It’s getting to be that time of the year when a lot of us travel. Sometimes our dogs go with us, other times, not. I thought it was a good time to repeat a post I wrote in 2010 about doing all I can to keep my dogs safe and happy when with a house sitter.
…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, (storm? 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. 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 designated 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 all my animals.
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 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 you could imagine. 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 once 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 from sitters who work with others.
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. Last lambs born this morning! Feels so good to discontinue pacing the barn floor. Nine lambs in all, all doing well so far (cross your hooves please). Here are Harrietta’s lambs, born about an hour ago. The little fawn colored one is still getting cleaned up by mom.
Meryl Sheep is by herself with her two lambs, I tried putting her in with Harrietta and one of the lambs ended up with a black eye–a huge blood-filled contusion that closed her eye completely. She is healing well, but I suspect that Harrietta bashed her into the wall to keep her away. (Sheep do not understand the concept of “wet nurse” or even “Oh! Your baby is so adorable! Can I hold it?”)
The rest of the lamb flock is in a larger pen. The lambs were all snoozing in the sun this morning when I went in with my camera.
Finally, finally, spring is here. (Or is it really summer? It’ll be 75 tomorrow.) This is my favorite part of the yard in spring, a drift of Scilla that keeps spreading every year.
Here’s my favorite spring ephemeral, Bloodroot (so called because the sap of the plant is a kind of orangy-red. Well, really it’s orange, not red at all, but we all pretend it looks red so it fits the name. The color looks a bit like other orange things. Just saying.
Minnesota Mary says
Great tips here! When I travel (usually once a year) I always have an in-house sitter for my dogs. I do much of what you do here, but there’s a lot of extra tips that I had never thought of (copy of phone numbers/instructions for the sitter’s car, a will, setting the expectation that I’ll call the sitter when I’m home). I’m going to make some changes before my next trip! Thank you Trisha
My daughter does pet sitting from time to time. Her list of things she requires from her clients is much like yours, detailed lists of contacts including who is authorized to make life and death decisions for the pet as well as vets names and numbers. She also insists on meeting the pet(s) at least once in their home before she’ll agree to sit. She prefers it if she can make two or three visits in advance so the pets know her before she moves in to live with them.
Her last client was on safari in Africa so phone calls weren’t really an option but my daughter was sending regular e-mail updates including photos for the, in the end, 11 days (one got tacked on when planes were delayed) the client was gone.
With Finna as part of our menagerie we don’t leave our pets with sitters. Instead, only two of us are ever gone at a time. That means Finna and the rest always have two family members watching out for them. Finna has adopted the coat closet as her safe place when I’m gone and as soon as she sees suitcases leaving the house she heads for the closet. I try never to make a fuss about the fact that I’m leaving but I do always tell her very matter of factly how many darks I will be gone. It makes me feel better to spell it out for her that way. I don’t think the cats really notice if I’m here or not and Ranger takes everything in stride but I know my absence is very hard on Finna.
What a great list! The veterinary clinic that I work at has stopped boarding dogs, and for the first time in many many years, I will have to have someone watch the pups for me. We have had my step-son house sit for us in the past, but I don’t know if that will be an option this time!
Having all of your contact information, easily available for the sitter is so important. I will usually make a daily schedule out as well, not with anything super important on it, but just so the normal daily routine can stay somewhat “normal”.
I know that the doggos don’t really know how long we’ve been gone when we get back, but I always feel so guilty about leaving them!
Margaret McLaughlin says
Great tips. I’m so paranoid about leaving that the only night I’ve spent away from the dogs in more than 20 years was the one I spent in the hospital after my shoulder replacement.
FYI, bloodroot is named after its root, not its flower. Pull one up, cut the root, & you’ll see why.
Chris from Boise says
Speaking of wills: when we finally got around to making our estate plans a couple of years ago, it was only because we realized that Habi would need a safe landing spot if we both passed away. (We have no children, or we might have gotten around to it sooner). Obi’s foster group would take him back, and he’s resilient enough to have a happy landing with almost anyone, but Habi – not so much. Her reactive dog trainer very kindly was willing to take her if need be.
Two years later, Habi is old and frail and not quite all there cognitively (although perhaps happier than she’s ever been, as her world has shrunk to a manageable size). Our estate plans have changed; she is to be euthanized if we both pass away before she does. This was a REALLY hard decision to come to, but when we looked at her needs, it was obvious that she was in no shape to be incorporated into even a wise, dog-savvy household. Of course, we do plan to out-live her, but one never knows.
