So, You Want to Be a Professional Pet Sitter? A Paskapoo Reality Check.

A young pet sitter

Congrats on taking your first steps into the Pet Care Industry!

But before you join the select club of self-employed entrepreneurs in the pet industry, let’s confirm: are you sure this is the right path for you?

We have found that the general population does not know what professional pet sitting truly is, or the amount of responsibility and liability that comes with it.

When pet sitting businesses are looking for staff, they are often faced with applicants who have a rather idealistic image of the profession. At Paskapoo Pet Services, we’ve been told many times by applicants they can succeed in this line of work simply because they love animals, and because they perceive the job as “an easy gig”.

After all, there’s no shortage of stock photos portraying grinning pet sitters, walking a bunch of groomed, well-trained dogs under the sun. The new “on-demand” dog walking apps also claim that “anyone” can become a pet sitter, and that the process has never been easier. Some career blogs even claim that professional pet sitters can easily earn a six-figure income while working part-time!

Although working as a pet sitter and/or dog walker can be more enjoyable than your typical corporate office job, and can help pay the bills, there’s certainly nothing “easy” about it.

Most professional pet sitters won’t survive their first year.

How can this be possible?

Let’s go over a few reasons why professional pet sitting may not be the “dream job” for everyone…

  • You work all the time. Literally.

Most professional pet sitters and dog walkers will work 7 days a week, all year long – including weekends and holidays. Most dogs are required to be walked in the middle of the day on weekdays, while clients away on vacation or a business trip will require daily visits for days or weeks at a time. The busiest times for pet sitters are the summer months, the holiday season and spring break, which is basically when everyone else, family members included, are usually off.

This kind of working schedule can quickly take its toll on the pet sitter and their family. As such, this line of work is rarely a good fit for anyone who enjoys spending weekends away or attending family reunions at Christmas or Thanksgiving. Until a pet sitting business owner can afford to hire and delegate some of the “inconvenient” workload, the new professional pet sitter can expect to work non-stop all year round.

  • You are running and operating a business.

The idea of starting and running a business is a scary one, and it should be. Unlike the corporate world, where employees have the support of their colleagues, are given directions by their superiors and rely on a pre-determined paycheck, when you are self-employed, you are on your own.

In professional pet sitting, you oversee every aspect of your business. While some established pet sitting companies may have managers and office staff, most are one-person operations, or started that way. It means that when you start pet sitting professionally, you are in charge of providing the pet care, designing contracts and service agreements, making sure you have the proper insurance and permits, managing your schedule, meeting with clients, returning calls, emails and texts in a timely manner, advertising your services, maintaining your books and collecting payments and taxes, building a website and a social media presence… The list goes on! If you fail or fall behind in any one of these tasks, it will put your business operations in jeopardy.

Furthermore, running a business comes with overhead costs that employees don’t have to worry about otherwise. A professional pet sitter can expect to pay a few thousand dollars per year to run a legitimate, fully insured and software-supported business. As 100% of your work is on the road, there will be a significant cost in terms of gas and vehicle maintenance to consider as well. You better love spending time in your car because you will drive. A lot.

Oh, and by the way, there are no sick days when you’re “the boss”.

  • Puppies and kittens, oh my!

Thankfully, most pets will be easy to care for. Fresh water and food, exercise and companionship will make most cats and dogs happy and content. However, by definition, pet sitting also means caring for animals that can’t stay alone for an extended period of times, that are sick or require medication, and who are unfit for a boarding facility or unable to be safely around other pets. This can create challenging situations for pet sitters, even for the most experienced ones.

Unlike caring for your own pets, taking care of someone else’s pet brings the liability and responsibility of the pet sitter to a whole new level. Even a little mistake can put the life or the well-being of a pet at risk. How do you explain to a client that you made a mistake while giving a pill and that now, the cat is at the vet in a life-threatening situation? What about the time a young dog destroyed the couch of your client after you left without properly locking the crate? How do you handle a fearful dog or an aggressive cat when the clients are already on their way to the airport?

As for the myth of pet sitters playing with puppies all day, new pet sitters will quickly realize that for every 5 minutes of play with these sharp-toothed little monsters, there’s 25 minutes of cleaning up poop and pee.

And about that poop and pee, a significant part of this job is to deal with animal body fluids. Urine, vomit, feces, diarrhea, blood and slobber – pet sitters see it all. This is why many pet sitters eventually leave their expensive yoga leggings at home.

  • Let’s get physical, physical…

Professional pet sitters and dog walkers are often looked at with some sort of envy.

“It’s awesome! You get to do exercise all the time!”

