I tell them it’s fine to have a friend or two over, as long as everyone behaves.

    I’ve had good luck with sitters in general, but earlier this year was forced to hire a “professional”, a young guy who does pet sitting and dog walking for a living. He had good references, yet when I called the house the first night of my trip, he seemed puzzled about why I wanted to talk to him (“you’ve only been gone a few hours, what could go wrong?”). He was even more puzzled when I also called the next night. Needless to say, anyone who doesn’t understand why a pet owner would want reports and reassurance doesn’t get to take care of my pets any longer!

  8. JJ says

    Smoking: If second-hand smoke is a concern for you, verify whether or not your sitter smokes.

    I once had a sitter who I had no idea he smoked. While he didn’t smoke in the house, when I came back, I found cigarette butts in my back yard. Aside from the littering, I assume he was back there smoking when my dog was back there. I do not want my dog breathing second hand smoke. While it is not the end of the world, especially if they were outside, I would have been smarter to actually ask if he smoked and then to request that he not smoke anywhere on my premises/around my dog.

  9. Frances says

    I have been very lucky – house sitters who are also friends, a cattery if I can’t get sitters that is like a 5 star hotel for cats, and Sophy’s breeder is happy to board the dogs, and they love it there. If I let myself, I would worry about there only being two gates (one in a six foot fence) between them and the road, but that way madness lies. I also have lots of wonderful neighbours – I live in part of a converted workhouse, which has been made into 15 houses, and can rely on all of my neighbours in case of emergency. I know that if they suspected the dogs had been left for more than a few hours, they would be in to rescue them (it has happened when I got held up on the motorway) – everyone knows who has which keys. And the cats simply go round to whoever they feel will be most sympathetic and demand to be fed – but they do that even when I am home and have just given them breakfast!

    Even so, my written instructions are approaching encyclopaedic length – they also include details of all the best walks, and local pubs and cafes that welcome dogs.

  10. says

    I thought I was thorough but not by half – need to adapt some of your plans. Because I have 19 dogs total with mine and the rescues, I do board some to make it easier on both my sitters and my neighbors while I am gone – and I only am gone anymore at the most for 2 days – sigh. I do need a real vacation sometime.
    The will is so very important and yes, I have one but it is not completed. I also encourage people to have advanced directives with you when you travel – depending on your health, you may not want to end up on a ventilator for days on end.
    My dog sanctuary is part of a larger sanctuary so if push came to shove, my dogs would be cared for but I do need a savings acct. for their vet expenses at least.
    Thanks and have a great trip…

  11. says

    My dogs attend a daycare that offers full boarding as well. So I bring them there. They have many ways to contact me and are one block from my normal vet. That gives me peace of mind that they’re happy (and will be exhausted when I returned) and I don’t have to worry about a stranger in my house, which is my personal preference.

    My dogs are also excellent at slipping their collars, so they get to play and no worried about them running away on walks. =)

  12. says

    I thought all of your advice was wonderful. I am a professional pet sitter, and I love when owners leave me detailed notes. I think some owners are embarrassed to leave too many details, but I think it’s great to know as much about the animals as possible, especially the first time I visit.

    I make contact with the owners at least once a day through email or text. I also send them pictures of their dogs. Like you said, I always make sure to call when I first arrive and I also require that they call me when they get home.

  13. says

    I think that your point about the suitcases is interesting , Trisha. One of my dogs who is gone now used to moan so sadly whenever he saw the suitcases come out. But he never really showed any separation anxiety in any other way. My wife and I got into a routine where we would carry the suitcases to the car only while he was out of sight of the process, just to spare his feelings. I always wonder whether it was better to hide what we were doing that way (and then disappear on him!), or whether he’d deal with our absence better if we let him see the process honestly.

    I have two signals for our dogs now. When I’m leaving them for only a short time, I tell them “I’ll be right back.” When I’m going for a longer time (e.g., several hours or more), I say “See ya later.” It might be silly, but I believe that they use the information so that they don’t have to wonder whether they should wait for me by the door.

  14. Caroline McKinney says

    I have 5 pages of instructions for house sitters with the same info that you list. Contacts, vet and neighbors and friends. Info about stove, fire extinguishers, flashlights, batteries, smoke alarms, septic system, plants. Feeding instructions and schedule. Key words, commands they know. And the final page is for the person who may come in the middle of the day to let dogs out if house sitters have a busy work schedule.

    I am somewhat compulsive but the sitters seem to like it. The will idea is a good one but I will probably leave it in the lock box but maybe add a note to say that is where it is and who is the executor.

