Pet sitters are becoming a popular service, but many dog owners are unsure of just exactly what a pet sitter does. Depending on your needs and the sitter you hire, the person may just care for your pet or they may watch over your house, check your mail and even water your plants while you're out of town. Obviously, the benefits of hiring a pet sitter are numerous, but there are some risks as well.
Many dogs do well at boarding facilities. They enjoy the interaction with other pets and they don't mind spending part of their day in a dog kennel. However, this isn't an option for all dogs and not all pet owners are comfortable leaving their dog in a boarding facility while they are away from home.
Of course, welcoming a stranger into your home to care for your pets while you're away isn't a very attractive alternative. Unless of course the person is a professional pet sitter who you know you can trust. It may be a bit scary at first, but many dog owners now have a regular pet sitter who they not only trust to care for their beloved animal, but also to take care for their home while they are gone.
I was able to chat with Beth Stultz, director of marketing, communications and education for Pet Sitters International, this week. I wanted to get some information on the benefits of hiring a pet sitter, what qualities to look for in a pet sitter and how someone can become a pet sitter if they are interested.
Interview: The Benefits of Hiring a Pet Sitter
I needed a little bit of background on Pet Sitters International (PSI), as I am in that group of dog parents who aren't well educated about pet sitters. She told me that PSI is the world’s largest educational association for professional pet sitters, and they are dedicated to educating professional pet sitters and promoting, supporting and recognizing excellence in pet sitting.
The association was established in 1994 and has since helped thousands of dog lovers start and grow their own professional pet-sitting businesses. They currently have nearly 7,000 professional pet-sitting members. Their member businesses collectively provide pet-care services for more than 720,000 pet-owning households.
The businesses that are part of PSI generate more than $332 million in pet-sitting revenues annually, according to the association's latest State of the Industry Survey (2014).
For current and prospective pet sitters, PSI offers access to the most comprehensive pet-sitter business and educational tools and resources in the industry. These resouces including access to group rate pet-sitter insurance and bonding. For pet owners, PSI provides an extensive resource section and access to the PSI Pet Sitter Locator to search free-of-charge for local PSI-member pet sitters.
As Beth explained to me, some pets do well—or even need to be in a boarding facility when their owners are away—but for the most part, the services pet sitters offer have key benefits over outside-the-home options (such as a boarding kennels), including:
- Pets are happier and experience less stress at home
- Diet and exercise routines are uninterrupted
- Travel trauma for both owner and pet is eliminated
- Pet's exposure to illness is minimized
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Just like when you're searching for a veterinarian, dog walker or professional groomer, you need to be sure that you find someone that you trust to pet sit for you while you're away. Recommendations from friends and family members are great, but remember that everyone's pet sitting needs are different.
If your aunt hired a pet sitter to feed her birds and water her plants while she was gone for two days, that same sitter may not be the right fit to care for your Great Dane for two weeks while you're on vacation. Whether you own one dog or three, there is a pet sitter out there with experience helping a family like yours.
“Because there are more pet-sitting options and numerous online pet-sitter directories, pet owners have to be more prudent in their search for reliable pet care, and finding a pet sitter to provide the right pet-care services requires an investment of time—time to do phone interviews, conduct an initial consultation (at the pet owner’s home) and thoroughly check references on those they are considering hiring.” – Beth Stultz
Beth also told me that PSI recommends that pet owners always conduct an initial consultation and ask the following questions of any potential dog walker or pet sitter that they may be consider hiring:
- Does the pet sitter have the proper business license for your city or state?
- Is the pet sitter insured and bonded?
- Can the pet sitter provide proof of clear criminal history?
- Does the pet sitter provide client references?
- Will the pet sitter use a pet-sitting services agreement or contract?
- Has the pet sitter completed PSI's CPPS Program and/or has he or she participated in pet-care training, such as pet first aid?
- Is the pet sitter a member of a professional and educational association, such as Pet Sitters International?
Like many other pet-related businesses, there are no federal or state-mandated licenses or training requirements for pet sitters, so it is extremely important that you use the questions above to determine if a pet sitter is truly a professional, well-trained pet-care provider.
Depending on the region that you live in, some cities and states do require a business license to operate any type of small business. Depending on the services offered by the pet sitter, there may be other licenses required too. For example, if the pet sitter that you hire offers boarding in their own home, they'll need a special license for that.
Beth told me that PSI encourages people to take advantage of various training opportunities, including PSI’s Certificate in Professional Pet Sitting, pet first aid training and animal behavior courses.
Educational opportunities like these would be beneficial to dog owners as well as anyone interested in a career working with pets.
Beth also told me that the term ‘pet sitter’ is often used carelessly to refer to anyone – from a family friend to the neighborhood teenager – who may watch your dog.
It is important for pet owners to understand the benefits of hiring a pet sitter and that pet sitting is a professional career. Professional pet sitters offer peace of mind that other pet-care options cannot.
The search for a pet sitter be confusing. Beth explained that with the influx of pet-care directory sites popping up in the last couple of years and news stories touting pet sitting as an easy way to earn extra cash, more and more people are deciding to cash in on the growing need for pet care.
Take Beth's advice:
“Just because you’ve seen a pet sitter in an online directory—or even on a nationally-publicized site—doesn’t ensure they are a legitimate, qualified pet-sitting business.”
“Anyone can post a profile advertising pet-sitting services, so it’s important for pet owners to take a closer look to ensure they are hiring a true professional pet sitter to care for their pets.“
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How to become a professional pet sitter?
Are you interested in becoming a professional pet sitter? Beth says that most people are motivated to enter the professional pet-sitting industry because of their love of animals, the opportunity to be their own boss and a desire to leave the corporate world.
Although loving pets is an obvious requirement for this job, other skills are also needed and it is important for pet sitters to take advantage of opportunities to gain pet care and business knowledge. Having experience with your own pets is also a big help!
As you can imagine, PSI's first recommendation to aspiring pet sitters is to join PSI. Joining an association dedicated to pet sitters, such as PSI, gives you direct access to business tools and resources that you'll need to build and grow a successful pet-sitting business. These tools include:
- Access to pet-sitter insurance and bonding
- Access to PSI’s Certificate in Professional Pet Sitting Program
- Pet sitter forms and marketing materials
- Educational resources, including monthly webinars on pet care and business topics
Beth also says that it’s important for any pet sitter to make sure they’ve obtained a business license (if needed) and obtained insurance. They should also have a service contract in place before accepting any pet-sitting assignments.
As you advance and begin gaining more clientele, you may quickly realize that you need more experience in a certain area. For example, maybe you have plenty of personal experience with dogs but you're not so comfortable caring for cats. Lucky for you, Beth says there’s a wealth of opportunities for both virtual and hands-on training in specific pet-care topics.
She informed me that many pet sitters volunteer with local shelters or pet-rescue groups to obtain more hands-on experience working with a variety of pets. Many trainers, groomers and pet stores also offer workshops and training opportunities that pet sitters can take advantage of locally.
If you're interested in a quick read related to pet sitting, PSI offers a free eBook, 5 Must-Do Steps to Starting a Successful Pet-Sitting Business.
I want to take this opportunity to say thank you to Beth Stultz for sharing her knowledge, advice and pet sitting expertise with all of us. I really appreciate her sharing the benefits of hiring a pet sitter with me and Top Dog Tips readers.
Don’t forget to check out PSI's website at Pet Sitters International. Please feel free to share your pet sitting experience or tips with us as well, and let us know what you think of the information included in this interview.