As Boston and other cities around the country have seen the snowiest winter on record, professional pet sitters have felt the pain – and dealt with the stresses—of one of the harshest winter seasons in recent history. While some office commuters can work from home and others benefit from delayed business and school openings or the option to take a vacation day, pet sitters don’t often have the option of a “day off,” particularly when pet parents are out of town and their pets still need care.
Many areas of the country have faced unprecedented cold temperatures and wintry participation, and many pet sitters have been forced to deal with the new pet-sitting issues inclement weather caused. Even for pet sitters in northern states accustomed to harsh winters, the severity of this year’s winter season has been challenging and damaging to the morale of even the most experienced pet-sitting business owners and their staff sitters.
PSI reached out to members in Professional Pet Sitters Chat, the association’s private Facebook group to ask pet sitters about the lessons they’d learned this winter. Overwhelmingly, their responses focused around three main recommendations:
1. Preparation: It’s important to plan ahead and talk to clients in advance about preparations that need to take place for winter weather. For example, what is your company’s policy on snow removal—does the client call before leaving town to arrange this service or do they provide you with their preferred snow-removal company for you to contact if needed? Whatever your preferred policy may be, it’s important to have a plan in place to ensure you are not spending exorbitant amounts of time in frigid conditions to “dig” your way to clients’ front doors for your pet-sitting visits—and it’s important that pet owners understand their cooperation is vital in ensuring you can properly reach and care for their pets.
It’s also important to consider what you would do if icy roads (or a state of emergency/travel ban) make roads impassable and prevent you from reaching clients’ homes. Verify that you have the correct contact information for your clients’ emergency contacts and discuss who you should call if you are unable to reach their homes. (For example, a relative may be the emergency contact, but perhaps, a neighbor could check on the pets if you were unable to reach the home for a day—so make sure you have that information as well!)
2. Personal safety: Harsh weather can take a toll on your physical well-being. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises that those working outdoors in the winter wear appropriate clothing, sprinkle sand or cat litter on icy patches, be aware of the wind chill factor and work slowly when doing outside chores.
PSI member pet sitter Jamie Hoad shared this advice in PSI’s private Facebook group: “Long johns, scarves and chap stick are your best friends. The cold hasn’t really been a problem—the wind is the issue. It’s quick, fast and the chill brings the temperature down about 20 degrees. Wind burn is no joke, so wrapping up extra good is key!”
The harsh winter weather also makes what would typically be a minor inconvenience—a flat tire or car trouble—a dangerous predicament. The CDC advises checking your tire tread or replacing tires with all-weather tires if necessary, along with keeping an emergency kit in your vehicle. PSI member Jordan Di Marco shared similar advice in the PSI Facebook group: “I keep a good deal of winter stuff in my car—kitty litter, foldable shovel, extra hats and gloves, Yak Trax, flashlights, jumper cables and hand warmers.” (Note: Hand warmers – and foot warmers – are inexpensive, with many options to choose from. Most have long shelf lives as well.)
Icy roads and slippery sidewalks make it more important than ever for pet sitters to exercise caution to avoid slips and falls. One pet sitter reported a fractured wrist and dislocated rib resulting from a fall after slipping on ice. Remember, too, that these injuries are not covered under pet-sitter liability insurance. (Workers compensation covers work-related injuries. Contact Business Insurers of the Carolinas to get a quote for your state.)
3. Pets’ safety: In our online discussion about the recent blizzards, PSI member Robyn White shared that “one of the biggest challenges in this snow and cold is how badly it affects the dogs. Their paws get so cold from the snow and ice and they get irritated from all the salt people put down on the sidewalks. It's rough on us and it's also rough on them.” Her concern has been a common one this year—what effect does this cold weather have on pets and how should pet sitters adjust their services to ensure pets’ safety? More specifically, this harsh winter season left many professional pet sitters asking: When is it too cold to walk dogs? Some pet sitters have also been faced with clients who wanted their dogs outdoors for extended periods of time.
To get an answer to this question, PSI reached out to Dr. Tony Johnson, clinical assistant professor at the Purdue University School of Veterinary Medicine and a consultant to the Veterinary Information Network. He offered this advice: “The rule of thumb is ‘if you're cold, your dog is probably freezing.’ A walk to eliminate and stretch your legs is OK. A 45-minute forced march...not so much.”
Dr. Johnson also added, “Cold and pets don’t mix well in many cases. A dog’s degree of cold tolerance can vary – just like with a person. Some dogs that are accustomed to cold and have a dense fur coat will do fine, even into the single digits, if they can stay dry and out of the breeze. A little Chihuahua with no fur and no tolerance to the cold won’t. Dogs that are acclimated to cold conditions will do better than those that haven’t been gradually exposed. There is no single number I can answer when people ask, ‘How cold is too cold?’ but keeping the above guidelines in mind can help keep your pooch safe and comfortable when the snow flies.”
It is important for pet sitters to share these guidelines with clients and suggest alternatives—such as indoor play time—when frigid winter temperatures make it unsafe for pets to be outside beyond short potty-break times.
Surviving the winter…
In addition to focusing on preparation, personal safety and pets’ safety this time of year, there’s another important quality to help pet sitters survive this harsh winter—patience. On the worst days, when it’s too cold to walk even the most energetic dogs, when you’ve had to shovel your way to a client’s door or have had to change a flat tire as sleeting rain pelted down, remember…Spring is coming! Your commitment to providing pet care in even the harshest conditions sets you apart and your clients are surely grateful for the peace of mind you provide, particularly during seasons like this.
Are there any more winter lessons learned you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you! Comment below, post in Professional Pet Sitters Chat or contact us directly.
