When I tell people I am a dog walker/pet sitter, they assume I just play with puppies and kittens all day. My job is often downplayed or not taken seriously. Though I do get to play with dogs and cats, there is so much more to it! Is my job hard? No and yes!
I am my own boss and can have some flexibility. I make a decent living without having to have a college degree. I get to work with animals, which I love. I meet some awesome people! With that come the downsides, the hard part of the job. It can be mentally and physically exhausting.
I often work 7 days a week, all holidays, and all hours. I have my normal dogs I walk during the week, often sprinkled in with vacation clients. When everyone is excited Friday has arrived, it has no meaning to me. I am working through the weekend. I often have to schedule family time around work time. Makes for not so happy husband and kids. Sure they sometimes ride along with me, just so we can spend some time together. There are moans and groans. I don’t blame them, who wants to spend time in the car?
Then there are family parties and holiday gatherings. I either have to leave early or arrive late. Often missing out on quality time. My 2 youngest children still believe in Santa. Christmas Eve, I often can’t get presents under the tree until 11pm or midnight. Then I have to wake up at 5am to rush off to work, so I can get back home in time for my kids to wake up and see what Santa brought them. Or they have to wait for “Mom to get home”.
Most people who work in this field are very compassionate people, to a fault even. We want to help everyone! We will put all others’ needs before our own. So you also need to have customer service skills. It’s not like Fido is picking up the phone to call you to come care for him. You need to interact with people still and need the skills to do so. I have so many amazing clients and have developed friendships even. I have also encountered the not so ideal client. The person there is absolutely no pleasing or is highly demanding! They sometimes make you question why you are even a pet sitter. You just feel like quitting! It’s even tougher when you absolutely adore their pet! But then I realize as tough as it is, I just have to let this client go. Ending a client relationship for any number of reasons can be quite stressful.
Then there are the pets I care for. Most are well behaved, friendly, cute and cuddly. Occasionally though I encounter the total opposite. Pets that are out of control wild or worse, aggressive. I have been doing this since 2005, and have been bit 5 times. 3 out of the 5 were on accident. Luckily none of them were real serious. I was bit by a Great Dane in the butt, he was protecting his house. He was completely fine with me at the initial consultation. That changed when the owners were away. Another time I was giving this sweet Mastiff a treat, she got my finger on accident. Her tooth went through my finger nail. Knock on wood but I am lucky there have been very little bites. I have encountered quite a few aggressive dogs and cats. I know the warning signs and have been able to prevent being bit.
Sometimes half my visits consist of cleaning up after pets. Dog had diarrhea in the crate or on the carpet. Cat vomit everywhere! Pee on the floor! Scooping litter boxes. Dogs sometimes destroy everything in sight! This will leave less time for playing or walks.
People may think it’s great to be able to enjoy the great outdoors. Sure I love walking on that beautiful picture perfect day but that doesn’t happen daily. I have to endure rain, snow, cold, and extreme heat. Often dogs hate these weather conditions too, so trying to get them out to do their “business” is a huge task. Then wiping paws before they track mud all through the client’s house, which most dogs don’t like.
There are days I just don’t feel well and certainly don’t feel like walking. I just want to lie in bed. I can’t call in sick though. Have to do it! To schedule time off takes a lot of planning and stress. While I am on vacation (rare occasion), the business doesn’t stop. The person I got to help me with clients while I am away will inevitably have some sort of issue. I will also inform all my clients that I am away but somehow they forget. They will need someone last minute, I am 1000 miles away, and my back up already has a full plate.
I put a lot of miles on my vehicle, around 20,000 a year. I constantly need new tires and brakes. I spend a lot in gas. I often eat lunch in my car or don’t eat lunch at all. I basically live in my vehicle! When I am not walking a dog or pet sitting, you can find me in front of my computer doing accounting work, finding ways to market the business, answering emails/texts, and managing my website.
After all this, I then try to find time to spend with my family and my own pets. I need to cook dinner, do laundry, go to my kid’s school functions, help kids with homework, grocery shop, clean my house; the list goes on and on. My husband is a great help but I often feel like I am missing out or I am not being the being the best parent I can be. Sure I think most people that have a demanding job feel this way. That is no comfort though when it is you!
Let’s not forget the hardest part of this business; often I have been caring for these pets since they were very young. I get to watch them grow and build a bond with them. It is so hard when they move away or pass over the rainbow bridge! I truly feel like I have lost my own pet. It is heartbreaking.
After reading all this, you may think "wow she is really complaining! Why is she still in this business?" Well its because I do love what I do. I also want people to know that the reality is there is more to this than just playing with puppies and kittens all day! Honestly most of my clients are not puppies or kittens. They may have been at one time, but they grow up fast! This field is definitely not for everyone; in fact I have seen more pet sitters give up because they just couldn’t sustain this lifestyle for long. Burnout is a huge problem! I have suffered burnout quite a few times over the past 14 years but I work my way through it. This is my livelihood. It is a real job despite of what others may believe! At times it’s so much harder than just going to a 9-5.
I have put my heart and soul into this business! I have made sacrifices in my personal life and financially. I have some really amazing clients! Being able to help someone is the greatest feeling in the world! Walking into a clients home and having a happy dog greet you or a kitty ready for your attention is so worth it!