Should you hire a student as a pet sitter?
Updated: Feb 26
A few days ago, news media reported a tragic incident in Gilbert, Arizona. A family going away during a school break in October 2016 left their four dogs in the care of a nineteen-year-old student. The student came once to pick up the payment and then left the dogs unattended, trapped in their crate with no food and water for 8 days. On the day of the owners’ return, two of the dogs were found dead while the two others were rushed to the veterinary hospital. The student’s excuse? She’d forgotten about the dogs, and she had no car.
Unfortunately, we’ve all heard these tragic stories of animal neglect and deaths by nonprofessional, so-called pet sitters. When the news is not reporting pet abuse, the stories are those of “pet sitters” not showing up to walk the dog, stealing jewelry and money, and even throwing parties into their clients’ homes.
So why do pet and home owners still hire students and non-professionals for this important job?
It would be false to say that all students and non-professional pet sitters can’t be trusted. After all, even professional pet sitters had to start somewhere, usually caring for the pets of their friends and neighbors before deciding to make it their full-time career. Furthermore, in times when the economy isn’t great, more and more people figure that that pet sitting on the side can be a nice way to bring extra income to the household. With online platforms like Care, DogVacay and GoFetch, it has never been easier to find a “pet sitter” or to become a “pet sitter” yourself.
Pet owners: is it worth the risk to hire a student or a fly-by-night “pet sitter”?
To answer this, let’s establish the main differences between professional pet sitters and the typical student or “animal lover” offering pet sitting services.
Priorities and accountability
Let’s face it: a student’s priorities are most likely not your pets. They have classes and exams to worry about, maybe another part-time job, selfies to publish and friends to meet. When they do show up to care for your pets, they will most likely be in and out as fast as they can. Your cat’s litter box may be skipped for a day or two. No big deal, right? Hopefully, it will be the only thing they will skip or miss.
On the other hand, your professional pet sitter has no other priority than your pets. Professional pet sitters are deeply invested in their business and their clients. For most, it’s their main source of income, and doing their job well means keeping a roof over their head. During each and every visit, all pets are properly cared and accounted for, checks are done on your property to make sure everything is alright – and they’ll know what to do when it’s not. Professional pet sitters are available all year round, including Holidays and for the long-term. They care about the services they provide and take great pride in making their clients and their fur-babies happy and satisfied.
Experience and Credentials
Non-professional “pet sitters” and students often claim they have lots of experience with pets and animals. Unfortunately, their experience is usually limited to their own pets; it’s like saying that every woman who has raised a child is qualified to be a daycare provider or an elementary school teacher.
It is true that owning several dogs and cats through your lifetime provides valuable experience in pet care, but it doesn’t always prepare someone to deal with sick pets, aggressiveness and behavior problems – let alone the ability to deal with a burst pipe in the basement.
Because it’s their full-time job, professional pet sitters accumulate years of care and handling of pets. Most professional pet sitters will carry certificates in pet first aid, pet CPR, animal psychology and others, plus many are also active in rescue organizations and shelters. Some are retired vet technicians or animal biologists. Whereas your students will have gained experience with their own dogs and cats, your professional pet sitters will have care for hundreds, if not thousands of cats, dogs, and other animals.
According to the Pet Sitters International “State of the Industry” 2016 report, over 91.4% of PSI members are women between the age of 41 and 60 years old, and almost half of them (47%) have been working in the pet care industry for 6 to 15 years. These numbers demonstrate that most professional pet sitters are older, mature and experienced individuals, and likely more capable of dealing with stressful, difficult and challenging situations that might arise with your pets and in your home, whereas a student might not know what to do.
Insurance and Worker’s Compensation coverage
This is an important one.
If you hire a student or a non-professional “pet sitter”, they will usually tell you 1) they don’t need insurance, 2) they can’t afford insurance or 3) they have plenty of great references, and therefore they don’t need to be insured.
Nowadays, it is foolish to hire a service provider that does not carry proper insurance coverage. You require your electrician and your cleaning lady to carry insurance, so why not your “pet sitter”?
Pet Sitters International publishes real insurance claims every month in their “Pet Sitter World” magazine. It goes from an expensive vet bill after a dog tore its ACL on a walk, to having to pay thousands of dollars to repair damage caused by a sink that overflowed. It is not always negligence; even the best pet sitter can make an honest mistake. This extends to the sitters themselves, too – many professional pet sitters will also carry worker’s compensation coverage for themselves and their employees.
For everyone’s peace of mind and wallets, proper insurance is a must.
Yes, it’s true. You will pay more for a professional pet sitter than a student or a non-professional, and for all the good reasons listed above.
It’s important to keep in mind that your professional pet sitter is local, pays their taxes and invests in the community. A student is paid “under the table”, and if you hire a “pet sitter” through an online job sharing platform, most of the profits end up in the pockets of the IT specialists who run those sites (and whom you can bet won’t really care about your pets).
A professional pet sitter will cost more – but you’ll get what you pay for, by way of peace of mind, professional quality service and accountability, and training and experience you won’t get otherwise.
If after all this, you still decide to hire a student or a non-professional “pet sitter”, be mindful of the following:
Make sure the student or the “pet sitter” you are hiring is an absolute animal lover and will genuinely enjoy spending time with your pets – not just do the chores and leave. Also, if the student’s parents are pushing their kid into it, that’s even a worse motivator and less likely to end well in case of emergency.
It is absolutely fine to ask for a Criminal Background Check.
Your student or “pet sitter” should have a car and not rely on transit to provide the service. Would you be happy if they had to bring your pet to the vet by bus?
Request daily reports and updates, with photos and GPS tags (ask your “pet sitter” to take a screen capture of their position on Google Map on their mobile phone with time and date – or even turn on the TV and selfie themselves in front of a channel showing the date & time).
It is never a bad idea to ask a family member or a friend to check on your property and your pets to make sure the “pet sitter” you hired is doing his/her job.
Understand and accept that if damages are caused to your property due to the negligence or a mistake from your “pet sitter”, you will have to foot the bill or file a claim to your insurance provider, which could be potentially denied. You can’t sue a student or a “pet sitter” that can’t afford insurance.
Remember that for a student and a non-professional “pet sitter”, pet sitting is just something they do on the side, and when they have the free time. If you’re a frequent traveler, you will very likely have to find someone else the next time you want to get out of town, and start the whole process again.
So where do you find a professional Pet Sitter?
Pet Sitters International Online Directory – Search for a professional pet sitter using your postal code!
Google and Google Maps – Make sure to look for the credentials on the pet sitter’s website.
Facebook – Nowadays, most professional pet sitters will have a Business Facebook Page. It’s a great place to read reviews from existing clients.
Word-of-Mouth – Odds are a family member or a co-worker used the services of a professional pet sitter before. Ask for a referral!