There’s great truth to the statement, “There’s strength in numbers.” Pet sitting can be lonely. And whether you are just starting your pet-sitting business or are a pet-care veteran, you have questions—and there’s no one better to help answer your questions and share in your daily challenges and joys than a fellow pet sitter.
PSI members have a network of nearly 7,000 fellow PSI members and pet-sitting business owners, and PSI is always looking for ways to help our members connect with one another. From PSI’s annual conference to the private Facebook chat group, PSI is seeking out new avenues to allow our members to find support, advice and new ideas from fellow pet sitters.
This new Pet Sitter Spotlight series has that same goal. Each month, we’ll feature a different PSI member and share his or her answers to our pet-sitting survey. The responses will help you get to “know” this pet sitter and provide you with some tips and advice for your own pet-sitting business.
Meet Katie Casell, owner of Dances with Dogs, Inc. in Miami, Florida…
Your Name: Katie Casell
Business Name: Dances with Dogs, Inc.
Location: Miami, FL
Year you started your pet-sitting business: 2002
What was your previous job/profession? sales manager
What is your current business structure? (sole proprietor, LLC, etc.) S-Corporation
Number of current clients (an estimate is fine): 200
How many visits do you typically do per day? 15-20
Is your service area urban, suburban or rural? Suburban
Is your pet-sitting business insured? Yes
Is your pet-sitting business bonded? Yes
Do you provide clients with proof of your clear criminal history (background check)? Yes
Briefly describe any educational opportunities you have taken advantage of since you became a pet sitter. I went back to school and got my degree in management. I am currently studying to become a professional dog trainer because I have more and more clients with reactive dogs and felt that I needed the education in order to help the dogs and the people. I have also read numerous books on dog behavior. In addition, I have my CPPS designation through PSI.
How long did it take you to build up your clientele? 2 years
Do you use staff sitters? Yes, independent contractors (ICs). I decided to use ICs because I wanted sitters with experience. My ICs also have their own clients.
Do you offer any services besides basic in the client's home pet sitting and dog walking? (pet taxi, etc.) Yes, we offer pet taxi as well.
Which advertising methods worked best when you were a new business? community newspapers
Do you still use the same advertising methods? If not, what do you do differently now? I now get most of my clients through Angie's list and referrals.
What's one mistake you've made as a professional pet sitter (when you were just starting out or at any time during your career)? What did you learn/what do you do differently now?
[One mistake I made was] giving clients a price break in order to get the job. I learned that I need to value my profession, so I no longer give price breaks.
What advice would you give to new pet sitters?
Don't spread yourself too thin (time wise and area wise).
Are there any must-have business tools your business could not do without?
Poop bags, treat pouch, good leashes, and a few good pairs of sneakers.
Do you schedule vacation time and/or days off? If so, how often?
I do now—usually a four-day vacation every four months.
Are there any tips you would share for establishing a healthy work/life balance?
We all want to be successful, but we can lose sight of the other aspects of our lives. Take time for yourself. Learn to say no.
Is there any other information about your business and/or what has helped you create a successful pet-sitting business that you'd like to share?
I was willing to work long hours, weekends and holidays in order for my business to be successful.
Update: After posting this member spotlight, we received a media notification about a member in the news. Dances with Dogs, Inc.'s press release on Professional Pet Sitters Week™ was featured in a local Miamia newspaper. Katie, great way to use the PSI press release templates and get exposure for your business!
If you've already taken the necessary step of obtaining pet-sitter liability insurance for your business-WONDERFUL! Maintaining pet-sitter insurance is vital for every professional pet-sitting business. It’s important, however, to make sure you understand what type of coverage you have—what is covered and what is not. It’s better to understand your pet-sitter coverage now, than be surprised when you file a claim and learn you are not covered!
We spoke with Business Insurers of the Carolinas, PSI’s Preferred Provider for pet-sitter insurance in the U.S., to discuss common misconceptions pet sitters have about their pet-sitter insurance policies.
Here are five things you may not know about your pet-sitter insurance policy*:
1: Your automobile is not covered under the PSI Liability policy offered through Business Insurers of the Carolinas (BIC). David Pearsall of BIC says they often receive calls from pet sitters that believe their vehicles are covered under the PSI Liability policy when a pet chews up the interior of a car, such as a seat belt or back seat. This type of damage may be covered under your auto insurance policy—physical damage - if purchased when you took out auto coverage on your vehicle.
2: Injuries to yourself or your employees or independent contractors are not covered under your pet-sitter liability insurance policy. Pet-sitter insurance does not cover injuries to you or your staff, but these types of claims would be covered under workers compensation insurance, if purchased.
3: The personal contents of your own home are not covered, even if you have the In Your Home Pet Care (Optional) Endorsement. BIC often receives calls from pet sitters who do have the In Your Home Pet Care (Optional) Endorsement and believe their personal contents in their homes are covered if a pet chews up or destroys. Since these claims are to your personal property and not the client’s, there is no coverage.
4: Pet-Sitter Insurance DOES cover vet medical expenses. BIC has found that some pet sitters do not understand that the PSI Liability policy offered through BIC covers vet medical expenses, regardless of fault/negligence, up to care, custody and control (CCC) limit the pet sitter has chosen. It’s very important for you to make sure you maintain the right care, custody and control (CCC) limit for your pet-sitting business. Many pet sitters have filed CCC claims that exceed the $10,000 limit, as vet bills continue to increase, especially for emergency surgeries, PT, etc.
5: Pet-Sitter Insurance DOES include a provision for lost or stolen pets. The PSI Policy includes reward coverage for lost or stolen pets up to $500. The policy will reimburse you for flyers or newspaper ads or a reward to find a lost or stolen pet that was in your care.