We have a couple of knowledgeable and able-to-follow-instructions friends who have “sat” for Habi and Obi in a pinch, but once Habi was able to handle most things, we’d load up the dogs and take them with us (including our amazing six thousand mile Road Trip With Dogs last summer to see old friends back east). She’s no longer capable of that, so one of us always stays home with her (and with only two of us, we aren’t traveling together, which is sad but oh well for now). Life is good – hooray for senior dogs!
All that being said: I copied out your original post and filed it in our dog file for future reference. Great ideas here! Thanks for re-running it!
Now I’m worried; we have a highly-recommended college girl dog-sitting (and doing farm chores) for us for a week-end; it’s the first time I’ve had someone stay here.
Laurie Piaskowski says
I am very fortunate in the fact that I can leave my precious Mowgli( mini am shep) with my daughter and son in law. They have a full size Aussie, Tristan, And soon to have a baby Aussie Dexter. The boys get along great and know, and are allowed and not allowed to do the same things. Even though it’s my daughter and son-in-law (Mowgli loves uncle Ryan)I still leave written instructions. I pack a suitcase for Mo including but not limited to toys chews food training items crate and any meds or supplements he might be on. He even gets to attend his weekly agility lesson with auntie Crystal as his handler. I am blessed to have such wonderful dog people in my life. In the event that he can’t stay with Crystal and Ryan ( which has only happened once when my mom passed away) all the “ family” dogs go to the same trusted kennel and are kept in the same pod and are turned out to play/ potty together. It was my son’s dog Jaxson, Tristan and Mowgli. Although I know they missed us I felt comfortable knowing they were all “ camping out” with their buddies and were safe and well cared for.
I have so much trouble leaving my dog I bought an RV and resist traveling if he can’t go along. On rare occasion I have to travel for work but I make it as short as possible. I leave lengthy notes and instructions. If the prospective sitter laughs at my detail, that isn’t the right sitter for me. Some say they appreciate it, and those are the ones I want. I love it when the sitter sends me notes once or twice a day with photos of a happy and safe dog. It just makes me a wreck to leave him. He is a rescue and we went through a lot together to help him get to a good place. I am dedicated to not disrupting that progress.
Great tips! I usually leave detailed instructions for the pet sitter. We had a planned two-day away, for surgery, in January and in February, and I left instructions for what temperature to leave the thermostat should it get below a certain temp outside, etc.
Unfortunately, my pet sitter didn’t get to the house the evening before my surgery, and I didn’t sleep well. I didn’t get to talk to her until the next afternoon.
I have a question: Where do you find a good, trust-worthy pet/house sitter? I’ve had only ONE that I could brag about and refer to others, and she set the standard. She won’t come to Texas from her home state. )
We had installed Arlo cameras outside for security reasons about a year ago. They also worked great to keep an eye on the dogs (and sitter) during a recent trip.
Paula Ehlers says
My solution is to have my husband stay behind (I know, a little extreme) when I go for my yearly get-together with my Tripawd friends. He has to work 2 of the days this year, so my pet sitter (who works for my vet) will come to be with the dogs during the day. Ever since my beloved Dobe had his amputation 4 years ago, one of us has always been home with them. Not conducive for a joint vacation with my husband, but worth it for peace of mind at this point in time. It works for us, for now.
Paula from Wisconsin
Honey Loring says
The reason I first did a will was to make sure the dogs were all placed in homes I’d checked with and each goes with lots of yearly money for their care – grooming and vetting being the big ones. I also hate to travel without my dogs and so it is only because I am so taken with the orphan baby elephants in Nairobi at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, that I will be leaving for 7 days to see them for my 70th birthday present to myself in October. I am very lucky at this point in time. One of the people who came in through the poodle dog door, who now has two via my connections, stays here with the dogs – sleeps with them, plays with them (probably more than I do,) fusses over them, and since she’s a mature adult, we stay in very frequent phone contact. When she and her husband go away, her dogs stay here, where they used to come for grooming and poodle get togethers, so this place is a second home for them and they love all the stuff they don’t have at their home, like a dog door. We have all the routines established and it’s smooth sailing. They are so adaptable. Lisa and Marc get up at the ungodly hour of 4 or 5 am and go to bed very early in the evening. Here…if I’m out of bed by 8:00, that’s early and we go to bed late (gotta binge on net flix.) They totally switch to my schedule. I couldn’t go away without this peace of mine and first thing I do if I do decide to travel without them, is to check to make sure she’s available.
