Hurricane Prep in Pet Sitting
A few practical things will make a pet sitter's responsibilities easier during a hurricane.
I'm writing this from New England in the good ol' USA, where we get the occasional hurricane or tropical storm. Anyone who has lived through one of these weather events knows how scary they can be. Much damage can be done.
Pet sitting under the threat of a storm watch or warning can be a daunting task for a sitter especially if he/she is caring for pets in several homes during this time. It is important to be prepared.
Storm preparedness should start before there is even a threat of a storm. Each pet sitting business owner should have a general game plan in place about how to care for pets and their clients' homes during this time. Yes, notice I said "clients' homes" and not just pets.
Preparedness means calmness, following a plan, and communication between client and sitter before, during, and after a significant event like a hurricane.
For me and my business, Precious Pets Pet Sitting, I had an emergency plan in place early on. It would be tweaked as needed depending on the type, location, and the number of pets scheduled during a weather event.
First, it is important to note that there are many informational resources available to pet sitters who are about to experience an extreme weather event like a hurricane. These resources should be researched and kept handy for just such a situation. Internet and electricity may be down so hard copies are important to keep on file. At the time I was on the NAPPS Board of Directors we put out an excellent disaster preparedness document that was very helpful to many people.
Sitters should come up with a specific plan for each client's pets/homes. Again, this isn't reinventing the wheel for each tiny critter you sit for, but a general plan that you will tweak depending on the types of pets being served, their location, and after communicating with the owners.
During hurricane season pay particular attention to the weather forecast. Sometimes the weather folks can have a good idea of what is coming to their area many days in advance.
Beyond my general emergency plan, and a more specific one for each household, I'd discuss how to handle weather emergencies with clients prior to their trip if a weather event seemed possible during their "away dates". Believe me, they will be grateful for your diligence. During this discussion, both parties can communicate about things that need to be done in and around the home. What do I mean by that?
For instance - clients are heading out on their trip the day after tomorrow. Weather reports say there is the threat of a tropical storm or hurricane turning towards their area. If the clients choose to stay home ( most won't ) and forgo their long-awaited Disney trip, cruise, or second honeymoon, then you have nothing to worry about. But if their plans are on schedule, then point out to them some things they can/should do prior to leaving. This might include things like lugging their patio furniture close to the house and tying it down or putting it in the garage. It might include moving any lose items from the yard like bird feeders, gardening equipment, etc... It might mean removing window fans from home windows.
Also, discuss or review the client's evacuation plans for the pets, or discuss how soon after a storm you will come to check on their pets. You may discuss a safe room in the house which to leave the pets if an actual evacuation won't be necessary. It may mean leaving extra food and water out for them in anticipation of a delay getting to their house after the hurricane.
We in New England know that sometimes hurricanes aren't as bad as the weather reports them and sometimes they are worse. Sometimes they fizzle out and sometimes they intensify or turn closer. Keep an eye on the weather. Communicate with the client while they are away (if they want you to contact them when they are away) - even a quick text or e-mail that all is well with their house and pets after a storm gives peace of mind.
If there is damage to the house take photos and send them to the client asap. Life is precious, so the utmost news you can give them is that their pets are A-ok, where they were evacuated to if necessary, and tell the client how you went the extra mile for their pets. For instance, did you do an extra-concern visit because of the storm to make sure the pets and home were okay?
Encourage your clients, before the trip, to notify their local police department. They can let them know that they will be away and give them their pet sitter's phone number should the police notice any damage to their home. The pet sitter can take a run over to assist the pets or document the damage in photos for the owner.
You might say, "Well that is just too much Linda! I was just hired to care for the pets!" Sorry Charlie, when you are given the keys to someone's home, then you need to watch over it for the good of the pets, the owners, and your professional reputation. Wouldn't you want the same done for you?
I don't mean to say that pet sitters will be held responsible for damage to the home, but they must do their best, communicate with pet owners, and realize that they'd want someone to care for their home the best way possible if the tables were turned.
On more than one occasion I've had to contact owners while they were away due to storm situations. I would also document the extra precautions I took to protect their home and pets.
Pet owners, you see, this is one reason why hiring a professional pet sitter is not really "cheap". Pet sitters do a lot more for you - sometimes unseen - than you will ever know. We are like assistant guardian angels for you, and we take our profession seriously. Pet sitters are great at preventing problems from even happening.
So hurricane season brings on some extra challenges for everyone. With pet sitters and pet owners working together with preparation and evacuation plans in place, everyone can have a little more peace of mind.