Outrageous Things That Will Happen If You Work As A Pet Sitter For Long Enough... Part 1
Updated: Oct 31
Despite what is often portrayed on the internet, professional pet sitting is not about playing with puppies all day. There's a lot of joy when working with animals, but it's hard work and also comes with great responsibility.
Most people who venture into the pet care world usually don't stick around very long. Why is this? Among things, you have to deal with unknowns and uncertainty every time you walk into someone's home. You know that little tingly feeling in your stomach as you are about to walk on a stage or in front of an audience? You often get a similar feeling the moment you turn that key in the client's front door lock.
What I am going to find here today?!
I can hear you think: "You're exaggerating! What could possibly happen when all you need to do is feed a cat?!"
Believe us. If you are a pet sitter for long enough, you will come across some weird, funny and sometimes downright outrageous stuff during pet sitting or dog walking assignments.
Whether you are reading this blog as a pet owner, one of our clients, or as an aspiring pet sitter, we have prepared a long list of things that can happen not if, but when you pet sit long enough. We have also included strange and unusual requests from clients.
Here's PART 1!
The client will die while on vacation; Thankfully, this has never happened to us - but we've heard of several pet sitters who have had clients die while on vacation, most often after snorkeling or scuba diving, or due to motor vehicle accidents. This is a reason why we always require at least one emergency contact in our client's account.
Someone will mix up their pet sitters; This has happened to us once after an irate lady started to text us to get our [insert a fecal word here] together if we wanted to have the job. It took a few moments for her to realize she had the wrong pet sitter. As she had been quite rude, we didn't offer to take over for other sitter.
A neighbor will call the client, saying the pet sitter never showed up: This happens at least once to every pet sitter out there. A neighbor will tell the client that the pet sitter never showed up while on assignment. This can lead to serious accusations and permanently damage the relationship between the client and the pet sitter. This is why most professionals use GPS technology to keep track of their visits, to help avoid these misunderstandings.
The garage door will get stuck: Using the garage door as a point of entry while pet sitting should be avoided if at all possible. Everything on our own garage door has broken at some point within the last ten years - the rails, the hinges, the door opener, the spring, etc. - and mostly in winter! Thankfully, we were home each time we had to deal with it, but imagine this happening to your pet sitter. Can you safely leave your garage door open while your pet sitter has to leave to go attend to other clients? Probably not.
Not being able to locate a very well hidden cat: As pet sitters, we should be able to find every cat inside a home, right? Not so fast! Cats are experts at hiding. They can crawl into walls, squeeze behind laundry machines, sneak inside the recliner, crawl under the box spring mattress, and be absolutely impossible to find. This can actually be very distressing for a pet sitter, and the pet parents as well! When cats fail to make an appearance during our visits, we use a little portable wifi camera to make sure we can lay eyes on the shy kitty in-between our assignments.
A fight with a stray or off-leash dog: Unfortunately, this is something that all dog walkers will encounter at some point during their time on the road. Off-leash and stray dogs represent a real threat to dog walkers and their dogs, even the "friendly" ones. Thankfully, most encounters will end without more than a scuffle, but every now and then a dog walker may have to break up a fight, and deal with injuries to the dog under their care, or to themselves. TThe risk that stray and off-leash dogs represent is also one of the main reasons we do not recommend that children and minors take on dog walking jobs.
A digital lock will stop working: This happens to us at least once a year. Sometimes, the lock stops working because the battery is drained, or it's too hot/cold, and sometimes because there's a failure to connect with the wifi or the alarm system. This is why we have a strict policy of having a physical key or another way of entry for house equipped with digital locks.
A client will accuse their pet sitter of theft: Pet sitters are often the first ones to be blamed when something goes missing in a client's house. After all, aren't we the only ones with access to the house while the owners are away? Thankfully, there's usually an explanation for the disappearance of things like cash (the cleaners took care of it) or the iPad (it fell behind the sofa). Most professional pet sitters are brutally honest in their work and would never dare steal from their clients and risk losing their business.