Actually, it *is* pretty awesome. But new dog walkers quickly realize that walking under the perfect weather conditions is a rare occurrence, even in the warmer latitudes. Day after day of extreme temperatures, rain, snow and strong wind can make even the most resilient dog walker miserable. Aside from the weather, dog walkers also need to consider the wear they put on their body with all the walking and pulling by strong dogs. It is not uncommon to hear dog walkers retire because of knee and foot problems caused by years of daily walking.

Even for pet sitters not offering daily dog walks, the workload can be exhausting. Let’s imagine a schedule composed of 15 daily cat visits for the 10 days of Christmas, with an average of two litter boxes per client. That’s 300 litter boxes scooped in only 2 weeks. Without precautions, pet sitters are at genuine risk of developing asthma, tendonitis and other work-related ailments.

  •  You want to work with animals, so you don’t have to deal with those pesky humans.

That’s a very legitimate statement, and after the love for animals, it is one of the main reasons people will consider pet sitting professionally. After all, dogs and cats are known to love unconditionally, and there’s no such thing as office politics when taking a happy dog for a stroll around the neighborhood.

But that you want it or not, there is an inevitable human component in pet sitting. After all, without pet owners, there would be no pets to pet sit for. Furthermore, as a service provider, pet sitters are expected to have strong customer service skills to sell their services, and gain, and of course retain, clients.

Thankfully, self-employed professionals have the flexibility to select clients based on compatibility and availability. If you don’t want to work for the crazy cat lady down the street, you don’t have to.

Finally, pet sitting can be lonely job, and many will find themselves isolated. Four-legged companionship is one thing, but there’s a lot less face-time with people in this line of work, and much of it is fleeting. If you’re someone who prefers meaningful relationships with fewer people over large numbers of superficial relationships, beware that you may find yourself with only a few superficial relationships with your clients by the end of the day.

  • Have you made $100,000 yet?

It is true. You can make a hundred grand a year pet sitting.

How? Let’s say a typical pet sitting or dog walking assignment is $25.00. A pet sitter will need to perform at least 4,000 visits or walks throughout the year to reach that number. That’s an average of 11 visits per day, every single day. Burn out, anyone?

Unless a company is extremely well-established, with a strong client pool, offers diversified services and has reliable staff, these numbers can be challenging, if not impossible, to achieve, especially for start-ups and one-person operations.

Furthermore, competition is fierce within the pet care industry. With new “pet sitters” popping up every day through “on-demand” dog walking apps, getting enough clients to have a full-time workload and a sufficient pay to live on will become more challenging as time goes by.

Still, it is possible, with work and perseverance, to make a decent living out of professional pet sitting.

  • You’re a what? No really, what do you for a living?

Long gone are the days where the only option for pets was a crowded boarding facility. With professional pet sitters, pet owners now have the choice to have someone come to their house to care for their animals during their absence, while bringing an extra pair of eyes to check on the house at the same time.

Although professional pet sitting has been around for over three decades, it is still not always recognized as a valid career choice. New and old pet sitters alike will constantly be challenged by family members, friends, ex-coworkers and even complete strangers about pet sitting not being a “real” job. If anything, all the information written above should be enough not only to qualify professional pet sitting as a “real” job, but also a tough one, requiring a very specific set of skills in order to be successful.

It can be depressing to be told that your job is “cute”, or a waste of your university degree. Some people will react negatively when you tell them how much you charge for your services, while some family members may not be supportive of the stringent scheduling requirements of the pet sitter’s work, especially around the holidays. The reality is that every person considering pet sitting as a career will have their choice questioned and challenged.

Thankfully, organizations like Pet Sitters International have been promoting pet sitting as a rewarding and respectable career choice and have been recognizing the efforts of their members at bringing the standards of pet care to levels never achieved before.

So next time your old aunt Janet asks you why you’re “wasting your time” pet sitting, here’s how you can respond:

Well, there’s no other job like it.

There’s no quotas, no cubicle, and no shifts. Nobody is keeping you at the office until 5:00 PM.

You work with animals and keep them happy and healthy.

You HELP people everyday, and some clients will consider you as a friend, or a family member.

You trouble-shoot, and you gain valuable work skills and life experiences.

You can take time off when everybody is back to work, when travel is usually cheaper and tourist destinations less crowded.  

Want to attend a morning yoga class or volunteer at your children’s school? You can.

So the bottom line is, professional pet sitting is not an easy job, and is certainly not for everyone. But it comes with great perks that you can’t get in any other job.

 

Written by Paskapoo Pet Services.
All Rights Reserved, 2018.

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