Joyful as it may be, here’s what to consider when petsitting as a side hustle.
It started with a simple ask: “Could you watch my cat while I’m away?” My friend was going on a two-week vacation, and needed a petsitter. Truth be told, I would’ve done it as a friendly favor, but my friend insisted it be a paid gig.
“Sure,” I replied. Why not? I was happy to help. And after two weeks of staying at his place to care for his cat, water his plants and check his mail, I was a few hundred dollars richer.
A lightbulb went off in my noggin: You can actually get paid to play with adorable furbabies? Sweet!
Back then, I was working a regular office job and hadn’t considered being a petsitter as a side job. And these days, while I make enough as a freelance writer to get by, I still do pet gigs. After all, it’s something one can do while enjoying the #freelancelife. Plus, caring for domesticated creatures is a fun, easy way to make extra “get ahead” money.
Now that I work remotely, I have the freedom to take on such gigs in different parts of town and for longer stints in Chicago. Good times, indeed.
Has your curiosity been piqued? If so, here are a handful of pointers on how to get started, and what to consider:
Start Off By Petsitting for a Friend
While there are plenty of petsitting sites and apps such as Rover.com, Fetch! and TrustedHouseSitters.com, competition can be pretty steep. To get your foot in the door, ask to petsit your pals’ pooches while they’re away for a few days.
If you need to, offer to do it at a discount or pro bono. Even if you aren’t getting paid cash, you are getting free room and board, and a chance to try new things in a different neighborhood. You’ll not only get some experience under your belt, but you can also approach it as trial run to see if it’s something you actually like doing. (Chances are, you probably will.)
At the End of the Day, It’s Still a Gig
While there are certainly many joys of caring for other people’s pets while they’re away, it’s not 24-7 awesome-fun time. Sure, you’re bound to experience some endearing moments, such as nighttime snuggles with kitties and making new friends of the four-legged variety. And while they’re not terribly difficult duties, they need to be tended to regardless. So you’ll need to carve out time accordingly.
For instance, when I was cat sitting an elderly feline in Santa Monica, I needed to administer medication to a fragile—and fussy—kitty. And my summertime dogsit gig in Chicago required I take the pup out for three walks a day. So I couldn’t exactly cavort around town anytime I liked. My schedule revolved around my assigned duties.
And depending on your arrangement, you may be asked to lend a hand around the house. For instance, tending to the garden, watering indoor plants, and alerting the pet owners of any mail that requires an urgent response.
Know Your Boundaries
If there are certain pets you’re not comfortable caring for—or flat-out terrified of—then by all means express this to the pet parents. FYI: exotic pets such as some small mammals, fish, reptiles, and amphibians require specialized knowledge and care. So it’s best if you have some experience and know-how in caring for these types of pets.
Before agreeing to a gig, you’ll also want to let the pet parents know of any limitations you have with the assignment. For instance, you might be cool with checking the mail, but you aren’t going to play housekeeper or babysitter to little ones. (You’ll want to be wary of those who want an all-in-one deal.)
Work Out a Special Budget
If you’re petsitting away from home, you may be spending more on eating out, exploring a new neighborhood, and so forth. I totally get it—you have new stomping grounds to check out. During my time in Chicago, while I didn’t have to pay rent and got everywhere by bike or train, I did spend more on eating out and checking out attractions.
You’ll want to make some tweaks to different spending categories. To make sure you aren’t going over budget, come up with a list of low-cost entertainment options. And make friends with locals who can show you where the cheap fun is. That way you’ll still live within your means.
Protect Yourself—and Your Business
A grownup matter you might be wondering about is whether or not you need insurance to be a petsitter. Pet care insurance, which is for pros who work in—you guessed it—the pet care industry, certainly exists.
Here’s how it works: Pet care insurance provides financial protection in case the pet you’re watching is injured, sick or runs away while you’re on your job. Maybe you accidentally damage something in the pet owners’ home. Or let’s say you left the keys in the house and need to call a locksmith, and have the lock and keys replaced. Pet care insurance could cover all of the above.
Here’s the thing: while you legally aren’t required to have pet care insurance, if you’re seriously pursuing petsitting as a constant side job, or launching into it full-time, you’ll want to consider it.
Petsitting can be a real blast. However, you’ll want to be aware of the intricacies involved before you land your first gig. Otherwise, you may be blindsided by the reality of caring for pets for pay. By being well-informed, you’ll have a more enjoyable time as a petsitter.
Jackie Lam is the creator of Cheapsters, where she helps freelancers get by in the gig economy. She lives in L.A., where she is on the perpetual hunt for the perfect breakfast burrito.
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Photo by Mysaell Armendariz on Unsplash