is it inappropriate to hire an employee to pet-sit at my house?

A reader writes:

My wife and I live 1,000 miles from our hometown, but we go back to visit quite a bit, and we go on vacation once in a while. We don’t have anybody that lives nearby who we are comfortable asking to take care of our cat while we are away for an extended period since our really good friends recently moved away. Last time, we were out of town for 10 days and we put him up in a pet hotel.

I manage two administrative assistants, one of whom frequently mentions that she pet-sits on the side. Is it inappropriate of me to request her services? Obviously due to the power dynamic at play I couldn’t ask it as a favor, but is there anything wrong with paying her to do it if she is interested?

I’d only be hiring her to stop by once a day for a half hour to feed him and clean the box, as he is not a fan of strangers and wouldn’t enjoy the company an extended visit would provide anyway, but I worry as a relatively new manager that I’d somehow be breaking an unwritten rule of management by doing this.

It’s probably fine. I could make an argument against it, but in most cases (see caveats below), I think it’s probably not going to be a big deal if you do it.

That said, here are all the arguments against it that I can think of:

* Because you’re in a position of power over her, it could create an awkward situation where she feels obligated to say yes even if she doesn’t want to do it.
* Having someone come into your home when you’re not there is a relatively intimate thing, and she might be exposed to things about your personal life that she’s not comfortable seeing or that you’re not comfortable sharing (anything from a medication she spots on the bathroom counter to your collection of erotic-art paintings to your terrible taste in literature).
* It could look to colleagues like she’s doing it to curry favor with you, or it could make others think that you’re more likely to give her preferential treatment in the future because you have the sort of close relationship where she takes care of your cat when you’re gone.

But if you have a good relationship with her, if you know that she’s someone who will feel comfortable telling you if she can’t or doesn’t want to do it (and if you’re careful to make it clear that you want her to do that, and you make it easy for her to say no), and if you’re generally perceived as a fair and reasonable person, I think it’s unlikely to cause problems.

That said, have you tried looking at other pet-sitting services? It might be a cleaner way to do it. (I found my cat-sitter on Yelp and she’s awesome.)

{ 150 comments… read them below }

  1. Cat

    Slightly different situation, but I pay my boss’s son to catsit for me and I feel like it is totally worth it (children charge less than professional cat sitting agencies and are more available, plus my money funds his lego collection, which I feel good about). But I have definitely thought about the access it means my boss has to my house and it is not entirely free of awkwardness.

    1. Lily in NYC

      I’ve done this type of thing for former bosses. It really depends on the boss/employee, to be honest. One expected me to babysit her severely autistic 4-year old because “he responded well to me”. Little did I know she thought I would do this for free. Ha. I babysat him one time and then never again.

      But with a different boss who respected me, I watched his gross cat willingly every time he left town (it helped we were neighbors). He was normal and appreciative so it worked out well. And he knew he could trust me not to snoop or drink his booze. But his cat was such a snotty jerk.

      1. INTP

        Holy crap at the first boss! I have a brother with autism and it’s pretty much been only family or pros (special ed or developmental disability pros, not pro babysitters) that can babysit him. Now that hes an adult (therefore bigger and stronger if he decides to misbehave), the list of family members is much smaller (basically just me, our brother, and pros), which sometimes hurts feelings because people want to help out with him and are told no. Responding well to someone in person doesn’t mean he will feel secure when left alone with them. I can’t imagine my mom just sending over a random employee to do it.

  2. TOC

    OP, you should offer your assistant an easy out: ask if she’s available, and if not, can she recommend another trustworthy pet-sitter? That way she can easily decline by claiming to be busy, but doesn’t worry that she’s left you hanging.

    1. Carrie in Scotland

      This is what I was coming her to suggest. Your employee might know of other pet sitters in the area or how about asking your vet if they could recommend a pet sitter?

    2. AnotherAlison

      I like this approach because there’s always the off chance that she would be offended that she was not your first choice to ask for pet-sitting, when you know that’s a side business she has. (I don’t feel the OP is obligated to ask her regardless, but depending on how sensitive the assistant is, she might take offense.)

    3. "I have this lizard brain implant and I sometimes become a little confused regarding my ultimate goals"

      A lot of discussion below, but really I think it’s as simple as 1. Are you okay with the possible downsides that Alison pointed out, and if so 2. As per TOC, ask if she’s interested, or if she has a recommendation?

      (My neighbor pet-sits, and yeah, all the pro pet-sitters in town know each other).

      (And if you hire a teenaged boy, he will find any hard copy smut you have about the house. Although nowadays it’s more likely that they’ll ask for Wifi access “so they can work on homework”).

      (My neighbor who pet-sits will optionally fix his clients up with a webcam or two).

      1. Elizabeth West

        I absolutely would not want my pet sitter to have access to my Wifi. He wouldn’t have time to use it in any case–he’s got a ton of clients and just feeds Psycho Kitty and checks on the house and then he’s gone.

    4. BRR

      I agree. I love to give an out when it’s awkward. Are you able to cat sit or are you booked during that time?

  3. Celeste

    I understand the need for a sitter because IME cats don’t do well being boarded. The person from work has the trust factor going, for sure. Also because she has already chosen this as a sideline, that’s another plus. You never want to ask this favor of somebody who doesn’t enjoy animals.

    I think you owe it to yourself to look around first and try to find somebody else. Your vet may have some recommendations; mine does.

    1. OP

      Yeah, I do have the pet hotel that offers a rather large kennel with 2 floors (4′ x 4′ x 8′), so I’m good with sending him there again. The only reason I’m considering an alternative is that he hates strangers, and at home he has plenty of places to hide.

      I’m a little uncomfortable with a stranger in my apartment, which is why I’d ask her instead. I’ve got nothing to hide that isn’t already under lock and key, but Alison’s point about mundane things that could make her uncomfortable is one I hadn’t considered.

      Overall, I’m thinking that since I already have an alternative in place, I’ll keep doing that.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        I think a pet-sitter in your home is much better than boarding. Cats bond with places almost as much as they bond with people, and in my experience they really don’t like being moved somewhere else while you’re away. Some cats handle it better than others, but some find it really stressful.