Usually, we call each other within the first 12 hours and we email pictures . As I say, this is a great arrangement. It’s a trade, too.
Best to you, Honey Loring
ps the peacefulness of new born critters.
Kay East says
What a great list! We are talking about adding a couple of things from your list to oir procedures. My retired husband and I are full-time “daily visit” pet sitters. Caring for our own three Aussies, cats and home makes it too difficult to manage overnight stays at clients’ homes. Our niche works well for those who are comfortable with one or more daily visits for feeding, walking, play time, dispensing medications and other requested duties.
We insist on an advance, complementary in-home consultation visit, during which we meet owners and all animals, talk about behaviors, habits and routines, meds, location of essentials, all contact info, emergency instructions, insured their vet has been given our contact info and payment authorization. Newspaper, mail, waste removal, plant watering and trash pick-up days are all noted. We try all door keys we are given. We write everything on our Service Contract which both parties sign and date and we ask the client(s) to leave their own detailed instructions out for reference. We go over our policies which includes the very important: “Call or Text us on your Arrival Home!” If they don’t, we may make another trip out and it will be a chargeable visit!
At our last visit, we leave a Visit Summary on a card with a pre-printed reminder to call or text when they ARE HOME! This is where we have most of our communication problems. Clients will contact us on arrival at the airport or somewhere in transit when they “are getting close.” We ask them, are to assume that nothing will happen in the next few miles on their journey and their precious fur babies will be cared for? Would they be comfortable with us turning off our phone at this point? While we know it is easier to make contact with us enroute instead of after arrival with all the greetings, excitement and busyness, it does not insure us that they are truly “home.”
leslie krouk says
I have similar information for anyone I have to leave my dogs with at our home. We moved a year ago and I began the interview process and found someone I thought would be perfect and had her spend time with my dogs approximately five different occasions for short periods of time.
We had the same philosophies and she has tons of experience and even trains dogs as diabetic alert dogs.
I was a 10-hour flight away. Both dogs are on meds and one dog is afraid of the world. Anyway I won’t go into any of that at this point. If it had not been for my ring doorbell video camera I would never have known that in fact she was not following the schedule and on many nights never even stayed with the dogs. I started questioning her by the third day in trying to give it her the benefit of the doubt and maybe hoping that our video cam was not functioning properly and after a few days of different kinds of questions she decided that we were not going to be a good match and she just left!!!
My daughter’s boyfriend came over with their dog and stayed for the remainder of the time but this was very difficult due to the fact that my one dog does not trust any man and is not fond of other dogs. He made it work and fortunately we had been doing a lot of desensitization and counterconditioning with all three dogs together prior to that time.
I am a pet sitter. There are a few professional pet sitting organizations (I don’t know the rules, so I don’t want to promote the one to which I belong). You can usually find a good pet sitter through their websites. I am certified, bonded, and insured.
I suggest also leaving information on people who may show up at your house, including family members or service professionals. I have been surprised a few times and it can make a pet sitter uncomfortable to have someone show up and walk inside. I generally don’t answer clients’ home phones unless they ask me to do so.
Please call or text your pet sitter the week before you leave on your trip to double check dates/times. I have had clients tell me the wrong dates when booking. This also helps reduce the number of pets who are forgotten as some services are booked months in advance.
I love that you leave such detailed notes. It’s important for your pets to stay on their daily schedule as much as possible and I do my best to keep close to the schedule. I am also a dog walker during the day, so it’s important to me to know if your dog walks well with others or if I need to alter my schedule to accommodate your pet.
We use two dog sitters only. If one is not available we don’t go. They both have stayed with our dog many times now, so we are all comfortable. But in one way we sort of cheat. Our preferred sitter is a trainer for Dog’s Best Friend, and is also his daily dog walker. That ‘s almost like having a family member stay.
Patricia, you sound just like me. I’m known for the “book” I leave for my sitters. I too like if my sitter is here when I leave but often have to rely on the “text” before I board the plane to reassure me. I call everyday and ask for photos to be sent to me. If my girl is happy and healthy when I get home, I’m a happy Mom.
