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Part Time Pet Parent

By Michele C. Hollow of Pet News and Views

He would want you to hire a professional pet sitter.

The pet industry can be wonderful at times, and misguided at others. My annoyance stems from part time pet parenting services. I am not talking about pet sitters. Professionally certified cat and dog sitters offer great services that allow us to vacation with peace of mind.

What I am opposed to are messages like this one that I got from a publicist: “As you know, the decision to get a dog is certainly a choice many parents wrestle with. Sure the kids would be ecstatic but the responsibility involved can be overwhelming. The latest trend among dog lovers nationwide is collaborative dog watching, and it’s especially beneficial to families who want to test the waters of pet ownership.”

It is true that in most families, the responsibilities of having a pet falls on the parents. Before we adopted our two kittens, we discussed getting a dog. I grew up with dogs. I travel a bit for work. When I take a trip, I visit museums, go to restaurants, and visit many places that dogs are not allowed. I enjoy seeing many of these places.

Crating a dog in a strange hotel room is not my idea of a good time for a dog. If I had a dog, I would hire a sitter to stay at my house. I do that for my cats.

Speaking of Cats

A lot of people are under the misconception that cats are “no maintenance” pets. True, you don’t have to walk them. You do, however, have to spend time with them, brush them, feed them, take them to the vet, and love them. Cats are incredibly social, and need affection and interaction.

I Don’t Want to Share

A dog or cat is not a toy to borrow at one’s whim. I find this offensive. Before we adopted our two cats, I made sure my son would be on board with some of the chores that are appropriate for his age.

The Best Way to Test a Pet

If you want to “test” a pet, you should volunteer at your local shelter, spend time talking to the volunteers and get to know the different pets.

An Expert Opinion

I decided to talk to Gail Buchwald, senior vice president of the ASPCA’s Adoption Center, to get her take on part time pet parenting. Here is what she has to say:

“Dog sharing while a family is on vacation really has to be judged on a case-by-case basis. There are definite concerns with any situation that puts a pet at risk of falling into the care of inexperienced caretakers seeking a short term adventure, or folks who are in it simply for the monetary reward.  The top priority for any pet owner should always be finding competent care for the pet in the owner’s absence. There is the possibility that a participant in a program of this sort is perfectly safe, but there is significant risk involved. As is the case with any professional pet sitting service or care provider, rigorous and intensive research should be done before placing your pet’s safety in someone else’s hands. Interviews and reference checks should always be performed.”

“It is not uncommon for dogs to end up homeless or injured when the pet owner leaves the animal with a caretaker while they are away. We have encountered situations here at the ASPCA in Manhattan where the dog escaped the home where they were being watched in an attempt to find the owner, or the owner never returned to pick up their animal so they were surrendered to our shelter. All pet owners should be advised to keep identification on their pets at all time, with up-to-date contact information of where they can be reached while they are away.”

“Whenever a pet owner enters into an agreement to entrust their animals’ well-being with an unknown party, there is always a significant risk. Whether it be a boarding facility, or especially an inexperienced person who is not even sure if they are ready for a pet, the main concern should always be the safety of the animal.”

To Pet News and Views’ Readers

I know that you would never put your pet in harm’s way. I am hoping that you share this post with others, and let them know that pet renting and part time family pet watching services should be avoided; the best way to find a professional pet sitter is to get recommendations from good friends or from your local animal shelter.



16 comments to Part Time Pet Parent

  • Karen

    Agreed. Pet sitting should be done by professionals, and I find the same think offensive. No one should “test” the waters. Your solution of spending time at a rescue or shelter is the best advice.

  • Alison

    People who want to see if a dog is right for them, can foster!

  • Luce

    I have a great pet sitter who I trust. This is her profession. She is not doing this because of part time extra income or to see if her kids would like a dog.

  • Heidi

    I can see why you got rankled by the “test the waters” comment. Some of these services do vet their sitters, but I would hire someone who I know is a professional. I rather have one person staying in my house–not a family, and my dog would not be comfortable staying in a stranger’s home. And how do we know if everyone in the family will be kind to our dogs?

  • Donna

    This is another case of commitment phobic people. When you get a dog, or cat–as you mentioned, you take on a big–and worthwhile–responsibility.

  • Orly

    Thanks for sticking up for cats too! These rent-a-dog services that I read about, and now this part time family to see if they would want a dog–are really dog focused. Thank goodness this doesn’t happen with cats. Now, we have to stop it for dogs!

  • Robert

    We have our pet sitter on speed dial. We travel occasionally, and can enjoy ourselves while we know our dog is well taken care of.

  • Eliott

    I use a professional pet sitter, and I found her through Pet Sitters International. I also asked for references. Every pet parent should do the same, and not “hire” a family to see if they want a dog for a week or two.

  • Mary

    If my dog were to live with a family for a week or two while I was away, I believe she would be skittish and sad. I don’t think this is a real situation. I remember when I first brought my dog home from a rescue group. She was skittish. It took her a few weeks of training, love and care for her to be herself. So, these test situations are not real situations.

  • James

    My sister is a certified pet sitter, and she is so loving and careful with her and her clients’ pets. If I were to hire someone–other than my sister–I would ask friends with pets for recommendations. I wouldn’t want my dog in a stranger’s house. I think that would be too upsetting for him.