An initial consultation will go sour: Every time we schedule a consultation with a new client, we never know what to expect. At some point, every pet sitter will go to a consultation that will not go well. Some clients will serve dinner or watch a hockey game while you are trying to explain your services. A husband and wife may argue violently in front of you, or a child will try to hit you while the parents are watching! Clients not disclosing that their animals are aggressive towards strangers can also cause serious harm. Once, we were kicked out by a client who became agitated and accused us of gathering information for nefarious purposes. A few years ago, a potential client demanded that their consultation be scheduled at 6:00 pm on a Sunday night, or else, we would not get the job (news flash, we did not go). Bottom line is, pet sitters should expect the unexpected when meeting with new clients and never be afraid or shy of leaving a situation like the ones described above.
Extremely rude clients: Unfortunately, you can be the biggest animal lover ever, you still need to deal with the humans who own the animals you want to take care of. Most clients are decent human beings but every now and then, pet sitters will come across horrible people. It's perfectly okay to decline services to rude people.
A neighbor will call the police...: All pet sitters should be prepared for this, and be ready to prove that they are allowed to enter the client's house (either by showing a signed service agreement, an invoice with the address and dates of services, etc.). We are a bit surprised the police haven't shown up for us so far, but we've had our share of concerned neighbors walk right up to us and ask "WHO are you and what are you doing HERE?".
Sexual Harassment: The #metoo movement has demonstrated that sexual harassment can and does happen pretty much everywhere, and more often than not at work. Unfortunately pet sitters, the majority of whom are women working alone, are not immune to it. Most of the harassment situations we know of are rarely from the client, but coming from the client's relatives, their neighbors or working crews nearby. Harassment is never acceptable, but pet sitters should be prepared and have a strategy about how to deal with it and stay safe.
Paranormal encounters: People can't help but smirk when they hear a pet sitter nervously talk about the strange noises they heard, or the things they saw in a client's home. Ghosts don't exist, right? Walking completely alone inside dozens of stranger houses every day can spook even the most fearless pet sitters, and make you wonder why most litter boxes are located in the darkest corners of old basements...
Receiving threats of bad reviews: In these modern times, this is something that all business owners are eventually faced with, and pet sitters are not immune to the phenomenon either. Our business is built on long-term relationships and trust with our clients, not threats and abuse. Every time a potential client tried to make us comply to a demand under threat of a bad review, we sent them to the curb. That's not how we roll.
A client will lie about the aggressiveness of their pets: This is a sad reality that every once in a while, a pet owner who's fully aware their animal may represent a risk to others, have pet sitters over to "see what's going to happen" without being straightforward about their pet's behavior. Cat and dog bites can do serious and long-term damage, and we know pet sitters who have been hospitalized after being attacked by their own clients' pets. Pet sitters should always investigate if a pet is aggressive before meeting with a new client.
Walking into a party thrown by the client's kids: This one is a classic. The clients are gone for a couple of days and the kids decide to invite a couple of friends at their parents' home without permission and without knowing a pet sitter is scheduled to stop by early the next morning. It's a 10 out of 10 on the awkwardness scale for the pet sitter, especially when the party involved minors, alcohol, drugs and sex.
A pet will become ill, die or need to be euthanized while under the pet sitter's watch: That's also a certainty that if someone is pet sitting long enough, an animal under their care will fall ill, die or need to be euthanized. This is why it's very important for pet sitters to have an emergency veterinary care release agreement with their clients, so an animal in medical distress can get the care they need quickly. Having a relationship with local veterinary clinics and to know where to go, or who to call in case of an emergency is also a must.
A client will die at home and will be discovered by the pet sitter: This has not happened to us yet, but we know many others to whom it did, and it can be quite a traumatic experience, especially when the client died of suicide or drug overdose. It's extremely rare, but it's happened.
The pet sitter will make a mistake that will result in an insurance claim: Let's face it. We're all human and we've all made mistakes at work, despite our best intentions. This is why it's very important for pet sitters to carry liability insurance, to protect themselves and the client in case of an error or an oversight. Clients should remember that "good references" or a 5-star rating on an on-demand app is never enough before hiring a pet sitter.