  15. Carmen says

    I don’t know what we would do without our wonderful house/pet sitter! We wouldn’t be going far. We are blessed to have a close friend that stays at the house while we’re away (along with her 2 Poms). Our dogs absolutely adore her which also makes me feel a little less guilty for leaving. My Rott Noel wiggles with joy every time she appears (I tell myself that Noel still loves me more…;-). Despite the fact that our sitter knows the care of our animals practically as well as we do, I still leave a detailed “book” every time, phone numbers, etc. One other thing I do before we leave is to groom the dogs: trim nails, brush out, ear cleaning, etc., and wash their beds and crates. I take comfort in knowing that everything (inluding them) are clean when I leave, it makes me feel better anyway. I know they’re being well taken care of but I still worry about them when we’re away, like are they getting enough exercise, etc. I feel silly worrying because everytime I call to get the latest report our petsitter tells me about their walks around the field or how she practiced some agility or obedience with them to keep their minds occupied. We try to treat her like a queen to keep her happy, we don’t want to lose her! :-)

  16. Heidi Normandin says

    I am glad I’m not the only one who writes out detailed notes for a sitter! I thought it was just me, since I’m a newbie dog owner of an anxious dog. One other thing I do is print out a Mapquest map to the nearest ER. That way the sitter knows exactly how to get there from my house.

  17. D says

    Great topic. Last year I went on a three week wilderness trip. I left my itinerary, but it literally would have taken National Park rangers in helicopters to get to me – something most NPS rangers won’t do unless there is a human death in the family. I agree with all your points, and would add the following. Note…most of my points are more “farm” related than “dog” related, but I think still important:
    1. I emphasized to the house sitter that the neighbors would be checking in frequently. And I made sure that the neighbors did, indeed, check in frequently. Many people had keys to my house when I was gone. (and the neighbors had a plan in case the house-sitter was not around)
    2. I gave my veterinarian WRITTEN permission to make decisions for my various animals; including chickens, sheep, cats, dogs and horses. I spoke to the vet and told her NOT to leave decisions up to the house-sitter, especially life or death decisions. I did not want the house-sitter to be saddled with that responsibility. I guaranteed the vet that I would pay for all services she rendered in my absence, and would not question any decisions she made regarding my animals’ care.
    3. Emergency contact numbers were visibly posted EVERYWHERE – near the sheep gate, the horse gate, the horse barn, the back door.
    4. I spoke to the Animal Control officer in my town, AND the police, and let them know I would be gone and unreachable. I gave them verbal and written, signed permission to humanely euthanize sheep or chickens if there was a predator problem (I live in the sticks, and haven’t had coyote problems yet…knock wood…but I knew it could happen).
    5. I ASKED the police to do drive-bys while I was gone. (I live in a small town, and they seemed happy to do this, but I realize it may not be possible for everyone.)
    6. I emailed RECENT, DIGITAL PHOTOS of all my animals to several people who’d be checking in while I was gone. That way, in case any critters went missing, it would be easy for them to put up signs and notify nearby shelters.
    7. I paid my pet sitter well. I made it clear that this was a BIG DEAL to me.
    8. Like you…I did my best to just “let it go” once I was gone. I honestly think my separation anxiety is worse than my dogs’. I missed them more than I can say. But, I trusted those who were caring for them, and felt that I had dotted all my i’s and crossed all my t’s…and it was time to enjoy my long awaited vacation! :)

    On a related note – Trisha, I hope you truly enjoy your upcoming trek. May you find peace and happiness in the wilderness, and may your loved companions all be well in your absence.

  18. says

    This is a great list! I get so much out of this blog, even though I’m not a trainer. But I happen to be an attorney, and have started focusing on companion animal law. My practice will include pet trusts. These are great vehicles to provide care for your animals in the event you are incapacitated or if the animals outlive you. Trisha, FYI that they are more flexible than wills, because they kick in even when you are alive but incapacitated, and you don’t have to wait until your will is fully probated for it to kick in. It can generally take years to probate a will, which can lead to legal limbo for the animals depending on how the will is written. In the next couple of months, a colleague and I will be doing a story on estate planning for pets for NoVA (Northern Virginia) Dog Magazine, and I’ll be sure to pass it along!

  19. Kate says

    Wow – I think that you and the comments have covered almost everything possible. When we go away I always update the instruction sheet for the pets and my partner says that it is rediculously detailed (eg for one dog ‘mash the wet food and mix thoroughly with the dry food’. I think that’s important because otherwise the dog doesn’t eat all his food and he is on the skinny side anyway).

    The only things that I would do differently next time I go away and not covered above are:
    - if I expect to be going to an area without mobile phone coverage get new tags for the dogs’ collars with the pet sitters mobile number on them instead of mine (driving in no mobile phone coverage for 4 hours and then getting a voice mail from 3 hours earlier to phone someone who had my dog wasn’t the best moment – luckily it had all been sorted out long before I got the message!)
    - instead of saying ‘don’t put the dogs out too early or leave them out too late’ give specific times that are ‘too early’ or ‘too late’ for the dogs to be outside and check that the sitter can comply with those times. I have had two separate pet sitters who have put the dogs outside (and let them bark) at 6:30am on a Saturday morning … and we live in a suburban area so the neighbours were not at all happy :(

    Great topic. I will be checking it again to make sure I have covered everything next time I go away.