* Please note: This information was provided by Business Insurers of the Carolinas and pertains to the PSI Liability Policy that is available at a group rate to PSI members. It is important to contact your pet-sitter insurance provider directly with any questions you may have. Coverage varies by provider. (View this insurance comparison chart.) Your insurance provider can provide you with details on your specific coverage.
Because your insurance needs may change as you build and grow your pet-sitting business, it’s also important take a look at your insurance coverage periodically to ensure you really have the coverage you need.
- Have you begun using staff sitters but still have only the individual policy?
- Have you chosen the correct level of Care, Custody & Control coverage? If you had a major claim, would your insurance policy cover it?
- Does your insurance policy cover all of the services you offer (limited in-home boarding, house sitting, etc.)?
- Do you have insurance to cover you if you were injured while pet sitting?
Business Insurers offers a free review of your current pet-sitter insurance policy. Visit this page to sign up and have your policy reviewed.
There’s no question—the pet industry is thriving!
In its 2013-2014 National Pet Owners Survey, the American Pet Products Association (APPA) reports that pet ownership is at an all-time high. With 68 percent of U.S. households owning a pet (82.5 million homes), the need for professional pet sitters and dog walkers is also at an all-time high!
What’s more, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook, employment of animal care and service workers is projected to grow 15 percent from 2012 to 2022, faster than the average for all occupations.
Pet-loving entrepreneurs outside of the United States are also in luck—the passion for pets is without borders! Reports from many countries, including Canada, the United Kingdom, Japan and Australia, reveal growing pet-ownership rates.
The increase in pet ownership, combined with the increase in ownership of a variety of types of pets, equals an increased need for professional pet-care providers, including those who specialize in specific pets (“cats only” pet sitting, for example).
For those already pet sitting—or those thinking of entering the growing pet-sitting industry—2015 has the potential to be an excellent year.
To provide current and prospective professional pet sitters with an accurate analysis of the professional pet-sitting industry’s current state and to forecast its growth in the coming year, PSI has created the 2015 Pet-Sitting Industry Forecast.
This free eBook incorporates solid market research, results from PSI’s State of the Industry Survey, the association’s collective intellectual capital, and knowledge from its twenty-year history and nearly 7,000 member businesses to examine the pet-sitting industry’s current:
- continuing opportunities
Download your free copy of the 2015 Pet-Sitting Industry Forecast here.
(Note: PSI member, do not access the eBook from the link below. Log-in to the Members’ area to access your free resource and additional eBooks.)
In addition to an in-depth look at current pet-ownership statistics, this eBook also explores the current pet-sitting industry, including the average revenue for professional pet sitters, the typical client demographic and the services offered by professional pet-sitting businesses.
Here is an excerpt of the data shared in the 2015 Pet-Sitting Industry Forecast:
Basic Pet-Sitting Business Traits:
98.3% of all businesses are independently owned.
83.4% of businesses are owned solely by women.
83% carry both pet-sitter liability insurance and bonding, with more than ¾ insured through Business Insurers of the Carolinas
- 43% primarily service urban areas. 44.3% service suburban areas and 10.4% service rural areas.
If you are already pet sitting, are you predicting growth for your business in 2015? We’d love to hear from you—leave a comment below or contact PSI directly by phone or e-mail.
Whether you have just opened your pet-sitting business or have been pet sitting for years, attracting clients is likely a top priority. As pet owners move in and out of your area, the economy changes and more pet-sitting businesses open, it is more important than ever before that pet-sitting business owners understand the importance of making a good first impression on prospective clients.
While you may possess professionalism and passion for what you do, you are unlikely to get and keep new pet-sitting clients if pet owners can’t see that passion and professionalism—not only in how you interact with their pets, but also in how you promote and present your pet-sitting service.
It’s important to step back occasionally and look at your business with fresh eyes to see how local pet owners see your pet-sitting business.
1. Obtain and maintain professional credentials. As pet ownership continues to grow and more and more individuals advertise pet-sitting services, it is important that you establish a strong, professional foundation for your pet-sitting business—and look for ways to stand out from the crowd. Maintaining pet-sitter insurance and bonding, providing proof of a clear criminal history and pursuing educational opportunities, like becoming a Certified Professional Pet Sitter (CPPS) demonstrate your commitment to professional pet sitting as a career and provide potential clients with peace of mind. Once you obtain these credentials, be sure to promote them in all of your promotional materials.
PSI encourages pet owners to ask seven important questions when interviewing a pet sitter. Make sure you can answer “YES” to these important questions!
2. Remember, the first impression often starts online. In today’s digital age, most consumers start their searches for service providers, including professional pet sitters, online.
Your Business Website:
Make sure local pet owners can easily find your pet-sitting business website online and that your site conveys your professionalism. If you have not created a business website or are looking to improve your current site, check out these five tips for creating your pet-sitting business website. Remember to make sure your website contains the basic information local pet owners need to know: the services you offer, your service area and how to contact you. Your contact information should also be included on every page of your website.
Your Company’s Social Media Presence:
It is also important to make sure your social media profiles are consistent with your company’s branding and also reflect your professional image. Your pet-sitting business’ Facebook page or Twitter account is a great opportunity for prospective clients to learn more about you, your pet-sitting service and how you interact with your current pet-sitting clients. Be sure you share pet tips, photos and other useful information on your social media pages. Also, respond to all questions and comments made on your social media pages. As part of a good customer-service plan, you should respond promptly to social media posts just as you would phone calls or e-mails.
