Pet Sitting: The Right Gig for Seniors?

Photo of a smiling elder woman sitting on the floor behind an elderly pug dog.


The Record Exchange


My friend Eleanor is a 72-year-old pet sitter in Washington. She no longer has a dog or cat of her own, but loves the opportunity to take care of animals owned by others. And her next job? Taking care of a dog and cat in Maui for two weeks.

While this isn’t her normal assignment, just about any job can come her way as a pet sitter.

“This summer I took care of a man’s cat, but had to feed the deer that came into his yard for apples every day as well,” says Eleanor.

Sometimes Eleanor pet sits in the client’s home, and other times she brings the pet to her house.

“It just depends on what the client wants,” she says. “But before I agree to stay, I insist on an in-home visit, to meet the dog and understand daily household routines. It also helps me observe the pet in familiar surroundings.”

This in-home visit also allows Eleanor to find out where leashes are kept, how many walks the pet gets daily, if the dog gets its teeth brushed, where the brush and comb are kept, and where the poop bags are located.

“These questions show the owner they are leaving their pet with someone who cares,” she says.

While pet sitting can be a fun for the active retired person, there are things to consider other than your love of dogs and cats.

Advertising your services and having insurance are important to think about.

Jen, of Cascade, Idaho, offers her services through Rover, a public platform found on the internet.

“It’s an easy site to find and is familiar to a lot of people,” says Jen. “They do a background check on anyone they allow to advertise on their site and offer liability insurance as well.”

Platforms like Rover take a percentage of the fee for each pet reservation.

“After working in kennels and veterinary clinics for years, I decided to offer my home as a pet care option,” says Jen. “A lot of owners want to have their dog in a home situation rather than in a kennel, so getting the word out through Rover was easy.”

Eleanor got started taking care of a neighbor’s dog for lengthy stays, and, from that, her business mushroomed through word of mouth.

“A lot of my clients go on extended trips, so finding a person like me who doesn’t need to leave home every day, and is healthy and active so I can exercise their dog, is important for them.”

According to both Eleanor and Jen, some things are important to think about before you start.

“You have to be OK with drool, slobber and lots of hair,” Jen laughingly says. “I have no carpeting, my furniture is leather, and I have special dog blankets for my bed, in case a dog wants to sleep with me, and a lot do.” She keeps a waterproof blanket for puppies and older dogs as they often have accidents. A robotic vacuum with a built in UV light sanitizes the floors.”

Jen requires full vaccination for all dogs under her care. Sitters who care for pets in their own home are usually more concerned with vaccinations, versus those who stay in the client’s home. Regardless, Eleanor says sitters should ask for emergency information, such as any medication the pet is on, who to call in the family if a medical emergency arises, as well as the name and number of the pet’s regular veterinarian.

“You hope nothing serious arises while you’re taking care of a pet, but if it does, you need to be able to deal with it promptly,” she says.

In addition, since Jen lives where wildfires occur. She has an evacuation plan in place, including where she can take dogs she’s caring for.

“It’s better to over-plan than have nothing in place when an emergency happens,” she advises.

Eleanor also asks about the basic commands a pet knows.

“Some people tell a pet to ‘leave it’ while others say ‘no’ when they want to stop a behavior, so it helps to know what the dog understands best.”

Both Jen and Eleanor like a dog and its human to come for a brief visit before leaving their pet for a full day or overnight.

“I have a water bowl ready for the new dog, and I keep small treats available if the dog can have them. It lets the dog know he’s in a good place,” says Eleanor. “I also encourage the owner to leave for a little while on that first visit, so I can see how the dog does on its own with me.”

Payment for services can be tricky at times. Jen charges a flat fee that is posted on her Rover site. Eleanor asks people to pay her “what they think is right” when they return and see how the dog and house has been taken care of. “I’ve never felt I was underpaid,” she insists.

What makes both these women great pet sitters is their love for dogs, no matter the age or breed.

“It’s a wonderful way to experience different breeds,” says Jen. “There’s something amazing about each animal, and, frankly, all the owners I deal with are terrific people as well. With lots of repeat customers, it’s a nice sense of connection that happens when people trust you with an animal they really love.” MSN

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