    Thankfully our next trip is to a dog friendly bed and breakfast so the dogs will be on holiday with us :)

  20. Claire S. says

    I’m so glad to hear I’m not the only one who hates going on vacation because it means leaving the dogs behind. I also have horses and cats and I REALLY stress about leaving them all. I do the instructions and I call my sitter multiple times to check in. At this point I’d prefer figuring out a way to vacation WITH the dogs. But I hate to be a stick-at-home. I appreciated these good tips from your fellow blog followers. Have a great trip!

  21. says

    What an awesome advice! We don’t leave our dogs behind unless we really have to (e.g. trip to Europe to visit my family). That time we boarded Jasmine at her vet clinic. We researched some very cool boarding places, but again I was unimpressed with their response to some of my requests (such as pre-boarding visit). So at the end we decided that staying at her vet’s will be the safest place for her. Since the staff loved her, they promised to spoil her as much as they could.

    Other than unavoidable situations, if the dogs can’t go, we don’t go. That is our solution, I guess :-)

    I like the note on emergency vet you trust! We were quite unimpressed with ours. Unfortunately not everywhere there are more than one option within reasonable distance.

  22. trisha says

    Such great additions so far. And oh yes yes, I should have specified that I absolutely go over everything in person with the sitter from where is the food to having them practice an emergency “Flying Lie Down” with Willie. For our NZ sitter, who is new, we left 2 weekends ago just to give her ‘practice’ after she’s already come once before and then got a full run through again before we left. She’ll be out another 2 times before we actually leave. And I also absolutely agree that electronic files are critical if you travel a lot. I have a file on the computer labeled “farm sitting short,” “farm sitting long,” and one for winter and one for summer. And I still end up spending forever updating them, but at least I don’t start from the beginning.

    And I love D’s additions. Granted, most of us usually aren’t in such wilderness, but still, great points made that might be applicable to many of us. And finding the right sitter in the first place? Priceless! I am lucky to live near a vet school, and teach at a University once a year and meet lots of wonderful young people who would love to live in a house with animals out in the country. Usually I go by recommendations, interviews and time spent with them… but I’m very lucky to live where I do. Of course, I also have to travel more than most people, so I’m always on the look out.

  23. Janice says

    This story doesn’t have a happy ending. Or it does, depends on your perspective. Over a month ago, I was making preparations to leave my home for a city 300 miles away to have some pretty serious surgery. And I was trying to figure out everything that needed to happen before I left. My 17 year old daughter was going to be in charge, with some help from her 19 year old brother, who is attending a nearby college. The big problem was what to do about Rosie. Dear, sweet, lovable, wonderful Rosie had cancer. We had been doing palliative (make her feel better) therapy for months. She was still getting up to greet us, still asking for petting, still eating– all signs that she was still enjoying life. Vet said that she would maintain for some time but when she crashes, it will be fast and definite. So we had a family discussion and decided to not euthanize her before I left for the surgery because she was telling us that it wasn’t her time to go yet. What I did, though, was to call up and talk to her vet and also talk to the vets at the vet school in the next town (where the oncologists had been helping care for her). I told them that my children would be in charge and they all promised to help my kids if Rosie’s time came while I was off having and recovering from the major surgery. And it happened just the way I had made the preparations. I had a complication to the surgery and was hospitalized for longer than expected and Rosie didn’t make it until I returned home. She crashed and my son stayed up all night with her. At dawn, my children called and then brought her to the local veterinary office where she was put to sleep. The staff at the vet hospital were prepared and able to help my children through this. So maybe it seemed a bit hyper-vigilant to have called in advance and made these extra preparations. But it was the right thing to do–Rosie left this world in the arms of the kids she had helped to raise, with the help of a vet hospital who were prepared in case this happened. A friend of mine came by that afternoon and helped my kids to bury Rosie out in the back by the wild rose bush (also something I had arranged in advance). So I was glad that I looked at the worst case scenario and had a plan and people to help in place before I left. We all miss her, but I know that she get the best possible care and what I would have done if I had been there.

  24. says

    I am in the opposite situation from Trisha … remote living situation near people who don’t really “get it” with pets. We’ve had all the horror stories here, the worst being 2 dogs locked in a car in 90F heat. Yes, the boxer died a miserable death. So so tragic and fortunately these weren’t my dogs — my solution has been to take Maggie EVERYWHERE with us, fortunately she’s a very good traveler. In a couple weeks though, we are off on a trip that requires small planes and small boats at sea. At age 11ish, I’m not sure I want to put her through that so I am considering someone to pet-sit. All of these pet-sitter tips will be invaluable … and if I am not comfortable with leaving her, I’ll either not go, or figure out how to bring her as safely and comfortably as possible. Such anguish!

  25. Amy W. says

    I take time to familiarize the pet sitter with how to clean up an ‘accident’ and where the supplies are should one happen.