If you want more tips on making the best first impression on social media, be sure to check out “5 Ways to Make a Killer First Impression on Social Media” by Louis Foong in the January/February 2015 issue of Pet Sitter’s WORLD magazine.
3. Does your voicemail message “speak” for your pet-sitting business? After researching your pet-sitting business online, interested pet owners will most likely take the next step and call you to learn more. This phone call typically determines if a pet owner will take the next step to schedule an initial consultation and, hopefully, book your pet-sitting services.
First, whether you use a landline or cell phone, you should have a business phone line separate from your personal phone line. Because you are often out caring for pets and unable to answer the phone, a professional-sounding voicemail message is also extremely important to make a positive impression on callers.
Be sure your voicemail includes your company’s name, thanks the pet owner for calling, explains that you are busy caring for pets at the moment but will return their call in a timely manner. To manage their expectations, also include when the pet owner can expect to hear back from you (i.e. “ABC Pet Sitting returns all calls received prior to 4 p.m. on the same day. We look forward to speaking with you more about your pet-care needs!”)
4. Make the most of your face-to-face consultations. Once you’ve scheduled an initial consultation with a local pet owner, you are one step away from booking a new pet-sitting client. As a professional pet sitter, you should require an initial consultation before accepting any new pet-sitting assignment. The initial consultation (or meet and greet consultation) allows the pet owners and their pets become more comfortable with you, it allows you to get acquainted with the pets, their routines and the household; and is a time for you to review your company’s policies and procedures, record important information about the pets and pet-sitting request and have the pet owner sign your service contract.
Remember, an initial consultation is a business meeting. You should allow 30-45 minutes for the meeting and if possible, conduct the meeting at a dining room or kitchen table, instead of on the living room sofa.
As a professional pet sitter, there’s no need for you to wear a business suit to an initial consultation, but clean, company-branded attire can go a long way in making a good first impression. Or, if you will be coming directly from a pet-sitting visit, simply let the clients know what to expect.
Just in case the previous pet-sitting visit may be unusually messy, consider keeping a change of clothes, or an extra company shirt, in your car.
While you want to make sure you are able to get detailed written instructions about the care of the pets and home and discuss your company policies and procedures, you want to make sure you allow time to interact with the pets.
The potential client is sure to want to see how you and their pets interact, and you need to allow time for their pets to become comfortable with you.
5. Use a pet-sitter presentation book to discuss your pet-sitting business. A pet-sitter presentation book allows you to demonstrate your professionalism, industry credentials and accomplishments in a clear, organized manner.
It is perfect to use at initial consultations when time is limited. The information you include in your pet-sitter presentation book can also demonstrate to the pet owner that you are a trained professional and take your work seriously. Once completed, your presentation book can also be used when meeting with local veterinarian or other pet-industry professionals as a way to introduce your business.
Shared on Facebook:
“I have a presentation book that contains a copy of my degree (BS Veterinary Science), proof of bonding and insurance, my city business license, PSI membership card, pet first aid and CPR certificate, BBB accreditation certificate, ‘orchids’ written about my business in our local newspaper, and some thank you notes from existing clients. I always get a lot of comments on how professional I am and how thorough my contract is too!” –Nicole H.
To learn more about creating your own pet-sitter presentation book, download this free resource from Pet Sitters International, “Introduce your business with a pet-sitter’s presentation book.”
This free resource explains how to best use a presentation book when meeting with potential clients or other pet professionals and offers a list of items to include in your pet-sitter's presentation book.
For more tips on making a good first impression when meeting prospective clients for the first time, be sure to check out the January/February 2015 issue of Pet Sitter’s WORLD magazine.
Are there any other tips for making a good first impression that you’d suggest? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
If you are like many professional pet sitters, you may have left the Corporate rat race to start your own pet-sitting service. Or, maybe you were finally fed up after a string of unfulfilling jobs and decided to follow your passion for pets. Whatever your pre pet-sitting situation was, you likely entered the pet-sitting industry with dreams of finally making a living from a fulfilling job that you loved. And, if you’ve been a professional pet sitter for any number of years, chances are that you are now…TIRED.
Burnout…it happens to the best of pet sitters. Do you know the feeling? You strive to always provide the best possible care to clients’ pets, help out with last-minute requests, volunteer with local pet organizations, pet sit from sun up to sun down and then try to find time to bill clients, return prospective client calls, check e-mail and market your business. Then, you get up the next day and do it all over again.
Does this sound familiar? Do you find yourself tired all of the time, unable to ever take time off and, if you are really honest with yourself, probably not enjoying pet sitting the way that you once did?
Now, there’s no reward without hard work and being a small business owner isn’t easy. But, just as important as working enough to make sure your pet-sitting business succeeds is not working so much that you crash and burn.
Do you feel like you need a vacation—or at least just five minutes to breathe?! If so, read on…
5 Things You Need to Start Doing Now to Succeed as a Professional Pet Sitter:
1. Set boundaries. Have you ever had a client who waited until the last minute to cancel dog-walking visits Every. Single. Time? Each time, you are aggravated, have to rearrange your schedule and think “one day I really am going to charge him that cancellation fee!” Think about the amount of stress you could save yourself if you really did charge that cancellation fee—which may just make that client stop and think before cancelling at the last minute again. Your business policies are in place for a reason—and you need to stick to them. (Of course, clients will occasionally have extenuating circumstances, but the exception shouldn’t be the rule!) If you allow clients to continuously walk all over you, you may just find that your joy for pet sitting seems to “walk right out the door.”
