Being a pet sitter is one of the best jobs in the universe. We get to meet new people, set our own schedules and, best of all, have our jobs revolve fully around animals. Pet sitters have the unique opportunity to work with animals of all types, breeds and temperaments, and as a result have the ability to acquire a wealth of knowledge and experience.
But animals aren’t just a job to a good pet sitter. We see much more of your pet than we do you. I have clients whom I haven’t seen face-to-face in months — but I see their pets almost daily. During the time we spend with your pet, we bond with them. They become part of our lives and our hearts.
But something all people must face is that our time with pets is finite. And pet sitters aren’t just confronted with loss once every 10 years or so — we experience loss many times during the course of our careers.
The Hardest Question
One of the hardest questions I have ever been asked is: “Do you think it’s time?”
I’ve had a dog with multiple medical issues, and I know just how it feels to stand in the shoes of a pet’s worried human. You want to hear that the outlook isn’t grim or that there’s a sensible explanation as to why your pet seems to be fading. Unfortunately, sometimes that isn’t the case.
Pet sitters often take care of animals who are not suited to daycares or simply feel better being at home. Many times this is due to medical issues or age, which brings us into contact with animals in end-of-life stages.
We’ve seen the symptoms and signs before. However, it’s difficult to be the one to tell you so. Not just because we don’t want to break your heart (we don’t!), but also because we’ve bonded with your pet. Facing the end of their life brings us grief, too.
Despite our personal feelings, good pet sitters will discuss with you all of your pets’ signs and symptoms, help you explore options and encourage you to open a dialogue with your veterinarian.
You should absolutely feel as though you can have this discussion with your pet sitter. They see your pet when you’re not home and may have the perspective you need. We will not judge you for deciding to let a pet who is suffering cross the rainbow bridge.
Just know that we’re probably going to cry all the way home.
Loop Us In
Once you’ve made the decision to let your pet go, try to remember to inform your pet sitter. Remember, we’ve bonded with your pet and love them, too.
I had a situation not too long ago where I contacted a woman because I hadn’t heard from her in a while. When last I sat for her dog, he was elderly but in good condition. When I called, she informed me that he had died several weeks before.
While it was good to hear a combination of grief yet acceptance in her voice, for me the pain was immediate. I hadn’t had the opportunity to say goodbye. Your pet sitter will feel the same if they find out unexpectedly that your pet is gone.
You don’t need to have a long, drawn-out discussion or even say it face-to-face. Text messages or even emails do the trick. We just want to prepare ourselves and grieve for that loss. Your pet’s absence leaves a little hole in our hearts, too.
This video of group therapy for coping with a pet’s death packs an emotional wallop:
It’s Never Routine
Losing pets isn’t something that ever becomes commonplace or easy to cope with, so we want to be there for you.
When I have received a call about the loss of a pet, it’s important to me to be able to console the client and tell them that I understand their grief and that it’s justified. That’s not always easy. On one call, I handled it brilliantly — and then cried for 3 hours once I hung up. (At least I held on until I hit the “end” button.)
Each death is unique to the individual pet. Having seen it before doesn’t diminish the loss of your pet. They matter to us deeply, as much as our own pets do.
As your pets’ sitters, we occupy this strange place where we’re 1 step removed from the household yet part of your pet’s family. We’ve seen your pet’s decline over the past few weeks or months, and we understand — better than anyone outside the household — what happened and why. At the end of life, we’re here to support people and their decisions as well as offer any help we can.
To anyone who is thinking of becoming a pet sitter, I would say to remember that the job is not just the fun of fluffy puppies and curious kittens (although there’s plenty of that). It’s about providing care to animals and their people who need it.
Sometimes that care means cleaning up after an elderly dog who struggles with elimination. Sometimes it means administering medicine to a very unwilling cat. It means bruises and scratches and long walks, even when the weather is lousy.
It means falling in love with animal after animal, knowing that someday you will also have to say goodbye.
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Dedicated in loving memory to Mackenzie, T.J., Fraidy, Link, Sampson, Max, Gretchen and, as always, my Gypsy.