My career as a pet sitter began quite haphazardly. I’d always loved cats and dogs, and my family usually had some type of pet around when I was growing up.
At the height of our pet collecting, my mother and I had 15 pets (seven kittens, three cats, four fish, and one dog). Still, I never imagined I’d make any type of living from my love of animals.
Last May, I was all set to leave Shanghai when my then-girlfriend mentioned that she had a friend who was looking for someone to watch her cat for about a month while she traipsed around Europe. The gig was mine if I wanted it, she relayed to me. Seizing the opportunity to stay in the city, and strapped with a new editing job, I said yes.
From there, I booked a six-week cat sitting gig for a fellow expat I knew from around, trading cat sitting services for room and board while they were gone. I was able to get most of my late summer and early fall housing needs met simply by making sure people’s precious fur babies were well fed and taken care of. By the time the Christmas holiday and Chinese New Year rolled around, I had graduated from merely trading to earning cold, hard cash. Here’s how I did it.
What Is Pet Sitting?
Pet sitting is basically babysitting but for pets. Maybe a pet’s human is away on holiday, works long hours, or just needs an extra hand or two for whatever reason — that’s where a pet sitter comes in. As a cat and dog handler, I’m responsible for feeding the animal, dealing with bathroom duties, and doling out general TLC and meaningful interaction with the pet. If I’m watching a dog, we’ll also likely go on a walk for exercise.
Depending on the client and pet, there might be the need for medication administration, visits to the local vet, and other tasks around the house, such as rotating the lights or bringing in the mail.
Landing My First Paid Clients
Most of my clients come from word of mouth, honestly. But in the beginning, once I decided to see if I could really make a go of it, I made a simple yet informative flyer showing me and some stock photographs of animals, announcing that I’d be available for drop-in (where I go once or twice a day to check in on the animal) or overnight pet sitting services, along with a sheet featuring my mandatory “donation” fees. From there, I spread the word to my vegan, vegetarian, and animal-loving friends, asking them to put the word out to anyone they knew with a pet who might be going away for the holiday season.
Additionally, I posted on social media, mainly in WeChat (a wildly popular messaging platform in China) groups. Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect and was just hopeful that I’d get enough inquiries to make staying behind in China while everyone else was on holiday worthwhile. To my surprise, the inquiries started flooding in by the dozens. From there, I made appointments on a first-come, first-serve basis, generally scheduling a “meet-and-greet” to see if it was the correct fit for all involved.
I’ve also seen various Facebook groups dedicated to pet sitting, but those are usually people looking to trade services for housing, which is cool, but not the wave I’m riding at the moment. Alternatively, more established pet sitting agencies exist if you’d rather not deal with the promotion and business side of it all straight out the gate.
The Nuts and Bolts of the Biz
A love of animals is definitely necessary to get into this business, but that’s not all you need to be effective and professional. If you’re really trying to make this into something, you best stay on the right side of the law. It might be a good idea to see if your city requires you to register for a business license before getting started. Thankfully, start-up costs are pretty low, including basic pet supplies like spare leashes and doggy poop bags (which honestly, pet owners are likely to supply).
Along with a possible business license, many pet sitting agencies recommend getting bonded and insured in case of damage to property or, God forbid, an injured pet. Check out the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters for more information.
Speaking of injuries, becoming certified in pet CPR is a great way to help ensure the health and well-being of the animals you care for. Full disclosure: I don’t have this, but only because nothing like this exists in China (as far as I know). But I am interested in getting certified on my next visit back to the US.
Over this past year, I’ve found pet sitting fun and emotionally rewarding, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t a learning curve or I didn’t make mistakes. On one of my first gigs, I forgot to water some plants, and by the time the owner got home, they weren’t doing too well. Oops! My bad.
Another time a client berated me for drinking some water and leaving a cup in the sink. I had forgotten the cardinal rule: Leave everything as clean as you found it. Hopefully, she wasn’t too traumatized.
All in all, pet sitting can be a great way to work independently in a fun and compassionate profession that allows you flexibility and the opportunity to be your own boss.
A Day in the Life of a Pet Sitter
If you’re interested in checking out a video I made about what it’s like to be a cat sitter, please enjoy!