Welcome to another installment of “Debarking Pet Myths,” our monthly series that addresses common myths, misconceptions and old wives’ tales about dogs, cats and their nutrition.
People hold a variety of preconceived notions about what pet sitters do and what it takes to succeed as a pet-care professional. Since the first full week of March is Professional Pet Sitters Week™, we’ll address one of the most common misconceptions about pet sitting: Pet sitting isn’t a “real job.”
Pet sitting is a legitimate profession just like accounting, painting, plumbing, writing or any other occupation someone might pursue. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics classifies “pet sitters” as part of the “animal care and service workers” category, which also includes animal trainers, groomers and zookeepers. The bureau’s Occupational Outlook Handbook provides an excellent overview of the animal care industry, including what animal care workers do, how to become one and what the job outlook is. Be sure to check it out if you’re interested in learning more about the field.
What do pet sitters do?
Pet Sitters International (PSI), one of two national educational organizations for professional pet sitters, defines pet sitting as “the act of caring for a pet in its own home while the owner is away.” Some pet sitters will stay in your home with your pets; others will visit your pet two or three times daily while you’re away. Still other pet sitters will care for your pet during one or more visits if you’re working long hours or unable to care for your pet for medical reasons.
Although services vary from one pet sitter to the next, most pet sitters perform these tasks during visits:
- Feed pets and change their water bowls
- Provide exercise (including walking your dog) and play time
- Clean litter boxes and clean up any other pet messes
- Give medications, if needed
- Brush fur and teeth
- Provide plenty of TLC
Pet sitters are also responsible for notifying you and taking your pet to the veterinary clinic when an injury or illness occurs while your pet is in their care.
In addition to providing pet care, pet sitters will often bring in mail or newspapers, vacuum pet hair and alternate blinds and lights to give your home a “lived-in look.”
And those are just the pet- and client-related tasks! While some pet sitters work for a pet-sitting company, many pet sitters work for themselves. That means they’re responsible for running the business, from finding clients to caring for pets to ensuring taxes are filed appropriately.
If you’re interested in learning more about pet sitting or simply curious about what a day in the life of a pet sitter looks like, check out this article written by a professional pet sitter.
How do you become a pet sitter?
Some pet sitters start a pet-sitting business because they are long-time pet owners who want to be self-employed and work directly with pets and their owners. Others have a background in veterinary medicine or animal care, such as veterinary technicians or boarding kennel assistants, who are looking for a second income or to eventually work for themselves.
The formal education of professional pet sitters varies tremendously. While some pet sitters have at least some college education, others may have multiple college degrees and still others have only a high school diploma. Formal education or training beyond high school isn’t required to be a professional pet sitter. What you do need to know, though, is how to properly care for the pets entrusted to you, an understanding of animal behavior and hands-on experience with different types of pets and temperaments. You should also seriously consider completing a pet first aid and CPR course.
Pet Sitters International and the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters (NAPPS) offer courses that cover all topics relevant to pet sitting, including pet care, pet first aid and business development. Both organizations also offer certification exams.
Tips for vetting a pet sitter
So maybe you don’t want to become a pet sitter but are interested in hiring one so your pets can stay in their own home while you’re out of town. You want to be sure you’re entrusting the care of your four-legged family members (and access to your home) to someone who is trustworthy, reliable, caring and patient — someone who will care for your pets like they would their own.
Hiring a pet sitter is a serious process, so here are seven steps to help you through it:
- Use the pet sitter locators created by PSI and/or NAPPS to find professional pet sitters in your area. You can also identify potential pet sitters through Rover.com and Care.com.
- If possible, visit the websites of the pet sitters in your area to ensure they offer the services you need and to review their rates, services and service area.
- Schedule a “meet and greet” or initial consultation with select pet sitters. This meeting, which takes place in your home, allows the pet sitter to interact with your pets and lets you discuss services and business policies (as you’re watching how the pet sitter and your pets interact).
- Develop a list of questions to ask prospective pet sitters. PSI has an excellent handout on conducting an interview with a professional pet sitter that’s available for download from its website. It’s a great place to start!
- Hold interviews with prospective pet sitters. Don’t hesitate to ask if the pet sitter has the appropriate license and if he or she is bonded and insured. You’ll also want to get references that you can check. During the interview, potential pet sitters may provide you with a pet-sitting agreement or contract to review.
- After the interview, be sure to check the references you were given. You’ll want to prepare a list of questions to ask when contacting references — ideally before you call.
- Decide which pet sitter is right for you and your pets, and get that pet sitter scheduled!
As the primary caregiver for your pet, you know that caring for your dog or cat requires more than filling food and water bowls, an occasional walk or play session, and a daily scratch behind the ears. Professional pet sitters know that too. And they know that, when it’s done right, pet sitting IS a real and rewarding job.