4 Horrific Pet Sitters and How to Avoid Hiring One

When a friend or hired pet sitter agrees to take care of your dog or cat while you’re out of town, you assume that person understands the responsibilities involved. You expect that person to show up, feed and care for your pet, and give them some love and affection until you can return. It’s not rocket science, and so you assume these duties are obvious and will be completed.

Where your beloved pets are concerned, never assume.

A man from Connecticut recently found out how wrong making such assumptions can be. His dog died because of it.

Family Friend Lets Dog in Her Care Starve to Death

Andrew Zander of Enfield, Conn., needed to spend a few months in Massachusetts with his wife, who was hospitalized there. Family friend Carla Bushnell reportedly offered to care for the Zanders’ dog, Bandit, while Andrew was gone. He took her up on that offer, leaving her written instructions on the kitchen cabinet.

What happened next is a dog lover’s worst nightmare.

In late November, a mail carrier noticed letters piling up outside the Zander apartment. When he peered into a window, he saw a dead dog on the floor. A post mortem exam revealed that Bandit had absolutely no food in his system when he died. Bushnell apparently hadn’t fed him for at least a month. She, however, reportedly says she was there every day.

Zander was crushed.

“That dog was not my pet…he was my son,” Zander told NBC Connecticut. He says he broke down when police informed him Bandit had starved to death in his own home. Apparently there was also a malnourished cat in the home that later had to be put down.

A particularly disturbing aspect to this story is that Bushnell reportedly insisted on being the one to care for Bandit while Zander was out of town. In a time of crisis, how do you say “no” to a family friend who insists on helping with a problem you clearly need assistance with?

Bushnell has been arrested and charged with two counts of animal cruelty.

Pet Sitter Nightmare Stories Are More Common Than They Should Be

Need a few more pet sitter disasters to convince you that you can’t be too careful? How about these:

  • A family in New York left on a five-day vacation, secure in the knowledge that they’d hired a good pet sitter. They left before she arrived that first day, and didn’t communicate with her while they were gone. They came home horrified to find she’d never shown up while they were gone. She’d misunderstood which week they were out of town. Their dogs had been locked in their crates, unfed and without water, for almost a week. They survived, but it was a close call.
  • A friend hired as a house sitter brought her own unneutered dog along to the job without asking first. That dog proceeded to terrorize the household cats, who fled the home. The visiting dog also picked vicious fights with the home’s dog. Oh, and the friend posted “happy” photos of the dog to Facebook to show the owner all was well, when it was not. A neighbor who was kind enough to keep the frightened cats fed broke the bad news to the home owner on her return.
  • A family in Philadelphia hired a pet sitting company to watch their dogs while they were out of town. The sitter arrived late, brought another dog with her, and barely offered any care to the home’s dogs. Even worse, when the family got wise that something was wrong, they checked in via their home security cameras. They observed the sitter peeking into their cabinets, wearing the wife’s shoes and slippers, drinking their alcohol and allowing the dogs to relieve themselves inside the house. Later, they even found dog poop in a napkin inside a kitchen cabinet beside food products. The sitter had to be escorted away by police.

How can you avoid falling prey to this sort of pet care disaster? We have some tips for you.

Making Sure You Find a Reliable and Responsible Pet Sitter

It takes some effort to find a sitter you can count on. Don’t just find a Craiglist ad and call. Follow these steps to locate someone you’ll be able to count on:

  • Get references. The more the better. Don’t just accept a list of names. Take the time to speak with the references directly.
  • Don’t assume because it’s a pet sitting “business” instead of an individual that all will be well. Keep investigating before hiring.
  • Is the sitter licensed (if required), insured and bonded? Be wary if not.
  • Remember that you get what you pay for. If you pay next to nothing, you can expect that same level of service and reliability.
  • If you’re considering a pet sitting business, how do they vet their employees for suitability? You’ll want to know.
  • Interview the prospective sitter and find out why he or she became a sitter. You’ll know pretty quickly if the primary motivation is quick, easy money or if they genuinely care about animals.
  • If possible, have the sitter to your home before your trip to see how well he or she gets along with your pet.
  • Find out about the prospective sitter’s own pets. If he or she doesn’t have any, of if you’r hiring a cat person to care for dogs, you may need to think twice.
  • Pay attention to the questions the prospective sitter asks you. That’s a great way to discover how engaged he is, how responsible he’ll be and how much experience he has. No questions at all? Beware.
  • Check in often with the sitter while you’re gone. Ask a trusted friend or neighbor to check daily to be sure nothing odd is going on. Can you Skype?  Ask to see your furry friends that way if so.
  • If you have security cameras you can check remotely, do so every day while you’re gone.

Carefully investigating your potential pet sitter is vital if you hope to avoid trouble and possible heartbreak. Get actively involved and really examine closely the caregiver you select, even if it’s an acquaintance or work colleague you already know. Your best friend deserves no less, right?

Related Stories:

Leaving Pets With a Sitter

5 Ways to Keep Your Pet Happy When Youre Away

A Pet Parents Consumer Checklist

Photo credit: Thinkstock


Jenn S.
Jenn S2 years ago

there are so many sick people out there today, its hard to find a sitter. If I travel I don't go for longer than 5 days. I have a camera and watch them, and even if family comes I'll watch them. only b/c years ago, i went to cali and left my two cats at home. my mother actually came and turned the ac up to really high like 85. she did this on purpose. When I came home I was shocked to find my cats in that heat in florida. I was furious. she did it on purpose, just to get a reaction out of me. So now I don't trust her fully. I did have her come and watch my cats on a trip last year, but there was a camera there and I talked to her while she was there, and kept telling her she better not turn the ac up or do anything crazy. You can't trust anyone these days- there are a lot of sick people

Jenn S.
Jenn S2 years ago

thats so sickening and so so sad--disgusting. what kind of sick twisted creatures exist out there today?? are these freaks even human?? why are there so many twisted idiots trying to be 'pet sitters' too--ive tried hiring pet sitters and it seems many are sociopaths or something..there is something messed up going on. That innocent dog, and cat..that c*nt thing needs to be locked away for many years...this is horrible

Jim Ven
Jim V2 years ago

thanks for the article.

Carrie-Anne Brown

thanks for sharing

Ann Mosher
Ann Mosher4 years ago

Unfortunately I'm all too aware of this problem as it happened to us too. We went away to Japan for 2 weeks and had a friend of a friend, who we knew well, take care of our ferret. We came back to find him severely dehydrated and on the verge of death. She never bothered to come over because she was dealing with "personal issues." Needless to say we never spoke to her again. We were lucky we came home when we did.

Danielle Marceaux

if any one tired to keep my dog they would not be able to sand after they saw me because i would brake there legs and then they would not ask me for anything ever again and i would never call them and i would tell all my friends about her or him but Lucy goes everywhere with me ad my husband

Aleisha D.
Aleisha D4 years ago

Unbelieveable. No way will I have someone pet-sit that I don't know well!

Polly Churchman
Polly Churchman4 years ago

really disgusting that some people do this with other peoples pets!

debby ro
Deborah ro4 years ago

I try to swap looking after our pets with only close friends ....can not trust strangers ...
If a friend is not available then will change travel plans .So far it has worked both ways OK .

Sonia Minwer Barakat Requ

Good advices for choosing a pet sitter.Thanks for sharing