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(Photo: Getty Images; additional design: Tina Tiller)
(Photo: Getty Images; additional design: Tina Tiller)

Pet WeekApril 1, 2022

How pet-sitting became a lucrative side hustle for animal lovers

(Photo: Getty Images; additional design: Tina Tiller)
(Photo: Getty Images; additional design: Tina Tiller)

Businesses are connecting pet parents with people willing to care for their furry whānau members in their absence. Reweti Kohere speaks with two pet sitters who get paid to walk strangers’ dogs and feed their cats.

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In 2010, Belgian internet entrepreneur Dries Coucke needed someone to take care of his parents’ labrador, Ibeau, while his father was being treated for lung cancer. Coucke posted his request on the Facebook page of a not-for-profit community he had previously founded to rehome rescue dogs. He was overwhelmed by the positive response, and from there an idea for a business was born. Three years later, together with fellow Belgian internet entrepreneur Tanguy Peers, he launched Pawshake, a platform that matches pet owners with registered animal lovers willing to care for their pets in their temporary absence.

Pet sitting isn’t new to Aotearoa – in addition to solo side-hustlers or people between flats advertising their services on community noticeboards, Facebook groups and by word of mouth, many dog-walking businesses offer pet-sitting services. A quick Google search reveals Share My Pet (which encourages “sharing” of pets, where no money changes hands), The Pet Nannies and Pet Company, the latter whose team of pet sitters have been providing “top-class care” since 2000. Its latest owner, Angie Wu, who took over the business three years ago, likes knowing she’s offering a professional service to appreciative owners. “It’s better they find someone professional instead of their friend or neighbour because we have the skills and experience with animals. If something does happen, we know what to do,” she says. “We have to do training and workshops regularly to make sure our knowledge is up to date.”

Papakura-based The Pet Nannies has been operating since early 2017, guaranteeing pet parents in south Auckland “complete peace of mind” while they’re away. Its small team of professional carers have knowledge of pet first aid, are vetted and offer their services without alerting people to an owner’s absence – they don’t wear uniforms or drive cars advertising the business. Once owners have met their sitter and are satisfied, they pay for time spent rather than per animal – a 30-minute daily visit, for instance, costs $26, while an hour of work costs $46. Overnight stays are $95 a day. On its website, owner Jane Holmes admits she does what she does to stop herself from becoming a pet hoarder. “Having been the proud owner of budgies, rabbits, gerbils [and] many cats and dogs, currently our family has a doggo and a cat,” says Holmes. “But if I had the choice, there would be many, many more pets here.”

Pawshake, which operates in 20 countries including Aotearoa, claims it accepts only 15% of pet sitter applications; candidates are thoroughly vetted by its “trust and safety” team, which includes running police checks. Pet sitters can set their own rates and after an obligation-free, in-person meet-and-greet, pet parents can pay anything from $15 to take their canine kids for a 30-minute walk to $50 for house sitting or dog boarding services. One home visit during the day might cost $15, two visits might cost an extra $10. Pawshake takes a 19% cut on all transactions.

With people often barred from having a pet while renting a flat, looking after other people’s animals is one way renters can get that serotonin boost that only animals can provide while still respecting their tenancy agreements. That was the case for recent graduate Molly Leggett, who was prohibited from owning a pet when flatting in Palmerston North while studying veterinary science at Massey University. So she turned to Pawshake, having heard about the business from a friend.

Auckland vet and pet sitter Molly Leggett (Photo: Supplied)

The 24-year-old says she found pet sitting great practice for being a vet, and still does small jobs through Pawshake now that she’s working full time. Businesses connecting pet owners with sitters is a great idea, she reckons, because it offers owners the comfort of knowing their pets are being looked after in an environment familiar to them, rather than putting them in kennels or catteries. “I could go into people’s houses where their cats were comfortable, they knew where their food was and the only stress was maybe a new person coming into the house once a day.”

Animals are great at bringing people together and offering up insights into their owners’ personalities and habits. Pet parents often have different views on how far they want sitters to care for their furry loved ones, she says. “Some people have outdoor cats that they just want fed, they couldn’t care less, whereas other people have cats that are like babies to them.” 

Since joining a month ago, Christchurch pet sitter Conan Outram has found pet sitting a valuable side hustle to his main interest of investing – especially as, like most investors, he’s seen his portfolio shrink over the last few months. “It’s a bit hard to get a job when you haven’t really been in proper work for a while, so I can do things myself and put myself out there,” he says. “And, of course, I like animals a lot so it was a good option, I thought.”

Christchurch pet sitter Conan Outram with his late Tibetan spaniel, Archie (Photo: Supplied)

Outram says he sometimes feels he connects better with animals than he does with people. “You know some people have emotional intelligence and they’re really good at reading situations in social settings? I feel like I have that with animals,” he says. That connection makes it easier for him to empathise with animals upon meeting them, reading from their body language whether they are scared or shy.

Pets have always been a part of Outram’s life – he’s grown up with dogs, cats, guinea pigs and rabbits, and farewelled his 18-year-old Tibetan spaniel Archie last year. Helping care for other people’s pets is just another way to keep them in his life. “When you spend so much time around something, it’s hard not to like it. It’s a part of your life – it’s like family.”

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