I am a retired professional pet sitter and at my initial meeting with a client and pets I brought all kinds of forms which covered these bases. In the 15 years I was a sitter I heard all kinds of stories about the bad ones out there. My only dog now is an ESA so she gets to come with me everywhere. Before that I would board her at vet clinics but had bad experiences in 2 out of 3 cases. You can’t be too careful or too picky about your precious furbabies!
Thanks so much for the list!! I do a few of those things, but didn’t think of a couple (house emergencies!). I had a great sitter once that accidentally locked herself out!! The lock on the doorknob got turned, she went outside for a second and voila! Fortunately she gad her phone with her and I had a hidden key. I changed the lick to one you have to lock with a key—not the knob. Problem solved.
And I actually touch base with them everyday—I’m an RN and acutely aware that terrible things happen…so far, so good on that one 😜.
I am also a professional pet sitter. I’ve had some clients complain about the number and length of paperwork, but truthfully it covers all of this and more. I also email or text clients pictures of their pets while they are gone at least once a day. It provides peace of mind. I also text daily and usually after each visit even if multiple visits during the day depending upon the client. Lastly, I always tell the client to text me as soon as they are back home and inform them that if I don’t get a text I’ll be showing up at their doors to care for their animals. I frequently heard from many people that this seems like Overkill, but then I explain about possible where’s Case scenarios. They always admit that they never considered that and are appreciative. I personally love clients like you.
Casper O' Hane says
I tried to post earlier but I don’t think it worked. Oops. Silly tablet.
I know this is late and off topic, but I just wanted to say to the person who on a previous post asked about what to do with outdated training books: if you haven’t thrown them away, you might want to think twice about doing so. My copies of How to Be Your Dog’s Best Friend and Cesar’s Way make great training props. I’ve taught my dog how to move her back end all the way around in a circle while keeping her front paws on a book. (Hind end awareness I think it’s called? I call it move yer butt.) I also use them to prop up my phone when I’m filming myself working with my dog. Who needs a tripod? They are also good if you want to teach a dog to fetch strange items.
Jann Becker says
Overall, good suggestions, but I wanted to point out that a person’s will may not be read until sometime after their deaths, and may not be implemented for months if probate is required. Instructions for the care of pets need to be in a letter that will be found sooner than that; let whatever family members will be called in a crisis know in advance that such instructions exist and where to find them.
Pat Rathbun says
Maybe a second house key. We had a high school kid come take our dogs on walks when we were gone. My husband’s disabled daughter was home at night but could not walk the dogs. He came when she was at work, and he managed to lose our house key. So he just came in and out through the large dog door. Our Lab and Aussie thankfully didn’t seem to care.
I include a list of all friends who can lend a hand in case of the sitter(s) having an emergency. Last year my sitters had a death in the family but they were able to stay until I got home. I was deeply grateful, but there was a backup plan in place had they not been able to.
I have a packet with vaccination records, medication list, license info, and current veterinarian name and number, just in case they should need to take dog to emergency vet. I include a credit card and a notarized letter authorizing use of the card for animal or household emergencies, and I pre-notify my credit card company. In addition to making arrangements with my regular vet – they put my critter sitters and travel arrangements right in my dog’s chart.
I leave all the same info with the emergency backups.
I’ll be adding the simple will for the next business trip.
Kelli Shannon says
As a professional pet sitter you would be my ideal client. I can’t tell you how valuable those notes and attention to detail are. I do not take lightly the trust people place in me with their homes and precious animal companions. Thank you for this post.
We don’t have a dog sitter, we bring our dog to a couple who sits dogs at their own house. They sit a maximum of two dogs at a time plus their own Labrador Lady who is actually the same age than our Labrador Lady. The two of them are best friends and we always get lovely pics where they spend a day wandering on a mountain top or have a swim in a nearby lake. So, I can spend a really relaxed Holiday with my husband.
New for me was the thought of a will, which of course seemed immediately very important for me. And I was wondering why I never thought about that myself. Thanks for this information.
kind regards from the Southern parts of Germany
When I go someplace that I have to leave my kids (not very often…if they’re not welcome, I don’t want to go) I have 2 friends that watch them in their homes for me. I have 2 go to one friend and 2 to the other, as they have dogs of their own and it’s easier for them. I, not only, leave a list of instructions/contacts, but, because I suffer from “separation anxieties”, I call them at least 2-3 times a day (which they have come to expect). I, really, think it’s harder on me, than my fur-kids.
