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What if I am away and cannot care for my pet?

When you are away from home and cannot care for your pet yourself, your two main options are to board your pet or hire a pet sitter to stay at your home or check on them throughout the day. Boarding is usually only for cats and dogs. The type of care required depends on the type of animal and its needs and temperament. For example, dogs may need more supervision than fish or reptiles.

If you rent your home and hire a person to care for your pet, then it is good to make sure your landlord knows someone will be coming over. If your landlord allows pets, it would be highly unusual for them to restrict a pet sitter’s access.

Legally, pet sitters tend to be viewed just like guests or service workers. This means landlords often require pet sitters to follow property rules, respect quiet hours, and avoid causing problems for other tenants. Also, the landlord may consider you responsible for any issues that arise, so choose your pet sitter carefully. Your landlord might also ask (or even require) you to sign a Pet Sitting Contract with the pet sitter.

If you hire someone to walk your dog regularly, like while you are at work, then you may want to sign a Dog Walking Contract. This step can help make sure your dog is well taken care of and there are no surprises.

Do I really need a contract for pet care?

Depending on what services you are asking for, you may not always need a contract for pet care. A contract, however, provides you with protection and certainty in case something goes wrong.

A clear written agreement helps everyone know what to expect regarding services and payment. It can also contain critical information to help a caregiver handle emergencies better.

A Pet Care Contract typically describes the services to be provided, including:

  • Dates and times the service agreement covers.
  • Details of the expected services, such as the number of walks per day, meals, treats, etc.
  • Length of each visit.
  • Payment for services, including any extra pay for unexpected services or emergencies.
  • Emergency contact information, including the vet.
  • Statements about who is responsible for what tasks and who pays if something goes wrong or the sitter neglects your pet.
  • Veterinary release form so the sitter can approve emergency services if needed.

If you take your pet to a licensed boarding facility, then they will likely have you sign an agreement that covers most, if not all, of these points. Additionally, boarding facilities and caregivers may ask you to sign a liability release to limit their responsibility if there is a problem.

There may be times when you need help caring for your pet for an extended or unknown amount of time. This might happen due to a hospitalization or other emergency, or if the owner passes away. A Pet Foster Care Agreement may be more appropriate in some cases.

What makes a good pet sitter?

Whether you are hiring a person or a company, some traits of a good pet sitter can be obvious. You probably know you need someone who truly loves animals and understands their basic needs. You likely also want someone who is trustworthy, and can give your pet what they need. If you are hiring a neighbor or friend, then they might already know your pet well.

If you are hiring a pet sitting company or a person you do not already know, then you might also want to make sure they are experienced, insured, and have strong communication skills. Also, if they have a pet care business, it is helpful to check whether they have good customer reviews.

A good pet sitter will probably also take the time to really understand you and your pet’s specific needs. If they do not ask about special needs or instructions, it could be a red flag hinting that they do not offer a high level of care. Top pet sitters usually also have an emergency plan in place.

What should I include in my pet care instructions?

While all cats need the same basic care, no two cats are exactly alike. Whichever animal or breed your pet may be, you might want to give the sitter a general list of their normal daily routines and details about its unique quirks or habits. A well-prepared pet sitter will likely be better at giving your pet quality care.

Generally, you may want to have these details in your pet care instructions:

  • An outline of your pet’s routine is helpful for dogs, which are creatures of habit.
  • A list of commands and tricks, particularly those related to recall. This is most important for dogs and cats that may try to escape.
  • Information about your pet’s particular quirks, fears, or triggers.
  • Feeding guidelines, including timing and any limits you may have on treats.
  • Information about allergies, medications, or other special needs.
  • A list of your pet’s needs in terms of walks, playtime, or visits in general.
  • Your vet's contact information, plus any other emergency instructions as needed.

How can I make sure my pet is cared for after I die?

Since pets are not legally people and instead are considered property under the law, you typically cannot name your pet in your will as a beneficiary. But that does not mean you cannot provide for them after you pass.

A good way to make sure your pet is well cared for after you pass away is to set up a Pet Trust. This legal document lets you assign a caregiver and leave a certain amount of money per month for the care and well-being of your pet.

If you decide to set up a trust for your pet, it is wise to talk to any would-be caregivers first to make sure that the one you choose is on board. Also, it helps to be realistic about your pet’s needs and set aside enough money. We all love our pets, but setting aside sky-high sums of money for your dog may cause problems for your estate.

Deciding how to provide for your pet can sometimes get legally complicated, especially in an emergency. If you have legal questions about a pet care contract, or making sure your companion is cared for when you can no longer do so, reach out to a Rocket Lawyer On Call® attorney for affordable legal advice.

This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.


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