        Have you tried looking on Yelp or similar sites for pet-sitters in your area? Or asking a vet for a recommendation?

        1. OP

          I’ve considered it, I’m just nervous about strangers in my apartment. Even with references and the like, I’d be worried about it the whole time I’m gone.

          1. Nerd Girl

            Do you have your cat groomed regularly? A close friend of mine is a groomer and is often asked to pet-sit. I think it’s because the animals know her. She does mostly dogs, but several of her clients have long haired cats so she’s sat for them too. Something to consider.

            1. OP

              We bath him twice a month ourselves (yes it takes two of us!), and our pet hotel is attached to the vet’s office, so when we asked, that was her only recommendation.

              Haven’t tried yelp though

              1. Squirrel!

                Unless there’s something wrong with your cat physically, you don’t need to bathe them. If your cat smells bad, it might have allergies and need a food change, or you’re feeding it crummy food and need to change it anyway.

                1. Nashira

                  It could be to reduce dander. I have to spot clean my cat with a washcloth after we brush her, to remove the flaky dander from her. Thankfully, she’s cool with it.

                2. OP

                  Nashira nailed it. I’m allergic to everything associated with my cat.

                  Bathing frequently with vet recommended shampoo lessens it by 99%

                3. Allison Mary

                  Second this! Especially the part about crummy food.

                  I actually make a big batch of raw cat food once a month (it gets stored in the freezer until a day or so before it’s going to be eaten) – well, technically it’s two batches, since one of our kitties (she’s 17 years old) has early stage kidney disease and she gets a special diet, but it’s still protein-based, not carb-based.

                  Both our cats have GORGEOUS soft, silky fur, and I can’t remember the last time I saw a hairball.

                  If anyone’s interested, I’d be glad to share the recipe! It really doesn’t take that long, and it costs about what we’d pay for a high quality, grain-free dry kibble cat food.

                  Hope this wasn’t too off topic from the original post, but I just had to mention it! :)

          2. fposte

            Have you checked with your vet for recommendations? Around here, it’s vet techs and vet staff who have the pet-sitting market cornered, so there’s usually a personal chain.

          3. GigglyPuff

            Well does the assistant work for a company? If so, maybe ask for the name, and go through official channels

            1. OP

              Unfortunately no, just something she does for cash on the side. She’s not bonded, which raises a while new level of concern regarding who owns the risk if something goes wrong.

              1. Elizabeth West

                I’d really want someone who has insurance if they’re coming into my home. This is why I didn’t take a coworker’s recommendation, because it was just someone she knew who wasn’t bonded and wouldn’t have had any insurance. My pet sitter does have it and even provided the certificate. If the unbonded person had an accident in my house, I could have been liable.

          4. Scott M

            Depending on what you are worried about, you can buy a replacement doorknob with a key-lock for one room. Then put your valuable stuff in that room and lock it. They are easy to install with just a screwdriver and you can put the old doorknob back when you move.

            1. Artemesia

              We had a grad student live in our house for 3 mos while we traveled. She had free rent for the semester (we paid utilities as well ) and just had to feed the cat and scoop the box and be a presence. We just put everything private in our room and locked the door. She had use of the other bedrooms, bathes, kitchen and living spaces.

          5. AnotherHRPro

            If you go the professional route, check out the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters (petsitters.org) as their members are certified and bonded. I’ve moved several times to new cities and have always had very good luck with individuals I’ve found on that site.

      2. Lia

        We use a petsitter, and reputable ones will be bonded, so no concerns about theft or damages. Of my three cats, only one does well being boarded — the other two really dislike it. Plus, boarding three cats costs about twice what daily visits from a petsitter costs.

        Our petsitter will also water plants, bring in mail or packages, and generally make the house look lived-in. We have used him for several years and the cats enjoy his vists. He gives a daily, detailed report on their activities, which is always fun to read, too. He also texts me daily that he has arrived and that all is well.

        1. AnotherHRPro

          I prefer professional pet sitters for this reason, plus they can handle medications, illness, or any specific things you like to have done for your super high-maintenance cats without comment or complaint (or maybe that is just me!). :)

        2. AmyNYC

          As an aside to “make the house look lived-in” My great aunt will occasionally watch my parents house while they’re out of town and sets up elaborate vignettes around the house. She’ll pour a bowl of cereal and leave sweater on the back of the chair in the morning, come back in the afternoon to move the sweater and set the table for dinner. It’s very sweet.

          1. NutellaNutterson

            When I was in the middle of moving, and alone in our house for a few weeks, I kept my spouse’s absurdly large work boots in full view of the back entrance.

            No idea if it deterred anyone, but hey, didn’t hurt!

        3. Elizabeth West

          Yep. Mine has to come twice a day because Psycho Kitty is an outside cat and I can’t leave food out for her without attracting all the strays and wildlife in the neighborhood. :P With someone coming in and out, there’s less chance of a problem. Plus, I let my neighbors know I’ll be gone, so they can watch in his absence and also not call the police on him, ha ha.

        4. Dynamic Beige

          “Our petsitter will also water plants, bring in mail or packages, and generally make the house look lived-in.”

          Which is great from a deterring potential burglars point. Which happened to someone I know who did not have pets or plants — they went away for an extended period of time, came home to find their house had been ransacked.

          And that brings me to my other point, which is somewhat unrelated. You should check with your insurance company because I’ve heard that some policies have clauses in them that if you’re away for a period of time and don’t have someone who comes by to check your place regularly, in the event of fire/flood/damage you may not be covered. Don’t know if that’s 100% true or not but it’s worth checking with your agent rather than being surprised.

          As for me, I have a neighbour’s kid feed the fuzzbutts when I’m away. One of them is a really bad traveller (hates the crate, has seizures over it) so putting them up in boarding is out. He’s also not a friendly guy, so I can imagine he would have a fuzzy psychotic break if I tried leaving him somewhere like a cat hotel for a week.

        5. Omne

          I’m pretty sure ours don’t enjoy visits. We use a cat sitter and have for the last four vacations we’ve had. To date she’s seen a glimpse of one of them and never seen the other. The food is always gone though….

