Anatomy of a Pet Sitting Visit - Part 1
Is there a right and wrong way to do a pet sitting visit?
I don't think we can be so cut and dry as to say that. However, I do believe there are certain tasks that must be done during a pet sitting visit that should never be overlooked and other things should be considered to add on top of those tasks if a pet sitter wants to be top-notch in his/her field!
These certain tasks have to happen in order to have a successful visit and minimize and hopefully eliminate any mistakes that could be made before a sitter moves on to the next client's house.
As you will see by the time you read to the end of this post, there are quite a few things to take into consideration when carrying out a successful pet sitting visit. In my professional opinion, none of them are difficult, but all are necessary. I refer to this as an "anatomy" of a pet visit because I am going to be dissecting a pet visit piece by piece for you in this, and upcoming posts, so my wonderful readers can have a thorough understanding of all the components of a pet visit.
This post should be of special benefit to new pet sitters, or even for long-time pet sitters who just want to see if they can up their game a bit when it comes to how to carry out a pet visit, or if they want to see what I've done in order to compare it with another pet sitter's practice history. Perhaps some readers might want to disagree with me! LOL! It is all good because the goal is to provide the best service to the precious pets we serve and if we can learn from one another in various ways, that is great.
This post will also be informative for pet owners and vets because it shows the great care a pet sitter puts into the care of a client's pets and homes.
If you'd like more information about what happens before a pet sitting visit even begins, please check out some of the posts I've already written. This particular post begins at the moment when a pet sitter is actually engaged in a pet visit.
A pet visit starts when the pet sitter is approaching the client's home in her car. Security and monitoring a client's home for them when they are away is, in my estimation, part of the job and part of keeping yourself and their pets safe.
Pet sitters, please keep in mind that the client has given you the keys to their kingdom - their house, their pets, their belongings, and so sitters need to be aware of how things look at the house, and how things should be (as discussed at the Meet and Greet). With this awareness, problems can be prevented, stopped, or dealt with before becoming a huge issue.
Initially, as a pet sitter approaches a client's home she should give the house and yard a visual survey. How does it look? Does anything look weird or different than it should? For instance, if this your first visit to the house in this round of pet sitting for your client and you notice that their garage door is wide open when they told you it would be closed whenever they leave, what do you do? Is it just a matter of closing the garage door because they left in a hurry and forgot to do so? Or is it a matter of a break-in? Do you just close the door and enter the house right away? Do you call the client and ask if they closed the garage door before they left? If you call them and they said that they did close the door before they left, then that is a call to the local police. If they said, "Oh yes, we realized when we arrived at the airport that we forgot to close the garage door and figured you'd close it for us when you came for your first visit and didn't have time to call you." then that is another scenario altogether.
Secondly, a sitter should check the mailbox upon arrival. Even if the client says they are stopping the mail, that doesn't always mean that the mail stops! Sometimes the mail carrier doesn't get the message not to leave the mail in the box. You don't want a box starting to fill, and overflow, with mail. This could create a mess and give a sign to potential crooks that a house is empty. Check it regularly. (This situation might be different in an apartment complex, especially if the client didn't provide you with a key to the mailbox, in which case, usually, the post office will stop delivering mail if they can't fit it in the apartment mailbox.)
As well as checking the mailbox, a sitter should check for packages left on the front steps and sometimes even the back steps. Some people ask to have packages left on their side steps, or by the garage door, and I've even found packages left on back decks, so be aware so packages aren't left outside longer than they must. To be pro-active, ask the clients if they will be expecting any packages and where they are supposed to be left, so you can be ready for that. Sometimes packages just arrive without clients expecting them and they always appreciate a pet sitter's extra due diligence in watching for, and bringing them in.
Most of what I'm telling you are things that happen outside of the home - before the pet sitter even enters the home. The one thing that would require an in-home - but really the end part of an outside-of-the-home check - is once a pet sitter is in the house she will want to walk through to the entrance (if that is easier) and check for packages outback, while also taking a visual scan of how things are in the back yard.
The sitter should also make sure to notice windows as they pull in the driveway to make sure none were left open or look tampered with in any way.
Case in point: I had a client who lived in a split level home so some of the windows were very close to the ground. I was on my third or fourth pet visit to see their cats, and as I drove up to the house I noticed that one of the lower window screens was off and laying on the ground. I knew that the window went into the laundry room. Once I parked, I walked over to the side of the house to take a look to examine things more closely. I couldn't tell if the window was still locked from the inside or not. I noticed that there was something that looked knocked over just inside the window. What did I do?
I was a little worried that perhaps there was a break-in and somebody had crawled into the lower window, especially since I noticed something toppled over inside. I didn't see any of the cats through the window. The clients were out of the country so I couldn't reach them easily and since this didn't look immediately like a big crisis, I handled it in a different way. It could have been nothing, or it could have been something. I erred on the side of caution. I called the non-emergency number of the local police department, told them the situation, and asked them if they might come over and do a walkthrough of the house for my safety and for the safety of the pets. Everything was fine inside, and the police officers put the screen back on the window for me.
I made sure to note what happened in the log I left on the counter before I left. When the clients returned a few days later, they let me know that on windy days that particular screen is known to pop off, they apologized for worrying me and thanked me for my diligence. The experience caused me to add another question to my Meet and Greet list for future clients: "Is there anything strange I should know about your house?".
Taking time to deal with such a situation can put a pet sitter a little behind schedule so that is one reason why I always left a little buffer time between visits in my daily schedule. The unexpected happens.
So far I've talked about the visual survey, the mailbox, and package check. The next thing is to check that the door is locked before you go in the house, and do not enter if it is unlocked. Hopefully, this is for obvious reasons! I've pet sat in areas where people would generally think things are safe and in neighborhoods where some people frequently left their doors unlocked. When pet sitters are involved, a client's doors should be locked. Period. Even if people normally would keep their doors unlocked 24/7 when they are home, a pet sitter needs to remind clients that they must lock their doors when they leave their house and a pet sitter will be taking over pet care. If the sitter finds the door unlocked, they should not enter for safety reasons for themselves, the pets, and the property. Be safe and call the police for a walkthrough. They are happy to make sure things are safe. If a pet sitter has a client that repeatedly doesn't lock their doors, then a discussion must take place with the client, and if things aren't worked out, my recommendation is to end pet sitting services. Murphy's Law, you see, does happen, and taking chances with your life and the pets' lives just isn't worth the chance.
I 've had a few potential clients who didn't own house keys or refused to give any sitter a key, stating that they never lock the doors and "all would be fine" while away. To those fine people, I would say, "Thank you very much, but I don't think I'm the pet sitter for you because safety is my priority". (Readers, please refer to an earlier post on pet sitting as a lifestyle business and this will give you more understanding of this reasoning.)
As you, my wonderful and growing audience can now see, there are quite a few things to take into consideration when carrying out a successful pet sitting visit, and this is just Part 1! Stay tuned for Part 2 coming soon.
This completes Part 1 of "The Anatomy of a Pet Visit."
Reflection Questions for pet sitters:
1. In what ways can I be more safety-conscious in my business practices?
2. How can I share with my clients about all these little extra, but important, things I do in addition to the pet care tasks they expect of me?
3. Do my clients know the great strides I go to in order to protect their pets and property?
Reflection Questions for pet owners:
1. Has your pet sitter ever shared doing these extra things for you?
2. Have you thanked your pet sitter for the great care they give your pets?
3. Have you shared with your vet that you have a great pet sitter and who it is?