2. Learn to say no. Setting boundaries is important, but there are also situations that require you to take it a step further and just say no. Let’s say you are absolutely booked for the holidays but have clients calling last minute and begging you to please fit them in. While you want to accommodate all client requests if possible, you have to think: Would saying yes be the best decision for you, your business and the pets you are caring for? If you are overworked and overbooked, you are more likely to miss visits, make mistakes and/or the pets may not get the care they deserve-and your well being will suffer (and your company's reputation could as well!). There are other situations that require a “no” as well—taking on pet-sitting assignments when your gut instinct tells you it’s not a good fit, continuing to service “problem clients” or continuing to take on clients outside of your service area are all examples of situations that will cause you chronic stress—that can only be relieved by saying NO! (See this related blog post on 4 Pet-Sitting Assignments You Should Turn Down.)
3. Learn from the success of others. Particularly when you are struggling to build your client base or grow your business, it can be difficult to feel positive about your competition. But, the success of your competitors can benefit you as well. Stay up-to-date on what other local pet sitters are doing, follow news about them and learn more about their business milestones. You can look beyond your local area and find other pet sitters anywhere that you admire. Read news, articles and books by other professional pet sitters. You never know what inspiration you will find as you carve out your own path to pet-sitting success!
4. Find new hobbies. Repeat after me: Prospective client meet and greets (initial consultations) do not count as a hobby! I know what you are thinking…that you don’t have any time for a hobby. But, understand this, for you to be as successful as you can be in your pet-sitting business, your mind and body need time to relax. Get up a little early to go to a yoga class, join a book club, take an art class…whatever interests you. Not only with this time away give you time to regroup and recharge, it can also be a great networking opportunity. You never know who you may meet while taking a break from your pet-sitting business that could actually be your next client or someone who can help you build or promote your business!
5. Establish a support group. Pet sitting can be lonely. You may find that even your family doesn’t understand the unique challenges you face as a professional pet-sitting business owner. That is why finding a support group is vital. Network with local pet sitters, attend pet-sitter conferences and join online groups like PSI’s Professional Pet Sitter Chat on Facebook. Building a support group of fellow pet sitters allows you to bounce ideas off others with experience in your industry, vent when you need to and also to share what you have learned with others. Having a local support group of pet sitters also offers you the opportunity to refer clients and have a backup in the event of a full schedule or emergency.
Ultimately, pet sitting will never be a 9-5 job. But, finding a balance that works for you is the key to building a successful pet-sitting business that you actually enjoy waking up to run each day.
Is there anything you would add to this list of things to do to prevent burn out and ensure the success of your business? Share below!
As trusted pet-care professionals, pet sitters become more than a service provider for their clients. If you are a pet sitter, to most of your clients you are likely family. With this in mind, it comes as no surprise that your clients look to you for advice on even the most delicate pet issues, including end of life options.
But, how would you respond if your pet-sitting client looks at you and asks: “Is it time to let my pet go?”
Handling pet loss is a complicated issue for professional pet sitters. Pet sitters are in a complex situation when it comes to the loss of clients’ pets. Many don’t think about the impact on the pet sitter—but consider that a pet sitter often spends more time with a client’s pet than any other pet-care professional (and in some cases, almost as much time as the owner!)
Pet sitters must allow themselves to grieve the loss of clients’ pets, but their clients are also looking to them to be a resource and form of support during this difficult time.
To address this issue, Pet Sitters International offered a session on this topic at its most recent Pet Sitter World Educational Conference & Expo, as well as in a free member webinar.
The session’s presenters, MJ Tucci and Laurie Califf, were the co-founders of CenterPeaces, LLC, and co-authored A Peaceful Path: A Supportive Guide Through Pet Loss. In addition to presenting a conference session and webinar, these two also co-facilitated the 2014 Pet Memorial Service at PSI’s conference with PSI member Robert Nager of Decadent Dog, Inc.
Is it time to let my pet go?
In their session, MJ and Laurie shared tips to help professional pet sitters answer the question: “Is it time to let my pet go?”
To best answer this question, MJ and Laurie suggest:
1. Acknowledge feelings first. Examples of responses could include “I know this must be really hard for you,” or “I know how much you love [pet’s name]. It must feel really scary to face this medical situation.”
2. Be encouraging. Encourage your clients to explore the questions they have and speak with their veterinarian about their concerns.
3. Look at options. Questions to consider include:
*Do they have the emotionally stability to make a clear decision?
*What is their financial situation like?
*Are they capable of offering continuous care and attention to their pet if that is what
will be needed?
*Are they able to handle the stress and a possible long-term commitment to a pet with
a diagnosis that may involve ongoing treatment?
4. Help them understand quality of care. Help your clients think about the days, weeks and months ahead and discuss what is most important to them about the life of their companion animal. Allow them the opportunity to thin about pain versus suffering.
The suggestions above are a brief excerpt from MJ and Laurie’s presentation: “Set Yourself Apart: Understanding end of life issues for pets and how to be a valuable resource to your clients.”
PSI members, you can view a free recording of this presentation in the Members’ area of petsit.com.
Have you been asked this question?
Have clients asked you for advice about end of life options for their pets? How have you responded?
If you haven’t been asked this question yet, it will come. Do you think you will be comfortable answering the questions or pointing your clients to local resources that can help with the decision?
For both pet owners and pet-care professionals, pet travel safety is an increasingly important issue. According to the AAA/Kurgo Pet Passenger Safety Study, nearly 56% of people transport their dog in their car at least once per month.
So, we checked in with our friends at Kurgo®, the leading manufacturer of pet travel safety products, for tips that will help keep your pets (and your clients’ pets) safe while traveling this summer.