  4. Adam

    As someone who is a friends’ designated pet-sitter, my advice is hide anything extremely well that you’d rather people not find. I’m good friends with someone who has me stay at their house to watch their animals when they go on trips. I once stayed there an entire month while they were overseas. One day I was innocently looking through their master bathroom cabinets (they ask me to use their bedroom and bath so as not to throw the puppies off their schedule; the pups are a wee bit pampered) for some advil or something and ended up getting a surprise quick glance at a photo of the husband’s naked backside.

    I’ve never opened that drawer again or made any mention of it to anybody. Fortunately, that photo doesn’t always flash in my head whenever I meet these friends, but sometimes…

      1. Lily in NYC

        I still regret looking at photo albums at one of the houses where I babysat regularly (I had full access to their bookshelves). I loved their kids and thought, oh cute, I’ll look at baby photos! One album was full of their home birth photos – it was so traumatic for my 13-year old eyes! What. a. mess.

        1. Adam

          Yeah, I’m going to go ahead and say it. I don’t get why anyone wants pictures (or video!) of those exact moments. Yes, childbirth is a beautiful miracle blah blah blah. But that’s what the picture of mommy holding new baby is for.

        2. Mouse of Evil

          Some people from my CHURCH who I babysat for had a small collection of adult videotapes in the coat closet. They also kept the games (like, y’know, Monopoly) in there, which is how I found the tapes–the kids told me where to look for Chutes and Ladders or whatever. Seriously, who does that? They couldn’t find a better hiding spot than the place where the kids keep their board games?

  5. AnonPi

    Another option may be to ask her for a recommendation for someone else to do it. It would depend a bit on your relationship to her if you’d feel comfortable asking this, but if you wanted to explain to her that while it wouldn’t be good company policy to hire her, that if she would know of someone else that she would suggest you’d appreciate it.

    If not then I’d go with Alison’s suggestion of looking for a pet sitting service, or ask other family/friends for recommendations.

  6. Artemesia

    Since she does this as a sideline, I would not be concerned from that perspective. But people are curious and so assume since she knows you and you are her boss that she will go snooping through your things. Don’t have anything in your place that is not under lock and key that would endanger you in any way if she saw it and talked about it. A professional sitter who doesn’t know you personally might not dig through the bedside table or review all the drugs in your medicine cabinet or go through your financial records sitting in a desk drawer. Your subordinate is very likely to do so. So be sure your dildo collection and your financial records are locked away securely.

    1. Episkey

      Well, I don’t know if I agree with this! My boss often has me run over to her house to let her dogs out or check on them, I have her garage door code to gain access to her home whenever I need to. She’s had me go over and wait on service providers as well, and I’ve never snooped through her things — I don’t think I’d ever do such a thing!

      1. Cat

        Yeah, it’s a risk, but I don’t know that I’d characterize it as “extremely likely.” Just like there’s a chance that an employee who’s working by themselves on the weekend will snoop in everyone’s desk drawers, but I don’t know know that that’s extremely likely either.

        1. Artemesia

          Because ‘I wouldn’t do it’ means no one would do it? I have heard people talk about what they saw at a friend’s home when house sitting. I would be surprised if the majority of people given the opportunity didn’t scope out the bosses bedside table or other personal effects.

          1. Cat

            I didn’t say nobody would do it – I said it’s a risk but didn’t strike me as something most people would do (apparently we know different people).

          2. Arjay

            I think there’s a difference between pet sitting and house sitting though. If you’re popping in for 30 minutes a day to care for the pets, snooping seems less likely. If you’re staying there for an extended period of time, there’s more opportunity to both inadvertently stumble upon something personal or for your curiosity to get the better of you.

          3. OP

            Bring it on, I literally have nothing that she could find that would make me nervous or uncomfortable if she told other people. On the other hand, she would get a glimpse of my life, which, as Alison pointed out, may make her uncomfortable, especially when she sees all the Frank Herbert, Robert Jordan, George Orwell and Kurt Vonnegut Jr. novels on my book shelves ;)

      2. Liz in a Library

        Yeah, I agree. It’s totally possible, but I wouldn’t even think necessarily likely if your employee is a trustworthy person. I think you far more need to think about accidental discoveries.

    2. Anonsie

      Woah what? I don’t think your employees are really “very likely” to go through your stuff.

  7. Bend & Snap

    I seem to be in the minority but I would hate being asked this by a boss. Work and home need to be very separate for me to be comfortable and this mixes the chocolate right in there with the peanut butter.

    1. Cat

      I think the fact that the employee has a pet sitting business makes it different – it’s more hiring someone in two different contexts than it is mixing work and home.

      1. OP

        That was my thought process. In one instance I’ve hired her to work for my company, in the other I’ve hired her to work directly for my family.

        However, Bend & Snap makes a fair point that I definitely need to consider.

      2. Kelly L.

        Yup, I think this is unusually OK because the employee actually does pet-sit as a business. When I read the headline, I was thinking of one prima donna I once knew, who would try to wrangle subordinates into pet-sitting duty in a Devil Wears Prada sort of way, even if they’d shown no interest in petsitting. So I don’t think people should randomly try to get their subordinates to petsit, but in a case where you already know they do this as a side business, it’s different IMO. And I also like the idea of giving her an easy out.

    2. The Cosmic Avenger

      Hm, interesting. I was going to suggest what a few others already have, asking “Would you be interested in petsitting, or do you have any recommendations for petsitters for me?” How would you feel about that?

        1. Bend & Snap

          BUT I’m probably a very extreme case. I do socialize with coworkers but I don’t share anything meaningful about my life with people at work.

          1. NoPantsFridays

            Me neither. For that reason, I’d provide recommendations if I knew anyone, or suggest places to look for recommendations, but I would probably decline the business myself. So I think providing the employee an easy out is important, in case the employee keeps similar demarcations between work and non-work.

            Plus, it could end up looking like the employee solicited business for her side job at her main job, which would look bad, even if it’s not what actually happened.

        2. LBK

          I see your point, but the employee could also take that as a slight that she’s not being considered for the job herself. It would really depend on whether the employee was genuinely willing to do this, and it’s going to be hard to judge that unless there’s an existing relationship where the employee is comfortable saying no to the manager sometimes. OP, has there ever been a situation like that where you tried to give her a new responsibility and she was comfortable pushing back? That might be a good indication of whether you can make this request and have it be perceived in good faith.

