By Geeta Ghosh
Pet sitters do much more than provide a pet with food and water while their guardian is away from home. A high quality professional pet sitter will provide any pet care task that best mimics an animal’s routine or need, can identify health issues before they begin, report on any care issues as they arise, as well as inadvertently handling home security and maintenance tasks while the guardian is unable to do so. The amount of services pet sitters provide are immense and range anywhere from maintaining feeding and potty schedules to bring in the mail and trash containers before curfew to doing property security checks and watering plants. But just because someone calls themselves a pet sitter doesn’t mean they are qualified as a professional to do the job.
A professional pet sitter is a qualified individual paid to care for your pets and home, thus adding a multitude of benefits such as:
· Maintenance of a pets’ usual routine, schedule and care as they normally would when the owner is available.
· Regular clean and fresh feedings, habitats and potty boxes for the pet.
· reinforcement of regular health care for the pets
· Relief from unnecessary, inconvenient and stressful transportation and stays to facilities or kennels that a pet may not be suited for.
· Attention to the “TLC” of the pet while the parent is away.
· Consistency in training, environment and routine for the pet.
· Diminishing the worry and stress of burdening neighbors, friends or family with liability and responsibility for the owner.
· Peace of mind for a pet owner that comes from knowing the animals and home are being cared for by someone who is reliable, experienced, knowledgeable and will always put you and your pets’ best interest first.
· Peace of mind for the pet owner should an emergency or urgent need take place.
· Pet owners receive a back up plan in case an emergency occurs at home or with the pets.
· Pet owners have peace of mind in home security and that they have hired someone to give the home a lived in look and to ward off would be crime.
Pet owners would have access to a variety and multitude of services with one provider that they would end up having to hire multiple types of services for to accomplish (such as hiring individual providers for taking care of the household responsibilities, home security services, security patrol services for emergencies, boarding the pet somewhere, and shutting off utilities) that would cost the owner more if purchased separately.
The cost of professional pet sitting reflects the savings of what a pet owner would be paying if that service had not existed and accommodates a variety of expenses and liabilities to have this kind of “one stop shopping” service available. With any mobile service, pricing usually reflects factoring in costs of commute, to training and expertise of the provider as well as the employment costs of that provider. What a professional sitter should be earning mostly stems from the location factor. In California, where the cost of living, the minimum wage and the demand of work environment is higher prices will reflect that demand. A professional pet sitter is expected to take home anywhere between $15-$50/hour depending on experience level and tips received. Pet sitting costs should be $2/hour above minimum wage for the lowest quality of service.
There is a big difference between hiring the kid next door, a neighbor or hobby sitter to do the job. Sometimes it may be budget friendly and convenient, however should you need the person years down the line or want your pets to establish a consistent relationship with someone, in often cases ultimately avoiding behavioral issues that might pop, a professional would be the best way to go. Hobby sitters, the kid next door or a neighbor are not very good long term options as schedule conflicts or personal obligations will always conflict with doing someone a favor or making a few bucks. The likelihood they will show when your pet needs to eat or when a package arrives or when the trash bins need to be brought is slim. And if something should break, become damaged or a pet get ill while in their care an owner will not be protected. A professional pet sitter covers all of these concerns by taking the steps necessary to keep the best interest of the pet and the pet owner in mind, often with insurance, training, experience, references, bonding and so forth in tow.
The cost of pet care relies on many factors. Because there is a variety of services, client need, locations, commutes, professional expenses and pet household demographics, pet sitters will price themselves differently depending on what is available and how service is structured. Sitters take into account how long the job will take, what liabilities are involved, kinds and amount of pets are needed of care, kinds of home security or maintenance tasks are needed and so forth. Some sitters charge based on time, while others may structure rates around household demographics.
The most common form of pet caregiving is the visit. Typically, petsitters charge per visit. In San Diego, the rate for a simple pet sitting visit could $10-$20 per visit and usually averaging anywhere from a simple drop in to 30-60 minutes in time. Typically pet sitting rates for visit would include basic housesitting services as well since it simply doesn’t make sense for a client to hire a separate housesitter and petsitter.
