Diana Sanchez grew up surrounded by animals. So much so, her parents used to joke that she grew up in a zoo, complete with six fish, four dogs, two cats and a dove. Whenever she visited an animal shelter, she tried to bring home a potential new pet.
When she left home in Plant City, Florida, to attend the University of Tampa, she could not take her pets with her because dorm life wasn’t an ideal fit for them. But by her senior year, she really missed being around animals. While hunting for a part-time job in 2016, she discovered an ad from Tampa Pet Sitters.
“At first I thought it was too good to be true. ‘I get to pet dogs, and I get paid for it?’” she says. Fast forward to today: Sanchez, 25, is still pet sitting part time when she’s not teaching elementary school students.
Pet sitting as a side hustle is on the rise, according to a Penny Hoarder analysis of U.S. Census Bureau microdata. In 2017, 135,584 people in the U.S. classified themselves as part-time nonfarm-animal caretakers. That’s up from 74,349 in 2007 — an 82.4% increase.
Overall employment for all part-time workers increased only 16% in the same period.
So if you looking for a side hustle and have a love of four-legged furry friends, here’s what you need to know about being a pet sitter.
What Does a Pet Sitter Do?
Pet sitters provide owners peace of mind by watching over their animals while the clients are away. Jennifer Palhete, who works in Lakeland, Florida, about an hour from her home in Tampa, Florida, can’t let her three dogs out during the day. Knowing a pet sitter is going to be there to feed and let them out takes a huge burden off her shoulders.
“I never have to think about it, and the peace of mind that they offer is huge,” she says.
Some of the services offered by pet-sitting companies include midday walks and visits, in-home overnight watches and boarding at the sitter’s home.
For midday walks or in-home visits, a sitter will come to the client’s house to feed and let the pets out for a set period. The visit duration varies depending on the services provided by the company.
During in-home overnight visits, a sitter will stay at the client’s house to feed, walk, administer medication, play with and watch over the pets all night. “It’s very similar to an Airbnb experience, plus a pet to take care of,” Sanchez says.
People who opt for the in-home service do not want to board their pets in a kennel, she adds. All three of Palhete’s dogs were rescued, and one has special needs after suffering severe abuse. She knows putting them in a kennel would be detrimental to the progress they have made toward being comfortable around people.
“The fact that they can stay in their own house, have their own food and stay on the same schedule is such a huge help to me,” Palhete says.
Some services offer boarding where the owners drop their pets off at the sitter’s house instead of having the sitter stay in theirs. This option allows Lisa Peddicord, a part-time pet sitter and dog walker with Tails and Trails in St. Petersburg, Florida, to simultaneously care for the client’s and her own pets.
What’s the Work Schedule and Pay Like?
According to Sanchez and Peddicord, pet sitting is a flexible side job that works well for their respective schedules.
Sanchez says the demand for pet sitters usually increases during vacation times like spring break, the summer and holidays. This fits in perfectly with her day job as a teacher. Working seasonally, Sanchez says she’s able to make $200 to $300 in a weekend doing multiple overnight in-house watches or by doing one overnight with several midday visits.
Peddicord, who works in the evenings as a vet tech at an emergency animal hospital, is able to work 10 to 15 hours per week as a midday dog walker. Last year, between dog walking and boarding pets at least once a month, she was able to make just under $10,000.
“That’s the difference between going on vacation or buying your first house,” she says. “So it makes a big difference.”
What Makes a Good Pet Sitter?
Both Sanchez and Peddicord offered some tips and advice to anyone considering becoming a pet sitter.
Build a Trusting Relationship With the Owners
Peddicord says not all pet owners are alike when it comes to trusting sitters. Some need more reassurance than others. To establish that rapport, she suggests meeting the owners with the pet for a “coffee date” or going to the owners’ home to have them demonstrate their routine.
Then during your visits, text the owners pictures of their pets with updates on what they did that day. “I think that helps you build trust by filling them in on daily activities,” she says.
Be There On Time
Another way to establish trust is to be at the client’s house on time. Sanchez says most services offer a time window so the owner knows when to expect the sitter. For example, Sanchez may tell a pet owner she’ll be there between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. If you have two or three appointments during that two-hour window, make sure you stay on schedule.
Sanchez says most of the time when you walk through the door, dogs are ready to play and the sitter has to be prepared for them to have a lot of energy. But some dogs require a little more work than others. She recalls working with a dog that was newly adopted from an animal shelter. The dog would vet Sanchez by cautiously sniffing her before exiting the crate. “Every single visit, he would do this thing before I even tried to put a leash on him,” she said. “I made sure he was comfortable.”
Learn About Different Pet Personalities
As Sanchez notices more people getting into the field, she encourages potential sitters to become familiar with animal behavior. She says you may know what works for your dog, but that may not work on other people’s dogs. “There are so many pets out there that want attention in different ways, so familiarize yourself with different animal behaviors. It will make your job so much easier.”
Don’t Have Experience? Volunteer
If you don’t have much experience with animals beyond your own pet, Sanchez recommends volunteering at an animal rescue or shelter. Also, if you have a friend who owns a pet, offer to pet sit if they go out of town. That way you can see how pets respond when their owners are not around.
She says, “The more patient and friendly people we can get into pet sitting, the better.”
Matt Reinstetle is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. He writes about side hustles and the gig economy. Follow him on Twitter @MattReinstetle.
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