These are great tips! I wish I had been more detailed and forceful when I left my dogs with a family. They did a pretty good job most of the time, but despite my warning that Sadie is a terrible countersurfer, they left a pan of bacon grease on the counter and she pulled it down and both dogs got into it. They were so sick by the time I got back. I am using a kennel from now on, so they are protected from that kind of negligence. I look back on what happened and wish I had told them in any situation the dogs get into something they shouldn’t, they need to let me know immediately and they need to contact my vet (not the sister in law vet tech I have never met). I will also only go with bonded and insured people from now on, because the family didn’t help with a penny of the exorbitant vet bill that came from 2 dogs in the hospital for 4 days due to pancreatitis.
Eeeps, glad your dogs are okay!
Thanks for the reinforcement! And you can see how much we all love good sitters!
Excellent point about a will and provisions for pets. I realized as I read your comment that I have a paragraph at the end of my instructions that says what should happen to the dogs and cats if both Jim and I are deceased. Thanks for the reminder about the importance of making it clear…
I also leave a list of my dogs’ vocabulary: they know the usual but have a few extras: “inside” to return to the house, “kennel up” means to go the room where they hang out, etc. I also have a letter at the vet’s for each animal, a living will of sorts. I keep a basic set of instructions in a file in my laptop, and modify as necessary.
We have become incredibly lucky. We have friends with the same breed who we meet for play dates (we met because of the dogs and have become close). The dogs love each other. So we watch their dog and they watch ours. It’s a joy to have them both at the same time and we know he is being well cared for (and vice versa). This came about after a small exclusive expensive “camp” for dogs ignored our instructions, ignored common sense, didn’t call our emergency contact, and literally almost killed our dog. Never again.
Excellent advice & very timely for me as I’m leaving for 3 weeks & will have a dog & cat sitter staying in my house for the first time.
Thanks for the good advice.
Gretchen in the Rocky Mountains says
Great suggestions. Thank! I have hydrogen, benydryl and activated charcoal in the doggies’ basket with their meds. Then the sitter can call my vet office that is on call after hours and immediately give her or him what is advised.
I also have a clean bathroom drawer for my sitters so they can put their meds etc in a safe place. I also put a hair dryer and mirror in the drawer.
I have a list of poisonous foods and include sugarless guns and candies on the list. Xylitol!
I email my volume of info ahead of time so she can get updated before she arrives and can ask questions before I have left.
I made a pact with the sitter that she can call anytime day or night. I told her I don’t get grumpy if woken.
I used to buy her a carton of nice ice cream and some frozen treats. She never ate any of it. So I would eat all of it when I was back. Yep. Yum. Now l just have lots of fresh fruit and veggies for her and she loves that.
Love the clean drawer and hair dryer idea, so thoughtful! And yes yes yes, a note about poisons (I also have a para about bloat, just in case.)
Stacy Braslau-Schneck says
I had not thought of leaving the address, so I’ll add that (although most of the time it is my in-laws helping to house-sit, and the house has been in the family for a long time so they do know it).
One other thing I include is a letter I’ve signed saying that the pet sitter has my authorization to get medical treatment for my dog. (I also leave the same thing authorizing care for my teenage daughter if she’s not with us!)
Debbie Elert says
Dogs are at a higher risk of becoming lost when a new person is coming and going in your home, or when he’s stressed. (Cats too). Someone coming into the home who isn’t “family”, even if he’s familiar with this person, is stressful, especially if you’re not there. Use a baby gate to section off your door so your dog can’t bolt out when it opens. He’s expecting to see you, not a stranger. If your backyard is fenced, have your sitter use that door to come and go, or have them use a garage door. If your dog sneaks out he’ll only get as far as your fenced back yard or your enclosed garage.
BEFORE YOU LEAVE:
– Take full-body photos of your dog from all angles. Capture any unique features, coloring, or markings. It’s important to have current photos in an easily accessible place in the event that your dog goes missing. Email the photos to yourself and text them to your sitter. A good photo is often the key to a lost dog getting back home quickly. You’ll need them to create lost dog flyers. Download free flyers here in several different styles including Spanish: http://www.HelpingLostPets.com.
– Walk your fence line to check to see if your dog can get under, over, or through it. Check your gate to make sure it closes securely. Also check windows and screens to be sure they’re secure.
– Check your dog’s collar. Is it properly fitted? Is his ID tag legible? His tag should have your current phone number and address on it. As a back-up, include the number for a friend or family member who doesn’t live with you, or your veterinarian’s number. You can make a new tag in under 5 minutes for about $5.00 at many of the larger pet store chains, or even at Walmart.
