The Real Poop
Real poop, indeed. Have you considered a career that revolves around poop? Poop in all its glorious solid, liquid, and gaseous forms. Poop that comes in all sizes and shapes—never predictable in that regard, but always predictably high on the smell-o-meter. And then you add in the blender factor: not just diarrhea, but diarrhea that'll travel through the house. Everywhere. Such is life for a pet sitter.
There are lots of poopers in the pet sitting world; you could be scooping or disposing of doo-doo generated by a dog, cat, bird, ferret, or other small animal. Just remember, the larger the animal, the more gargantuan the pile. It's a simple rule. Have you considered the amount of poop a fully-grown Rottweiler, Irish Wolfhound, or Great Dane produces? We're talking Chihuahua-sized chunks.
It's a good thing a pet sitting career involves more than constant poop scooping. On the more positive side of things, they get paid an average of nearly $50,000 per year for playing with (and feeding) some really awesome pets, many of whom they'd probably love to smuggle into their own homes (source).
The gifted pet sitter is a cherished pal for the pets they watch over. When the sitter comes in, they see pups that quiver with delight and cats that twirl around their legs and purr with the intensity of electric back massagers. Or, in the more common relations between sitter and pet, the sitter just hopes the critter doesn't bite, or defecate in his or her shoe. (That's right, we couldn't resist circling back to poop again.)
It's obvious a sitter needs a strong stomach, along with the ability to adapt to pets' quirks and clients' demanding personalities. Beyond that, the other thing you'll need is a command of basic pet grooming skills. Tip: don't even think of keeping that manicure intact.
For people who take this job, vanity is the first thing out the window. Some owners may want the sitter to give Fido or Fluffy their daily pills. 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.
Some owners might want the sitters they've hired to perform a few house-related services while they're hanging out with the pets, too. The sitter might be asked to check mail, water plants, or modify the light timers' schedules. They might even have to move the spare car in the driveway (then resist the urge to take it for a spin around the neighborhood).
When a client's piling on the work, the smartest sitters make sure they're making "house sitter money" and not just "pet sitter money." They may take walks for a living, but it doesn't give their employers permission to walk all over them.
Every client market will be different. City-based clientele may need different services than clients in a more rural area. Depending on the area's economic conditions, pet sitters may command higher rates in more prosperous cities or towns.
Many clients own more than one pet, and it's a sitter's job to decide how much to charge for multiple dog walks or feeding sessions. Researching other pet sitters' rates via anonymous phone calls or website searches can be a great first step.
From a broader perspective, pet services are big business, believe it or not. In 2011, for example, $3.79 billion (yes, over three and a half billion) was spent on pet services (source). 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.
So how do people start a pet sitting business? First, they need to decide on a business structure: a sole proprietorship, partnership, LLC, or other type of corporation. Enlisting a small business attorney and accountant can be a big help, as they know the pitfalls and hurdles a small service business can face.
There's no such thing as a nationally-issued pet sitting license, but cities may require a general business license or other permits. To avoid other expensive financial consequences, smart pet sitters often contact a commercial insurance agent about their liability insurance. It really isn't optional.
Suppose a client's dog bites a neighbor while a sitter's taking it for a walk. Who pays for the resulting lawsuit? And don't forget about bonding, which helps protect sitters and give their clients peace of mind when a stranger enters their home alone. Of course, peace of mind is relative if they still suspect their sitter of stealing their silverware—but let's take care of one issue at a time.
Speaking of employees, does a pet sitter really need them? Well, yes, if they have too many pet sitting appointments for one person to handle. Since we haven't quite figured out human cloning (yet), overworked sitters often consider a part-time or on-call employee who can take over the extra workload.
Remember: a good pet sitter must provide excellent client service at all times, as their reputations are at stake. Unless they already have a horrible reputation, in which case they've nothing to lose.