    If it’s just an overnight trip, I’ll make the Kongs up myself, and leave instructions on when to give them to the dogs. But if it’s a longer trip, I prep the food, put it in the refrigerator with notes on it, and then leave a directions on how to stuff the Kongs and when to give it.

  26. em says

    Wow, indeed!

    I’ve never had to leave Otis for more than a couple of days and he has been more than happy to go to ‘Grandma’s’ along with a sheet of what I THOUGHT was very detailed instructions, emergency numbers, food for several days, etc. I would like to second Kate’s suggestion of temporary tags with the sitter’s phone and address (if your dog is staying away from home). My mom has tags for Otis when he visits and it eases my mind tremendously to know that if he strayed, a neighbor could get him back to my mom’s with a minimum of fuss and phone tag.

    Because it’s my mom, I don’t worry about trusting her to take care of him, but I call every day anyways, to make sure he isn’t driving HER crazy. (She laughs at me for worrying about this. According to my mother, Otis is the best behaved dog on the planet…he IS always on his best behavior at Grandma’s house, and so she doesn’t believe me about his dogzilla episodes. Which, of course, makes me worry MORE, because I don’t know if she is taking me seriously about the Otis Safety Protocols (don’t wrap the leash around your wrist or fasten it to your waist, etc.)–every situation has a downside, I suppose.

    Anyhow, what I learned the hard way is to provide extra leashes and collars, particularly if your dog is staying with someone without dogs of their own. While at my mom’s Otis spent some time lying on the deck beside her while she read a book. He was so quiet, she didn’t notice that he chewed right through his leash-we didn’t realize that he might be inclined to chew because he’s never tied out and we’d never taken the precaution of leashing him in my mom’s back yard. He didn’t show any inclination to take off, but my mom did have to make a trip to the pet store, which I felt bad about.

  27. says

    Many fabulous tips to keep your pets safe while you are away here. I too hate to leave my dogs and cats even though I’m a professional full-time pet sitter and use a colleague to care for my pets. I have completed over 3,000 individual pet sitting visits for several hundred clients so I have seen a lot. If you do use a professional it should be their responsibility to collect all the information needed to care for your pets prior to you leave and that information should be reviewed with you by the sitter several days prior to your trip. In theory, you shouldn’t have to leave notes although I say I always welcome more information than too little. The sitter should ask if there are any updates- particularly medical issues that may have occurred since he/she collected your information. If you do use a professional they should absolutely have liability insurance which will protect you in the event of the sitter’s negligence. This is one reason to make sure you absolutely trust any friend/neighbor when you allow them to care for your pet- in the unlikely event they cause a disaster you would be responsible for damages. I have more times than I can count received calls (generally last minute prior to a holiday) requesting service because their friend/neighbor changed their plans and cannot watch their pets. I have also taken on numerous clients due to care issues- my favorite being a friend refusing to scoop a cat’s litterbox for the entire duration of a one week vacation. This doesn’t mean using a friend/neighbor can’t work out. Professionals require a signed contract to protect both the client and pet sitter. It might be a good idea to do something similar when using a non-professional. Many professionals will also provide daily text updates/email updates and photos or short videos and/or daily phone communication for those who worry about their pets and are also certified in pet first aid/CPR.

  28. says

    Great list. The worst part when we leave (if Gus doesn’t come with), is the suitcases. We’ve worked to desensitize him to our luggage, but it gets him every time. Luckily, we have family that stays at the house with him!

  29. says

    Thank you for all the good advice! In the past, my poodle(s) went to stay with another poodle friend, and vice versa, so I never worried much, but now we have to have a housesitter. She’s very competent from all we’ve heard, but we haven’t really tested her yet.

  30. Kat says

    This is a wealth of great information. Ranger usually travels with us and we get a neighborhood kid to check on the cats and water the plants. On the rare occasions we can’t take Ranger we board all the animals. By dint of much searching we found a place that we trust and where the animals are comfortable; well Ranger and Katzenjammer are comfortable poor Meowzart is miserable but he’s equally miserable if he’s home and being looked after by someone else so there’s no winning with him.

    Like em above I have a great dog with fabulous manners and as a result no one believes me when I tell them that he’s a dog and you need to remember that because when you least expect it he will behave like a dog. That’s one of the things I liked best about the place we board, not only are they professionals who understand that even a well trained and good mannered dog can suddenly decide not to listen but also they’ve designed the facility and protocols with that possibility in mind. It was hard leaving him the first time but coming back and having him glad to see us but not ecstatic was very comforting. We had our vacation and he and Katzenjammer had a wonderful vacation at the pet resort. Meowzart coped as best he could. It was nice, Ranger was even able to go in and check on his cats on a daily basis.

