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Having a career and passion for working with animals for the better part of 30 years was one of the great joys in my life. My next joy came in the form of motherhood and raising my four beautiful boys.
As a dedicated mom, I wanted to stay home most of the time, and take part in as many activities with the boys as I could. I loved my new career, but I also missed the old one. I knew I had to do something without sacrificing too much time from my family.
I decided to delve into having my own home-based business that was, of course, geared toward animals. I chose to be an in-home pet sitter! As a professional person, it was important to me to make sure I had all the necessary qualifications, certifications (if any), references, and proper research to give my clients the best possible choice they could find.
Clearly, if you're going to become a pet sitting professional, it is important to give your clients the trust and confidence they deserve. Volunteer at your local animal shelter/vet's office to get some experience handling animals, start with pet sitting some of your friends' dogs/cats to get a feel for it, read up on basic medical care for domestic pets, and always, always, be dependable!
One of the first things I did was make sure that I had the proper documentation to show my clients that I was serious about my pet sitting and business. I became bonded, insured, and registered with the state as an LLC.
Next, I wanted to learn from other professionals, and get as many tips and advice that there was. I became a member of the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters and took their certification course which allowed me to show clients that I was part of an organization that took pet care seriously, and with great pride. It also served in giving my clients the confidence they needed in knowing that I could handle a variety of situations (whether medical or some other emergency).
Now, I'm not saying that every pet sitter needs to go to the extent of joining organizations and spending money they don't have, but it is an investment in your future and an investment in future clients. I always advise clients to do background checks, check references, and most importantly...watch the interaction between your pet and the potential pet sitter. You know that your pet is your best "red flagger" when it comes to the integrity of most people's intentions. Pet sitters should be able to provide a free half hour or hour of their time to do a "meet and greet" with clients and their furbabies.
Make sure that your paperwork or forms cover all bases, for example;
- Giving you or a close (available) family member access to signing forms at the pet's veterinarian's office should an emergency visit transpire.
- A form listing any medical conditions or behavior issues that you need to be aware of.
- A form giving permission to administer medications for the pet.
- Clear details of feeding instructions and any special diets, as well as restrictions for any snacks.
- Emergency contact numbers.
- Access or security codes.
- Copies of vaccination records (remember, you don't want to transfer any illnesses or disease from one client's home to another).
- Forms giving permission for a close friend or family member to act on your client's behalf should a sudden problem occur (eg. broken window, basement flooding, tree limb falling on roof, etc.) If this happens, someone needs to act in the best interest of the client and call a professional for repairs.
- In multiple pet homes, each pet should have its own separate form to indicate its personality and special needs/food requirements/medications.
- A form indicating the exact date/time the client will leave and when they will return.
Always keep in mind that situations may change so, keep yourself available in case a flight is delayed, vacations get extended, or emergencies happen. Don't assume that your client made it home on time! Always call to check on their arrival so that the furbabies entrusted to you and your care are not left alone for any extended period of time. Also, make a contingency plan for yourself. If you were injured or had an emergency of your own who would cover for you so that these pets were still cared for in your absence?
A lot of people believe that pet sitting is just a fun, easy way to make money...wrong! This kind of business is a huge responsibility, and not one to be taken lightly. You are going into people's homes, caring for their beloved pets, and given a trust that should be honored.
One of the things I liked to share with my employees was "Always believe that there is a hidden camera on you somewhere. That way, you are always conscious of your behavior and your actions. Respect our client's privacy...bedrooms and offices are off limits, and should not be entered into unless the pet is hiding and you need to find him/her."
Never advertise your business while on a job! Wearing a pet sitting t-shirt with your company name as you're walking a dog or pulling up in a client's driveway with a business decal on your car is letting anyone with bad intentions know that the house you're entering is a target for theft.
One of the things you can do to enhance your business (because there will be slow times when you just need extra income) is to add additional services. Keep in mind, this is ONLY if you have the experience to do so!
- Bathing and grooming
- Nail clipping
- Services for small pets (eg. rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, even fish)!
- Transportation services for clients who are busy or homebound (eg. dropping off and picking up the pet from veterinarian or groomer).
- Holiday services - in this instance, you may charge an additional fee because you are committing yourself to time taken away from your own holiday festivities. It's a personal choice.
- House sitting services - there are some folks that go away on business or extended vacations that do not own a pet, but would feel better if someone trustworthy was available to check their house, pick up mail/newspaper, shovel the walkway in winter, and do a "security check" of the premises.
Another "perk" that my clients loved was the daily journals I left for them on the daily activities of their pets. Every visit holds something new, and this was a way of giving a client some insight into what their beloved pet was doing while they were away. Make it simple, but also be direct if something wasn't right. Fido didn't eat his breakfast today...Sebastian starting scratching a lot...Toby didn't want to go for a walk because it was raining...etc. It is important to relay this information to the client in case something comes up down the road, and they have questions regarding their pets' health.
On the other hand, writing about playtime, and happy pets catching a frisbee is always a smile maker! Some pet sitter's even video record their visits or send pictures to their clients to brighten their day. Again, it's a personal choice, and something you should discuss with your client.
Being a professional pet sitter is not for everyone, but it can be an incredible career filled with wonderful moments with some beautiful furbabies, and a close-knit relationship with some awesome clients!
For clients...finding the right pet sitter that suits your family needs is a breath of fresh air when you feel the confidence and trust that should come with leaving your pet(s) and home in the hands of a loving professional.
For both...do your research...ask questions...get your background checks...get experience and join groups that will give you tips and ideas on how to gain trust...be confident in your decision.
Loving a pet is not just a choice....it's a passion you feel inside, it's a joy that not everyone feels, but it comes with the greatest rewards for both human and furbaby, big or small.