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The “Professional” Pet Sitter

by Therese on August 5, 2007

in Cats, Dog Daycare, Dog walking, Dogs, Pet Sitting, Pets, The Pet Care Biz

As pet sitting gains in popularity so do the number of people wanting to jump on the bandwagon and put a “pet sitter for hire” shingle out. Every day it seems there are new pet sitters coming out of the woodwork to give pet owners “the best pet sitting service” ever. What saddens me is that many of these people are just in it because they think it will be a fun job, and an easy way to make money. Unfortunately for them, and for their clients, they do not take the time to learn about the responsibility that comes along with the job. The truth of the matter is that pet sitting can be a tough, tiring, very involved business. Sure, pet sitters get to hang with pets and have a good time, but there’s a heck of a lot more to it than that.

Professional pet sitters vs. hobby pet sitters

Pet sitters who contract to care for a client’s pets and home when they’re gone are responsible for the health and welfare of that pet’s life. They are the one who will ensure that pet’s life goes on in an uninterrupted manner – making sure he gets food, water, necessary medications, exercise, and that his home stays comfortable and safe. That person is also responsible, in many cases, for all the worldly possessions their client owns – their home and all of its contents. Granted, the chances of anything terribly drastic going wrong are not all that great, but they’re probably greater than one might think. Many pet sitters, including me, have had to deal with such pet issues as illness and injury, death, dogs getting out of a yard, dog fights, and more. And, when it comes to housing issues, I know of pet sitters who have been faced with break-ins, fires, floods, broken water pipes, etc. Taking these responsibilities seriously and knowing how to handle the unexpected in an efficient, professional manner is one thing that sets the professional pet sitters apart from the hobby sitters, or KND (kid next door).

Other factors that differentiate professional pet sitters from the hobby sitters is that they will understand the importance of insurance (and possibly bonding), they will seek out ongoing training or other ways to expand their knowledge of pets in such things as pet first aid, cat and dog behavior, how to handle birds, reptiles or other animals, etc. They may belong to local or national pet sitting or other business-related organizations. And on the business end, they will operate in a structured, business-like manner which includes having a service contract, obtaining health and behavior histories of the pets they care for, managing keys in a secure way, setting up policies and ensuring clients are made aware of them, and much more. The bottom line is that professional pet sitters operate in a manner that shows their clients they have a good head on their shoulders and are professional, yet caring.

Hobby sitters come and go. As I mentioned earlier, many people get into pet sitting because they think it will be a fun way to make some money. Although their intentions are good, they dive in without doing enough research on the business. Once they get into it and realize there is actual work involved, they lose their passion and it most often shows in the care they give the pets. They may cut visits short, may not scoop a litter box, or unfortunately may even skip a visit because they have something else they would rather do. Additionally, oftentimes they will come across issues they are not prepared to handle and become frazzled, causing them to make inappropriate decisions. Because of their lack of planning, inexperience, or simply because they are overwhelmed they let their clients down, the pets they are caring for, and themselves. Out of this comes the decision that pet sitting isn’t for them and they move on to something else. Frankly, at that point, the decision to stop pet sitting is probably the best decision they’ve made in regards to the business. Had they done some work ahead of time, and investigated the business thoroughly before jumping in they could have saved themselves, and others, a lot of headaches.

First impressions

I see pet sitters popping up all over, especially on the Internet. Quite often it’s readily apparent that they have done their research before opening their doors. They have contracts and other forms, insurance, policies that are clearly spelled out, training in pet first aid or other pet care, and present themselves in a business like manner. I see others who list their names on websites and say they will petsit, babysit, do yard work, or other various and sundry errands. They make no mention of any type of insurance or training, and definitely do not come across in a professional manner.

As with any other business there are those who have the appearance of being professional and in the end, are not. However, I believe the vast majority of pet owners would be more likely to interview someone who starts off making a good first impression rather than someone who does not take the time put forth a positive and professional image.