  31. Jennifer Hamilton says

    If you use a petsitter, I always recommend having a “back-up” boarding facility your pet sitter can use if s/he has their own unexpected emergency. Pet sitters can need emergency surgery, get in a car wreck, or have a family member pass away while pet sitting…just like any of the rest of us. And while you may love your pet sitter, you may not love or trust all of their friends or family who may be asked or volunteer to step in. As an owner of a pet resort, we have a number of clients where we are “back-up” for their pet sitter. If an emergency comes up, we will accept their pets without question, or even go pick them up at the house. The only way we are able to do this is because all paperwork, vaccines and preferences have been completed in advance by the owner at our facility. The petsitter and neighbors are informed that they can bring the pets to our facility at any time, and we’ll know what to do until the owner gets home.

  32. Karen Harmin says

    Wonderful list, and lots of good information. You can’t emphasize enough the importance of a reliable pet sitter. i always used to type out instructions for the woman who took care of Bob when we went away, but she never read them … and never did the things she promised to do. But Bob had a very difficult personality, and it was hard to find a place where he’d be comfortable — and he was very comfortable there, so we kept using her.

    A few small, quick points:

    (1) The law on wills varies from state to state. Downloading a will from the internet and getting it signed by two witnesses will be fine in lots of states, but not all — you need to check on the law of the state where you live and see what’s required. (There are all sorts of archaic rules about wills, so it’s not hard to do something that will invalidate the will.) And be aware that you shouldn’t photocopy a will — you need a single original, kept in one place.

    (2) Another great place to post important information is ON THE REFRIGERATOR. If you board your dog (or send him to friends), you want to make it as easy as possible on anyone who has to come into the house and locate stuff in the event of your death. I’d leave a sign saying “In the event of my death, telephone John Doe at xxx-xxx-xxxx,” and then tell John where to find your bank accounts, your will, etc. (If you leave all the info on the note, you’ve given a great gift to any burglar who might come in while you’re gone.)

    (3) Trisha, as you pointed out, it’s important to make financial arrangements to take care of your animals. It’s not enough to leave written instructions for the vet; make sure they also have a credit card number and authorization to charge your card if your pet sitter brings your dog in for treatment.

    (4) If you password-protect files on your computer, leave a copy of all your passwords — even those to your bank accounts — in a safety deposit box, and explain to your friend John Doe that’s where they are.

    This last bit is so important! A friend of my mother’s lost her husband 3 years ago. He took care of all the finances; she didn’t have a clue where their money was. Three years later, they’re still finding bank accounts they weren’t aware of — because all his files were password protected, and they never could get into them.

    Not dog advice, but important. I suppose it sounds macabre to a lot of people to do all this stuff for, say, a 3-day trip … but I just imagine what would happen to my dog if something happened to me, and it suddenly doesn’t seem so silly to be so prepared.

    Have a fabulous time in New Zealand!

  33. trisha says

    I learn so much from this blog! No copies of your will? Who knew? Eeeps, I left copies everywhere? (Why not?)

    And Jennifer, great advice about a back up boarding facility and also about leaving all critical, but personal details with a friend, with a note to call him/her in the event of your death. Great idea.

    Great points too about what phone number to have on a collar. I always have the farm number on it because all sitters live here while I’m gone (I’d never have an arrangement where someone just stops in… don’t want to offend anyone, but that’s just not enough ‘coverage’ for me to be comfortable.) Also, I travel a lot, and have quite a few sitters, so I’d have an endless number of tags… but if you don’t travel much and have a regular sitter, it’s a great idea (also if you travel with your dog, get a number on the tag of where you will be, not your home number.)

  34. s says

    Unfortunately, we are not able to leave our dogs – one has containment issues so a boarding facility is not an option, and one still suffers from SA which I can manage up to about 5 hours. I can’t expect anyone to come sit my dogs and not leave so we don’t go away and if we do, we split up. Even so, my husband ends up taking the dogs everywhere – he doesn’t follow my mgmt plan like I do, so the anxiety levels skyrocket (his and the dogs!). sigh. someday…

    but, even so I have learned some things just leaving the dogs with my husband – I have printed sheets at the doors explaining what to do (put garbage in garage, clear counters of food – common sense things since our dogs will destroy the garbage and eat anything handy!), where the frozen kongs are, turn on music or tv, etc.

    I also save old med bottles prior to my trip and I count out exactly how many they need while I’m gone – that way I easily know if any were skipped or not. I put feeding instructions inside a cabinet door so its easy to see and parcel out the right meds for the right dog. I used to label the dishes but honestly as long as the right meds go to the right dog, I don’t care which bowl is used while I”m gone for each dog.

    I strongly agree with the commenter that said to have an electronic copy of this info and save it in a file that is clearly labelled. We can plan all we want, but life happens and if anything should happen to me, my husband has the printed info on the doors and in the cabinet. He could find the electronic copies as well, and I list the rescue numbers where we adopted our dogs from – I know, as hard as it is to think about, if anything did happen to me, he will be needing that number because he won’t be able to manage the dogs and the kids on his own.