Walking into a home while the owner is walking around naked, is having sex or... an affair: Oh my! Remember when I said at the beginning "What I am going to find here today" ? More than one pet sitter has walked into their clients being busy at home, sometimes in front of a screen, sometimes with a different partner than their spouse. All you can do is laugh nervously, secure the leash on the dog and walk out... :)
A client will recognize their pet sitter in public: This has happened to us a few times, including a client who gave us a hug while waiting in line at Walmart (pre-Covid, of course!) and one waving at us at a red light. We couldn't tell who they were! It is not unusual for pet sitters to meet their clients once, and then only see their pets for the next few years! So don't be offended if your pet sitter or dog walker doesn't instantly recognize you when you say hi at the local grocery store. Just tell them the names of your pets, that should do the trick!
A client will receive a huge/heavy delivery: This is actually a pet peeve for many pet sitters, and it's bound to happen for people who pet sit long enough. A client will receive either a ridiculous amount of Amazon boxes in one delivery, or something very big, like a desk, a XL dog crate or a bed. It's good to remind clients occasionally to suspend deliveries while away on vacation, or ask a neighbor to be on the lookout for them.
Something is going to leak or flood: If something is going to leak, it will happen when the client is away. It's Murphy's Law. We've dealt with leaky fridges, dishwashers, toilets and water heaters in the last few years alone. Thankfully, most of these incidents didn't cause serious damage aside from a few soaked towels. Many pet sitters have reported cats turning on faucets and taps in between visits! We've also walked into a water leak in the basement after a warm day in the winter.
The smoke alarm will start chirping: Continuing with Murphy's Law, it is very common that smoke alarms will start chirping when clients go away. These days, several smoke alarm devices are connected to a central alarm system and only a complete reset or replacement by a technician will make them stop chirping (changing the battery won't do the trick). This is something to keep in mind for pet and home owners before going away. The high pitch chirping can cause a lot of stress to cats - and to your pet sitter too!
The pet sitter will get bitten or attacked by a pet: Most jobs come with some occupational hazards and working with living, breathing animals is no different. It is very likely that if a pet sitter works in the pet care industry long enough, they will end up with a bite or a significant scratch or laceration at some point. Either inflicted by a dog, a cat or even a rabbit, animal bites can cause serious tissue damage and scarring, and require emergency care and antibiotics. Being attacked by a cat or a dog can be a very traumatic experience! Measures should be in place to limit the risk of bites, like avoiding working with animals who display aggressive behavior or with a history of aggression.
The pet sitter will get into an accident on the way to a client: Unlike boarding, pet sitting is when the pet sitter provides care at the client's home. As such, there is a fair amount of driving involved with this job. It is not unusual for a busy professional pet sitter to drive more than 100 km per day during the summer and the holidays. Thankfully, a car accident has never happened to us while on the job but we know many pet sitters who suffered car crashes between visits. It is once again a good reason to have emergency contacts in your account in case your pet sitter gets injured while on the job.
Walking into unannounced guests in the client's home: Most pet sitters are women working alone. Although surprising a client who decided to come home early, or the college kids after a party can turn into awkward situations, walking into a complete stranger in a client's home can be an unsettling and dangerous experience. We know pet sitters who have seriously considered retiring from pet sitting after walking into a neighbor or a family member who let themselves in unannounced. Clients should always notify their pet sitter if someone else may be home during their absence.
A client will leave a massive tip: Every now and then, some clients will be very generous with their pet sitter. There's the traditional cash and bottle of wine, but we have heard of pet sitters receiving thousands of dollars in gift cards and travel vouchers. This is always appreciated to know how valued and appreciated our work is.
A pet will escape through a window, a doggy door or even the catio: We had this happened to us a few times, and thankfully, the pets were brought back inside very quickly. Once, we had a cat escape its catio as the outside door had been left unsecured. Another time, a cat pushed through the window screen and escaped that way. That is why we always do an inspection of doors and windows during our visits, to make sure pets can't sneak out and that everyone is accounted for.
The pet sitter will trigger the alarm system: The pet sitter entered all the right digits in the alarm panel and pressed the right buttons, and the alarm is still blaring throughout the house. Don't panic! Every pet sitter triggers an alarm (or several) at some point in their career. Nowadays (at least in Calgary), police rarely show up for a house alarm. If nobody picks up the phone or answer the dispatcher's call, a security guard will be sent to the house to check on things. Sometimes, clients change their access codes, or the buttons on the panel can be sticky or hard to press on, or the panel's location is far away from the front door. We've also dealt with alarm systems that made no sense at all. We made our peace with it!
