While you’re visiting the animals over the course of a client’s vacation, you’ll be doing house checks also. Some of these are minor and are part of your valued service…some become time-consuming, and this needs to be brought to the client’s attention prior to departure.

In Double-Duty…Pet Sitters and Vacation House Checks – Parameters, we looked at setting clear guidelines on what you are willing to do during a house check. This should give you some scope on the time involved and how often it will be needed. On the one hand, you’re being paid a nice sum of money for going over three or four times a day to see a dog – or once for a cat. On the other hand, with too much to do, you’ll be taking away some of your time with the animals – or else cutting into your next client’s visit schedule. Weigh the pros and cons…and keep in mind, you’ll probably want to give a little more of your own time to regular clients who support you all year long.

Here’s a rundown on the most typical tasks:

Outdoor House Checks

Before you enter the house, let’s make sure it looks secure from the outside.

If you have dogs to see – get them out first and see to your pet duties then move on to this list.

Walk around the house if possible. Check for anything unusual from the previous visit. Check for tampering of locks. Watch for signs of footprints in the flower beds in front of windows or doors. (It’s much simpler in the snow!) Also in the winter the snow is often too deep to get around the back at all, so just go as far as you can and also look out from the back windows.

Look up. Tree branches often come down on roofs, shingles and siding is often loosened or torn off, and ornamental window shutters ripped-free in wind storms. We found one on the front walkway once, after a storm and it too a moment to figure out what it was until we turned it over.

Pick up any newspapers and mail if there’s a box on the property.

Clear the snow from the walkway if you’d agreed to it. The driveway should have been cleared if it is snow covered. If you can’t get your car in, make a note to call the snow removal company to ensure they’ll be coming. They might know the client is away and they aren’t as urgently needed at that location – which is logical – but to a thief, an untouched driveway is a flashing sign that says no one is home. If we can get the car in, we often drive up and down right up to the garage doors, two or three times, to show tracks. If it’s too heavy – don’t take a chance. It’s not fun getting stuck, especially when you have pets to see and you need a tow. [We don’t offer driveway clearing.]

In the summer you will most likely be asked to water the potted plants outdoors. Usually this is an easy task and takes five to ten minutes. (Remember if you have animals to see, that reduces your visit with them to twenty minutes at this point.) Now – to save you from a fate that we ran into one time, and prevent you from the frustration and lost time we had…do this: Always, always, ensure you know which pots need watering, where the watering can is, where the water comes from, and if there is a hose. And look at the hose carefully.

We did a meet-and-greet in the dead of winter one year with two feet of snow everywhere. Aside from them not having their driveway plowed…so we had to shovel a little path just to get their two terriers to the road…everything went well. When we got the call for a ten-day summer holiday we thought it would be fine. “Oh, and would you please water the potted plants out back?” they asked. “Of course!” Easy-peasy. But no. We arrived to find the whole back yard area around their pool was a mass of flowers. In pots. There were only a few tall grasses in the garden beds. The watering can had a leak. The hose had leaks everywhere including at the tap. And the actual connection had a sharp edge my contractor sitter slit her hand on trying to tighten. We were soaked from our feet to our thighs from water spurting.

We were wise enough ask to see the herb garden at another prospective client’s home before quoting, fortunately. We added another five dollars to our visit cost because it was large and would take a good 15-20 minutes of work, and they were fine with it!

But on the other side – good clients of ours need their gardens watered every second day during their summer holidays. It takes at least twenty minutes. We build-in the time to our schedule so there is no loss of time to their animals and we do not charge for it. They are good clients and good to us. We don’t mind doing a few extra things when we can to show appreciation. When you add it all up – we’ve maybe given away a few hours time, but it is always our choice to give away as we please.

Pools and spas/hot tubs need a little care during holidays as well. The water must be topped up now and then (remember to turn the hose off before you drive away!) Chemicals need to be added if they’re not on an automatic feeder – and this includes wintertime for some peoples’ hot tubs. Brrrrr! We draw the line at doing water tests and deciding what chemicals are needed. It’s much too easy to calculate incorrectly. But we don’t mind throwing in some chlorine if requested since the amount we’d add would soon burn off.

Lawn care – We don’t offer it. We don’t have the time or interest but that doesn’t mean you can’t add it to your value-added services and come back during non-pet-sitting hours to do. The same is true for any of these extra things Make them a sideline to your pet sitting as necessary.

Yard poop pickup – We look after what’s been done during the time we are there. Many times we’ll pick up what was there before just so we don’t step in it ourselves! It’s survival. Some places are just a mess, though, and the clients know it. So we don’t feel guilty by not cleaning up, and neither should you.

Trash – We offer to take out whatever they’ve left behind before their holidays and pick up the pails the next day or swing by later the same day. Often the neighbors will bring them up to the house. We also make sure we leave the kitchen garbage emptied for their return.

Mail and newspapers – We pick up the newspapers and any mail on the premises and if they have a community box, we offer to pick that up too, if they leave us a key. People are often surprised that we’d go to the trouble to do this – and for those people especially, it feels good to be appreciated.

In the last part of this series, we’ll have a look at the interior of the house and what to watch for.

Today is day 22 in our year of pet sitting and it was smooth sailing. The multi-dog family went home…until tomorrow. My husband and I met up to visit a fairly new client with two big dogs who don’t know us well…they remembered us and we had a blast. Then we each visited two other dog families and all was good. The “garbage” eating runs the two dogs had the last few days seem to have abated and everyone felt well. It was sunny and a balmy -10 C (14 F) so I almost didn’t need my down-filled liner in my coat…but I wished I hadn’t left my ear muffs in the car!

Until next time – have fun out there!

Other articles in this three-part series on vacation house-sits:

Double-Duty…Pet Sitters and Vacation House Checks – Parameters