Pet Sitters and Alarm Systems
Important things sitters need to know
Scenario: A pet owner and pet sitter are in the midst of their initial Meet and Greet session and the client answers in the affirmative to the question of whether she has an alarm system in her home or not. The pet sitter knows he will need to operate the alarm system whenever he is actively pet sitting for her two fluffy cats, guinea pig, and three cockatiels.
The new pet sitting client said to the pet sitter "My alarm system is so easy to operate! You'll have nothing to worry about." Yet, the pet sitter was still a little anxious. Why?
There are different types of alarm systems and yes, most of them are quite easy to operate. Just a few buttons to push and your in or out! What is probably not going through the pet owner's mind, however, is that she only has to know how to operate her own alarm system while the pet sitter probably has quite a few clients with alarm systems and so he has to be knowledgeable in using all of them in order to successfully complete his pet sitting rounds.
I'm writing this post for two reasons. One is so pet sitters know that they are not alone in their "alarm anxiety" because many pet sitters, although they may not say it, have a little trepidation when it comes to using alarm systems. And two, so pet owners understand the importance of walking a pet sitter through at least one or two practice sessions with their alarm system so the sitter is confident properly using their system.
Some pet sitters do charge a small extra fee for having to handle alarm systems because it does take a bit more time and can be a hassle if there is a problem with it or if time is spent having to interact with the alarm company if the alarm goes off for any reason.
To all the wonderful pet owners out there with alarm systems, please make sure to cover the following information with a new sitter, and pet sitters please make sure to ask about all of the following if the potential client does not. It takes a little more time at the Meet and Greet, but this information will help reduce your anxiety, especially when starting out with a new client who is "alarmed" for safety!
Regarding alarm systems, pet sitters should know:
* Each client's passcode to disarm and arm the system.
* Password to disarm if it is tripped accidentally
* Location of alarm panels
* How many seconds to get to the system to shut it off when entering the home
* How many seconds they have to get out of the house after setting it
* What other buttons to push besides code like "Enter" "On/Off" or none at all
* How hard to push a button - how sensitive the buttons when touched
* What to do if a wrong number is pushed (ex: their finger slips)
* The name and phone number of the alarm company
* How the alarm works/doesn't work if there is a power outage
* That the client will contact the alarm company stating a pet sitter will sometimes
use the system.
* What other lit-up buttons mean on the alarm pane (ex: windows or doors open)
* If the alarm system is also connected to the furnace in case the temp. gets too low
* Possible other things as well that are unique to that alarm system
Sometimes clients will say that their alarm will not be set when they go away and so a sitter doesn't have to worry about having the alarm information. However, sometimes owners are so used to setting it when they leave that they might forget and set the alarm. In that case, a pet sitter will walk into a house with an alarm that goes off.
So at the very least, the sitter should be given the code to shut off the alarm should the client forget and sets it before they leave. They should be given, at the very least, the phone number of the alarm company should an incident happen and the clients can't be reached while they are away.
At the Meet and Greet the owner should show the sitter the alarm panel anyway because even though it might not be turned on while a sitter is in the house, some systems show that windows or doors are open and the sitter needs to know what the lights mean so they can protect the house and pets, and their anxiety reduced.
I would never rely (or allow) a promise that I would be sent written instructions only without having some hands-on experience with the system. This takes a bit more time, but well worth it. I would have the client show me in person how the system works at the Meet and Greet. We'd practice it a couple of times.
I was always anxious with alarm systems because there were so many different systems I had to know. I'd write down the information and bring it to the clients' homes when I was actively petting sitting and even if I thought I was confident with the directions, I'd still have them in my hand to refer to "just in case" when I walked into the house, and upon leaving.
I would write the alarm information inside the cover of the file since the file came with me anyway. That practice helped my anxiety level, but I always had a big sign of relief after I successfully disarmed the alarm, or set it and left the house at the end of the visit.
After leaving the home, I'd wait outside the door to make sure the alarm's set-mode beeping stopped. I didn't want to set the alarm and then jump in my car and leave only to find out I did it wrong and the alarm would go off, freak out the pets, and result in the police coming to the house. So I always waited for the beeping sound to end and then I would leave.
In all my years of pet sitting, I only set off an alarm by accident once. It was a very hot and humid day and I was about midway through my pet sitting runs. I entered the house and as I was disarming the system, my finger slipped (it was sweaty) and I hit a different number than I was supposed to. I tried to rectify it but wasn't fast enough and the alarm went off.
I disarmed it and waited for the alarm company to call (as I was told by the client they would do). When they called I was to give them the secret password and they would know that I wasn't a burglar. They never called. The visit was almost over and the company still had not called, so I called them. Sure enough, they saw the alarm go off on their system but didn't call because they thought it was just an accident.
I reported the incident to my client when she returned from her trip (because it wasn't a true emergency) and she was not happy that the alarm company didn't call to check if it was an accident or not, nor did they have the police come by to check. She said they've been negligent in the past, thanked me, and she promptly changed to another alarm company.
It is important for a pet sitter to guard the alarm system information given to them by clients as if it were their own. If I was not actively pet sitting for someone their file would be in a secure location in my home. If you have several clients to see in one morning round of pet sitting and you have several files in your car, make sure the ones you don't need for a particular house are covered up in the car so as not to entice crooks.
Some people reading this will think this advice might be a little "over the top". However, I'm speaking from 16 years of experience in pet sitting and I believe sitters and owners will be grateful for this advice when they encounter the situations I'm writing about today.
Alarm anxiety is something that happens but can be greatly lessened with adequate information about the alarm systems and training on the proper use of the system.
So, regarding alarm systems and the anxiety they cause for pet sitters, at least at the start, is worth the extra discussion at the beginning of pet sitting services. It will create calmness, confidence, and comfort in dealing with alarm systems going forward.
Pet sitters, if you've found this article helpful, can you please let me know? Also, feel free to e-mail me with any future blog topic suggestions - firstname.lastname@example.org .