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Pet sitter Gabe Schneider of Silver Spring, Md., lifts Jake, a year-old Labrador retriever, before putting him in the car to bring him home at Rock Creek Park in Chevy Chase, Md. Schneider says he likes the work partly because it’s “always different, not the set 9 to 5,” and there’s the flexibility to take on as much more work as you want.
AP photo by Linda Lombardi
Pet sitter Gabe Schneider of Silver Spring, Md., lifts Jake, a year-old Labrador retriever, before putting him in the car to bring him home at Rock Creek Park in Chevy Chase, Md. Schneider says he likes the work partly because it’s “always different, not the set 9 to 5,” and there’s the flexibility to take on as much more work as you want.

CREATURE FEATURE
Pet sitting a growing job choice
But be prepared to work hard

By Linda Lombardi
For The Associated Press

SILVER SPRING, Md. — Walking a dog on a beautiful day, playing with kittens — for money. Sound better than the job you have now?

Whether you’re interested in working for an established company or starting out on your own, pet sitting is a growing business. Combined membership in two major professional pet sitters associations doubled between 1999 and 2005, according to David Lummis, a senior pet market analyst with market-research firm Packaged Facts. Part of a much bigger picture, consumers spent $4.73 billion on non-veterinary pet care services, including pet sitting, last year, or 32 percent more than they did in 2001, he said.

Those in the industry say people see their pets more as family members these days. They need extra care while their humans lead busier lives, and they need more than just a kennel when the people go on vacation.

Fetch!

Jaime Deason started a Fetch! pet sitting franchise in Silver Spring franchise partly because she had trouble getting quality care for her own dog and cat.

“We struggled to find people who were reliable enough, “ she says, and it was difficult to accomodate last-minute changes in their complicated schedule.

Deason meets the needs of families like her own with more than just dogwalking. Fetch! offers services like overnight visits where a sitter will stay at your home from 6 p.m. to 9 a.m. the next morning, as well as boarding in sitter’s own homes.

When hiring, “our main requirement is that people love animals,” Deason says.

But spend a day with a pet sitter and you’ll see it’s more than cuddling puppies.

Gabe Schneider of Silver Spring, Md., works for Deason’s pet sitting service.

“It’s always different, not the set 9 to 5,” says Schneider, 21. “It’s always something new.”

On a recent Thursday, Schneider’s first two assignments went from one extreme to the other.

The day started with Jake, a yellow Labrador retriever who’s just a year old and full of energy. Schneider’s job is to take him out for an hour “and tire him out.”

Jake runs out of the house with Schneider with great enthusiasm. But his attitude changes when he sees the open back of the car: He doesn’t want to jump in.

He sits, lies down, hangs out, and does everything but get into the car despite Schneider’s repeated coaxing.

After a while Jake wins the battle — as you he knew he would — and Schneider gives up and lifts the nearly full grown retriever into the back of the van.

They drive to Rock Creek Park, where they walk, play fetch, and greet some other dogs who stroll by. Then, best of all for a retriever, Jake goes for a swim in the creek.

Now the job is done, and Jake is tired out, making the idea of jumping into a car especially unappealing for him. Jake’s wet and muddy now. But after watching the dog put on a great show of exhaustion, Schneider has no choice but to pick him up again.

As Deason says, in this job “you’re going to do a lot of laundry.”

Special needs

Schneider’s next visit is to Pepper, a 17-year-old cockapoo.

Pepper also needs to be carried, but he’s got a better excuse. He’s blind and deaf, and with his stiff legs, he can’t walk down stairs anymore.

Schneider carries the dog out of the house, puts him down on the ground gently, and guides him down the block and back again.

Pepper can only take a five-minute walk, but must appreciate the visits anyway — Schneider sometimes rescues him from situations like the time he was stuck in the corner of a room, unable to find his way out.

Dealing with such special needs is not uncommon — one client has a cat with diabetes that needs an injection exactly every 12 hours.

It’s not always easy, but it’s part of the job. Says Deason, her sitters are “people who are going to go out of their way to take care of people’s pets.”

How to be a pet sitter

If you’re considering becoming a pet sitter, be aware that loving animals is not all there is to it.

  • Be ready for lots of exercise in all kinds of weather. In the summer, “I definitely take two showers a day,” says Jaime Deason, who owns a Fetch! pet sitting franchise in Silver Spring, Md.

  • Make sure you enjoy spending time in your car. Pet sitter Gabe Schneider estimates that he spends about 20% of his time driving from one assignment to another.

  • Working from home means you never get to leave your job at the office. Deason says, “My husband has implemented a no-phone at the dinner table rule.” But otherwise she encourages her sitters to call her with problems any time day or night.

  • Demand for your services is highest on weekends, summers, and holidays. And because business naturally fluctuates, Deason can’t guarantee her sitters, who are independent contractors, a set number of hours.

  • Working with animals means expecting the unexpected. Deason recently gave up a weekend trip to take a boarding assignment when it was discovered at the last minute that an apartment-living dog who was assigned to another sitter couldn’t handle the stairs in her house.

  • Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that pet sitting is a people business as much as an animal one. And as Deason says, “With pets like children, everyone has their own idea of how to raise them.”

    Some people are laid back, some people are finicky.

    “You’re going to run into all kinds of idiosyncracies,” says Deason. “Some people like their dog food mixed by hand. You’ll never cease to be surprised.”

    Linda Lombardi, For The Associated Press

    Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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