Whether your job keeps you away from home for hours each day or you are going away for the weekend, there’s help at hand for keeping your dog happy, safe, and entertained in your absence. 

Pet sitters are the Mary Poppinses of the dog world. They’ll feed and water your pups, take them outside, administer medication, and, perhaps, sing them a lullaby. Some will even walk your dogs, open or close your drapes, and water your plants. Just ask if that’s a service they provide.

Finding the right pet sitter, of course, takes a little work. They don’t just drop out of the sky one windy day. There are pet sitting services, such as Pet Sitters International (PSI), that provide plenty of information to guide you on this journey, and local contacts for when you are ready to start interviewing.

And that personal interview is a must, according to John Long, public relations coordinator at PSI. "We recommend every pet owner looking for a professional pet sitter set up an initial appointment prior to going away. They come to your home, sit down and talk about their services and what the owner is looking for, and meet the pet for compatibility." Long says you will know the minute the pet sitter walks through the door whether there is compatibility.

In addition, you should ask for-and check-references. "Look for someone who is bonded and insured," he cautions. Liability insurance protects you against accidents while the bond protects you should the pet sitter or an employee of a pet sitting company do something dishonest. The combination of bonding and liability insurance indicates that the pet sitter is reputable. Let’s face it, you are giving a stranger a key to your house and asking him or her to care for a cherished member of the family-your dog.

Candy Villett is the Canadian coordinator for PSI and is herself a pet sitter. She says there are a number of ways you can determine the suitability of a pet sitter, for example, by asking whether the pet sitter has a certificate in pet first aid.

"You want to get a feel for how professional the pet sitter is," she says. "You want a good gut feel. This could be driven by how quickly they return a phone call, how professional and comprehensive their written contract is, and how able they are to discuss their business without criticizing other pet sitters."

But pet sitting is a two-way street, she adds. You must leave contact information on how to reach you and make arrangements for veterinary care in the event of an emergency. Sometimes, she says, this means leaving a credit card number with her or with your vet.

Villett points out that pet sitters who are affiliated with a professional pet sitting organization such as PSI are bound by a quality standard of excellence. PSI will investigate if there has been a complaint and will deny membership if warranted.

Hiring a pet sitter provides a variety of advantages for Rover. He gets to stay at home, where he’s already living the good life, and there’s no car ride to get to a kennel. He’ll eat his own food from his own bowl, won’t be exposed to other animals and their germs, and will be lavished with attention in your absence.

"We are in this business," says Vilett, "because we love animals. Otherwise we’d be out selling pantyhose." ■

Corey Van’t Haaff is a Vancouver writer and the owner of Cohiba Communications. She can be reached at doglover@cohibacommunications.com. The Pet Sitters International website is www.petsit.com.