Pet Travel Safety Tips for You & Your Dog:
Whether it’s taking dogs to parks or transporting dogs to and from your clients, you probably drive your clients’ pets and your own pets around in the car quite a bit.
In order to ensure the safety of your charges, there are some basic safety tips you should follow:
1. Leash your dog before opening the car door. Every year hundreds of pets are lost or injured as they dart out of cars uncontrolled. Be sure to collar, ID tag, and leash your dog before opening the car door. When in a strange and busy environment, pets can be frightened and run off into traffic or to places that are difficult to find. Have control of your dog(s) at all times.
2. Keep heads, arms, & legs inside the car. Many dogs love to put their head out of the window or ride in the back of a truck. But if it isn’t safe for children, then it isn’t safe for a pet.
Not only are there risks of being hit by other traffic or roadside objects, the ASPCA reports that dogs can also get debris in their eyes and lungs leading to illness. Some dogs have also been known to jump out of car windows while driving or stopped, running into traffic or getting lost.
3. Keep pets out of the front seat. Increasingly, accidents are being caused by distracted driving. 30% of people admit to being distracted by their dog while driving, according to the AAA/Kurgo Study.
Pets should never be in the front seat of the car while driving and they definitely should not be on your lap. Pets should be in the back seat or the cargo area. If you have a hard time keeping pets in the back seat, there are a number of products that can contain them. For example, there are several types of backseat barriers that fit between the two front seats to keep pets in the backseat. Innovative products, such as the Auto Grass, sit on a car console and deter Fido from taking a step forward and into the front seat.
4. Restrain pets for safety. Another way to keep dogs out of the front seat is to restrain them. There are a number of different options for doing this. Some people prefer to crate their pet, but make sure that crate is secure by using a pet carrier restraint attached to the car’s seatbelt system.
If your pet needs a little more freedom, you can use a dog harness and seat belt tether to give them lead to sit or lay down but still protect them in case of a crash. If you know Fido just will not stand for that, you can also connect a dog harness to a zipline that goes the width of the backseat which allows them to walk back and forth. This is not as safe as a seat belt tether, but it will keep them out of the front seat.
5. Keep your dog hydrated. Make sure your pets have plenty of water to drink in the car or stop frequently to re-hydrate. Many dogs pant excessively in the car making hydration even more essential. A dog travel bowl is handy to have for trips.
6. Never leave your dog alone. Hopefully, it goes without saying that dogs should never be left alone in a car regardless of the weather. The obvious danger is heat. On an 85-degree day, within 10 minutes the car inside temperature can rise to 120, even with the windows cracked open. The other danger is that your pet will attract thieves.
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Update: We are updating this blog post as we hear about more scams targeting pet sitters. Keep reading for the recent scams fellow pet sitters have received and shared with us.
For the last few years, Pet Sitters International has reported on internet scams targeting pet sitters. PSI members described suspicious e-mails soliciting their services. Unfortunately, this beast is rearing its ugly head again and PSI wants you to be aware!
While the most recent scam we’ve learned of does not seem to be targeting pet sitters on the PSI Pet Sitter Locator (but on a similar site), we want you all to be aware. The new wave of scams reported to us this month involve the same old scheme but with different players.
A pet sitter shares her experience with an e-mail scammer
Thanks to pet sitter Stacey Evans, owner of The Pet Concierge in Maine, for sharing the information she received from a new scammer using the name “Jeffrey Martins” and e-mailing from a Hotmail address.
Here’s the first e-mail she received:
On Fri, May 23, 2014 at 10:21 AM, Jeffrey Martin wrote:
My name is Jeffrey Martins and i contacted you because i am in need of a caring, kind and patient pet sitter for my Pet dog Blitzen,i got your information on the Petsit LLC website.... blitzen is a Golden retriever, very calm,playful and always happy.. he is good around other dogs....
Please contact me back if you think you are interested in take care of blitzen
Of course, she replied to him to offer additional information about the services she offered and invited him to read her client testimonials and send more specific details about the dates he needed service, etc.
Then, she received this e-mail:
On Thu, May 29, 2014 at 9:57 AM, Jeffrey Martin wrote:
Thank you for your response concerning the Pet sitting/Dog walking job,My name is Jefferey Martins ,am married with a daughter named (July) and my Wife Elizabeth then our Pet dog(blitzen),We are a devoted christian family coming in to the United states am planning a vacation to the states with families and our adorable dog for few period of time in USA from Ontario Canada,so we have located it and decided to have our family work on all we need before moving into your neighborhood ,we have a very adorable dog (Blitzen) ,he is cute and adorable(Golden Retriever) he is very friendly and playful.he is also very much comfortable with other dogs and cat too he enjoys being indoors with US. Going for walks is Blitzen's very favorite activity. he plays well with other dogs too. Blitzen is house trained and crate trained... I would be needing the service of a caring with positive personality to take good care of Blitzen because i want him to have a wonderful stay and will like to make provision for you to take good care of him for us.More so,I will be making arrangements in renting an apartment close to you but it depends on your location as i will be needing your services,I need you to take care of Blitzen around the hours of 2 - 6 pm from Mondays through Fridays or anytime you are convenient with,you just have to let me know your time schedule as for us to fix a time that won't be a problem or inconvenience your other daily activities ,You would only be needed for 20 hrs per week at your convenience and will like you to get back to me with your available hours.