Dog walking services include exercising a dog and reinforcing basic training. Often times the caregiver will go to the client’s home and take the dog for a walk, either on an individual basis or in groups. Each walker is different in that depending on what they may feel comfortable with or be insured for will ultimately determine the types and cost of dog walking services they offer. Dog walking services can range from a simple potty break or neighborhood stroll to full on dog exercise in the form of fast paced walks, runs or hikes. In sometimes instances dog walking services may include a dog friendly park or beach trip depending on service offered and requested. Dog walkers may choose to charge per walk, by time, by quantity of pets or similar structure, depending on their preference. In some instances rates may be calculated based on frequency of requested walks in a service period, as well as any commute and vehicle expenses to the park or other location. In San Diego, the average rate for this service is $10-20 for a length of a walk which is around 20-30 minutes.
Sometimes at the request of the owner, a pet sitter may provide overnight services where they stay at the client’s home. Rates can be calculated with a flat rate, by hour or under a barter agreement such as a rent exchange. Petsitting overnight will require the sitter to stay in a client’s home and tend to the pet as needed. Costs are usually determined based on the pet sitters needs for housing, along with living wage, the time spent, the commute spent, and more.
Pet taxi, errands and other pet related personal assistant tasks usually involve the sitter to utilize their own personal vehicle to accommodate the task. This means that the sitter will drive pets to and from the vet, pick up supplies, go to grooming appointments, or run any other pet related errands as deemed fit. The costs of these services are much determined usually by time, mileage and living wage. The typical rate falls between $15 and $30 per hour plus mileage expenses.
There are many factors that affect petsitting rates. Because of the nature of a visit out of the pet sitter home, the pet sit visit, dog walks, pet transportation, poop patrol, errands, overnights and any other “away” type of service usually accommodates any professional expenses, a living wage for the sitter, commute and vehicle expenses, time spent on the job and level of difficulty of task required to fulfill the client need. Here is a quick breakdown of the things that will alter the rates:
· GEOGRAPHIC LOCATION: Where the pet sitter is in comparison to you will affect a rate structure. Some sitters prefer to work where they live for a variety reasons, some to offer emergency services in a quick, others to lower commute costs should the area they live in be expensive. Some sitters live in an area so rural or rare of pet ownership they must travel long distances to get to you but may end up living in an inexpensive area to reside in. It’s something you can’t really control. You’ll have to do your own research to see what the specific rates are in your zip code.
· NUMBER OF PETS: Some petsitters have a maximum on number of pets depending on local ordinances or insurance policy restrictions. While others may have more flexibility in quantity. Some pet sitters will also accommodate the time based on how many pets there are and what the usual standard for time is on care needed. Some sitters may operate on an average quantity for the area which is really determined by local ordinances on animal possession.
· PET TYPES: Pet sitters take into considering the levels of care regarding a species of pet in addition to current health. Dogs, cats, rabbits, snakes, aquariums, etc – all have a variety of needs and require specific tasks unique to their situation and usually time, difficulty and training will influence pricing. A dog may require more time to potty, walk or be played with, while a cat’s feeding and potty schedules are quick. But a home with 4 cats will require much more attention to maintenance and one on one personal attention due to the dynamics of the household. Also other tasks such as training reinforcement, medications and other extenuating circumstances may cause a rate to be different. Caged and tanked pets may require much more monitoring due to the necessity of utilities for a habitat and most of those species have specific diets, often requiring fresh foods to be manually prepared each day instead of a simple scoop in the bowl. No two pet households are alike.
· LENGTH OF THE PETSITTING VISIT: Time is a major factor in determining a rate. Typically the longer a visit, the more value you get. This goes back to commute expenses. It costs the same in commute expenses for a 15 minute visit as it does a 4 hour stay. Time is relative to your pet household demographics and house care needs.
· HOLIDAYS: There may be additional holiday charges consistent with Standard Labor Laws for some sitters. Chances are if your municipality requires extra holiday pay for an employee, then expect the sitter to charge more. After all they are taking time away from their families to be with yours.
· AFTER-HOURS VISITS: Any visit scheduled after pre-determined petsitting hour will fall into the realm of “after-hours visits”, usually accommodating the higher risk involved with personal safety at night. Extra cost may be added consistent with how a sitter structures the pricing of their services. Check around to see what time a sitter may consider after hours. Often times, location will play a huge part in this determination.
· COMMUTE AND VEHICLE EXPENSES: As with any mobile services, these costs are almost built into pet sitting rates. Some sitters may charge additional for out area mileage or mileage within the area depending on how they have structured pricing.
