Pet sitting websites, are they safe?
This is a long post so if you don't want to read it all and just want the roundup then head to the bottom of the page and read the final two paragraphs!
One of the difficult things about having a pet is what to do with them when you go away. Often we will take our pets with us but this isn't always possible so what are our options and what are the potential pitfalls?
There are, thankfully, many options available. The easiest is if a family member or friend can look after our pet, someone we and they know and feel comfortable with and, even better, is normally free.
The paid choices include having someone visit or even stay in your home while you are away, having your pet stay in someone else's home or using a boarding kennel or cattery.
The boarding kennel and cattery is generally the most expensive option and many don't feel comfortable with their pets staying somewhere like that. Some kennels offer premium accommodation including a room with a tv and CCTV so you can check in on your pet whenever you fancy.
If you want someone to look after your pets in your home or their home then there are a number of ways to find someone to do that. Word of mouth is great if you can find someone that way, but if not there are many websites out there for people to find pet sitters. Generally, you pay a fee to join the website and that gives you access to the sitters that have registered on their website.
Last summer I found myself in need of someone to look after my dogs, it was late notice so many people were fully booked so I ended up going online and looking at some of these websites, desperate to find someone wonderful. I looked on a few sites with different rules, one worked in part by trust, you could contact and meet with a pet sitter and they trusted you to go through the website to book the sitter and so pay your fee. Another one lets you contact a sitter but your messages were carefully screened to ensure that no personal details could be shared until you had paid a hefty fee to join the site for a year. If that sitter didn't work out then you could contact others on the site but you could not get a refund on your subscription fee if you didn't find anyone suitable.
I found someone who seemed perfect, her house was lovely and the garden was secure and she lived really close to a lovely park where she promised, they would walk at least twice a day. Relieved that I had found someone who seemed wonderful, and her reviews on the website confirmed that, I dropped my dogs off with full instructions and went on holiday.
The first inkling that all was not well was the lack of contact, the promised daily photos and videos did not appear unless I asked for them. When they did come all looked good and so I relaxed and enjoyed my holiday. A few days later I was contacted by the sitter who told me that there was a problem, both of my dogs were toileting inside of her home. This surprised me, one was young and so could have the odd accident but the other was totally housetrained and, well it didn't make any sense. When I said this she responded by sending me photos of the evidence.
I was mortified and so gave her some suggestions but she insisted that it continued and she was angry. Very angry. I was worried she was taking out this anger on my dogs and desperate to make the situation better I hurriedly spent a small fortune on Amazon for delivery of cleaning products and chocolate. This did placate her somewhat but her communication continued to be angry and aggressive.
It was then that I read the terms and conditions on the website and discovered that I had absolutely no power or support and that everything went in the favour of the sitter. I was horrified to see that she could, at any time and for any reason, decide that she no longer wanted to sit for my pets and if I didn't collect them the same day she could take them to a boarding kennel and I would be liable for the fees.
By this point, my stress levels were far higher than I would like and my holiday was ruined. I was abroad and so I could not just come home but my pets are very much part of the family and so I couldn't help but worry. Being August everyone I knew who could look after them was away and so there was no way of getting my dogs out of the situation, I just had to hope that they were doing ok and that I'd be home soon.
One of my dogs is Houdini and so at the time, she wore a collar with a GPS tracker so I was able to see where she was on my holiday. I found that the sitter didn't do the two walks a day in the park that she had said she would, some days she didn't even take them to the park at all but on the days she did the dogs got no more than twenty minutes in the park.
We arrived home at 11 pm and I had messaged the sitter to ask if I could collect them that night as I was so desperate to get them back but she said no. So early the next morning we went to collect them and I couldn't wait. The sitter was friendly enough but I just wanted to get my dogs and get out of there. They were very happy to see me but that was normal. Once home it became clear that they weren't really ok, they were incredibly clingy and jumpy and just weren't right. It took a good week or two for them to settle back in at home properly.
I have no idea why this was but I felt that it was obvious that they hadn't been happy with the sitter. I felt incredibly guilty for leaving them there.
I gave it a week or so before I wrote a review for the sitter on the website. I was careful to be fair and mentioned the positives as well as my concerns and experience. The review was published but two days later I was informed that the review was being removed while they investigated as it had been challenged by the sitter. I was not asked any further questions about my experience so I am not sure what investigating was actually done but my review was removed permanently.
Apart from learning the hard lesson that reading the terms and conditions is actually really important, I also learnt that these companies seem to be set up to get money and nothing more. They make no checks before allowing someone to join as a pet sitter and if things go wrong they have absolutely no responsibility whatsoever. I checked other similar sites for finding a pet sitter and the huge majority of them operate in the same way and a lot of them are not based in the UK. It is clear from Trustpilot reviews that I am not the only one who has had a bad experience but the reviews on the websites don't tell the full story as they get removed if they are negative.
So if you are looking for a pet sitter then please be really, really careful before you book. Do your research and if possible take time to find the right person. I wish you more luck than I had!