We will be arriving in The states(7th of June 2014), which means if you accept to work with blitzen you can begin to work with us on the 8th or the 9th of June..I will be needing your service for up to 2 months or more, and willing to offer you $400.00 per week with benefits as compensation for a trustworthy and honest candidate.Also i will like to know if you can also help us run little errands before our arrival too.. if you agree with us, our location will not be far from you which are the reason why we want to secure a pet sitter before our Agent get us a house the Keys and the description of the house will be mailed to you as soon as possible. We have a financier that is based in the states and will be handling the payment and as well as our other expenses, so he will be the one that will be taking care of your payment, I will instruct him to pay for the first week before our arrival so as to secure your service. As soon as we reach a concrete agreement, I can instruct our financier to process a cashier’s check to you for the payment i will be waiting to read from you with Your schedule and other questions which you have to ask us..
Will be waiting to read from you
Jeffery Martins and Family
A few more e-mail exchanges took place and she shared her contact information, including business address with him at his request. Subsequently, she received a cashier’s check that was to be payment for the services he requested.
Here’s Stacey’s account of what happened next:
“He said he was sending me a check for $400 (one week) so I could get started helping to get the house ready. The cashier's check was sent via Fedex for several months' work and the dollar amount wasn't a round figure. I wondered if this had to do with an exchange rate. Nevertheless, I'd become quite suspicious and started my research last night. The paper was perforated and looked secure. The check was issued from USBank in MN and mailed from NY. I called US Bank and tried to validate the check. They said they couldn't say anything either way with the information I provided.
I sent Mr. Martin an email last night stating US Bank cannot validate the availability of funds for that check and asking if he would he mind a different form of payment such as a money order. I also asked him for the name of the realtor as a local reference. Needless to say, I haven't received a reply.
I went to my credit union today and through their investigation, concluded it was a forgery.”
Another e-mail scam: "Bella Needs Care"
Another scam PSI-member pet sitters have brought to our attention starts with an e-mail with the subject line: "Bella needs care."
Here's the e-mail she received:
I just saw your post as a pet caregiver on www.petsit.com and I'm hoping to talk with you more about it. How many years of professional pet sitting experience have you accumulated while working with Pets? Can I contract your services for my pet, a Samoyed dog by the name Bella? I shall be needing services starting from August 4th and would stretch till September 3rd. I'm flexible with start time but preferably between 10AM-11AM, when i will be off to work. At least a minimum of 1hrs daily, (MONDAY THROUGH FRIDAYS).
Services include walking, feeding and general care. You will be caring for her at my rented suite. Can you tell me your exact location (i.e the closest Major Intersection to your home) so I can calculate how close it will be to my rented suite and also to make further arrangements for the task. I look forward to reading from you soon.
This scammer, like the others we've heard about, will eventually ask for your contact information and will send a (fake) cashier's check for you to deposit.
Protecting your pet-sitting business from scammers
If you receive a suspicious e-mail, the FBI encourages you to file a complaint at www.IC3.gov. While you’re there, be sure to read up on tips to help you avoid being scammed, such as the following:
Counterfeit Cashier's Check
- Inspect the cashier's check.
- Ensure the amount of the check matches in figures and words.
- Check to see that the account number is not shiny in appearance.
- Be watchful that the drawer's signature is not traced.
- Official checks are generally perforated on at least one side.
- Inspect the check for additions, deletions or other alterations.
- Contact the financial institution on which the check was drawn to ensure legitimacy.
- Obtain the bank's telephone number from a reliable source, not from the check itself.
- Be cautious when dealing with individuals outside of your own country.
We might add that the old adage “if something sounds too good to be true it probably is” definitely applies here. New pet sitters may be particularly susceptible to this type of scam and dismiss warning signs if they are in a rush to get clients. At the very least, make sure all checks clear before you spend the funds!
If something doesn’t sound right, the best thing to do is follow your instincts and simply delete the e-mail. Remember, it’s far better to spend your time on good clients than to waste your time and money on fishy ones!
You can view PSI’s previous article on pet-sitting scams here for descriptions of other scam e-mails pet sitters have received. You can also learn more about online scams on the FBI website.
Advertising your pet-sitting business is an ongoing task. As clients relocate and more pet-care options enter your area, marketing your business is necessary for continued growth.
Download PSI’s free e-book: The Top 5 Advertising Methods Used by Professional Pet Sitters.
Maybe you always keep business cards handy and you’ve participated in all of the recent local pet fairs and festivals, but you just aren’t getting as many new clients as you’d like. Or, maybe you have grown so dependent upon word-of-mouth promotions that you want to try some new avenues for promoting your business but you aren’t sure where to start.
The best marketing ideas often come from fellow pet sitters, so PSI recently posed this question on its Facebook page:
“Pet sitters, share your marketing ideas below. Is there a specific marketing idea that's worked really well for your business (event participation, your business website, an e-newsletter, etc.)?”
We’ve compiled the most common suggestions provided by PSI pet sitters to provide the list below.
Ten marketing ideas you can try this summer (or any time this year) for your pet-sitting business:
1. Word of mouth (client referrals). Time and again pet sitters tell (and PSI’s State of the Industry finds the statistics to prove it) that word of mouth is the top form of advertising they use. A happy client will share your information with co-workers, family and friends in need of pet-care services. Consider boosting client referrals by offering some type of referral reward system. One pet sitter shared that she offers a $10 referral bonus each time a client refers a new client that books pet-sitting services. She said she always sees a boost in referrals near her current clients’ vacation times, as they look to apply these savings to their upcoming visits.
2. Referrals. Many pet sitters noted that they are able to gain new pet-sitting clients through referrals from veterinarians and other pet-care professionals, such as trainers and groomers.
Referrals won’t likely happen overnight, however, unless you already have an existing relationship with your local veterinarians, trainers and groomers. If you haven’t networked with these pet professionals before, schedule a time to drop by and introduce yourself and your pet-sitting business. Remember to bring your pet-sitter presentation book with you.
