1. Unless dictated by an unforeseen circumstance (such as a hospital stay), do not wait until the week before your vacation or business trip to make arrangements for boarding your pet. While last-minute arrangements can sometimes be made, they are usually less than ideal for all parties involved (including your pet). It is a good idea to be just as conscientious about planning your pet’s stay away from home as you are about planning your own.
2. Make it your business to get to know the place where your pet will be staying. If it is a kennel, be sure to speak to patrons who have boarded their pets there. If it is a private home, be sure that you have a “good feeling” about the sitter before leaving your pet with him/her. Never leave your pet with a person who will not let you inside their home to see where your pet will be living during your absence.
3. Do not assume that every company providing pet care does it in the same way, as there are a multitude of factors that can affect the overall picture – e.g., kennel boarding versus private home boarding, boarding your animal alone versus with other animals, the level of experience of the individual taking care of your animal, whether crates or cages will be used, whether children will be in the home, whether the person doing the boarding is a student looking to earn some spending money versus someone whose love for animals is the primary motivating factor behind their choosing to do the work.
4. Just because a sitter is insured and bonded through the organization that s/he works for does not necessarily mean that s/he is the best sitter for your pet. Each sitter will have a different approach and, if you want a good indication of the quality of the sitter’s work, it is best to ask for references. When talking to a reference, among the questions to consider asking are: (1) How many times have you used this particular service or sitter? (2) For how long was your animal boarded? (3) When was the last time you used this sitter (or agency)? (4) Would you use this service again? and (5) Did your pet seem perfectly okay in every way when s/he was returned to you?
5. Make it as easy as possible for the person caring for your animal to access emergency veterinary care. Always give the name, address and phone of your animal’s doctor. You need to feel confident in your sitter’s willingness and ability to take necessary action but is always a good idea to address this issue explicitly and directly before leaving town. Always let the sitter know where the animal’s carrying case is kept. Give some forethought to any external factors that might impinge upon the animal’s well-being (for example, a very young sitter might not immediately think to seek emergency medical care, whereas a much older sitter might be challenged by the pragmatic aspects of transporting a large dog).
6. Think about your pet’s individual personality and demeanor. For example, some dogs are more “sociable” than others. Some much prefer the company of other dogs to humans and some, vice versa. A dog who is aggressive by nature is not a good match for a home with young children. A dog that needs a good amount of exercise might not fare as well in a home with a fenced-in yard, as the tendency of the homeowner might be to let the dog use the yard at his/her leisure (instead of specifically walking the animal). A dog that loves peace, quite and individual attention might do best staying with a single person who works from home. Along similar lines, some cats are easily traumatized when moved to a new “home” and might do better with home visits (it does little good to put a cat in a new environment for a week if s/he will spend most of that time hiding in the closet).
7. If your pet will be boarded in the presence of other animals, make certain that you give the sitter guidelines as to what you would like done if it turns out that your pet does not get along with the other animals. Do not hesitate to ask the sitter if s/he has a specific game plan as to what s/he will do if such a situation arises (sometimes even “friendly” pets can get into fights).
8. Just as people have likes and dislikes, most animals do as well. Be sure to let the person who will be caring for your pet know what makes your pet happy. Similarly, let him/her know if there are any “special” needs (particularly the medical needs of older animals) and give very specific instructions as to how to meet those needs (remember that most animal caregivers are not veterinary professionals and it is therefore prudent that medical information and related directions are reviewed in great detail for the benefit of all involved).
9. Lastly, “asking” is always a better choice than “assuming.” So, for example, if your animal will be staying at a private home during the summer – and particularly if your animal does not fare well during hot-weather months – ask the sitter if s/he will be using the air conditioning as a matter of course – or only when the weather becomes unbearably hot.