The difference between amateurs and pros can show up anywhere—from the sports field to weddings. Elite athletes demonstrate that they have trained harder and longer than newcomers who are still working on the fundamentals. Likewise, professional photographers have a well-honed eye for which shots are important and how to take them. In comparison, an acquaintance who takes photos as a hobby may end up not capturing the moments you want.
The professional versus amateur debate can also be observed in who you pick to watch your pets while you are traveling for business or a summertime vacation. It is certainly easy enough to invite a family member, a friend, or an acquaintance to hang out at your place to keep an eye on your cat, dog or other pet. Depending on your comfort level, this assignment can be pretty low-key, merely requiring them to pop in occasionally to make sure everyone has enough food and water.
In some cases, the sitter could be asked to stay at your place during your absence, which is good for security and can keep your furry friends from feeling abandoned. But untrained sitters may not necessarily be the best choice to provide anything beyond basic companionship and upkeep, no matter how much they like animals.
According to Care.com, a professional house- or pet-sitter should not only make sure that pets are adequately fed and watered, but it is also their paid job to make sure that Fido, Fluffy or other furry friends remain in a suitable physical, mental, and emotional condition.
Good sitters will make sure that animals are eating and sleeping well and exercising and following house rules even when the owner is not home. Professional sitters can also quickly provide or find help if a pet gets sick or injured and reassure you that your pet remains in good hands.
Many pet owners opt for professional pet sitting instead of boarding at pet hotels. Boarding programs can be noisy or messy and have a traumatic effect on pets depending on their temperament. Many of today’s professional sitters are part of organizations that focus on the trustworthiness, capabilities, and attitudes of its staff to maintain a general focus on pet well-being.
Continue reading for a summary of popular pet sitting services including common features that pet owners expect.
The History of Pet Sitting
Though friends and neighbors have likely been looking after each other’s animals for centuries, pet sitting as an occupation is a much more recent endeavor—but how recent is a matter of debate. Several of the different pet sitter groups and associations claim to be the first group of organized pet sitters, generally spanning a period of time between the early 1980s and early 2000s.
Pet Sitters International (PSI) credits entrepreneur and animal lover Patti Moran for coming up with the idea of babysitting pets in 1983, much like one would be hired to take care of children. Eventually, the North Carolina resident turned this activity into a successful business, then wrote a how-to book called “Pet Sitting for Profit” to encourage others to give it a try.
As more people began exploring this profession, Moran started working with insurance companies to find ways to provide coverage for fellow pet sitters. She founded PSI in 1992. Other groups include the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters, which opened in 1989, and the Professional United Pet Sitters, which started in 2005.
According to Pet Sitters International, as of 2016, there were more than 17 million pet sitting assignments taking place. Pet sitting businesses collectively earned more than $391 million the previous year. The industry is expected to continue to grow, especially as pet ownership increases and pet owners demand high levels of quality care for their pets that are now considered more like family.
Growth beyond 2019 will also be fueled by advances in technology, which will make it easier for sitters to relay updates to owners while they are traveling or on vacation, and for owners to check up on their pets and the sitter. For instance, owners can now send and receive texts with their sitter or watch videos or live feeds of their pet from their phones.
Along with a predicted rise in “hobbyist” pet sitters, who may help out occasionally to help friends or get paid under the table, there is also expected to be a rise in “business” sitters who do it as an actual occupation.
Recommended Skills for Pet Sitters
Though the overlying concept of pet sitting is similar, each business may be structured differently or offer varying services to clients. Each association or governing body may also have different membership requirements or privileges.
If you’re seeking a pet sitter or interested in pet sitting yourself, the following skills, abilities, and personalities are crucial to the job:
Animal empathy. Certainly, there’s nothing stopping someone who wants to make money by being a sitter. After all, the mechanics of pet sitting are simple: keep an animal alive with adequate levels of food, water, and attention until its owner returns. But someone with a loving heart for pets will likely enjoy the experience much more and provide better care. They may especially enjoy playing and learning and are likely to have more experience with different types of animals.
Personalized sitting. Every client and every situation is different, so the better sitters need to know how to adapt. For instance, warmer summer days may require providing more water than other times of the year, or even minimizing paw time on hot sidewalks or streets. Furthermore, pets have different temperaments, and sitters need to know how to adapt their care accordingly. Some animals prefer lots of one-on-one time, while others prefer to spend alone time.
Insurance/bonding. One of the biggest concerns that owners have is what happens if something goes wrong. That is why many professional pet sitting organizations require liability protection. These vary according to state and company but generally provide clients with the assurance that the pet sitter or their employer has pledged a certain amount. These standards do not only apply to pets, but for sitters who occupy someone’s home.
Background checks. Some associations go further than a personal bond and require that candidates undergo a basic criminal background check. This scrutiny could satisfy owners concerned about having a stranger stay at their home for an extended period of time. Rover, a national organization of dog and cat sitters, estimates that it only hires 20 percent of applicants due to its diligence.