          1. The Cosmic Avenger

            Yeah, see, I’d consider it a slight not to ask them, as much for financial as professional reasons. The one co-worker that I know has a petsitting business on the side makes considerably less than me, so if I’m paying someone to do this, why not her? I asked her once, but I’m outside of her area. (Or, at least, that’s what she told me.)

            1. The Cosmic Avenger

              Well, I suppose this was different, as she wasn’t a direct report, in fact we never really worked together. But we’re also acquaintances aside from work, or maybe work-friends, and it never occurred to me until this thread that she might not have wanted to petsit for me. That’s her business anyway, literally and figuratively.

            2. Dynamic Beige

              “The one co-worker that I know has a petsitting business on the side makes considerably less than me”

              And that would be one thing I would think about before letting employees into my home. While it’s one thing to assume your boss makes more than you do, walking into a stunning place impeccably furnished that looks like it was a case study for Architectural Digest… that can cause resentment in some people, especially if they feel they are not being compensated properly or have been denied raises (not saying that would be the case here). Sure, that employer might be mortgaged to the gills and in severe credit card debt because of those renos, but that’s not going to be obvious to someone just dropping by.

      1. INTP

        That wording would make me feel on the spot, like I HAD to either name other sitters off the top of my head or offer myself. The employee may not network with other pet sitters or anything and just run their own business. If I had to be asked, I’d prefer the boss giving me the dates and an easy out to say that I’m busy those days. “I’m going to be out of town March 2-3, and I’m looking for a sitter for Fenix. It’s no problem at all if you’re busy or if you don’t want to mix your pet sitting with your day job, I just wanted to check if you were interested.”

    3. A Reader becoming QAT Contractor

      Mmmm chocolate and peanut butter.. :-)

      But I agree, I don’t know that I would like to have my boss or an employee in my house if I wasn’t a friend of theirs. And being that close with a boss is never highly looked upon by anyone in the first place.

      If I were to have been friends with this person for a long time then they became the boss it might be a different dynamic. The OP is a newish manager so it is possible this dynamic exists, but as Alison points out there are other issues that could arise in the work place by doing this.

      1. NoPantsFridays

        Right. I hate to say it, but what if something goes seriously wrong and the cat becomes ill or dies? It’s unlikely, but possible, and it would almost certainly affect the work relationship.

    4. INTP

      I would too, but because I’m a compartmentalizer I also would be conscious of not talking too much about my pet sitting business at my day job so that my coworkers wouldn’t ask me. My paranoia would be that something unforeseeable would happen to the pet and the pet owner would hold it against me at work – same reason I wouldn’t babysit a coworker’s children. If something did go wrong, the result is such an emotional situation that I wouldn’t expect someone to be able to be clear-headed about it (because no one is supremely clear-headed and rational and immune from incorrectly placing blame after a loved one is lost/injured/sick). If someone does talk about it a lot, though, I think they might welcome the business. I know not everyone is as worst-case-scenario-focused and compartmentalized as me!

      1. The Cosmic Avenger

        I know, right? It took me a while to figure out that that was supposed to be a bad thing! :9

  8. Seal

    I live halfway across the country from my family and friends; like the OP I have no one nearby I feel comfortable asking to take care of my 3 cats when I am out of town. Although I had a couple people I work with offer to do so, I have used a pet sitting service for years and have always been very happy with them. The coworkers who offered to check on my cats were always a bit too interested in doing so, to the point I wasn’t comfortable with the idea of them having access to my house while I was away. On the other hand, one of my employees lives near me and is always happy to water my outdoor plants when I am out of town, although I have always made it clear that she is under no obligation to do so.

    1. JB

      This is off-topic, so let me know if I am out of line for posting this, but does anyone have a good recommendation for finding an in-home (not boarding) cat sitter in the DFW area? I have an old, special needs cat, and Yelp isn’t helping me on this. I have a pet sitter I like, but she can only come once a day, and I need someone who can come twice.

  9. Allison

    If she is a cat sitter on the side, I would certainly approach her about your need for a sitter, but my approach would be “hey I’m looking for a sitter, would you or someone you know be interested?” rather than “I need a sitter, can you do it?” Personally, if I was a cat sitter I may be open to whatever jobs I could get, but I would feel weird about sitting for certain types of people in my life, like my boss or my landlord, or an ex-boyfriend or something, and while I wouldn’t necessarily feel awkward being approached, I’d want to feel comfortable saying “I don’t think I can that weekend, sorry” or “normally I’d say yes, but with our current relationship that might be a little weird, let me see if someone else can do it.”

  10. Sadsack

    I know that this is supposed to be work-related, but I have something to consider…I once hired a pet-sitter who was very nice and had reasonable prices. She had a cat-sitting business and, although I did not know her personally, she had references, was very friendly and obviously liked cats. However, after I returned from my vacation, I had fleas in my house. I mean, I walked in the door, sat down to pet my cat, and a flea jumped on my leg. I never have had fleas before or since. I think the cat-sitter must have picked them up from one of her other client’s homes and brought them to my house. I am pretty sure I didn’t pick them up on vacation because I think I would have noticed them even if on the car ride home.

    Anyway, ever since then, I pay to have my cat boarded. The kennel requires vaccinations and is able to get my cat to the vet immediately if she gets sick or something else happens while in their care. I guess my cat could still come home with fleas, but it has been ten years and she never has.

    /PSA

      1. Sadsack

        She wasn’t aware of any fleas. Luckily, all it took to clean up was heavy vacuuming with some flea powder in the carpets, so I didn’t have any big expense I was trying to get out of her. I had one conversation with her and then just didn’t call her again. But it really turned me off from the cat sitter idea.

    1. Monodon monoceros

      I had the opposite happen- I stayed at my big boss’s house (2 or 3 levels above me in the org) to take care of their dog once a long time ago. When I arrived I realised they had fleas. And we were animal care professionals. It was awful. I dealt with the fleas while there, but I always felt icky about that guy after that.