What to look for in a professional pet sitter

When looking for a professional pet sitter to care for your pets, there are many factors a pet owner should consider during the research and interview process. Listed below are some of the more important points:

  • Do they have insurance, and are they able to provide proof? Some pet sitters may also be bonded, especially if they have employees.
  • Are they able to offer references?
  • Do they offer an easy way to contact them and receive a response in a timely manner, especially when you are away?
  • Ask about their experience. Have they cared for pets in the past, and if so what types of pets and in what manner?
  • Do they make their services and expectations clear, including payment?
  • Do they have a secure way of storing and coding your keys?
  • They should offer a written contract, and forms that will gather information on your pet’s history and care, emergency vet care, your home, contact numbers for you and emergency contacts.
  • Do they have a backup plan should they become ill or injured during the time your pets are under their care?
  • Look at their website and/or other printed material. Do they sound literate and thorough? Someone who has misspellings and poor grammar on their printed material may not pay attention to details, something that is important in the care of your pets and home.
  • Do they belong to any local or national pet sitting organizations? While this is not must, it does show a certain amount of professionalism.
  • Do they have pet first aid training? Not all professional pet sitters go through this training but it is becoming more and more prevalent.

Using the Internet as a tool to find pet care professionals

When it comes to your initial search for a pet sitter, the Internet is a great place to start. There are some very good websites, such as PetsitUSA.com, that have been established specifically for pet care providers to advertise their businesses. And, because people who know the industry have established some of these websites, they have included valuable information for pet sitters and pet owners alike. Websites such as these are an excellent place to find professional pet sitters in your area and to learn more about the services they offer. They are also a great resource for people who are researching the industry as a possible career.

Most websites that are specifically set up as pet care provider directories, such as PetsitUSA.com, allow free access to their advertisers’ contact information. They may charge a fee for businesses to advertise but do not restrict access to anyone who is seeking information on pet care. Others however, require visitors to their websites to pay a fee to access this information. Keep in mind that you, as a consumer, should not be asked to pay to obtain contact information for pet care providers. If a website does not offer you free and immediate access to contact information for these businesses in your area, move on to one that allows you unrestricted access.

A growing industry

The pet care industry is evolving and growing, and because of that, pet sitters, dog walkers, dog runners, and dog daycares who are truly professional are going to raise the bar in the quality of services they offer and in client expectations. Those who are in the pet sitting business simply for the fun of it will either need to take their service to the next level or move onto something that suits their personality better.

There are many excellent pet sitters, dog walkers, dog runners, and dog daycare operators out there who are eager to care for your pets and will do it in a professional and caring manner. They take their career seriously and pride themselves in their professionalism, attention to detail, excellent service, and stellar reputations. With a bit of research pet owners should be able to find someone they feel comfortable with; who suits their needs and those of their pets; and in many cases, exceeds their expectations.

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Creature Comforts Pet-Sitting August 6, 2007 at 2:29 pm

This is a really great blog, and I am very glad that you posted this! I operate very professionally, and I am very put-off with pet-sitters do not. It tends to make our profession as a whole look bad. I have seen many come & go since I have been in business.


Therese August 6, 2007 at 2:46 pm

Thank you! I certainly agree, and hope as pet sitters become more popular, the ones who operate professionally will raise the bar for the industry.


AuthorMomWithDogs August 9, 2007 at 8:20 am

Excellent post! Great information. Thank you.


Barbara Mueller August 25, 2007 at 10:07 pm

I have a problem with so many people being referred to or calling themselves \”professional\” pet sitters especially when they first start a business. Nobody is a professional anything until they have put their time and effort into becoming one.

Finding it difficult to locate a real professional pet sitter is what spurred my research on the topic. When I was looking for a pet sitter a common thing I heard right away was that they have a membership in this or that organization. I looked into those organizations to see what criteria must be met in order to become a member, and they most certainly are not for professionals. There is no criteria at all besides an annual fee that must be paid. That alone makes the memberships meaningless to me as a consumer. I would imagine these people would pay for an award and be proud of that too.

Professional organizations have standards which must be met-more than just a membership fee. Professionals should not need to be told how to behave or be given paperwork or forms to follow along with in order to \”pull off\” a business. Professionals have gone through training and already been educated on what they are selling. These memberships are glorified training resources and anyone can join them to instantly use the word \”professional\” in their title. That is very misleading to those consumers who do not read the fine print. I am also concerned that the people paying for these memberships are being duped! Do they really believe that they can start a legitimate business and call themselves a professional just by paying about $100, using some paper work that was given to them, and reading some very basic general guidelines on how to operate a pet sitting business? It sure seems this way. This is very frightening to see this happening. A friend of mine in another state told me about her journey in finding a pet sitter. She spoke with one who used to work in a factory, got sick of the hard work and being told what to do, do she started a pet sitting business because \”it was time for her to have the easy life\”.

