Who hasn’t thought of packing in the day job to follow their dream of working with animals? This might be more realistic than you think, with recent research by Startups.co.uk revealing that pet sitting is one of the best new business opportunities for 2015.
With busy owners struggling to give their pets all the time and attention they require, and many now opting to home board their animals with trusted sitters instead of at traditional kennels when they go on holidays, pet sitting has become big business.
In response to this demand, there has been an explosion in agencies and websites offering to sign up and connect pet carers with owners. A very tempting prospect for all those pet lovers who fancy a career change. But before you hand in your notice to your boss and stride out in a defiant display, you need to get the low down on whether pet sitting could be right for you and how to set yourself up.
To help us make sense of this booming new industry and avoid the dangers that lurk out there, we spoke to Lisa Suswain, Founder of Wagging Tails – one of the UK’s most experienced and trusted home pet boarding businesses. Having vetted hundreds of potential pet carers all over the UK, Lisa and her team know what makes a great pet sitter – she shares her advice for aspiring pet carers.
There are plenty of pet lovers out there who love to look after pets for a living. What should they consider before embarking on a major career change?
Firstly ask yourself, why do you want to do this? This is the first question I ask anyone who contacts me so I can understand their motivation. Are you someone who’s pet has sadly passed away, misses the company but isn’t ready for another dog of their own? Are you someone with a dog of your own but thinks your own dog would love to have a playmate to stay for holidays? Both of these scenarios tell me you are experienced as a dog owner and if you’re based at home and able to offer the attention to a dog on holiday, then I’d explore further.
If you are someone with no experience but have often thought about owning a dog and thinks this might be a fun way to try it out! Well I think you can guess my answer. Sadly that last one was something I read on a social media page of a pet sitting agency and they welcomed the lady to join!
What qualities do you look for in your pet sitters at Wagging Tails?
Without a doubt, you need to be a genuine dog lover! You also need to have experience as a dog owner, ideally with many different sizes and breeds of dogs. If you only have experience with toy breeds you’d be better placed to specialise in caring for just those. You also need to be very people focused and have great customer service skills. If you plan to set up on your own, rather than working as a dog caring host for another company like Wagging Tails, you will need business skills as well.
What previous experience should a dog sitter have, and are there any courses that people can take?
As a dog owner, I’d only place my dogs in the care of someone very experienced with the breeds of dogs I own, so asking yourself what you would look for is the first starting point. There are many courses you can attend, from distance learning diplomas through to degrees, dog training, behaviour, pet sitting and also first aid. None of these are a requirement, but they do display your expertise and offer greater peace of mind to an owner.
What sort of set up will a pet carer need in their home?
You need to have a dog friendly home and fully secure garden. You’ll also need to obtain a license from your local council to board dogs and they will inspect your property and garden. You should have a suitable isolation room should you have a poorly dog. Councils interpret the license differently and many have further restrictions such as no carpet, PAT testing and instillation of fire hydrants.
How much time should someone expect to devote as a pet sitter or home boarder?
In my opinion and the way I run my business, is if you are caring for a dog then you need to be around to do so. We don’t take on any carers who go out to work – it’s just not fair to leave a dog in a strange environment and again as an owner, I wouldn’t want this for my own pets. Therefore, you need to be fully available for the times you are booked.
There are lots of pet sitting agencies and websites popping up that connect owners with local sitters. What should a potential sitter look for before signing up with one of these companies?
Since I’ve been running my business more and more companies or agencies have cropped up. Shockingly many of these offer very little guidance for their sitters and don’t carry out the type of checks a pet owner would want.
You should expect to be vetted – by that I mean you will be applying for a “job” role, you will be interviewed, your home and garden inspected and I would always have my dog with me to see how a potential dog carer interacts with my dog. If I wouldn’t leave my dog with them I wouldn’t take them on and recommend them to someone else.
You should also expect to be informed about insurance requirements and finally licensing. The latter is becoming a major issue in this country with so many individuals and companies not licensing their carers. This is illegal. Even if you are signing up to an agency, paying the agency fees but then NOT charging the owner you still need to have a license according to DEFRA. It’s frightening to see companies making money out of people wanting to care for dogs by charging them a sign-up fee but then not informing them of the legalities.
Finally get to meet the pet you are caring for. You need to be 100% sure you can cope with the pet while the owner is away – it’s not the agency looking after it, it’s you! You need to enjoy having the pet to stay, surely that’s why you are doing it, so the only way to be sure is if you’ve met the dog and owner yourself.
What is the difference between joining up with an agency as a sitter, or going into business on your own?
If you’re looking to set up yourself you need to look into the business side of things more than you do if you are joining a reputable company. A reputable company will have all the legal paperwork in place, contracts between the carer and company, the owner and company, relationships with the local council to liaise with to arrange your license and also an insurance provider set up. You will join a proven framework, get paid a set amount for boarding and have back up should you have any issues when you have a pet in your care.
If you are setting up this yourself you need to start from scratch and get all of this in place plus build up your reputation, decide on a name (sounds easy but see what happens when you unwittingly use someone else’s name!) and have a website built. So as with any new start up business there are expenses before you’ve even begun the fun part of caring for the pet.
What tools and equipment should a good dog sitter have on their checklist?
- In general the pet’s owner should be supplying the food, lead, bedding and toys for the duration of the dogs stay but it’s always advisable to have spare bowls, leads, bedding and toys.
- If you have treats, ensure the owner is happy for you to be giving them to their dog.
- Some dogs are fed on raw food and so you need to have sufficient freezer space and be happy to handle raw meat.
- You will also need to have tags made up with your details on. So many owners have their dogs name on the ID tag and a mobile number, this does not meet the legal requirement and you need to make sure when the dog is in your care he / she is wearing a tag with your name and address, including post code.
- I’d always advise to have spare dog towels for those wet dog walks plus suitable walking attire and essentials for the carer, be it wellies in the winter and suntan lotion in the summer!
- Most importantly and one that always crops up is poo bags! You must clear up after the dogs in your care and place the waste in suitable bins. Your local council may also insist on other essentials as part of your licensing requirements such as a first aid kit.
What are some of the most common challenges people can expect to face as a pet sitter?
I think many people are just totally unaware of what is actually involved. Pet sitting was very much a cottage industry, which has now grown very rapidly. I think if it was clearer to owners about what to look for it would also be clearer to potential pet sitters as to what their requirements are. Sadly there seems to be an increase in people wanting to care for pets but not being given the right advice about how to do it, instead they are being won over by clever marketing tactics and not being told the facts.
How much can pet sitters expect to make?
The amount you earn will very much depend on how many pets you care for, where you are located and whether you board yourself or work for a company. If you work for a company some of the fees the owner pays will be retained by the company, however you won’t have the overheads, such as advertising costs, website, insurance and so on. Plus you will have the back up so should something unexpected happen you have someone to help.
If you are on your own and you fall and break your leg, that’s it – you’ll be turning away boards and those owners will be left stranded. With Wagging Tails our carers are guaranteed payment for boards, they have full support, their license and insurance is sorted for them. The cost will vary regionally and obviously the cost for any service is greater in London than it will be in Cornwall. When setting your prices you need to investigate your local area and compare the prices you plan to charge with what others similar to you are offering.
Lisa Suswain is the Founder of Wagging Tails, a multi-award winning company launched in 2007 to provide a home haven for dogs while their owners are away on holiday. Find out more at waggingtailsuk.co.uk