    2. Anonsie

      On the flip side, it’s really common for animals to get sick in kennels from close contact to all the other animals and the crummy ventilation they tend to have. Last time I boarded my dog and she came back coughing, the vet confirmed it wasn’t bordetella, said it’s pretty standard to get your dog back from the kennel sick. So that’s a thing.

      It’s harder to get a flea infestation in your house than people think; someone bringing in a stray flea on their clothes or even bringing in an animal that has them is not likely to give you a carpet outbreak.

    3. Cath in Canada

      On the flip side, the cat I had when I was a kid picked up fleas at a boarding place. We were NOT happy about that.

      My two cats are lucky – we have a tenant in our basement suite who’s also a friend and is happy to look after them when we’re away. Or at least to send his son upstairs to do it for him.

      1. Cath in Canada

        Oh and one of my cats brought home some “friends” from a four night stay at the vet’s last year. But I can’t really complain because they took really good care of her apart from that, and are extremely cheap!

  11. Emmie

    If she did something serious (i.e. broke something in your home, failed to show up to sit the cats, or stole something from your house), could you then be separate her performance as a cat sitter from her performance as your employee? Conversely, if s/he is spectacular at cat sitting, but has performance issues at work then how would you handle that given your dual relationship with the employee? I am quite sure that you trust your employee, but the answer to those questions are ones that you may wish to consider.

    1. Zillah

      Well, if the employee stole something, I don’t think it would really matter where the theft happened – there are some things that it’s reasonable to fire someone over even if they happen outside work.

  12. Cheesecake

    Uh oh, OP, if you are just not comfortable to ask her directly, then casually drop a line on how your pet sitter cancelled last minute. She might volunteer herself or suggest someone. But if you are not ok for colleague to be at your home (a nono for me tbh), i would not ask at all, put the child in the hotel for this time and work hard on making new friends.

    1. Dorth Vader

      I think that’s kind of a manipulative way to approach it. The employee really may not want to for whatever reason, but feel pressured to do so based on the phrasing. A direct ask, with enough time before a trip, is always better.

      For a slightly similar example, I’m a nanny by trade and occasionally babysit my husband’s manager’s kids. The manager is not my husband’s direct supervisor, but he does still have some power and they interact daily. It hasn’t been a problem, but I find myself lowering my rates because I know what they make and TBH I’d rather have some extra money than price myself out of their range. So if the OP is going to go this route, ask directly and make sure you REALLY can separate the cat-sitting and regular-work aspects.

  13. eee

    If you’re going to ask and want to give her an out, I would definitely specify the dates you’re going to be gone in the question. That way, as others have suggested, if she feels uncomfortable at all she can just say “oh actually I’m busy that weekend.” It’s just a little more awkward if you ask “oh I need someone to petsit for me, are you interested or do you have any recommendations?” without the date because then it’s harder to feign unavailability.

  14. INTP

    I don’t think it’s inappropriate to ask as long as you give her an easy out, especially since she talks about it frequently at work. (I think someone who doesn’t want to be solicited by coworkers ever wouldn’t talk about it with them.)

    However, I do see it potentially becoming a messy situation in the unlikely event that something goes wrong, like the cat escapes, the cat gets sick or injured, or the cat injures the sitter. I could see disagreement over an unfortunate situation like that damaging a working relationship (i.e. boss blames the employee for cat’s illness, takes it out on employee at work, or cat scratches employee and employee/boss disagree over reasonable payment of medical expenses). The professional risk is more to the employee/sitter that the boss/owner, though, and I think it’s fine if the OP asks the employee in an extremely low-pressure way and allows the employee to make her own decision about whether to mix her pet sitting with her day job.

  15. The Office Admin

    As an office admin, if I did pet sitting on the side, I wouldn’t mind pet-sitting for my boss/owner of the company.
    It’s a small company(owner, myself, a project estimator, and 10-15 field crew members) so we’re all pretty close.
    Just this morning he had me call about a toll violation for his wife’s vehicle and I’ve met a cable guy at his house before in the middle of the day.
    Would I stay there overnight to pet sit? No. But I would stop by to care for a cat once or twice a day!
    Also, I really love animals(I’m sure this office admin does too) so I’d probably “forget” it was my boss’ cat and just be like, “YAY! A new cat to visit!”

  16. Scott

    Luckily, my neighbor has cats also so we swap cat sitting. However, after the first time, both of us asked the same question: “Are you sure you have cats?” since neither of us ever saw the other one’s cats, except that the food was being eaten.

    Actually, that’s not entirely true, the first time I went into their house there was a cat at the top of the stairs that briefly stared at me before running off never to be seen again over the past five years of cat sitting.

    1. ThursdaysGeek

      That reminds me of when I have people feed my fish! You wouldn’t think an 6″ fish could disappear in a 5 gallon tank, but even I’ve gone weeks without seeing it. That is one shy fish.

    2. NoPantsFridays

      lol, my friend had a cat like this. I’d been over to her apartment 3-4 times over the course of several months and didn’t even know she had a cat, until one day I saw the litter box. I was like “Oh, you got a cat!” She’d had the cat for years. My cats are both “out in the open” / “front and center” cats, not hiders, so it was pretty shocking to me!

      1. Kelly L.

        I have a friend who had two cats when I met her. I was almost convinced the second one was a figment of her imagination for about a year. :D Finally, I once saw him dart out of nowhere, across a room, and back into nowhere. I think that cat had tunnels in the space-time continuum. He got really snuggly in his old age, oddly.

        1. Rebecca

          Haha, we have one cat like that! We have some friends and family members who have never seen this cat in the 11 (!) years we’ve had him. But oddly enough, he LOVES two of our friends and comes out to visit as soon as he hears their voices. Cats are so weird!

          1. LJL

            My sister-in-law has a cat like that. I never saw the cat in a year of weekly visits. I even joked with her about her cat delusion. He finally got curious about me and will come out if I’m there.

      2. Ezri

        We have one cat who insists on sitting in the center of the people, and one cat who is invisible when strangers come into the house. So I guess it balances out. :)

        1. Camster

          Too funny! I have two cats like that, too: one will come out and visit with everyone, while the other one hides and is rarely seen. The only exception was one friend (who is also a co-worker) that came by to feed them and clean the litter box out while I was in the hospital for a few days last year. I was so surprised when she told me that she actually brushed BOTH of them (and I witnessed this myself when I got home from the hospital). Maybe because she had a cat, the shy one felt more comfortable?