– If your pet isn’t already microchipped, have it done before you leave. List several contact numbers, including one for a family member or friend who isn’t traveling with you. Write down the microchip number, the brand of chip, and the company’s phone number. Take this information with you and/or email it to yourself so you can access in an emergency. Ask your veterinarian to document this in your dog’s chart as well. Not all microchip companies are created equal. Do your research beforehand. Here’s a good article about microchipping: http://www.lostdogsflorida.org/important-microchip-tips-for-pet-owners.html
– Instruct the sitter to put your dog on a leash when going outside, even if your yard is fenced. Your dog should not be left outside unattended.
– Leave instructions for what your pet-sitter should do if your dog becomes lost. What they do – or don’t do – could mean the difference between you finding your dog, or not! It’s not uncommon for a sitter to wait to inform the owner that their dog is lost because they don’t want to ruin their vacation, or they hope he’ll show up before the owner comes home and not have to admit that the dog was ever lost. Before you leave, and before your pet is lost, have a conversation with your pet-sitter so they know what to do and what you expect from them. Let them know you want to be notified immediately if your dog is lost! If possible, leave them the phone number of someone who your dog is very familiar with that they could call to help in the event you can’t come back home quickly.
INSTRUCTIONS FOR YOUR SITTER AND YOU IF YOUR DOG IS LOST:
– Never call or chase a lost dog! This will cause him to run further from the area he’s familiar with and out of the area where people are searching for him. Being chased could result in him bolting into traffic where he could be injured. Instead anyone helping should try to lure him to them using something really tasty-smelling such as tiny bits of hot dog or chicken breast. Gently toss tiny pieces towards him, each toss getting closer to you. Don’t make eye contact with him, but talk in a soft quiet voice. When he’s close enough don’t grab him. Slowly slip a slip lead around his neck or gently grasp his collar.
– If the dog is already out of sight put out something that smells familiar to him – his bed, blanket, or a toy, and something that smells like his favorite person. Leave the pillow case you slept on the night before you left for your sitter to use, or an article of your dirty clothing for them to put outside. This will calm your dog and often will guide him back home.
– The sitter should notify all of the shelters in the area, the police department, and authorities, as well as your veterinarian (especially if your dog is wearing a rabies tag with the clinic’s name on it).
– Post ads on lost/found Facebook pages, Craigslist, and neighborhood sites like NextDoor. Lost Dogs of America has a volunteer-run Facebook page in every state.
– Use neon colored poster board and a thick black marker to create signs that say LOST DOG and a phone number. Decide ahead of time if you want it to be your phone number or the sitter’s, or both. If your dog is lost any length of time you’ll want people to contact you, but if you’re unable to be reached by phone or to respond to a call/text quickly while you’re traveling, you may choose to use the sitter’s number. Signs should be placed where your dog was last seen and at major intersections in the area. They should be easily readable from the road.
– Leave written permission for the dog-sitter to be able to reclaim him from the shelter should he be taken there. Contact your shelter before you leave to see what their requirements are to reclaim a lost pet. Many shelters have a short stray hold time, after which he could be placed for adoption or even euthanized. While this is unlikely, take precautions to make sure your dog is safe.
– Include this website in your sitter’s instructions: http://www.LostDogsofAmerica.org. Lost Dogs of America is an all-volunteer organization dedicated to reuniting lost dogs with their families. It provides articles and tips that will help your lost dog get back home safely.
– Your sitter can immediately download free flyers through their partner, http://www.HelpingLostPets.com (HeLP). Going door-to-door with flyers is the #1 way to reunite a lost dog. Through HeLP, your dog will be entered into a map-based, searchable database. Members in the area will be alerted, and the volunteer partner group from that area will also be notified. Volunteers will share the flyer to social media and reach out to help. All of these services are free.
Losing your dog is scary, but even scarier if you’re away from home and unable to help search for him. Taking the above precautions beforehand may prevent your dog from ever becoming lost. Providing your pet-sitter with what to do if the unthinkable happens will increase the likelihood of your dog being found quickly and getting back home safely.
Nancy Lee says
On an uncommon event, I need to go for work however I make it as short as could be allowed. I leave extensive notes and guidelines. In the event that the forthcoming sitter chuckles at my detail, that isn’t the correct sitter for me. Some state they welcome it, and those are the ones I need.