Pre-vacation pet-sitter prep

Summer's coming – and that means vacation's coming too! Yay! And you've got to make the reservations, pack, get that last-minute pedi, pack for your S.O./kids, try to find the travel charger…the lead-up to leaving on a trip can get stressful and disorganized in a hurry. (At least at our house. We have narrowly missed packing a sleeping cat in our suitcases sooooo many times.)

Scheduling and prepping for the pet-sitter can add another half-dozen hassles to your pre-flight checklist, but it doesn't have to. By standardizing your pet-sitter prep so it's the same each time you leave town, and creating easy-to-modify documents for reference, you can cross this task off your to-do list in just a few minutes – and reduce the stress level for you AND your animals. Four tips for prepping the pet-sitter (and the pets!) for your vacation.

Have a home visit. It's wise to do this during the vetting process (no pun intended) when you're selecting a sitter; introducing the animals to the temporary human in charge before you leave can ease the transition for everyone. Even a regular pet-sitter might benefit from a check-in the week before, to remind dogs what she smells like (and cats that it's not necessary to hide under the couch). If your pets have separation anxiety, a complicated routine, or special medications or injections; if you've moved since the last time the sitter worked for you; or if you have a "fussy" house (sticky door locks, hair-trigger burglar alarm, childproofing that foils adults in the kitchen, etc.), give the sitter a walk-through so her first visit isn't too hectic.

At the end of that visit, hand off the spare keys, and a set of written instructions and contact numbers (more on these in a sec). Make sure she doesn't have any questions.

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Create large-type emergency and instructions sheets. The emergency-contact sheet is self-explanatory, but should contain your/your spouse's mobile numbers; the numbers of any hotels where you'll be staying; your regular vet, and the nearest emergency-veterinary clinic; and a neighbor or close friend, just in case. Give the sitter a copy and post another in a place where he can easily see it (inside the front entryway; on the fridge).

The instructions can vary. Our sheet includes how much food, dry and wet, the cats receive; what to do about the litterbox, depending on how long we're gone; which cat the sitter probably will never see in person; favorite toys, and so on. Writing it all out might make you feel like an overly invested weirdo – but it can also prevent worried phone calls from the sitter to your cabana about things that aren't a big deal.

This is also a good place to be straightforward about your expectations re: the sitter's behavior. Can he snack from your pantry? Is it all right if he brings a friend with him on dog walks? How important is it that he recycle pet-food cans? Do you want a daily "log" kept about your pets' behavior? You'll have gone over most of this in person or while hiring the sitter; specifying it on your list can't hurt.

Post schedules. The first one is your schedule – where you'll be on what day. (You may want to create this as a shareable document on your computer.)

The second is your pet's schedule: when she eats, when walks are, how long, when playtime is, the best day to go to the dog park, and so on. Printing it out in a calendar format may be helpful. If you want a daily check-in via phone or a text photo, specify this, and the time you'd like it scheduled or sent.

All this writing and listing sounds like a lot of work – but the good news is, you'll probably only have to do it once. The documents will be good to go for every vacation or weekend jaunt you take in the future; just a quick review (updating the alarm codes, for instance, or accounting for the new kitten) and you're all set. And you'll feel much better about leaving the pets with the sitter knowing that you've covered all the angles.

Now if you could just find the bottom half of that bikini…

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