          But, speaking of having a co-worker or employee pet-sit, I did feel a little weird about having someone I work with (but occasionally hang out with) come to my house when I was not there. But, I have nothing to hide and I knew she would take good care of my cats which was more important to me.

        2. Cath in Canada

          Yep, we have one lap-slut and one hider. Last time I brought a group of people home, the last I saw of the latter was a tail disappearing into a cupboard followed by a paw pulling the door closed. She came out about 20 minutes after everyone left, thus missing the sight of her sister lolling all over five new friends.

            1. Cath in Canada

              This is the same cat who came back from a brief trip outside on Sunday morning reeking of pot smoke. This being Vancouver, there was probably at least one neighbour out having a toke on such a gloriously sunny morning, and she was probably hanging out with them. So there is such a thing as a too-social cat :D

  17. Carrie in Scotland

    Another thought might be that the OP’s wife asks via normal business routes (i.e the employees fb page or webpage, however she normally gets clients) with the OP saying to the pet-sitting employee “this is awkward because we have a working relationship but my wife doesn’t with you” or similar and have the wife set it up, be the main point of contact, payer etc.

    1. Sunflower

      That would be my second suggestion. Ask the wife to email her and let her be the point of contact throughout everything. I’d still suggest asking her and also asking if she has any recommendations as she could still feel a bit awkward turning your wife down.

  18. Sunflower

    I agree with the advice to mention you’re looking for a pet-sitter and ask her if she is interested or has any recommendations. It gives her the opportunity to make a decision without making things awkward.

    I don’t think you have to worry much about her going through your personal things. It’s not like she’s house sitting and staying in your house, she’s just stopping by for a little. Why would she want to waste her time going through your things? Makes no sense to me.

    Trying to think of a situation whereas I would want to snoop. If my company president asked me to do this for him, I would maybe be inclined to check their place out. Only because people are grossly underpaid and mistreated at my company and I really want to know where all the money goes. I wouldn’t go looking through CC bills or anything like that though. For the most part, I have zero interest in what my boss does at home and I would never snoop because I really don’t care or want to know. As long as the employee has no personal vendetta against you, I wouldn’t worry about it.

  19. Monodon monoceros

    I’m torn on this one because I did a lot of pet-sitting for former bosses back when I was younger. I loved it for the extra money, getting away from roommates, and I like pets a lot. But now looking back I can see all sorts of potential problems, which lots of people mentioned already. Another one is what happens if something goes wrong. I had a friend watching my cat, and to no fault of hers, he passed away while I was gone. It really truly was not her fault- he had an undiagnosed issue and died very suddenly. I assured my friend it was totally not her fault, but she felt awful. That would have been terrible if it was a boss/employee situation.

    I guess it all depends on what your relationship is like now, and how well you think both of you would handle weird/awkward/bad situations that could arise.

    1. AnotherAlison

      I would feel terrible if something happened on my watch, and that’s worth considering, for sure.

      I had a neighbor dog-sit once, and I was not very happy with the results. My dog is normally un-kenneled during the day and kenneled at night. He freaked out and scratched up our bedroom door (obviously we were hiding in there), and pushed open our kids’ pocket doors and pooped all over a bedroom. He’s a Lhasa Apso, and the type of dog you don’t normally notice is around. Next time, I took him to my parents’ and he freaked out there, too (he had lived there for 3 months in 2011, so I thought he’d be fine). Now he only gets boarded.

      1. Ivy

        Our dog-sitter was wonderful, but when she was not there (i.e. most of the day) the dog took to barking like crazy. Upon our return from the 3 week vacation, we found a court notice – our neighbor sued us for excessive noise (long story, but the barking I guess pushed it over the brink). This year we’ll board the dog.

  20. Anonymous Educator

    Something like this happened at my last job. The president of the company needed pet sitting, but instead of singling out a particular employee, he just announced it at a staff meeting and said the compensation would be considerable. That way there was no pressure for any particular employee to step up to do it. The added advantage here, too, is perhaps those two admin assistants aren’t available to pet-sit, but someone else in the company is. I’d highly recommend throwing your net wide instead of asking a particular person.

    1. INTP

      The risk of that is that the OP is stuck either hiring whoever happens to volunteer or awkwardly explaining to them why they aren’t hired. OP might only be interested in a professional sitter like her assistant, might be open to other sitters but people she doesn’t particularly trust are the only volunteers, or might deal with an awkward situation if there are multiple volunteers and one of them is offended when she chooses another.

      1. Anonymous Educator

        So modify it then. Email a bunch of employees (not just one or two) that you trust with your pet, instead of singling out one person or opening it to everybody.

      2. Zillah

        I don’t know – this seems to me to not be a huge deal. If multiple people offer, just say, “Thanks for offering! Lucinda stopped by earlier, though, so I’m good.” I mean, I can see how that would introduce tension, but I think this is a “know your workplace” sort of thing – there are many, many people who would not find this awkward or see it as a reason to get offended.

  21. soitgoes

    I agree with the others that you should ask her if she or anyone else she knows would be available to catsit. Based on all of the answers here, don’t worry about her not being able to gauge the awkwardness of a situation – if you give her the opportunity to rec someone else, she’ll find a way to wiggle out of it herself if she doesn’t want to do it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve given my boss the slip when he asked for something minor like that (we lived in the same town at the time) because it was outside of my comfort zone. Don’t overanticipate your employee’s discomfort with the situation. It’s a legitimate job she created for herself, and she should be good at navigating this sort of thing.

    Another factor is that she probably has friends and family members requesting free services from her all the time (similar to how hairdressers are frequently asked for free at-home cuts). She’ll probably be glad for a paying client, especially if you travel as much as you say you do.

  22. Meredith

    I’ve been a pet-sitter in the past (not through a business, just casually and on my own). Most of the people who hired me were because others pointed them in my direction. OP, if you know anyone else with pets, ask them about who they hire for these services, and if they’re happy with the person they hired. You might come up with some useful contacts. Other possibilities would be tech college students studying to be veterinary technicians, as well as college students (particularly pre-vet/vet med). Lastly, talk to your veterinarian to see if they can refer you to someone reputable you can hire.