I was least impressed by one pet sitter who seemed so proud to be a member of some organization which charges a tiny $30 for membership to provide people with \”everything they need to know\” to start a business and of course call themselves a professional. How on Earth can someone be proud of a membership that accepts absolutely anyone that pays in?

Name dropping is not impressive. Especially when it is an entrepreneur resource membership. In my extensive research I did not find one professional pet sitter membership option that only accepted worthy, proven businesses that have met standards other than the normal of what is to be expected of any type of business. I was looking for a membership that a pet sitter could be proud of being a member of, something special or earned.

We as pet owners want to know what experience you have had on a larger scale other than the pet sitter\’s own pets. We want competence-not learning competence while you tend to our pets. We are not here to provide on the job training at our own expense. We want to know that the person coming in our house is not a criminal. We would be interested in a membership if it meant that you earned your place there and it was not an open door for anyone to join. Things that would matter in our making a choice. If my neighbor can join that membership-then I might as well hire my neighbor.

I am not alone in believing that a \”professional pet sitter\” is a rarity.

My research findings sparked our local paper to delve even deeper and write a story on the misconceptions of these so called \”professional pet sitters\” once I informed them of this sad situation.

The whole pet sitter thing has been overly hyped up above reality.


Amanda September 8, 2007 at 12:48 pm

Thankyou for your post. Unfortunately, I am seeing it too late.

We returned home last weekend to find that our “professional” pet sitter had allowed our cat to die closed in a room with no food, water or her medication. This heartbreaking discovery was compounded when we found the pet sitter’s note telling us that she had not seen our beloved cat for the entire week we were gone and that our cat had not eaten the food in which her medication was provided. When we spoke with the sitter she explained that her policy is not to open doors in clients’ homes.

We have been in a fog over the shock of finding our adorable girl DEAD in a closed room when we returned home from vacation and have been unable to think clearly about how to handle the sitter and the agency she works for. We can’t understand why the sitter would not look behind closed doors after not seeing our baby for several days. (I am also sick with the question of whether I may have left her in that room myself before I left for our trip.) We also can’t understand why the sitter would not have called us or any of the emergency contacts we left for her when she noticed that Gina was missing and was not getting her medication. We had used the sitter before and while we felt she may not have cared well for our plants, we never would have thought she could be so careless with our cat.

For any pet sitter who is reading this, I would have gladly had my privacy invaded by having all the rooms in my home opened daily to ensure the safety of my cat.

I would be quite grateful for any advice or thoughts that you have. I have no interest in suing anyone. I only wish that no one else have to lose their pet so needlessly.


Therese September 10, 2007 at 9:50 am

Amanda, my heart goes out to you on your loss of Gina. Although I, obviously, do not know all the circumstances surrounding the death of your cat, it sounds like something that should not have happened.

Most of the pet sitters I know have a policy that they want to at least see every pet they care for each time they arrive. In the case of some unfriendly cats, that’s the best we can do because they don’t want to be touched. Not seeing a pet on the first visit is a major red flag. The pets should be found, or the owners called.

Why your pet sitter didn’t call to find out where the cat might be is beyond me. You said you haven’t been able to think clearly enough yet to know how to handle it. What I’d suggest is to write your thoughts down on paper, and when you feel you can talk clearly enough, set up a time to meet with the owner of the agency. Explain what happened, how you believe it could have been handled differently, and what you think they could do in the future so it doesn’t happen again. I know none of this will bring Gina back but it might help you to know you did what you could to ensure nobody else loses their pet in this way.

Again, my heart goes out to you. I know how hard it is to lose a pet family member.


Kathryn White December 7, 2009 at 12:58 pm

Help! I have advertised myself through a site as a pet sitter & i received a call today to interview close to my house. I have cared for pets during a nanny job a year ago but it was not my actual buisness to be a pet sitter. I really need this gig but cannot afford insurance at this time. I am trying to make a contract right now but will a contract signed by myself & the pet owners be enough to protect me if their house floods, gets robbed, or pet dies, or gets sick?


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