Professional support. Some national organizations have advisory members from different disciplines who help evaluate candidates and provide resources. For instance, Wag!, a sitting organization, has several veterinarians, law enforcement veterans and training experts in advisory roles. Organizations also have 24-hour support lines and customer service centers for pet owners who have questions, requests, or concerns and can’t reach (or don’t want to talk to) their sitter.
A back-up plan. What happens if something happens to your pet or sitter? Sitters should have an emergency response plan and know which veterinary clinics or kennels they may need to work within the event that a pet needs advanced care.
Communication. Good sitters can distinguish themselves from other sitters by their use of mobile devices and related technology to interact with pet owners and relieve their concerns. Depending on how pet owners like to communicate, sitters can call, make videos, send photos, and text updates about the pet throughout an owner’s time away.
Choosing a Pet Sitter
Once you’ve figured out the dates you are going to be on your vacation or business trip and decided that you prefer pet sitting to kenneling or boarding, you can begin the search for a pet sitter in your area. If you’ve never done so before, there are some different ways to get started.
Ask experts for help. Besides word-of-mouth recommendations from pet owners in your neighborhood or social group, consider asking your veterinarian for his or her recommendations on local pet sitters.
Visit several organizations. Many national groups have “search by zip code” that will allow you to see any recommended sitters who are part of a particular association. You can also see details about them, including their experience, rating, and background.
Invite them to visit. Part of the screening process is getting your particular pet or pets involved. Ask sitters to come by before hiring them so you can see how they interact with your pet.
Ask about references and follow up on them. It’s one thing to say “all my clients love me” but another thing to hear it directly from past clients. Call or email previous clients to find out about their experience with this sitter.
Other animals. If your pet is going to a sitter’s home, does the sitter have other pets around? If they come to your home, will they bring along other animals?
Reputable Pet Sitting Agencies
This organization provides three levels and types of care for dogs: they can take your dog on multiple walks a day, stay at a client’s home, or bring a client’s dog to their home. All employees are trustworthy and reliable. They are insured, have undergone background checks, and are rated for their services.
Wag! has more than 100 locations around the country, including major metropolitan areas like New York City or San Francisco. In the future, Wag! is planning to create a group of daycares, where dogs can be dropped off and enjoy social time with their peers. Prices are based on which services you request, how often you want them done, and location.
Wag! walks start at $20 for a 30-minute walk. The walker tracks the route using GPS technology, creates a short video of the trip, and sends a text message to the client saying the walk is taking place. Overnight services start at $39 a night and include regular video messages. Sitters can also pick up and drop off your dog from your home for $15.
Since 2011, Rover has offered a variety of sitting and walking services for dogs and cats at more than 100 cities around the country. It claims to be the largest network of its kind. Services include boarding or a sitter staying at your place, scheduled walks, and daycare or drop-in centers for social activity and stimulation. All services come with regular updates and photos from the sitter describing what they are doing and how much fun they’re having.
Each sitter has a background check and has been asked to fill out a personality profile. This is to help clients looking for certain criteria, like familiarity or appreciation of certain pets. An overnight sitter also is happy to take care of any animals, including fish or livestock. Sitters and clients are encouraged to use the site as a resource for general pet-related questions.
The particular setup of DogVacay focuses less on walking and daycare and more on the overnight and extended stay services that clients might need if they go on extended vacations or business trips.
Described as “cage-free love,” the service is designed to be an alternative to the noisy, busy, and sometimes stressful kennel-like surroundings offered by some boarding homes. Younger, less social dogs especially don’t like these types of facilities, preferring smaller and calmer sitting options.
Dogs or cats can stay at a sitter’s house, or the sitter can bring the animal to their home. Each sitter has been verified and recommended, and clients can also see their rating and experience with the company. Pet insurance is also provided, along with around-the-clock customer service. For those called out of town quickly, a Concierge service can assist with the searching. DogVacay is now working with Rover to provide access to even more quality sitters and walkers.
Fetch Pet Care
Whether you’re going on vacation for one day or for more than a month, this organization and franchise can provide peace of mind for you and a fun experience for your dog. Fetch’s services include daily 30- to 60-minute walks. It can offer off-the-leash group social activities in certain areas with dogs he or she already knows.
The staff also works with different dog age groups, including seniors or puppies, and assists with tasks such as making them take medicine or to appointments. Cat care is also available.
Other Resources for Pet Sitting
- Pet Sitters International claims about 6,000 members worldwide and is designed to be a resource for sitters, including how to find a sitter. Members can earn their “Certified Professional Pet Sitter” certification.
- The National Association of Professional Pet Sitters has about 2,200 members and provides resources for pet sitters and pet owners.
- The Professional United Pet Sitters has more than 11,000 members, including individual sitters, walkers, and some businesses.