  23. Rae

    Appropriate way to ask, in an open group.

    “As you know I’ll be on vacation on XX/XX. I have a very timid cat and need someone to clean his box and feed him. Does anyone know someone who does this?”

    Better yet, post something in a break room with your name clearly on it. If she comes forward, then you’re good. It will also give others a chance if they want to.

    Co-workers regardless of rank help eachother…in this uuber corporate world I think we forget that.

  24. Episkey

    I have a boss that has 2 dogs at home and she often asks me to run over and let them out for her. I haven’t watched them for extended periods of time, but it’s mainly because they are dogs, need more care than cats, and I don’t live super close so she has some neighborhood high school kids take care of them when she goes out of town.

    I’ve never minded going over and taking the dogs out, she knows I love animals, have a dog of my own, etc.

    I also have 2 cats, and we don’t board them. I agree it’s stressful — plus, we only vaccinate them for rabies and we would be forced to get them other vaccinations if we were to board. I found a really nice professional pet sitter — she is a member of Pet Sitters of America and she is bonded, insured, etc. She comes over once a day to take care of the cats — we feed them raw, so someone needs to come everyday minimum to feed them as we can’t leave kibble out. We’ve never had an issue and she is very nice. I understand you might feel worried about someone being in your apartment, but a professional pet sitter is used to this. You can even interview several and see who you feel most comfortable with.

  25. Barney Stinson

    I haven’t read all the replies, but I’d advise against this.

    Sure, everything’s fine now, but what if you figure out something is missing from your house when you get back? And that’s just the first of the many alarms my brain shouted out when I read this.

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been burned by what I thought was a great work relationship that got badly enmeshed in my out-of-work life and then it was horrible to separate the two.

    1. Elizabeth West

      What’s bothering me about it is that the OP said upthread that the employee is not bonded. This is not a good thing if there are any problems or if the sitter gets hurt inside the home.

      1. Barney Stinson

        OMG, yes. Another major point to consider. Worst case scenario, the sitter is injured in your house and ugliness ensues, and then what does that do to your working relationship?

        Forgetting injury: if there’s a dispute over services rendered, how can that NOT affect the other relationship?

      2. OP

        It’s a valid point. As is that made regarding whether or not I could not blame her at work if something went horribly wrong.

        I’m less worried about the bonding issue since my renter’s insurance covers visitor injuries up to a ridiculous amount.

        I’d like to think I could separate life and work well enough to not worry about the second, but who truly knows until it happens?

  26. Ama

    I agree with all the comments saying if you decide to ask her, make sure you make it clear she can say no with no repercussions. In my first job out of college, my boss walked in one day and announced she’d just realized I would be the perfect person to watch her kids/housesit while she and her husband went on a 2 week trip to Europe for their anniversary. In pretty much that language.

    There were a number of reasons why it instantly seemed like a terrible idea to me, and thankfully my inclination to say yes to everything my bosses asked at that age was held in check. I managed to get out of it by noting several evening activities during that period that I had already committed to, but it was extremely awkward and I’m not sure how I would have stopped her from trying to pressure me into it if I hadn’t had the “other commitment” excuse.

  27. Cath in Canada

    When I worked in a lab, the boss would ask her grad students to house- and cat-sit for her when she was away, for up to two weeks at a time. I love cats, really liked this boss, and would ordinarily have welcomed a solo stay in a lovely home rather than my shared apartment with annoying roommates, but ick, no. Especially because it was a rather medically needy cat that had to have various pills every day and an injection every week.

    1. Shell

      There are very few times I’m thankful for my allergies to cats, but this has to be one of them. O.o

  28. HR Manager

    Many moons ago, when my sister was still somewhat early in her career (and I was in high school), my sister’s boss – who was the head marketing exec – would ask her to house-sit on occasion. They had a cat who would get lonely, and they also eventually got a dog. They didn’t pay my sister, and treated this as a favor. My sister would bring me along (with their permission) and we loved it! They lived in a gorgeous, swanky penthouse condo right by the water and in the heart of the city. It was actually great because my sister and I could walk to our work in minutes when we stayed. Since it was usually summer, who wouldn’t want a gorgeous deck overlooking the harbor for a week or two? Plus, their pets were adorable and we had fun with them.

    So I don’t find this request weird, but yes it would have to be done when you and the boss have a good relationship. The exec really trusted my sister so it was never an issue (and vice versa of course).

  29. Victoria, Please

    I’m glad I don’t have pets any more! This was always a dilemma when I did, and now I don’t have to worry about it. It’s hard enough finding someone to water the one plant in front that needs more frequent watering than everything else.

  30. Ask a Manager Post author

    Random tip on traveling when you have animals: Our pet-sitter used to never see Olive when she’d come to feed the cats, to the point that I worried that Olive was traumatized by our absence and staying under the bed the whole time and not eating. My husband had the brilliant idea to buy a Dropcam (small mini camera that provides live-feed and video recordings) and set it up by the cats’ food, so that we could see if she was eating or not. It turns out that she’s eating constantly; she just hides when the cat-sitter is there. As soon as the cat-sitter leaves, she comes out and eats.

    I tend to really over-worry when we’re away, and the Dropcam has given me total peace of mind. We use it whenever we’re away now, and I love it. (We obviously warned the cat-sitter that there was a camera set up in the kitchen and why, so she wouldn’t spot it and wonder WTF was going on. She probably thinks we’re very weird, but that’s fine.)

    1. Cat

      This is going to make me sound like a nutjob, but I kind of want to get one of those to point at my oven so I no longer have to worry that I accidentally left the broiler on all day.

      1. Ana

        I’ve been known to take a cellphone photo of my stove dials before leaving on an extended trip! Glad I’m not the only one who thinks this way.

    2. OP

      Pet hotel has a Web cam for that very purpose.

      Eased our worries a lot, along with daily phone calls to make sure he was okay.

      I couldn’t leave without seeing up a camera, good tip.

