This is the time of year when pet sitters begin keeping multiple-daily vigils on increasingly large groups of pets. And for that—not to mention their newfound professionalism in the 21st century—I thank them.

The family away to Argentina for the month…

The kids at camp and the adults in the Keys…

Without pet sitters most pet owners in my area (South Florida) would suffer the heat, humidity, fleas and ticks along with the stress of being away from home.

Sure, there are a handful of great boarding places in SoFla, but I wouldn’t exactly call them “kennels.” They’re more like expensive day care services with a cushy overnight stay thrown in.

No, it’s not that I necessarily want the televisions and the plush environment for my pets. In fact, my dogs love nothing better than a clean(ish) bath towel absentmindedly discarded on the floor…or perhaps a messy pile of my son’s cast-off clothing. But I do appreciate the careful attention to my pets’ activities, eating habits and overall stress level. Yes, I’m willing to pay for that…but I can’t always come up with the cash.

Luckily, pet sitters are there to provide a less expensive alternative to the pet spa and a more salubrious option than the less-than-pristine kennels in my area (I know I’m going to get local hate mail for that).

It’s one thing to go on vacation and leave your brother-in-law the keys. It’s quite another to hire a professional to do the job right. Indeed with some pets, your neighbor’s neighborly attention is probably grounds for animal cruelty. But you might never know it.

That’s why I looove the relatively recent rise of professional pet sitting. No, it’s not your average animal-loving college student anymore. They consider themselves professionals—bonded and insured—though, as yet, lacking licensing.

Now it’s true that they may run the gamut in terms of experience and professionalism, but interviews are always helpful for this. I always tell my clients to ask three key questions to determine their dedication to their chosen field:

1-How many pets/clients do you service on an average week and how long have you been petsitting at this level?

2-What would you do if Brownie had diarrhea?

3-In your mind, what qualifies you to be especially good at this?

That’s pretty simple, I think. Along with a request for references, it gets the message across that you care deeply about your pets—essential for anyone caring for them to know right up front.

The pet sitters I know are special people. Tearfully, they mourn the loss of the ancient Pomeranian dead two days into her owners’ Grand Canyon trip (can they die from loneliness?). They stress inordinately over the unforeseen illness of the Cape Cod refugee’s black Lab (was it something I fed him?) and the lack of appetite of their elderly cat.

I’d want nothing less for someone caring for my creatures—how about you?