The Real Poop
Real Poop, indeed. Have you considered a career that revolves around poop? Poop in all its glorious forms…solid, liquid, and gas. Just think: Every BM provides you with a physics lesson. The poop comes in all sizes and shapes, although we can probably agree that all pet droppings, regardless of genetic makeup, rank pretty high on the smellometer. Traveling diarrhea adds a whole new dimension to your misery. The pet dribbles as he walks through the house…it's the gift that keeps on giving. Have diarrhea, will travel.
Depending on the particular pooper, you might be scooping or disposing of doo-doo generated by a dog, cat, bird, ferret, or other small mammal. Fish poop doesn't really count since it's far too small to scoop up with a net. Did we mention that the larger the animal, the more gargantuan the pile? Think about the amount of poop a fully grown Rottweiler, Irish wolfhound, or Great Dane produces. We're talking Chihuahua-sized chunks.
Good thing your pet sitting career involves more than constant poop scooping. On the upside, you'll get paid for playing with (and feeding) some really awesome pets, many of whom you would love to smuggle into your own home. You'll care for dogs whose whole bodies quiver with delight when you arrive to take them for their neighborhood stroll, play Frisbee, or fetch. You'll visit cats who twirl around your legs and purr so loudly they sound like electric back massagers. It's kind of hard to readers the small mammals, but you're probably on their good side if they don't bite you or defecate in your shoe.
On the other hand, some of your client appointments will not be as pleasant. Let's say you're visiting a dog who has been crossing his legs and dancing the potty dance just a little too long. You might encounter that dreaded pet urine smell in multiple parts of the house. The carpet...the expensive, vintage hardwood floors...the high-end brocade fabric couch. The more expensive the surface, the better the chance of maximum damage. You retch uncontrollably, which actually helps you because it clogs up your nose so you can't smell the urine anymore.
And then there are the animals who are just plain annoyed because their owners have left them home alone. How do the animals express their displeasure? They don't have the option of communicating their outrage in a hand-written letter, so instead they leave fragrant calling cards in spots with the biggest impact, like the middle of their owner's bed. Of course, they leave the most objectionable deposits in the spots you find hardest to reach. Can you fit into that crawlspace above the garage? You’re about to find out….
So it's obvious you need a strong stomach, along with an ability to adapt to pets' quirks and clients' sometimes demanding personalities. Beyond that, a command of basic pet grooming skills will help you brush a dog or cat without bodily injury to either party. Tip: Don't even think about keeping your own manicure intact. Your vanity is going to have to go right out the window. Some owners may want you to give Fido or Fluffy their daily pills. Best to have some pill tricks up your sleeve before you get there, as the pets tend to catch on pretty quickly. You'll need good detective skills to locate the pill after the animal spits it out, and the courage to pry the increasingly annoyed pet's mouth open to try it again. Just in case, program your Smartphone with directions to the nearest ER.
Some owners might want you to perform a few house-related services while you're hanging out with the pets. If so, make sure you're also making house sitter money and not just pet sitter money. You may scoop poop for a living, but it doesn't give people permission to walk all over you. Besides, they might track you into the house. You might be asked to check mail, water plants, or modify the light timers' schedules. You might even have to move the spare car in the driveway (but don't take it for a spin around the neighborhood).
You can actually make some good money working for certain clients, but remember that every client market is different. Your city-based clientele will need different services than clients in a more rural area. Depending on the area's economic conditions, you may command higher pet sitting rates in more prosperous cities or towns. Many clients own more than one pet, so you'll need to decide how much to charge for multiple dog walks or feeding sessions. Remember to research other pet sitters' rates via anonymous phone calls or website searches. While you may not currently have any other options and $4 an hour sounds amazing to you, you don't want to start off on the wrong foot and become known as "the guy or gal who works for nothing."
From a broader perspective, pet services are big business, believe it or not. In 2010, for example, $3.51 billion (yes, three and a half billion) was spent on pet services. Many pet owners regard their pets as their children, and spare no expense when it comes to caring for and pampering their animals. You might as well grab a piece of that pie! Or, if pet sitting for a farmer, a piece of that cowpie!
So just how do you start this pet sitting business? First, you need to decide on a business structure: a sole proprietorship, partnership, LLC, or other type of corporation. Enlist a small business attorney and Certified Public Accountant to help you. They know the pitfalls and hurdles a small service business can face. You don't need a nationally issued pet sitting license, but your city or town may require a general business license and other permits. Don't even think about operating outside the law…you don't want to risk the penalties, some of which can be severe. If you try cutting corners, you may wind up in deep doo-doo yourself.
To avoid other expensive financial consequences, contact a commercial insurance agent about your liability insurance. It really isn't optional. Suppose your client's dog bites someone while you're on a pet sitting walk—who pays for the resulting lawsuit? Who covers your medical treatment if the dog bites you? What if Fido breaks free of his leash, runs into traffic, and bites the dust in a spectacular demise? Who pays for that unfortunate incident? If you have employees, how are their on-the-job activities covered? And don't forget about bonding, which helps protect you and gives your clients peace of mind when you enter their home and they are not present. Of course, it won't give them complete peace of mind if they still suspect you of stealing their silverware, but let's take care of one issue at a time.
Your insurance agent can recommend the proper type of coverage for each scenario: general liability, targeted liability, or worker's compensation insurance. Professional pet sitting organizations may offer group policies with reduced rates. Also ask your auto insurer if your consumer policy also covers business use; you may need special coverage when you use your vehicle for a pet sitting business. The bottom line: Purchase the appropriate insurance to protect yourself and your employees, or else the lawsuits could target you directly.
Speaking of employees, do you really need them? Well, yes, if you have too many pet sitting appointments for one person to handle. Since you can't clone yourself (yet), consider a part-time or on-call employee who can take over the extra workload. Remember: You must provide excellent client service at all times, as your reputation is at stake. Unless you already have a horrible reputation, in which case you have nothing to lose.
If you're not dead set on caring for our four-legged friends, a house sitting career has many similarities, and may or may not involve pets. You might also find that a doggie daycare center involves lots of hands-on work with dogs; however, in that case, the dogs visit you. A dog grooming career provides lots of canine contact. However, dog groomers must have special training before they can come after Fido with clippers and finishing scissors. If he isn't fixed, you don't accidentally want to "finish" Fido.