The Better than Home Experience

By Joe Zuccarello

As pet caregivers, we are charged with an enormous task of providing the pets in our care with a safe, healthy, clean, and stable environment while their pet parents are away. Whether this temporary separation may be for a few hours, a day, or even several days, we must be able to return the pet to its pet parents in the same condition or maybe even better condition than when the pet first arrived in our possession. The challenges are many: potential weight loss from poor appetite or stress, chance of injury, self-mutilation due to boredom or stress, and the list goes on and on.

We attempt to learn as much about the pet, its habits, and its “normal” life as we can. But let’s face it: unless the pet is in its own home with its own pet parent and living its “normal” life, duplicating this is virtually impossible.

Some would argue that in-home pet sitting is the superior way to care for a pet in the absence of their pet parents, since the pet is in its own home. Others would say leaving the pet in its home for long periods between caregiver visits is not as good as having them in a professional facility where many eyes and hands are on the pet during its time away from home. I’m not here to argue for one side versus the other, but to simply point out that in either or any case, we are NOT the pet parents. No matter where the pet is cared for, it is not in the same setting as the family unit itself.

So how do we, day after day, care for these pets and make the promise to protect and reunite the pet with the pet parent? How do we do this, not only for one pet but, in some cases, hundreds of pets in our care? This challenge is often met and overcome by having strict systems in place to guide our movements and decisions and the same for our staff. We have plans and procedures written down to the finest detail, identifying if/then scenarios and proper techniques for administering food, medication, housekeeping, etc. Believe it or not, this should be the easiest part of caring for the pets. Solid, well-thought-out plans and procedures are quantitative and objective. Simply put, we can judge our success or failure based on checklists and “going by the book.”

In my opinion, the greatest obstacle we face in the care of pets is in the “experience factor” they have while under our supervision. Pet parents everywhere shudder to think about leaving their beloved pet behind while they are away for fear the pets will “miss” the pet parents as much as the pet parents miss the pet. Pets are important to the family unit, and the thought of leaving them can make a person crumble. I’ve seen the pet parent who drops off Fido for a week of boarding only to leave in tears of sadness. If this person is on their way out of town for vacation, what a horrible way to start!

What makes this extra difficult for the pet parent is the pet cannot literally speak to them and tell them about their time in your care, whether positive or negative. It’s this unknowing or uncertainty that weighs the heaviest on the pet parent’s mind. Even our children at a very young age can communicate with us to tell us how their day went at school, daycare, or on a field trip.

To be successful and overcome this “experience factor” communication gap, we must look beyond the checklists, procedures, and systems of the service we provide. Think of it this way: if these objective gauges of success or failure are the bones or skeleton of our business, we need to work on the fleshy, warm stuff that makes everyone feel good. What can we do to provide the peace of mind for the pet parent who is apprehensive, nervous, and worrisome about leaving their pet?

The solution is simple. We need to provide a “better than home” experience!

When was the last time you took a vacation? (If you haven’t taken one for a long time, we will need to talk about the healthy state of mind this provides in a later discussion.) Remember why you took a vacation? To get away. To go to a place you haven’t been before, to experience things you haven’t done before, to see things you haven’t seen before. Could you get this feeling by looking on your computer or television at video or pictures? No. Here’s proof: have you ever caught yourself sharing vacation pictures or video with friends and family and saying, “Pictures just don’t do this justice”? If you have, you know exactly what I mean.

We must provide a vacation for the pets. Our entire approach, image, staff, facilities, and culture must shift from one of pet care being the most important thing we preach to pet care being a given. The fun and enjoyment the pet will have takes center stage. The pet should have as much or even more fun than the pet parent does on vacation. Offer services that focus on the mental well-being of the pet in addition to the physical well-being.

First, have fun talking about this and doing this. Make sure your staff does as well. Providing a vacation experience can happen in a boarding facility, doggie daycare facility, and can even happen in a home-based pet sitting-type business.

Here are just a few examples of what I have seen that make vacation providers more appealing than just care providers: offer playful report cards, video clips, texts, emails, and other communications to the pet parent while they are away from their pet. Provide services like ice cream socials, sleepovers, costume contests, dance lessons (yep, I said dance lessons), parades, campfire songs, hikes, fitness programs, personal training, etc. The list can go on and on.

Have fun!

Joe Zuccarello has excelled in the pet industry since 1986 and is a Pet Industry Consultant and National Accounts Sales Manager for Tropiclean Shampoo and Fresh Breath Made Easy! Dental products for dogs and cats. To find out more about Tropiclean Shampoos and Tropiclean Fresh Breath Made Easy! dental products, please visit or call 800-542-7387. Check out Joe’s blog by visiting

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