Sage: Thinking of pet sitting? Be
careful not to bark up wrong tree!
We lost our dear beagle, Baxter, a year ago at age 14. We have taken care of neighborhood puppies a couple of times since, but by no means are we ‘over’ our loss. Well, last week neighbors asked us to take care of their yellow lab, Bongo, for two weeks while they are away during the holidays. They did not like the care he received at a local kennel recently. They swear that he is a very good boy and listens well, and figured we could do with a lengthier dog fix. We hope that they haven’t left anything out – we would hate to discover the hard way, for instance, that Bongo loves to chew furniture, with a particular appetite for 18th-century Queen Anne cherry, or that he can jump up on the dining table and scarf down a two-pound steak right off the platter in seconds. My husband and I are both 68 and are in good physical shape but are a bit concerned about this level of responsibility with a 75-pound bundle of energy. What do you think?
– Wary in Lake Mary (Florida)
The first thing the Sage would do is to make your neighbors take a polygraph test to be certain that Bongo doesn’t march to the beat of a different drummer, if you’ll pardon the pun. To start, you could ask questions about the pooch’s diet, to be certain that it doesn’t typically include draperies, power tools, Valium, Gucci slippers, a 9-iron, or a grandchild’s electric train set. But even if the neighbors breeze through the test, you may still be in for an adventure that will land you on Valium!
Friends, relatives and neighbors may think they’re doing someone a great favor through pet-sitting, but often professional care, such as by a reputable kennel or a highly experienced pet sitter, will prevent all sorts of problems. You don’t want your house or the dog – let alone yourself – to look as if a tornado has ripped through the neighborhood. Not to mention the liability if your house gets damaged, or if anyone gets hurt, including Bongo.
The American Veterinary Medical Association recommends that someone be authorized to act on your neighbors’ behalf in case of emergency, and that likely would be you.
“Does (the) animal have any health conditions that could result in emergency situations (e.g., heart disease, diabetes, severe arthritis, chronic colic, etc.)?” the association asks. “If so, consider the possible emergencies that could occur and whether or not you should set limits for the extent of care or the cost of care.”
Getting a little nervous yet?
The association adds, “If your animal is on any medications, make sure that your authorized agent knows where they are located, how much to give, when to give them, how often to give them, and how to give them. Don’t assume they know, and demonstrate the process if needed.” Further: Caregivers should receive copies of health records, including conditions and vaccination status, including rabies.
Granted, these are by-the-book, worse-case suggestions. But there are others, also very important, from other experts:
• Get to know Bongo thoroughly so that you’re familiar with each other. Learn his habits, his traits, his routines. Can you walk him safely while he’s on a leash – do you have the strength to restrain him, or will you be flying in mid-air while he runs off to get to know a squirrel? Ditto inside your home.
• Accustom Bongo to your environment – before your friends leave – if you will be staying in your own house. It’s one thing to eat you out of house and home, and quite another to eat the house and home. You will have to know his routines for eating, walking, playing (along with his toys), and where he sleeps (and on what). Which commands does he know – and not know?
• Is your house pet-friendly – without sharp, dangerous objects, or expensive ones?
• Remember that every dog is unique. What worked for Baxter may not work for this guy. In addition, Baxter was older and likely much less active – not to mention lighter.
• Keep the house secure. Doors should be closed, including those protecting light screen doors that a dog could easily jump through. Remove tripping objects from stairways, as well as loose rugs that could send Bongo smashing into a heavy stationary object, your treasured Waterford Crystal curio cabinet (or you!). Also, store hazardous cleaning solvents, other chemicals and chew hazards. Secure trash containers.
• Have your neighbors draw up a list of emergency contacts, including his veterinarian, the local poison control hotline, and the names and numbers of any relatives who may be designated as decision-makers. You might also keep the name and number of some young person who can bench-press 600 pounds, just in case you need a little extra assistance.
Not to frighten you away from something you’d love to try, but these are all sensible recommendations. It’s entirely possible that with good planning, good practice, and lots of time with this pooch in a new environment, you may have a ball and none of you will, if you pardon another pun, skip a Bongo beat.
On the other hand, if you feel that he would be too much of a challenge for whatever reason, you can thank your neighbors for being considerate in offering you the extra puppy time – but tell them you’re concerned that it feels overly ambitious and that you’d prefer to keep yourselves on a short leash in the stress department. You have every right to say ‘no.’
Meanwhile, you may want to continue at your own pace in volunteering with other dogs. Perhaps at some point you will find another perfect fit.
You’ll know it when you come nose to nose. And maybe he or she will not care about Guccis, 9-irons or curtains! Best of luck.