· QUALIFICATIONS AND PROFESSIONAL EXPENSES: As with any professional service, this can run the gambit from business taxes, services taxes, employment taxes, insurance, bonding, memberships, training, and all the key components that make a professional pet sitter. What most folks don’t understand is that often time these expenses take up the better half of a rate. Some sitters spend anywhere from $5,000-$20,000/year on making sure you are getting the best of the best. Some expenses will be built into rates for multiple years, such as start up costs.
Pet Sitters International conducted a recent salary survey and discovered that the range was too great to determine a median. Some very successful pet sitters have annual salaries of over $100,000, while others only make $5,000 a year. Though a pet sitter can make a good profit in any area of the country, a bigger city will offer more clients. Pet sitters in their first five years of business are unlikely to make more than $10,000 a year; pet sitters who have had businesses for eight years or more may make more than $40,000 a year.
Pet sitting is a service and, like all services tipping is not required but is always generally accepted as a standard. A pet sitter works hard to ensure that your pets are happy and safe while you are away from home and many pet sitters go above and beyond the call of duty. Tipping your pet sitter for a job well done shows your appreciation and is a good indication to the service provider how well they did their job. If you were provided with great service, it is appropriate to tip your pet sitter 10-20% of the total bill. Of course, when you can’t tip offering references or reviews on their services is just as helpful to a service provider.
Start looking for a pet sitter with a recommendation from a friend, neighbor, veterinarian, humane society or dog trainer. Check the Yellow Pages under “Pet Sitting Services.” You can also contact the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters (800-296-PETS) or Pet Sitters International (336-983-9222). In San Diego county check out http://petsitdogwalkbykat.com/.
As a service oriented customer, it’s important to learn all you can about a prospective sitter’s qualifications and services. Here’s a few tips:
· Interview the candidates in person.
· Check references and ask to see their insurance policy/bonding certificate.
· Have the pets meet and greet with the sitter to see how your pets and the sitter interact with each other, have the sitter see how you handle the pets, and to give them a tour so they know where everything is.
· If this visit goes well, start by hiring the pet sitter to care for your pet during a short trip.. That way, you can work out any problems before leaving your beloved pet in the pet sitter’s care for longer periods.
· Keep your end of the bargain and be a responsible pet owner with arrangements, your pets and your sitter.
· PLAN AHEAD, don’t wait until last minute. Make reservations early, especially during holidays. Pet sitters are hard to come by if there is a demand and they could book up weeks in advance.
· Have a back up sitter ready to call onto.
· Ensure your pet is well socialized, trained, housebroken, up to date on vaccinations, has visited the vet prior to services starting and allows strangers to handle them properly. The less accidents to clean up, the healthier the pet, the less time your sitter spends scrubbing floors and bedding from accidents, more time they spend with your pets and the less money you spend on the sitter.
· Affix current identification tags and licenses to your pet’s collar. Have your pet micro chipped if possible.
· Store a pet first aid kit, evacuation routes out of the home and emergency kit and notify the sitter of the location.
· Leave clear instructions detailing specific pet-care responsibilities and emergency contact information, including how to reach you and your veterinarian.
· Leave pet food and supplies in one place. This includes cleaning supplies and anything else the sitter may need while caring for your household.
· Buy extra pet supplies in case you’re away longer than planned.
· Have a contingency plan in case something should happen to you or should there be a natural disaster or other emergency.
· Leave two sets of keys with the sitter and one to your neighbor. Should the sitter experience a lock out there are two back up plans that will not inconvenience service. Be sure those extra keys work before giving them out.
· Show the pet sitter your home’s important safety features such as the circuit breaker, water shut off and security system.
· Ask your sitter to update you on the pets and the home or to leave you a report for when you get home.
· If you plan on having visitors, make sure the sitters knows whom, when, why, how, etc and make sure they know to identify everyone when they arrive. The same goes for anyone who has a key to your home. Professional sitters usually do this, but often times owners forget to mention the brother in law may need to crash one of the nights. If you can, avoid having anyone but the sitter in your home. You run the risk of problems occurring the more folks are in the home.
· Upon returning home, notify your sitter your are home. This will prevent worry and an extra visit.
· Remember to bring your pet sitter’s phone number in case your plans change.
· And last but not least – travel safely so you are sure to come home to your pets!