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Leaving Pets at Home

Pet sitters are a popular option during vacation season.

Timathie Zavala of Herndon wakes up most mornings to the feel of a wet nose on her cheek.

The Zavalas are the proud owners of two Rhodesian Ridgebacks, Zelda and Indra, who like to get out and play around 7 a.m. when the weather is nice.

"They'll take turns taunting each other with a stick or a toy," said Zavala. "Sometimes I'll bring a big beach ball and throw it up in the air. Zelda will jump in the air and hit the ball with her nose. It's our version of doggy soccer."

Afterwards, Zelda and Indra head home for breakfast and into their toy-filled play pen while the Zavalas leave for work.

Like many area residents, the Zavalas shower their animals with love and attention throughout day — yet the summer months bring challenges to pet owners.

During vacation season, someone has to be there to provide pets with food, water, brushing, litterbox cleanings, and walks. That is where pet sitting services come into play.

"We can spend time with pets and fill the void with a midday dog walk," said Pamela Ahart, co-founder of All Friends Pet Care, a pet sitting business serving Fairfax, two to three visits per day while [families are] on vacation — or if that's not enough, stay overnight in their home."

WHILE SOME LOCAL SERVICES only care for certain types of animals, most pet sitting services in the region cover a range of companion animals.

Clients include traditional cats, dogs, and rabbits — as well as animals of the more exotic variety, including chinchillas and outdoor fish ponds.

Pet sitters also provide daily care year-round for those who work long hours away from their animals.

"For midday dog walks, our typical household is dual-income and working lots of hours," said Ricky Sechler of Ready Pet Go, an in-home pet sitting and kennel business serving West Fairfax and East Loudoun counties.

"The challenge is meeting a diversity of clients with a diversity of needs," said Sechler. "It's a very personal business".

Happy Tails Dog Spa, serving much of Fairfax County, provides a unique social approach to their services.

"At our doggy day care, the dogs interact and play with each other," said Amy Nichols, president and CEO. "Its a great alternative to kenneling, since here dogs can be their social selves."

PET OWNERS OFTEN look for someone who is safe, reliable, experienced, and willing to follow special requests.

When following special requests in pet care, "nothing is too silly or over the top," said Sechler.

On top of a love for animals, experience is an important factor in choosing a pet sitter. Past work in a veterinary clinic, proficiency in pet first aid and experience in caring for one's own animals are great backgrounds.

"My biggest message would be to choose a professional," said Kim Williams of Pet Elf, a local business serving Reston and Herndon. "An ideal sitter will be licensed, insured, and bonded.

"Ask yourself — Can I give this person a key to my home?" said Williams.

Professional affiliations, such as membership in the Northern Virginia Professional Petsitter Network or Pet Sitters International, are also good signs that the sitter wants to follow high standards.

"We recently went on a nine-day trip to Eastern Europe and had to leave our dogs at home," said Zavala. "I was worried about being away from them for so long."

Zavala rested easy with a professional pet sitter from All Friends Pet Care, who provided in-home care during their vacation.

"[She] sent us daily e-mails with updates on what she and the girls had done that day," said Zavala. "She even e-mailed us pictures of the girls so that we could see that they were happy and healthy. That pretty much defines a good petsitter."