Be the Best Pet Sitter; move your pet care service from good to great with these 10 tips
Cara Armour, 2009 Pet Sitter International’s Pet Sitter of the Year & Co-founder of Pet Health Academy
The pet industry has been experiencing a boom. With more and more people owning pets, that means there is more and more demand for pet sitters. The pet industry alone has seen a giant increase in revenue and is expected to hit $60 billion in 2015, it already hit $58 billion in 2014 according to the American Pet Products Association’s 2015-2016 APPA National Pet Owners Survey. This survey also revealed that 65% of U.S. households own a pet, which equates to 79.7 million homes. The perpetual increase in this industry has many corporate 9-5ers jumping ship to dip their toes into sea of pets needing care while their parents are vacationing. So, while the amount of people owning pets has increased, so has the amount of people willing to take care of them.
If you are a burgeoning pet sitter or an old pro you can’t help but notice competition. In many suburban areas it’s EVERYWHERE! New companies pop up overnight. As a pet sitter, do you know what it takes to make yourself stand apart? What does it take to make you stand above the neighborhood pet sitter that has a really good ad on rover.com? Below are some tips that have been tried and tested through the 12 years I have owned a pet sitting company. This list isn't exhaustive as it is almost limitless as to what you can do to make your company the best, but just making sure you have these 10 items covered and you will move your business from good to great.
1. Know what is specifically normal for the pet(s) in your care so that you can more readily recognize when something is not. This means knowing their normal gait, their healthy gum color, where any lumps and bumps are, any allergies etc. You can never know too much about the pet in your care. It bodes well for the pet and you to be able to recognize signs of an issue when their owners might not be able to. I have found mammary cancer, UTI’s, URI’s, eye ulcers, torn ACL’s, abscesses, puncture wounds, you name it. Don’t assume the client knows their pet best; it’s much easier for a trained eye to notice an issue then the owner as they look at the dog every day. For example, it’s much harder for an owner to tell if their pet is overweight than you.
2. Make certain you have a pet power of attorney signed and filled out before the client leaves town. This gives you the right to make executive decisions about the wellbeing of their animal. There is nothing worse than standing in an ER vet late at night trying to get in touch with an owner while precious moments may be slipping away for their pet. Never leave it up to chance; be prepared and legally able to make decisions for that pet’s well-being. Also, know how much they are willing to spend. I once spent more to save a cat then the owners were willing to, but was unable to get in touch with them and this was before I knew to ask this question.
3. Know who the pet’s regular vet is and what their regular hours are. It’s always better to go to the pet’s normal vet first (if they are open) when an issue arises. Also, build relationships with those vets so they learn to trust you as a caretaker and always be ready to learn from a veterinarian. I have learned many common issues and how to best handle them from my vet, not to mention I learned how best to restrain animals from vet techs.
4. Know where the nearest vet ER is, know the best route from each client’s house. I drive around thinking about that. It’s a great idea to drive it a couple of different ways; practice does make perfect. You do not want to have to think about a driving route when a pet emergency happens.
5. Make sure to have all the client’s contact information including who they assign to take care of their pet(s) in their absence, should they not return. What would you do with a pet left in your care if the owners did not return? Make certain to know where they are going. If out of the country know the country code and their itinerary. I have even had people leave me copies of their passports in case something happened, so I could send information. There is nothing wrong from our perspective to be more reliable than a family member or a friend. Also be sure to have the clients contact you to notify you of their return HOME, not that they landed. A pet sitter friend of mine received a text that his clients had landed and were just getting to their car at the airport. 3 days later he received a call from the son asking if he could go back and check on the pets as his parents had been in a near fatal car accident on their way back from the airport!
6. Ask if anything unusual is going on with the pet every single time they book you. A change in routine becomes normal for pet owners but its terrible when they do not share that with you. For example, another pet sitter showed up to a job that he had done often. This time the dog had a gaping hole in his knee. He was aware that the dog had somewhat recently had knee surgery but wasn’t told about the bad reaction the dog had to the staples or that the wound was ok. It’s a terrible feeling to walk into something like that and notify the owners only to find out they are more than aware, they just forgot to tell you!
7. Keep constantly updating your pet profiles. Did the client change garage codes, keys, does the dog eat in a different room now, and is the cat’s litter box moved? Did they switch foods? The more you know and have available to you the better care you can provide.
8. Have a network of support. Many of the tips are learned from my colleagues and it certainly helps to have plenty of shoulders on which to lean. Just because this is generally a solo job doesn't mean you can’t have a team of support behind you.
9. Have a 1st aid kit, I cannot stress this enough. Injuries will happen to pets and even you when you least expect it. Relying on the clients having the products is never a safe bet. Go through it at least yearly for expiration dates and always replace what you use as soon as you can.
10. Take the Pet Health Academy’s CPR & 1st aid certification course. It’s more than just a badge to put on your website. Its peace of mind to your clients that their pets truly are in the best of hands. You will be best at saving a pet only when you have the knowledge on how to do it.
The more information and knowledge you gather before caring for clients' animals the better off you will be to handle any unforeseen circumstances. By following these steps your level of service will be a cut above the rest.