You are suddenly called away from your home for a long, but indefinite period of time. Do you have someone who could take care of your pet? For military personnel in the Reserves or the National Guard, this isn't an idle question. Tens of thousands of Americans have been called to defend the United States and their deployments could last many months. What will happen to the pet if you are unable to reclaim him?
But even if you're not in the military, it's a good idea to have a long-term contingency plan in place, in case you're called away for an extended period. Family illness, for instance, may require your presence for weeks or months. Do you have someone whom you trust to take care of your pet?
Making prior arrangements will take a load of worry off your shoulders at a time when you are very likely to have a lot on your mind.. The arrangement should cover the short-term and the long-term – as much as a year (or more, if necessary).
If you're going to be away for short periods, a professional pet sitter may be your best option. A pet sitter is someone who is hired to feed, clean and spend time with your pet while you are away. This allows your pet to stay in your home.
If you are going to be gone for longer periods, then your pet should be fostered until you return. Fostering means your pet would move in with your friend or neighbor for the duration of your absence.
The Humane Society of the United States recommends drawing up a pet care agreement that covers the following:
What will happen if the temporary caregiver cannot continue to care for the pet?
Who is liable for any damage done by the pet?
What happens to the pet if he dies while in the foster home?
The agreement should also cover the caregiver's compensation for food, medical expenses, even toys and grooming. The written agreement should spell out how long the caregiver can expect to foster your pet, and what happens if that length of time needs to be extended (a clause can go into effect providing several more months of care, for instance).
A sample agreement can be found at http://www.hsus.org/ace/11821. You may also want to contact local rescue organizations to find out if they can be of assistance to your foster family, such as helping to stock up on supplies if money is an issue.
Make sure the fostering family is suited to your pet. A large, rowdy dog may be a hazard to a family with small children, for instance. Or a cat may not be able to adjust to a dog-owning foster family.
If you don't have a suitable foster family to turn to, try contacting rescue organizations, no-kill shelters or breed clubs for help. They often have networks of willing foster "parents" who routinely take care of pets for months at a time. However, it is imperative that you thoroughly interview them, and obtain references.
With your foster family, detail all of your pet's habits, such as where they sleep and what they like or don't like to eat. You should also list all medical conditions and allergies. Leaving your veterinarian's number and address is an obvious but necessary step. You should also inform your vet that someone else is taking care of your pet. It may be a good idea to leave your credit card information with the office and set dollar limits on the type of care your pet may require.
If your pet isn't already spayed or neutered, do so, and make sure all vaccinations are up to date. In addition, your pet's collar should contain your pet's foster family's contact information.
By thinking ahead, you can relieve yourself of anxiety and concentrate on the task at hand, knowing you'll be returning to a happy, healthy pet.