  • Barbara Saunders

    I’m missing the original reference. What is this “test family” idea? Are people doing this for money? Professional pet sitters can be excellent or they can be incompetent, just like any other professional. For as much as people complain about money these days, we forget the obvious: establishing a relationship wherein neighbors help neighbors for free or a small fee. I baby sat infants when I was 15!

    I think moving an animal around presents an additional stressor, beyond the owner’s being gone. For a long time, though, I was fortunate to live in an apartment next to a family with its own dog. Both mom and son would take my dogs for walk when I was away. (I actually did pay the son, and later gave him a reference to help him get a job.) Certainly it’s important that the dog sitter be experienced and responsible. But there’s an extent to which the professionalization of everything doesn’t serve us.

  • Good points Barbara. A few pr cos. have been pitching these part time family vacation services for dog owners. You can leave your dog in a stranger’s house, and the family who signs up to care for your dog can see if they are ready to get a dog of their own. What I object to is the “test the waters” to see if a pet is a good fit. If a family wants to do that, that family should volunteer as a foster home or volunteer at their local shelter.–Michele

  • How bizarre actually! Another way to test the waters is to foster an animal. Foster parents are much needed and many turn into adoptions. So many rescue orgs are in need of loving fosters due to the overpopulation challenges, and when one fosters, it opens up a much needed space for another animal.

  • I agree with you that pet sitting should not be taken lightly. People doing this should not just put the dogs in crates just to earn money. They should be doing their job: feed the dog, walk them, and attend to their other needs. It should be seen as more than just doing business.

  • You should always ask for reference and CRB (Criminal Records Background) checks to see if they are professional or not. Insurance on their part is usually a good yard stick as well. If you’re looking for a professional Dog walker look on sites like Dog Walkers City

  • Kathy

    I dated a guy once who “shared” a dog w/ his neighbors a long time ago – I thought it was the most bizarre thing in the world but he said it worked well for him because he traveled a lot and his neighbor was home all the time and so they shared the Yellow Lab splitting time btwn houses – not unlike a shared custody of a child although it was very amicable btwn the three of them. Nevertheless, when he had to move away to take another job quite a long distance from where his pet was living, he was pretty much forced to give up his share and give the dog entirely to his neighbors. The thing that is so wrong w/ this is that it just perpetuates the concept of a pet as personal property vs. as a family member. It is almost as if these people who share a pet think they are investing in a company or real estate or a car for that matter. It’s a very commitment phobic (as Donna mentioned above) way of handling a personal responsibility in life. It is another example of how fear driven our society is and ultimately how fear breeds incompetence.

    As for pet sitting, I disagree w/ many of the above comments as my experience has been very different as a lifelong pet owner who has hired many pet sitters and dog walkers in my time. For the most part, I have hired pet sitters who do not have insurance and are not bonded. In fact, the sweet little old lady who cared for my two dogs for most of their lives (during the day while I was at work or traveling) was the equivalent of Aunt Bee from Mayberry R.F.D.! She loved dogs, and stayed with mine all day long – arriving at 8am and staying til 6pm or later if need be – and the peace of mind that she gave me was phenomenal over the years. I will be forever grateful to her for this. When she went on vacation, I interviewed “Professional” pet sitting services for the interim who were bonded and insured and rigid and stiff and who charged more for 2 daily walks than our Aunt Bee charged for the entire day of services!! They were running a business first and putting profits over pets above all else. In fact, when my dog Toby had double knee surgery for two ACL tears, one of these so called professional pet sitters had promised to carry him (he weighed about 10 lbs) in doors and out doors while he was on the mend in order for him to do his business outside (he could not use stairs for a while). When one of my neighbors called me at work to say that this pet sitter was not carrying him but pulling him along on a leash – I called her immediately to ask her to explain what she was doing to him. Her comment was “I’m not going to carry your dog – he should be able to walk on his own or not go outside at all….I have been a pet sitter for 10 yrs and run one of the largest and most successful pet sitting/dog walking services in the area – if you don’t like it, go somewhere else….” As you can imagine, after giving that $%^&* a piece of my mind, I quickly found someone else – a 20 year old college student who came in and literally baby sat my dogs until our regular pet nanny came back from vacation 2 weeks later. None of these two were what the “industry” would call “Professional” or “bonded and insured”; and it did not matter one iota to me as my dogs were treated w/ the care and dignity and respect that they deserved. I think the professional pet sitting business is totally over inflated and meaningless to me – if someone needs to pet sit for extra income, that is perfectly fine. As long as they treat my dogs – and all pets for that matter – with love and respect and give them the required care I am paying for (such as regular feedings and walks) then that is all I can ask for and that’s everything to me. I don’t do criminal background checks on pet sitters – I use references which are all that are required in my book and generally will provide the best insight. I think we have strayed so far from the way things used to be done that we’ve moved into a very bad zone of zero trust w/out credentials. History and experience has taught me that credentials such as bonded and insured are often nothing more than smoke and mirrors – and they are just a way to charge more and do less while patting themselves on the back in an act of defiance.