Sitters From Hell …

posted in: Pet Sitting | 0

Val and Josep sat for our 3 dogs and 6 cats in Penang for about 3.5 weeks in September.
It was not a positive experience.
This generally negative review will go into some detail because we want to be sure to be accurate.

In early August, after a week or so of communications including a Skype chat,
we confirmed Val and Josep as sitters for our shop-house in George Town, Penang mid-September through the end of October.
A few days later we confirmed dates: Sept 13-Oct 25.

Our sit is challenging, and we always make sure that pet sitters know that before we even get to the Skype chat phase.
Our youngest dog, while sweet and playful inside, becomes very nervous outside and walking him brings the challenge of keeping him moving so as not to have time to stop and be afraid, of talking to him & encouraging him as he walks.
Our middle dog has cancer, and while she is otherwise fine (she walks, eats heartily,
goes up and down stairs etc) she is on a special diet requiring sitters to prepare simple foods (boil eggs, cook spinach)
and she takes pills everyday. Our older dog takes pills every day and while very sweet is stubborn on walks.

All of this we relayed both verbally and in a long, thorough email to Val and Josep before we confirmed the sit.
(As we do with all sitters) 5 days before the sit was to start I sent a long email to Val telling her that our middle dog had started experiencing rectal prolapses, a side effect of the cancer; that she was otherwise fine, but that for the period during which the prolapse occurred she would need to be taken out more often to do her business & that there would be clean-up (of both our dog and wherever she lay, blood) & that the prolapses generally lasted about 24 hours.
I asked if this was going to be a problem; Val assured me it would not.

Our dog was prolapsing when Val and Josep arrived 2 evenings before our departure, to be oriented to the house
and dogs, so they saw what that involved.
Val assured us that they would be able to take care of her, that it was not going to be a problem.

5 days after we left Val emailed to tell us that our dog had prolapsed again.
Also, that our mattress was giving she and Josep back pains;
that thunderstorms were making our youngest dog nervous and noisy at night & that he was causing them to lose sleep & that he was difficult to walk:
“We really hope that it will get better and that we can enjoy being here and fulfill the whole assignment.”
was how she finished the email, leaving us to wonder, less than a week into our trip,
if we would be returning home early.

In response I reached out to a couple who had sat for us 3 times in the previous year, who had been especially effective in dealing with our younger dog’s fears and who had dealt with our sick dog’s prolapse.
They sent Val a *long* detailed email with tips and strategies, links, videos they had taken at our house etc.
and offered to Skype if she wanted to.
Val did not respond to their email or ask to Skype.
I also responded to Val directly with encouragement, ideas for how to deal with the issues
and suggesting that she and Josep take the time to get out of the house and explore Penang a bit
( we never expect our sitters to be with the animals 24 hours a day ), and reassuring her that if they could not walk our youngest dog for long they could always just take him out to do his business and then exercise him in our long shophouse by throwing his ball and throw toys and having him fetch
( this is how we exercised him before be became used to walking ).
In other words, we did not expect them to be Super Sitters.
We did expect them to figure things out and make the best of the situation that they could.
Over the next week or so Val emailed that problems were persisting — their backs hurt,
they were exhausted , our middle dog was prolapsing once a week, our youngest dog was nervous,
they ( Val and Josep ) missed nature ( during our Skype chat we had described George Town as ‘very urban’ and Penang as an ‘urbanized island’, not a palms-swaying-in-the-breeze type island ), etc etc.
She asked if we could find a replacement for them so that they could leave the sit.
She asked if they could look for a replacement themselves ( we said No).
She asked us to consider returning early “but not for three weeks”, indicating that while she was ready to leave the sit she would not want to do so until it fit her schedule.

My and eventually my husband’s response as he became involved in communications was that they were obligated to finish the sit, that returning home early would cost us quite a lot of money because we were on a working trip AND we would have to buy new tickets so if they wanted to cover that cost it might be more feasible for us to come back right away (they did not want to do so, they told us), and that we were available to do anything we could to help them with the issues they were having.

In the meantime I began receiving emails from past sitters, whom Val was contacting to ask about their experiences both with the animals and *with us*. Three of those sitters wrote a response with tips and strategies; one offered to Skype with Val. She did not reply to any of them.
Also in the meantime, as we lost hope that Val would pull it together, we had begun reaching out via a network of past sitters and their connections, to try to find a replacement .
During the course of this search I contacted THS for assistance; THS knew Val already, as she had been in contact with them to tell them she wanted to terminate the sit.
We were lucky enough to find replacement sitters, and 3 weeks after Val and Josep started we Skyped them to say they could leave the sit and that new sitters were arriving to take over within the week.
Val protested, saying they had “gotten adjusted”.
She denied having contacted our previous sitters, and then said she had, but only to ‘get advice’.
She denied having told THS less than a week prior that she wanted to leave the sit.
We were as diplomatic as we could possibly be, given our by-that-point complete lack of trust in Val.
We told her calmly that it would be best for all parties and especially for them, as they were tired and stressed,
if they handed over the sit.
We told them that they had 6 days to prepare to leave.
We asked that they do a thorough handover to the new sitters, and Val agreed.

Six days later replacement sitters took over. We returned home yesterday; they did an amazing job and our animals are well and happy.

In the interest of balance, I would say that I believe Val and Jo care for animals.
We felt absolute confidence when we left on Sept 13 that they were loving towards the dogs and cats.
And we credit them for managing the handover responsibly.

On the other hand, those three weeks following Val’s initial email expressing doubts that she could finish the sit are one of the most stressful periods I’ve experienced.
We were half a globe away; we were not on holiday but working, so returning home early would have meant walking away from income and from a brand-new client as well as dipping quite deeply into funds to pay for new air tickets and a hefty change fee to existing tickets.
Every morning we woke dreading to look at emails.
I did not get a full night’s sleep during the period.
Never in our experience with 9 previous pet-sitting couples, who have ranged in pet-sit experience from very little to quite a lot, and in age from early twenties to sixties, had we received ‘updates’ complaining about our bed, the weather, our dogs, our adopted city, etc etc.

To us Val’s behaviour went against everything that one should expect from a pet sitter.
We have always been as open as possible to potential pet sitters about the demands of our sit —
I send an email detailing the challenges to every suitable candidate who replies to our listings,
and as a result some choose not to continue the conversation — which is fine.
Val had every opportunity to think carefully about whether or not this sit, this location, our animals and our house would be ‘right’ for her.
After she had taken it on and assured us of her competence, when she found that the sit wasn’t to her liking she placed the burden on **us** to find a way for her to walk away from her responsibility.

To add insult to injury Val sent an accounting of petty cash several days before she left, detailing expenditures for our middle dog’s special diet that equaled more than twice the amount of that spent by the sitters who preceded her by two months *and* by the sitters who replaced her.