If you're a homeowner with pets, then whenever you contemplate going away, you have to decide what you're going to do about the little tykes.
For a short absence, like overnight or a weekend, you'll probably arrange with a neighbour or friend to look in on your pets, feed them, and if your pet is a dog, take him or her for a walk.
Annual vacations, overseas trips, and really anything longer than going away for the weekend, generally mean one of three things. You'll either drop off your pet/s to a minder, book them into a pet resort (i.e. a kennel or cattery), or engage a professional feeder/walker to come in for half an hour each day so your pet can stay at home.
(We omit friends, neighbours and neighbours' children as an option for extended absences, for a number of reasons. Firstly, it's an imposition, especially if it's a friend who has to drive to your place every day. Secondly, children can be irresponsible, or simply forget. Moreover, what happens if your pet gets stuck, becomes ill, or strays during the 23½ hours each day when nobody is there to notice?)
All of the "genuine" options can be expensive. What's more, the first two alternatives entail taking the pets out of their familiar environment, which can be quite stressful for them, especially on top of your absence. The third means leaving them alone nearly all day every day.
In fact, the only advantage it has over asking a friend or neighbor to feed your pets is that a professional is likely to be more reliable! (And you don't need to feel you're imposing.)
Of course, there's another alternative. It not only dovetails in perfectly with increased security for your home, it allows the pets to remain in their own surroundings, with the care and company of pet-loving people - and it costs you nothing!
Of course, we're talking here about engaging the services of a house-sitter. Someone you can trust to keep your house occupied, keep the lawns and garden trim, water your plants, attend to any emergencies, take messages, collect the mail, pick up any junk mail and newspapers - and perhaps most importantly of all, take great care of your four-legged friends.
Now you may be thinking, how can I be sure a sitter will do what they promise to do? Can I really trust my treasured pet to a stranger?
It's a fair question, and the answer is this.
Firstly, make sure your sitter comes from a listing company that is reputable, ethical and has lots of positive testimonials from home owners who have used their service. While companies cannot vet or guarantee their sitters, good ones very quickly look into any complaints, and if they're borne out, remove the sitter from their list.
In practice, this is a rare occurrence.
Secondly, the house-sitting equation depends entirely on mutual respect and trust between owner and sitter. You should be able to tell from your conversations with the sitter whether they're the right sort of person. Sometimes an owner will invite the sitter to visit before the sit, to meet them and weigh them up.
Furthermore, any sitter with even a modicum of experience will compile a list of referees - home owners they've sat for, not their uncle or first grade schoolteacher - whom you can contact and speak to before you engage their services.
That way, you can be sure you're dealing with an ethical, trustworthy person, and someone who will take very good care of your pet. Leaving you to enjoy your trip worry-free!