Sitting pretty – Animal caregivers dish out TLC while owners are away
By Anita Szoke, Copley News Service
Diana Lippert’s business literally goes to the dogs. And cats. And lizards and birds and even pot-bellied pigs.
Her days, and sometimes her nights, are filled caring for the furry — and sometimes not-so-furry — creatures.
As the owner of a pet-sitting service, Lippert has made it her business to look after all kinds of pets inside their homes while their owners are away.
“I absolutely love what I do. I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Lippert said, while Murphy the dog licked her hand. Murphy’s owner, a businessman, was away from his Illinois home and had called Lippert to walk and care for Murphy instead of boarding him in a kennel.
“Our business allows people who travel, work long hours, or just take short getaways to have their animal taken care of in their own home,” Lippert said.
Pet sitting has become a big business nationwide as an alternative to boarding. Pet Sitters International, an educational association for professional pet sitters, has nearly 6,000 members in all 50 states, most of the Canadian provinces, and many other countries. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the number of “animal caretakers,” a category that includes pet walkers and pet sitters, was expected to increase 38 percent between 1990 and 2005.
But somehow this growing niche business has managed to exist under the radar screen of many pet owners, Lippert said. “There are so many people that I still find today that do not realize pet sitting exists,” she said.
They instead rely upon family members or friends or board their pooch in a kennel. While many pet sitters don’t want to knock the usefulness of kennels, they say most dogs, cats, and other pets are happier in their own surroundings, with familiar sights, scents, and sounds.
In addition to meals, exercise, playtime, and cleaning litter boxes or cages, professional pet sitters may also administer medications, walk dogs, and perform other pet-care duties, Lippert said. The advantages for the pet include a reduction of stress, regular diet and exercise routines, no travel trauma, and most importantly, some tender loving care, she said.
Many owners consider their pets part of the family and are taking better care of them than ever, according to Pet Sitters International. Many owners include their pets in holiday celebrations, have photos of their pets on display, and refer to themselves as their pet’s “Mom” or “Dad,” according to recent surveys by PSI.
Pet owners hire sitters to care for their family pets because of the extra security and extra attention pets receive with professional in-home pet care, said Patti Moran, president of PSI.
“Many pet owners love the fact that by using a professional pet sitter, their pet and their home are well taken care of,” Moran said. “While making pet-care visits, pet sitters provide a measure of crime deterrence because they make the home appear inhabited by closing and opening the blinds, turning on the lights and television, picking up mail, etc. This feature in itself is a real selling point for our service.”
Lippert has sat for a variety of animals, from a snake to livestock and even a pot-bellied pig named Truffles.
“He was 90 pounds but he would flop across your legs and want his belly rubbed, snorting the whole time,” she said.
When considering a pet sitter, customers should make sure the sitter is bonded and insured and has references. The sitter should come to the client’s house to meet with the client and pet, get detailed information about their care and establish a bond with the pet.
Sitting rates vary depending on the business, so it’s best to check around. Other recommendations can be found at Pet Sitters International’s Web site at www.petsit.com.
Here are some recommendations from Pet Sitters International on what to look for when hiring a pet sitter. More can be found at www.petsit.com.
- Make sure the sitter is bonded and insured and provide references.
- The sitter should have experience caring for pets and be mindful of their safety and well-being.
- The sitter should provide written literature describing services and stating fees.
- The sitter should visit the client’s home before the first sitting assignment to meet the pets and get detailed information about their care.
- The sitter should provide a service contract that specifies services and fees. What can you do to prepare for a pet-sitting service?
- Give the sitter a phone number where you can be reached.
- Tell the sitter about health problems your pet has, major or minor.
- Provide extra food, litter and other supplies just in case you’re not able to return when planned.
- Adjust the thermostat to keep the house comfortable for the pet during your absence. In warm weather, a closed house can get dangerously hot in a short time.
- Leave a list of phone numbers in case the sitter needs to contact service or maintenance companies, such as a veterinarian, plumber, electrician, cleaning service, yard maintenance or pool service, while you’re away.