  35. HurricaneDeck says

    Two things I did not see on your list :

    Driving directions to your vet’s office! Print them out, have them handy on the fridge. I live out in the boonies, and while most sitters know who and where, just in case during a panic they can’t remember where the office is, they have the directions.

    I have a letter that I give to the sitter and to the vet that says that this person is authorized to seek medical attention for my animals. I have a set dollar limit for each animal that the vet is authorized to spend before I have to give an okay for more money. I’ve also directed the vet to put down any animal that he believes that emergency services will not extend the life of the dog, or diminish the dog’s quality of life. In this letter I state that he is not liable for anything if, in his best professional judgment, an animal should be put down.

  36. Shari says

    I am glad I’m not as over specific as I thought I might be. My instructions (for one dog and two cats) run pages and pages long.

    I do the 2 copies of contact and emergency info, too, and get very irritated when I come home to 2 copies still sitting on the counter.

    One thing you didn’t mention that I do is the email the instructions and the contact info to the sitter beforehand. That way they have access to it from home or elsewhere if necessary. And they can review it beforehand and ask me any questions.

  37. Rose says

    This is all great advice.This is something I always worry about. I just moved to a new city so don’t have very many people I could ask to look after my dog. My parents would but there 5 hours away.

    Does anyone with dogs with issues/special needs have any advice? For anyone who lives with dogs with issues finding a pet sitter can be particularly difficult (my dog is reactive to other dogs and also has high energy requirements). Although having somebody permanently come and stay at my apartment would be the best option I am not sure how feasible that is..I’ve looked around and there is not very many people who do it (and I live in a tiny place).And like Trish said, I would not be comfortable with somebody just ‘stopping’ by.

    I could never have her in a boarding facility because she has severe barrier aggression with chain linked fence and would be stressed seeing other dogs go by/hearing the other dogs. I would worry that she would go after another dog.

    I have taken care of different friends’ dogs on occasions but wouldn’t trust them to look after mine so can’t ask them to return the favour(and I now live in a different city).She has done well with all of her canine guests (she knew them before) but I also do a lot of management to ensure there isn’t problems or stay at my friends house with her (less problems with dogs when she isnt on her own turf). My friends wouldn’t be able to handle all of this and wouldn’t take the precautions I do (like not letting her greet strange dogs, seperating the dogs while I am away,monitoring interactions, never letting her offleash when not in a backyard).These just arent things they have to think about because there dogs are super friendly so despite there best intentions I know they wouldn’t remember.

    I have yet to find a good option that I can trust (and believe me I’ve looked!) and with a far-away family member becoming increasingly ill I worry that I may have to leave at a moments notice (she wouldnt be able to come as I don’t drive).

  38. Susan Levin says

    I’ve always done the pre-trip planning and house sitter hiring and pre-trip introduction for my dogs and the sitter, but the BEST thing I’ve ever done was hire an animal communicator to actually tell my dog and cat about our plans–how long we’d be gone, where they would be (at home), when we were coming home…etc. And then Dante started asking questions–what shoes are you taking? Are you going to wear the shoes you wear when we walk? Where will I sleep? Where will the sitter sleep? Be sure to tell her to leave the night lights on for us. Are you taking the bag you carry on your back? (No.) Bring back some smells for me on your shoes. The communicator said all of us should take a few minutes before a trip and tell our animals visually as much as possible about our travel plans. Tell them how long they’ll be without us by counting the sunrises for them. I left feeling better about going away than ever before. Having a chance to explain things to them made my trip much more enjoyable.

  39. says

    Some follow up on wills and copies:

    As an attorney, I cringe at people downloading legal forms from the internet. Even if you do use that kind of a form, you absolutely should run the final product by an attorney before you sign any kind of document — will, contract, power of attorney, or otherwise. There are all kinds of state-specific things that an internet document will never address, and you can get in a ton of trouble. “Internet wills” can really drive up the administrative costs for the estate, so you (or the person administering your estate) will ultimately not save money!

    Quite frankly, rather than starting with an internet form, it is best to spend your time and energy listing your assets and wishes. Any good firm experienced with wills, trusts and estates will have a detailed questionnaire to walk you through the process. This will then serve as the basis for the attorney to be sure that your estate planning is set up exactly the way you intended it to be. Pet-friendly firms also have a separate detailed questionnaire for pet concerns — but it sounds like most readers of this blog already have information spelled out that could easily be incorporated for their pets!

    About copies: In general, you don’t want a lot of copies floating around. This is particularly so if you end up changing your will. If people cannot find the most recent will, they can probate a copy of an earlier, originally signed will. Flip side is — if you have only the original of your will, and you hide it so well that cannot be found after your death, then your estate is treated as if there is no will, and the intestate rules kick in. The best recommendation is to have the original and one copy.

