Finding a reliable pet sitter or place to board pets is critical for pet owners who travel. Besides entrusting the care of your furry, scaly or feathered friend to another person or business, using a sitter means that person will have access to your home.

Common complaints the Better Business Bureau receives about kennels, boarding businesses and pet-sitting services include billing issues and concerns about the pet’s condition during and after its stay.

Many people think of their pets as members of the family. If the pet can’t go along on your vacation or business trip, you need to know they will be cared for in your absence. BBB Business Profiles can help you evaluate many kennels and boarding businesses as well as pet-sitting services.

Think about what your pet needs. Will the pet be fine with someone who stops by once or twice a day? In addition to food and water, what else does your pet need? Medication? Daily walks? Play time? Litter box cleaning? Do you have enough supplies on hand to provide for the pet’s needs?

Friends or your veterinarian may have the names of trusted sitters or kennels. Ask the sitter or kennel for the names and contact information of previous customers. Call these references to ask them how often they’ve used that sitter, whether they were satisfied and how their pets were when they returned from their travels.

Meet with potential sitters or visit the kennel before you make a decision. Introduce the sitter to your pet and observe their interaction. If you go to the kennel, inspect the facilities for cleanliness and ask how they will meet your pet’s needs. Bring a list of those needs and ask how they will be met. How will they handle emergencies?

BBB recommends that consumers consider the following when looking for a pet sitter or boarding provider:

• Research the company’s background and licensing. Visit bbb.org to view a BBB Business Profile on any service company you plan to hire. Learn more about its reputation and any history of complaints. Always confirm that the company is licensed and insured, if required.

• Compare prices and services offered. If possible, check with several businesses to find out what they charge and what services they provide. Ask for a written list of the services your pet will receive for the basic fee and what might be additional. Some boarding providers include grooming before the pet leaves while others charge extra for that service.

• Are sitters bonded? If the sitter is coming to your home, ask if he or she is bonded. Make sure valuables and sensitive papers are stored out of sight and preferably under lock and key. Consider a criminal background check on anyone with access to your home.

• Get it in writing. Once you choose a sitter or kennel, get an agreement in writing of how your pet will be cared for, and have the sitter or kennel sign it. Most businesses will have their own contracts. Make sure you read and understand any contract before you sign it. Discuss payment terms and pay with a credit card in case you need to challenge the charge.

Stephanie Garland is the regional director for the Better Business Bureau office in Springfield, 2754 S. Campbell Ave. Among those counties served by BBB Springfield are Jasper, Newton, McDonald, Lawrence and Barton counties. Emails may be sent to sgarland@springfieldbbb.org. You can find a retailer’s BBB rating or read a BBB Business Profile by going online to www.bbb.org or by calling 888-996-3887.