    3. HR Manager

      But what if the cats just miss you? :s

      I went off to Hong Kong/China for 3.5 weeks and one of my cats got so stressed out. Developed urinary and eating problems that lasted a few months. Thankfully he recovered, but the poor little guy was not happy to be left with out having me or someone spend time with him while I was gone. Cost an arm and a leg for vets to diagnose too. My parents came over to feed my cats, but not the same loving and play time.

  31. Liz in a Library

    I agree with everyone to make sure your employee has the ability to say no easily with no consequences, but I don’t think that means you shouldn’t ask at all. I’ve pet sat for two bosses before. One was awesome and I loved her pets. The other was an awful, awful experience that left me feeling super taken advantage of (not the animal’s fault, obviously).

    In addition to everything else above, I would recommend making sure all details are worked out in advance if you do this. Exactly how much you are paying, exactly how often she needs to visit, what to do in an emergency (and in an after-hours one), etc. An employee who felt fine pet sitting for you might still feel really taken advantage of when it turns out you had different ideas about pay or something.

  32. JC

    OP, I am assuming you don’t have neighbors you feel you could ask about cat sitting? Or some kind of building-wide email list you could send out a request to (a general one, not one that announces to your whole building when you’ll be out of town)? I definitely understand not wanting strangers in your apartment, and I also understand not knowing many of your neighbors (if that’s the case for you), if that’s what’s stopping you.

    I’ve gotten lucky having neighbors who are willing to cat sit for me, since cats are pretty easy to care for. Some of them also have cats that I’ve watched, others don’t but have asked me to do things like take in their mail or water their plants. Coming in and feeding cats isn’t really a chore for someone who is nearby, and even scooping the litter box isn’t that bad if they also have cats. Somehow I feel more comfortable having neighbors in my home than professional cat sitters, even though I don’t know them all that well. They haven’t stolen anything from me yet, anyway…

  33. RebeccaMN

    I haven’t read the post yet, but wanted to note that I opened several tabs of AAM (all recent posts) and this one played an ad automatically (none of the rest did). I didn’t catch what it was for, but I’m in Firefox on a PC, if that makes a difference.

  34. Development professional

    Many years ago, when I was a very junior level admin, a senior level person in my department (not my boss) found out that I had moved “near” her (read 10 minutes away, further from the office than my home) and declared that I should cat sit for her sometime. I did not volunteer, or even really respond. So then summer came and she was planning a week’s vacation and said, “You’re cat sitting for me right?” And at this point, I still thought that I was somehow obligated to be “helpful” to people like this, so I agreed. She instructed me to go to her home every day to feed the cat and refill the water container on the second floor. The cat became more and more agitated each day with my coming into the house until finally on the last day he outright bit me.

    So when she got back, she wanted her key back and asked how it went, and I didn’t have the stomach to tell her the cat bit me. And then she said, “I’m going to get you a gift certificate to your favorite restaurant, so let me know what that is.” (That’s right, she was not paying me. I was SO SO naive.) And I immediately responded, “Oh, I love XYZ Italian a few blocks from here.” And she replied, “Okay, well let me know!” and walked away. That’s right, you guessed it, that gift certificate never materialized.

    So, just in case you wanted a study in what NOT to do, here it is.

    1. Artemesia

      So she didn’t actually get you the gift certificate, she just ‘wanted to do so.’ Hope you never sat again.

  35. C Average

    My boss constantly asks for miscellaneous favors. Rides to the airport for personal travel, house-sitting, introductions to people we know that sound interesting to her, anything and everything.

    When she found out I know how to sew and have altered many of my own clothes to fit better, she not only asked me to do some tailoring for her, but she got very impatient about having it done right away (she was leaving on a trip the next day) and insisted on stopping at my house to pick up her clothes as soon as I’d finished. And she didn’t even wash the clothes before bringing them to me. So very awkward.

    Being asked to do non-work-related work outside the office for my boss makes me feel very peasant-class. I don’t like it at all.

    1. I'm a Little Teapot

      Wow.

      I hope she at least pays you overtime for this stuff. And I wonder if your employer has a rule against bosses asking subordinates for these kinds of “favors”; many do.

    2. Cheesecake

      Three words: W.T.F. I’d return her clothes with an invoice attached and for every miscellaneous favor i’d be busy/out of town. This is just not ok.

  36. pinky

    One thing to consider – I don’t know if you are or not – but if you are a state or town or city employee, it would be unethical, or you may need to fill out a disclosure form……Just did mandatory state ethics training today!

  37. Sunny

    I had a coworker that always complained that our boss let another coworker dog-sit, so I guess that could pose a problem. However, the complaining coworker was just looking to start trouble.

  38. NotFiona

    Related situation to the OP: I met someone who had the intern in their office babysit their small baby. The way they casually mentioned it made me worry for the intern. I think it looks really improper. Having it be a pet (especially a cat, which is easier than a dog IMO) makes it much more OK.

  39. Nicole

    I have done this and it is AWKWARD when an employee does something stupid in your house, breaks something, etc. I mean, you hope that won’t happen, but when it does… it’s not worth it. Assuming you are going to pay this person a fair market rate for pet sitting, why not just go with a professional petsitter?

  40. stargirl

    buried but oh well! I recently had a manager (several decades older than me) who asked me often to petsit for her. During the time that I dogsat, I cleaned up a lot of poop inside (lovely) and was told it was because “they won’t go in the yard and will go to the bathroom in the house instead if you don’t pick up the poop from the yard.” ummmm…..okay? the final straw was when she extended a further offer to me to also be “kitchen help” at one of her dinner parties – assembling appetizers/HDs, doing dishes, etc. I’m a professional employee at the place we both work and in my 30s and completely independent. I politely declined but was honestly sort horrified when she said “I know you don’t make a lot of money at your current job so I thought you might want to make some extra cash.”

    I also hate when people demand that I sleep at their house. If it’s too far or some other circumstance requires it, I am happy to. on one occasion, the house was SO nice and the host had left water, clean sheets, snacks, specified wine left on the table for me, full use of the gourmet kitchen and pots and pans and on and on. I was hired for a week and left a nice thank you note and washed all the sheets/stocked the fridge with milk, bread, fruit before I left – these were also dear friends and not my boss.

    those are just stories from outside of work, there are plenty of others from work related incidents.

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