Keep in mind that you shouldn’t simply ask the veterinarian (or trainer, groomer, etc.) to share your brochures or business cards with their clients and offer nothing in return. One pet sitter explained she and a local pet salon worked together to offer clients a special rate when using the pet sitter’s pet taxi service to transport pets to their pet salon appointments. Both she and the pet salon owner benefitted from the co-promotion.
3. Social Media. Multiple pet sitters responding to our Facebook post raved about the positive impact using social media had on their pet-sitting businesses. More than half of PSI pet sitters report using social media for their pet-sitting businesses. PSI’s survey found that, overwhelmingly, Facebook is the social media site of choice for pet sitters. If you don’t have a Facebook page for your pet-sitting business, consider setting up a page—it’s quick and free to create. If you are already on Facebook, take a close look at your company’s social media strategy and see if you are using social media to its fullest potential. Be sure to check out these six tips to improve your pet-sitting service’s social media presence.
4. Vehicle signage. If you are like many pet sitters, you spend a lot of time driving in your vehicle. Many pet sitters have found success letting their vehicle advertise for them by using magnetic vehicle signage. The great thing about magnetic signs for your vehicle is that they can be easily removed when you are on actual pet sits to protect your clients’ privacy. One pet sitter explained she kept her magnetic signage on her vehicle when going to meet and greets so she was easily identifiable by the pet owners when she arrived to meet them for the first time, but removed the signage when she performed the actual pet-sitting assignment.
Keep your signage on your vehicle when you are running errands or attending local events. One pet sitter described how when she would go to the grocery store in a local shopping center, she would park her vehicle (with magnetic signage) a few stores down in front of a local pet store then walk to the grocery store. She said that she had returned to her car many times to find pet owners standing behind her vehicle writing down the contact information from her vehicle signage.
Some pet sitters also use vehicle business card holders and brochure holders. Waterproof business card and brochure holders can be easily attached to your vehicle window any time you park your car—and give pet owners an opportunity to grab a brochure or business card to learn more about your pet-sitting business even when you are not around to meet them.
5. Website. In today’s Internet-driven world, a website is a must for your pet-sitting business. If you don’t have one, start working on a plan to establish an online presence for your pet-sitting business. In the meantime, you can create a Facebook page (which will show up in online search results). One pet sitter responding on Facebook said that when she started pet sitting, the first thing she did was create her website—and more than 90% of her clients said they found her online.
If you are just getting started with your online presence, be sure to check out these five tips for creating your pet-sitting business website.
6. Online listings. In addition to your website, make sure your company’s information is also posted and up-to-date in other places around the Web. If your pet-sitting business is listed on PSI’s Pet Sitter Locator, make sure your information is accurate. There are also many local online directories and review sites to consider, such as Yelp, Yahoo Local and Google Places. Many pet sitters also promote their pet-sitting services on other free sites like Craigslist.
You can also find a plethora of online pet-sitter directories that have popped up on the Internet in recent years. Posting on these sites can be a way to increase your online presence and attract new clients, but you want to do your research before posting your business information on any online pet-sitter directory.
7. Press releases. Press releases are still one of the best ways to promote your business. Local media coverage is low cost, can be highly targeted, uses the credibility of neutral third-party endorsements, builds image and can generate leads. Check out this previous blog post with tips for getting your pet-sitting business featured by local news outlets. Make sure your press release is timely and relevant. You could write a press release on the projected increase in summer travel and offer tips for traveling pet owners, or you could share a press release that offers tips on keeping pets safe in the summer months. PSI members can download a customizable press release template, “Surviving the Dog Days of Summer,” in the Members’ area of petsit.com.
8. E-mail your current clients. Your current clients offer your best opportunity to increase your revenues this summer. While social media sites like Facebook and Twitter offer an easy way to connect with your current clients, don’t forget about the power of e-mail marketing. Send an e-Newsletter out to current clients reminding them to book early for their summer pet-sitting needs. Some pet sitters even offer a special discount for clients who book early. This e-Newsletter is also a good time to encourage your current clients to spread the word about your pet-sitting business to their friends and family who may also be in need of pet-sitting services this summer. If you offer any type of referral discount or incentive, be sure to mention it in this e-mail.
9. Ramp up your local advertising. Now is the time to post your pet-sitting business cards, flyers and brochures everywhere you can think of. Be sure to keep a supply of business cards or flyers with you so that you can post them any time you see a bulletin board—at the local grocery stores, pet stores, post office, etc. Contact your local travel agency to see if you could make your brochures available in their office. Local realtors are a good connection to have as well, as they can distribute information about your pet-sitting services to new home buyers year-round.
10. Creative marketing. As you approach the summer months, it’s important to increase the marketing efforts you’ve already been using that are working for you from business cards and flyers to social media promotion. It is also a good time to think outside the box and try new marketing tactics that you may not have considered before. Consider buying advertising in a local school’s yearbook or in a local sports league’s program guide. Both often offer inexpensive advertising options. Is there a spring or summer outdoor concert series in your community? See if there are sponsorship opportunities. If there is a local family friendly restaurant you frequent, see if you can make coloring sheets available (with your company information included) for the staff to pass out to patrons with children. Depending on where you live and the activities available, there are countless ways for you to reach out to local pet owners through free or low-cost promotions.
More Marketing Ideas for Your Pet-Sitting Business
Need more marketing ideas for your pet-sitting business? PSI has just released its latest free e-book: The Top 5 Advertising Methods Used by Professional Pet Sitters.
Are there any unique marketing ideas that have worked for your pet-sitting business? Share your ideas in the comments section below.