So, You Want to Be a Cat Sitter? Four Tips Before You Go There
Does your idea of a dream job involve hanging out with cats all day? Professional cat sitters make that dream a reality. While I've only occasionally taken care of friend's pets (and rabbits and dogs and chinchillas) in exchange for money or dinner or drinks or just good karma, it's easy to fantasize about making it a full-time gig. I already feed, play with, and pet cats at home every day -- so why not do it at other people's houses, too?
I talked to several professional cat sitters around where I live in Portland, OR, about what they do and how to get into the business of cat care.
While some people specialize in just cat sitting, others also walk dogs. Because people mostly hire cat sitters when they are out of town, it's easier to have regular clients when you also include dogs. But that doesn't mean it's impossible to run a business just caring for cats, whether it's a side project or your full-time job.
Kristina Weis runs a cat-sitting business in addition to her day job in marketing. Her story of how she got into it may be unique -- she felt like the experience of building a website to promote a business would teach her valuable lessons that would apply to her day job. She had been cat sitting for friends and family for a while, so she figured she might as well branch out and promote herself. She was surprised when the business took off. “I had no idea there were so many people looking for cat sitters,” she said.
Kristina has three cats of her own and has always considered herself a cat person. She considers the cats themselves are the biggest perk of the job. “I'm usually seeing cats when they're at their most lovey, because they're lonely,” she explains, which means they want to spend lots of time with her.
Every cat sitter I spoke to was enthusiastic about their love of cats. Valorie Bradley of Doodlebug's Kitty Sitting, for example, volunteers with cats at a no-kill cat shelter when she's not cat sitting or spending time with her own cats. Richard Weiss of Sunnyside Home Pet Care referred to the cats whose owners are repeat customers as friends, and looks forward to those jobs the most.
Obviously, a passion for cats is a must, but what else do you need to start your own cat-sitting business?
1. Check local laws regarding small businesses
You may need to register for a business license, but rules vary depending on where you are located. If you're in the United States, the U.S. Small Business Administration site has a helpful tool for figuring out the requirements in your area.
While no certification is required to become a cat sitter or pet sitter, you can opt for it. Pet Sitters International and National Association of Professional Pet Sitters are both reputable organizations that offer certification. “Though it's not required or difficult to do, I personally feel that people prefer someone with a designation by their name because it provides a sense of credibility,” Valorie said.
2. Consider insurance
In some areas, you are required to have insurance in order to provide pet-sitting services. Carla Job of Beaverton Cat Sitting feels strongly that “at a minimum, a professional pet sitter should be bonded and insured.” If you're a member of a pet-sitting organization, you can sometimes get a discount.
3. Get your name out there
Once you've gotten through the red tape, what's next? You can advertise your services on websites like Craigslist, make fliers and post them all over town, and of course build your own website.
Lisa Coulson, who calls her cat-sitting service Panda With Cat, promotes herself solely through Facebook and word of mouth, though she also only does cat sitting as a side project in addition to her day job at a vegan bakery. Kristina and Richard have both had a lot of success advertising on Craigslist, and they both think it's important to be as open about yourself as possible in your ad. “There are people who don't even give their names,” said Richard.
Kristina agrees that providing your real name is important, and always includes a picture of herself. When it's time to meet the cat or cats and their person, Richard says he is always “on the floor, playing around with the cat, giving treats, making friends.” He wants to demonstrate his enthusiasm for animals because that's what he would look for in a cat sitter.
4. There's more to it than spending time with cats
Sometimes Kristina gets tired of driving all over to visit cats in different areas, though some cat sitters only serve small areas to prevent that problem. Her biggest challenge was a surprising one, though. “The hardest thing about cat sitting for me is getting people's keys to work,” she says. “I've had so many instances where, on the first day I'm cat sitting, I'm there for five minutes trying to get the key to work and I'm freaking out because I think they gave me the wrong key or something.”
Lisa's most stressful cat-sitting experience happened when a cat suddenly decided she wouldn't eat Pill Pockets anymore, and Lisa couldn't figure out how to get her to take her medication. Finally she decided to roll the pill picket in bonito flakes, which made it tempting enough to eat. “It's a little nerve-wracking to take care of someone else's living thing,” said Lisa.
While many cat-sitting businesses are just run by one person, they can expand to bigger operations. Shawn Ryan, owner of Cats in the City, has been cat sitting for 14 years and founded his company in 2007. Shawn began cat sitting when he was a fellow in an animal-assisted therapy program for at-risk youth in a local hospital and staff started asking him to take care of their cats. Now he employs multiple people and offers grooming and boarding in addition to in-home cat care. A cat-sitting business can start as a side project, but it can also evolve into something much bigger very fast.
Do you cat sit or ever dream of being a cat sitter? Do you just do it for friends, like I do? What do you look for when hiring a cat sitter? Talk to me in the comments!
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