What makes someone a professional pet sitter/dog walker? This is a topic that is often debated among professional pet sitters that we network with and with the rise of Rover and Wag it is important that pet owners that wish to hire a professional know what to look for. As you know professional service is a lot different than non-professional service. An amateur photographer can capture a good photograph every once in awhile but a professional photographer is going to do it with far more consistency. Being a professional is about having the systems of business in place to make your service repeatable. I'm certain you've had great cakes or cookies baked by a friend or family member but can they bake those cakes and cookies exactly the same 100 times out of 100 like a professional baker? Professional pet sitting/dog walking is much the same. The service needs to be consistent and reliable and repeatable. The difference between a professional pet sitter and someone that does pet sitting is like the difference between a landscaping company and a person that mows lawns.
I decided to Google the question that is the title of this piece before I began writing thinking I would find lots of opinions and articles from NAPPS and PSI explaining exactly what made someone qualified to be a professional pet sitter, but I did not. I found more articles detailing how to become a professional pet sitter than I did on what makes someone a professional pet sitter.
Likewise, there are several articles on the importance of hiring a professional pet sitter/dog walker, but again none stating their opinion of what makes someone a professional pet sitter/dog walker. My opinion is a professional, of any occupation but pet sitting/dog walking specifically here, is someone that earns more than 50% of their income providing pet sitting and/or dog walking services.
You may have noticed I didn't include anything like license, bonding, insurance, belonging to a professional organization (like PSI or NAPPS), or being pet first aid and CPR certified. Those are all trappings that help someone to be a professional but aren't the essence of what it means to be a professional. Being a professional pet sitter/dog walker comes down to the fact of if someone makes more than 50% of their income providing pet sitting and/or dog walking services then they are a professional.
Now to stay a professional and continue to get clients and operate as a legitimate business then at the very least they are going to have to be licensed. By the way when pet sitters or dog walkers tell you they are licensed that simply means they are licensed to do business in the city, county, or state in which they operate. There is no special licensing required for someone to be a professional pet sitter and it is just a term we all use because potential clients like to hear it and are used to hearing it from other in home service providers but there is a huge world of difference between someone being a licensed Class A Contractor, a licensed plumber, or a licensed HVAC technician and someone being a licensed pet sitter/dog walker.
Insurance goes along with having a business license and it follows that if someone is a professional pet sitter/dog walker making more than 50% of their income from pet sitting and dog walking then they are going to be a legitimate business and be both licensed to do business and carry business insurance. But what exactly is covered under pet sitting insurance and why would I, a professional pet sitter and dog walker, call it a trapping of being a professional and not one of the things that makes us a professional. It's because it doesn't really cover that much. It covers loss, injury, or death of your pet due to our negligence. Meaning if there is a board loose in your fence and your pet gets out then that isn't covered by our insurance. However if there is a swimming pool in your backyard and your pet falls in because the pet sitter you hired is not paying attention then the insurance covers that. In other words if we ever have to actually use the insurance it is very likely the end of our careers as professional pet sitters because the worst case scenario has occurred and it was both completely our fault and preventable.
The last triumvirate that clients like to hearing in the licensed, bonded, and insured statement is bonding. What that covers is if a sitter of ours steals from a homeowner. Back when it was just Lara and I providing the pet sitting and dog walking we got bonding solely for client confidence. We didn't need it because we weren't going to steal from anyone but people liked hearing it and it made them comfortable using us. Now that we do have sitters working for us we need it. Of the trappings of business this one might be the most important for companies like ours that use sitters but completely unnecessary for businesses that don't have sitters working under them. It also really means nothing for the client. It protects us if someone that works for us steals from you but in all likelihood once the theft is reported and verified to us we will terminate the contract of the offending sitter and the bonding will pay for the loss of the stolen property but unless the thief is really not all that bright your stuff is gone for good.
The last two trappings I mentioned aren't ones all clients care about or ask about all that often. We are members of PSI and were members of NAPPS. I left NAPPS for PSI because I felt like NAPPS did nothing to promote the industry while PSI is active on social media and has certain special days they promote throughout the year but with that being said I still don't feel they do enough. PSI might appear to be similar to something like The National Association of Realtors but it is not. There is no vetting process to join a professional pet sitting organization other than a credit card number. They want our money and then they talk about all the benefits but the biggest one they talk about is being a member of their private Facebook group which we are but are also members of four or five other pet sitting networking groups on Facebook. As far as I can tell PSI takes the dues we pay and pockets them as profit. They do pay people to keep up their social media and publish blog post and send us a nice magazine every other month but they do no paid advertising to advocate for the industry in the way NAR or NATCA or local union 669 does and to me that is highly disappointing as I'd like to see my membership dues going towards something other than paying the salaries of their employees.
Hopefully that didn't sound too harsh. We are happy with our PSI membership but would just like to see it do a little more. The final trapping of business for professional pet sitters/dog walkers is pet first aid and CPR certification. This is an important one and one that pet owners should ask or at least ask the question of what would you do if my dog cut his paw on a piece of glass while out for a walk or what happens if you come in and my dog has choked on a treat or toy or do you know how to induce vomiting if my dog got into a box of chocolates. These are all very important things for someone to know but here is why I consider the actual certification a trapping. We live in the age of the internet and knowledge is free. A Google search for "pet first aid" yields over four million results. The information is out their for anyone that wants it and that was just a search on Google. I didn't even look on YouTube to see all the videos that are available.
Now if you did actually read all of that and are still with me you might be wondering why all those are trappings and why making more than 50% of your income is more important. My opinion is that if someone can actually turn pet sitting/dog walking into a career then they are good at it. They have proven over a period of time that the can provide reliable service to pet owners while they are busy at work or out of town. A person could go out today and for less $1,000.00 could become licensed, bonded, and insured as well as join a professional organization and become pet first aid and CPR certified. It requires no experience or interactions with pets at all. All it takes is money and less than $1,000.00 is a ridiculously low start-up cost for a new business and there is a world of difference between being a business and being a professional.
Simply existing isn't enough to make a pet sitting/dog walking business a professional operation. If you want to hire the best professional pet sitter for your pet then you should call several. Tell them about your pet and their needs, check out their online reviews, and ask for references if you're still unsure (though I can tell you our references are clients that are also referral partners our online reviews and testimonials section of our website are a much better sampling). Ask how long someone has been a professional pet sitter/dog walker as well as how long they've been in business. We've, meaning Lara (David started in 2012), have been pet sitting and dog walking since 2008 before that Lara grew up on a dairy farm and has a bachelors degree in Equine Science. We moved to Virginia Beach in 2015 to start our own company, Stable Hands Pet Care and Services. I've either said or written that spiel so many times it is second nature. Lara has been doing this for 10 years and has been caring for animals her entire life while I've been doing this professionally for six years and we've had our own business for three. In other words we were professional pet sitters before we were business owners.
Being a professional is about proving the worth of your services over time. A new business owner isn't going to start out making at least 50% of their income from their new venture. That takes time and in that time they are going to have to prove themselves to their customers or clients. We believe that we have done that in the years we've been in business. We have several testimonials on our website from our Northern Virginia clients as well as those in Virginia Beach. We moved to an area where we knew nobody and had no way of getting referrals other than providing excellent in home pet care for people's pets. The fact that we've done it for these last couple years and are still doing it and able to make a living doing it is what makes us professionals. All the rest of the stuff makes us a business and while they go hand in hand anyone with a little bit of money can start a business. It takes a different sort of person to be a professional.