  40. Laura says

    My dogs go to my sister’s house and my cats stay at home. I used to only have someone check on the cats every other day. On a business trip a few years ago I left on a Monday and was supposed to be back Wednesday so I didn’t set up someone to check on them. I got to the airport on Wednesday and my flight was delayed for an hour at a time until after several hours it was finally cancelled. By this time it was night and I didn’t want to make someone go to my house to check on the cats. I knew I had left out plenty of food and water. Well two of my cats got locked in the bathroom. They must of been playing and shut the door. Of course, my toilet lid was down. I don’t know how long they were locked in there but it was awhile. They destroyed the bathroom which was fine. One cat lost his voice. I felt so bad I cried and cried. I thought the cats should be mad at me but they thought I rescued them and they both just wanted to sit on me. Now I put weights in front of every single door in the house. I leave water all over the house and try to have someone come every day. I really hate leaving my animals and try not to do it more than I have to. Thanks for the tips. I might look into having someone stay in my home.

  41. Susan G says

    Thanks for this conversation, Trisha. I have probably not done desensitizing to travel well enough. My husband travels often, and Oscar doesn’t seem to mind his suitcase. But if I get mine, he is all upset or convinced he’s coming, too. We also try to pack the car when he is not watching. We use, “I’ll be back soon,” for day trips, and, “See you tomorrow,” for one night or more. I think he understands the difference.

    Similar to Rose, I have also struggled to find a pet sitter and have similar concerns with others watching Oscar. We are 6 hours from family. We have tried boarding/day care facilities, but Oscar has come home sick each time due to the stress, I think. I don’t think boarding is great for his permanent abandonment issues, and day care is okay briefly but not ideal for his some of his dog-dog issues. We have had good leads on pet sitters, but things have not panned out either for distance, my need for 3x visits (including 2x “real” walks), or my needing an experienced hand on the leash for him. It has been frustrating. I’m sure the right person is out there (or combination of people) and hope to find a solution *soon*!

  42. chris says

    I do pet-sitting now and then.

    One of my big concerns is safety and security when walking somebody else’s dog. A lot of people hook the leash to the collar that holds the ID tags (which bugs me) and a lot of everyday collars have plastic buckles that can get brittle and fail (that bugs me even more). If any of the dogs I watch got loose, I could likely call most of them back but I have a couple of bolters who live to hunt. Anyway, I don’t want to take a chance.

    So I always check the collar/leash situation and discuss my concerns with the owner. Many times, I’ve asked if it would be OK if the dog wore a slip-collar in addition to his regular collar as a little bit of extra security. The leash is attached to both collars with the slip collar not in play, however, if the regular collar does break, the dog is still held by the back-up slip collar.

    It’s also a good idea to make sure all the members of the traveling party know the pet-sitters name and contact info. Years ago I was hired by the wife of a couple to watch their dog (in my house) while they traveled. About half-way through their trip, the unbelievable happened and the woman died suddenly of a pulmonary embolism. The husband didn’t have my contact information and couldn’t find it in his wife’s purse. He only knew I was named Cathy or Carla or something like that (my name is Chris). He finally remember that he knew someone who lived in my neighborhood, called them and described me (lady with two long, skinny, pointy-nosed dogs (i.e. smooth collies)). That person knew me and my dogs but didn’t know my name. He did suspect, however, that I lived down a certain street nearby and went door to door until he found me. I had no idea all this was going on. Their return date wasn’t for a couple more days, their dog was having a grand time, and I wasn’t concerned. I felt terrible for the husband as he didn’t need this additional hassle.

  43. lin says

    @Rose. If you like your vet clinic, ask if there is anyone there who does pet-sitting on the side. A friend did that for her two dogs, and hired one of the vet techs to be a sitter. Our dog is dog-aggressive, and had separation anxiety for some years after we got her. And oh, yeah, she’s shy around people (but is very food-motivated). We asked at our clinic, and one of the kennel aides, who pet-sat for one of the vets, is still our in-house pet-sitter today. She was not fazed by Pup’s issues, and gives Kitty his insulin shots. Of course, you still would want references, and to interview the person, but it’s a place to start. Depending on the person’s schedule, you may want to hire someone else to do the walking/excercising .

  44. Rose says

    @Lin thats not a bad idea.I will definitly look into it. My dog already has a dogwalker so I am sure she could maintain her regular schedule.My dog is always home alone (with a dog walk 3 x a week) but has never slept alone and I would never want her to be alone all night.

    @Susan: I am in a similar situation to you and until I find a solution I guess I will be staying put!

    Having a “special” dog definitly involves a lot of extra planning. I can’t just leave her with a friend or ask anyone to take care of her. I live in a big city too so most people are in small, tiny apartments with no yards (meaning they would have to be dedicated enough to leash her up and take her down the stairs every time she had to go out).

  45. jackied says

    I have a reactive dog. He would not accept anybody coming into the house. He loves my parents, but with them I’d be terrified they’d not take my instructions seriously and he’d end up biting someone and being pts. So he goes to boarding kennels; he goes there for day care once a week too.

