Pet Sitting Insurance: Why Having “Great References” Is Not Enough When Hiring a Pet Sitter.

Updated: Nov 9, 2020

Let’s start with a story…

A couple wants to hire a pet sitter for their 2 kitties, but are a bit shocked with the pricing they find on the internet. After asking Facebook for a few recommendations, they meet with a young woman who is pet sitting in her spare time. Everything looks great, until the wife asks if the pet sitter carries the “pet sitting insurance” she’d seen on some pet sitting company websites.

The pet sitter shrugs, and with a big smile replies that she didn’t need insurance. She pulls a sheet of paper with a list of families she had pet sat for in the past. “I have great references!”, she assures them. The couple hires the young lady to care for their cats the following week.

Four days into their vacation, the couple receives a text from their pet sitter. The cats are doing great, but on her last visit, the pet sitter had accidentally driven into the house’s garage door, causing extensive damage. As a result, the couple has to spend hours of their vacation on the phone to arrange for estimates and schedule repairs. The total cost ends up at over $7000.

Ultimately, the home insurance provider agrees to reimburse the couple for the repairs, but a $1000 deductible has to be paid. The pet sitter apologizes for her mistake, but is in no financial position to pay for the damage she’d caused, including the deductible.

What’s going on?

Although not every pet sitter’s insurance claims are that extreme (though some are more costly, like dog bite claims), this story illustrates that if a pet or homeowner decides to hire uninsured help, it could end up very costly in case of an incident. Furthermore, home insurance providers may not always agree to process a claim for an incident caused by a third-party, who otherwise should have been insured.

The lesson learned here is that if the couple would have hired a pet sitter with proper business liability insurance, the repairs would have been at no cost to them, and without the dreaded increase in premiums.

Insurance for Pet Sitting. A new thing?

Actually, it is not.

Patti Moran, President and founder of Pet Sitters International, worked with Business Insurers to create the first business insurance specifically for pet sitters in 1992! That is at about the same time that “professional” pet sitting started to be recognized, especially in the United States.

A few years later in 1998, Pet Sitters Associated (PSA) started offering insurance specifically for pet sitters.  As the pet care industry has evolved throughout the decades, it has become accepted among professional pet sitters that you are not considered to be running a “legit” business if you do not carry pet sitting insurance.

Pet Sitting Insurance is for…

Pet sitting liability insurance covers the incidents that regular business insurance and home-owners insurance will not. Specifically, it covers care custody and control of the pets (for example, injuries to the animal while under the care of the pet sitter) and coverage for the client’s personal property. It will also cover injuries to third parties caused by a dog bite or attack, caused by the pet or to the pet by another animal.

In other words, pet sitting insurance will cover for honest mistakes that even the best pet sitters may occasionally make.

Pet Sitting Insurance is not…

It is important to be aware however that Pet Sitting Insurance is not a replacement for pet medical insurances. It would not apply for an existing or underlying medical condition, or for an injury not caused by the pet sitter’s negligence (say, if Fluffy were to fall off the bookcase).

It also cannot be used for property damage that occurred before the pet sitting assignment, and that has not been caused by a pet sitter negligence.

Pet Sitting insurance is also not a substitute for Worker’s Compensation.  

What if your pet sitter claims to be insured through an online dog walking service or app?

As much as we hate to say it, pet sitters contracted through on-demand services and apps don’t carry the same level of protection as those with independent, specifically customized business coverage. Once again, so many people are quick to hire a pet sitter, or a dog walker solely based on their “reviews” (aka references) and without proper consideration of what is actually covered, even through a “guarantee” provided by an app.

Although the purpose of this blog post is to illustrate the importance of hiring a professional pet sitter with proper insurance coverage, it would be incomplete without a quick overview of the fine print pet owners agree upon when hiring a pet sitter or a dog walker through an on-demand app or service.

As with recent cases in the news regarding other on-demand services like Uber or AirBnB, the supposed guarantee or coverage provided by on-demand apps is at best misleading, and at worst completely inapplicable to most situations.

For the purpose of this blog, we have reviewed the fine prints of two popular on-demand dog walking services (operating in Calgary) and they both clearly imply that payouts from their “guarantee” or “insurance” will be used only as a last resort if the pet sitter is unable or unwilling to pay – or if there isn’t any other insurance plan in place. In both instances, they strongly suggest that their pet sitters should carry their own insurance to have enough coverage – and very few of them will.

Without seeking legal advice, these policies seem to be purposefully evasive as to what will be covered, and to what extent, in case of an incident with the hired pet sitter. Depending on who you ask, these policies can be interpreted in many ways – and not always to the advantage of the pet owner. The risk of lawsuits against the pet sitter is also very real.

Referring back to our story of the pet sitter damaging the garage door, it is clear that if she would have been hired through an on-demand service, the company would expect the pet owner to file a claim through their home insurance first. Same with clients with pet medical insurance already in place in case of an injury.  The costs can quickly add up, as the following examples show:

General Liability Claims as published in the Pet Sitter’s World Magazine May/June 2019 Edition and Jan/Feb 2019

  • Two dogs in a sitter’s care got into a fight and both dogs were injured. Total Paid: $2021

  • A sitter made an error in her scheduling calendar and missed 3 cat visits. The cat was brought to the vet. Total Paid: $1351

  • The pet sitter shut a cat in the client’s bedroom by mistake. The cat urinated on the bed and duvet. Total Paid: $1844

In conclusion, many people who venture into the pet care industry (as professionals or otherwise) don’t always have a full understanding of the risks associated with this line of work.

Just because you are a great pet sitter, with great references or reviews, doesn’t mean that you will never make a mistake.  

Going in with a pet sitter, and only the good word of their previous clients, is no longer the safest way to go.

Interested in carrying Pet Sitting Insurance? Here’s the 3 main Canadian Pet Sitting Insurance companies:

BINKS Canadian Pet Pro /Verge ProFur

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