Showing up at a client who is not on the schedule...: Picture this. A pet sitter has been walking a dog every single day for the last 3 weeks and the clients are finally home. The next day, the pet sitter gets into her car and while listening to her favorite music, drives straight to the client and enter the house to take the dog for a walk... only to realize that the dog was not scheduled for a walk that day! Oopsie! Any pet sitter with recurring, on-going and long term clients will eventually do it.
A pandemic or a significant world event will happen...: Pet sitters watched with horror when their email inboxes filled up with cancellation requests on March 15th of 2020, the day the world stopped due to Covid-19. Travel restrictions and work-at-home mandates had a devastating effect on pet sitters and dog walkers, who mostly relied on people going away to make a living. Thankfully, pandemics don't happen very often (fingers crossed) but pet sitters must be aware that other world events, like economic recessions, wars or severe inflation, can have a significant impact on their operations.
A client will not come back home for their pets: Thankfully this doesn't happen too frequently, but we've heard of many pet sitters who's clients completely went MIA while away - and not necessarily due to an accident or a death. They just don't come back and cease all communication. We've heard of boarding facilities left with unclaimed dogs, which is very sad for all the people (and animals!) involved. This is why we insist on having emergency contacts on file with each client. The city Bylaws also have guidelines for when pet abandonment is suspected.
A client will treat the pet sitter as if they are the only sitter's client: This is a strange one. Successful pet sitters are busy, sometimes even too busy for their own good. Yet, some people are led to believe that pet sitters and dog walkers are sitting at home doing nothing most of the day, just waiting for the phone to ring and will be free to take on any work thrown at them, on short notice. It is the responsibility of each pet sitter to establish boundaries early on in their career, with clients who may behave this way with them.
Extreme weather will make pet sitting very challenging: As we are writing this, hurricane Fiona has severely battered the state of Florida, leaving a lot of people and pets stranded. Every year or so, Calgary gets dumped on by a major snow storm. It never lasts too long, but it can make it very difficult for pet sitters to drive to their clients. That is why it's important for pet sitters to have a plan in place for these weather events and to make sure they have a vehicle equipped for challenging road conditions.
A client will leave a pregnant pet with a pet sitter, without knowing or disclosing it!: This has never happened to us, but we know many pet sitters who unexpectedly ended up with kittens, baby guinea pigs, and even a baby goat while the client was away. When that happens, the initial daily visit can turn into several hours of care per day. This is where hiring a professional pet sitter can make all the difference in the world.
A client will hire a pet sitter because they can't trust their own family: Wait, what? This is also a strange one, but it is not uncommon for client to hire a pet sitter when they feel they can't trust their own grown up children or spouses to properly care for their pets and the house. Some pet sitters will decline these kinds of assignments due to the awkwardness (and occasionally, liability) involved, so it's up to each pet sitter to determine their comfort level when dealing with these kinds of situations.
A client will have security cameras and not use them appropriately: More than 50% of households have cameras these days. They come in all shapes and sizes and have never been more affordable and easy to use. We always assume that our clients have cameras when we visit their animals. We have cameras in our own home too, so we understand that it can be tempting to monitor things from a distance. But sometimes, it goes a bit too far. Most pet sitters will eventually be faced with micro-managing through cameras, where a client will talk to them in real-time, either by text, call or through the speakers of the camera. We honestly don't know anyone who's okay with this, and it can make the pet sitter feel not trusted and very uncomfortable. Let's face it, it's CREEPY. We even know a pet sitter whose client published footage of her work on Instagram for fun. We recommend pet sitters to establish clear policies when it comes to cameras in their clients' homes.
A client is a hoarder and/or living under unsafe conditions: Thankfully, this doesn't happen too often but every now and then, a pet sitter will be asked to provide care in the house of a person with a severe hoarding disorder. Pet sitting in a very cluttered house comes with significant challenges and safety issues. From having difficulties locating the animals, to safely accessing an exit or the sink, to breathing mold and accumulated dust, a lot of pet sitters will decline working in such environments. It can be very hard for pet sitters to explain why they can't help.
There it is!
Who knew so many things could (and will) happen when you work as a pet sitter for long enough! And that's not all, we have another long list coming in Part 2!
See you again soon on the Paskapoo Blog! :)