    He may well bark at other dogs through the wire, but I’d rather he ‘practiced’ barking at other dogs than biting humans. The kennels were very good about following my instructions the first few days he went – keeping a long line on him so they could take him out without touching him etc, and they added things I’d not thought of, like only having one kennel girl interacting with him the first couple of days, then slowly introducing the rest of the staff over several more visits. Now he leaps into their arms and licks their noses when we turn up – going to the kennels has doubled the number of people who can safely touch him!

  46. Rose says

    Jackied I can definitly see where your coming from and its awesome you have found a place you can trust!

    I have the same issue with my parents; they love my dog but don’t beleive me when I say how bad she can be with other dogs (she loves humans and with careful management, is pretty good on leash in public too. They aren’t careful closing doors behind them (they let there dog run out of the house and into the car with no leash on and I have to remind them not to do the same with mine). They are offended that I wouldn’t trust them to look after her for long periods of time but I’ve volunteered at shelters and seen what can happen to dogs who bite humans or other dogs so am pretty paranoid about it.

  47. says

    Many excellent comments and suggestions. I would add the following:

    1. I pre-make “Lost” posters of all my animals that have photos, large print, and the animal name and Microchip ID as well as my cell number and a space to write in a second contact number. That way I know the sitter is not looking for photos and wasting time making posters. I leave 12 of each pre-made in a folder – all they have to do is go to Kinkos to make more and add their phone number – time is precious. Also, if I ever lose a pet, I myself have prepared so as not to lose time on the posters.

    2. I have several species with different vets – ie dogs, horses, goats, chickens…so I have the sitter pre-program into their cell “Cow Vet”, “Horse Vet,” etc and the numbers. That way if there is a problem they can call right from the pasture without looking for the emergency numbers – even though those are posted throughout the house, emailed, etc. as well.

    3. In case the sitter has a family emergency, I always line up a backup or two or three depending on how long I will be gone, so that if they have to leave they can hand off the job to someone else. I email all contingencies the instructions before I leave just in case, so everyone has the same info. I also hide an extra key to the house somewhere in case I need to direct someone to get in.

    4. I leave a credit card on file and written instructions with each vet authorizing charges for care and instructing them what to do so that the decisions are not left to the petsitter and there is no financial delay or concern. If I have a regular pet sitter I get them a card of their own (as an authorized user) so that they have it in case they need care and there is any issue.

    I do try and let it go once I leave, but having everything in place does help. Although I leave detailed instructions I have been surprised all the same now and then. I had a very smart Phd petsit once and in an email he told me that he was out in the pasture putting the cat litter there when one of the dogs got in with the goats (no harm done). I could not figure out WHY anyone would put cat litter in the pasture. Apparently he felt it was appropriate since there was other poop there. However, I flood irrigate….so it was a big mess. Now I actually have a lien in the “manual” that says “Please place used cat litter in trash.” Go figure.

  48. martha says

    I think all the above ideas are terrific.
    but the best one by far is

    an extra tag with the sitters cell phone number (metal/machine printed )
    PERFECT.
    (assuming they have a cell and there is coverage)

    oh and notes that say the exact address/phone number of the house/farm
    and……………

  49. Keeping_Awake says

    As a user and provider of petsitting services, I am a fan of the detailed notes!

    However, for my daily use, I find it much easier to have a bullet-pointed list for the daily chores, food prep and any medication administration along with a note about the dog’s general habits and quirks.

    Don’t worry–if you are one of those clients who puts it all down in a stream-of-consciousness novel, I’ve got your covered. I make a photocopy of your note and then I re-write it, breaking it down into categories and bulleted lists for my easier use and reference. Then I store it in my computer files for clients, just in case you don’t leave that information the next time I visit you, and I’m reminded to ask about things like meds which might have been needed last time but are no longer being administered. ;)

    I also generally ask if your dog is microchipped (number, company); if any of your neighbors have keys to your house and if any of them know your dog well; best way to get a recall out of your dog; and what your plan is should the dog somehow get away from me (never happened, but I want to know your plan if he ever should, including what neighbors might know him better and be more likely to get a recall!).

    As I use one petsitter pretty exclusively for my own dog, her cellphone number has been added to my dog’s tags, with her permission. If I am away, it’s better that someone finding my dog call her; and even if I’m home, who knows which of us could be contacted first? I like having the second number on the tag, just in case!

  50. says

    My article on pet trusts was just publishsed in NOVADog Magazine, and you can access a link to the online version of the magazine or a PDF copy of just the article on my blog at: http://petlawblog.wordpress.com/2011/01/11/hot-off-the-press-play-pet-trusts-and-proactive-advice/

    I hope folks find this article helpful. It is really worth it to have both a trust (not just a statutory trust, which is not honored in all states) and a power of attorney, to cover you not only in the event of your death, but also in the event of incapacitation.

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