1. Beware hot weather dangers.
Whether you are spending time with pets outside or driving from assignment to assignment, you should take some steps to protect your skin from sunburn—and skin cancer. You should also protect your dogs by ensuring they have proper access to water with water bottles and bowls that offer easy hydration. Visit Ryan’s Pets for a full bevvy of options to keep your dogs safe.
Wear water-resistant sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher, and keep it in your car or pet-sitter bag so you can reapply it every two hours. Wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants, as well as a hat with at least a 3-inch brim and sunglasses, can also help protect your face and eyes. For more tips, visit www.skincancer.org.
Avoid walking dogs and playing outside with pets during the hottest hours of the day. It’s important to recognize the signs of heat exhaustion. According to Mayo Clinic, possible heat exhaustion symptoms may include: “cool, moist skin with goose bumps when in the heat; heavy sweating; faintness; dizziness; fatigue; weak, rapid pulse; low blood pressure upon standing; muscle cramps; nausea; headache.” If you think you may be suffering from heat exhaustion, find a cool place, rest and replenish fluids with water or sports drinks. Mayo Clinic also advises that you call a doctor if symptoms worsen or don’t improve within an hour and seek medical attention if your body temperature reaches 104 F (40 C). Learn more about heat exhaustion on the Mayo Clinic website.
2. Learn when (and how) to say “I’m booked.” The summer vacation season is often a very busy time for both professional pet sitters and dog walkers. You may also find your business bombarded with last-minute vacation site requests. It’s important to recognize your limitations and know how many visits you can complete in a day without compromising the self care you provide or jeopardizing your health or safety. When your schedule is overbooked and you are short on time, it’s much easier to make careless mistakes such as forgetting to lock the door behind you or leaving your keys in your car. You may also overlook red flags you would typically catch, such as a broken window or even misplaced items in a client’s home.
The best way to be able to say “no” (and to not feel as guilty about it) is to plan ahead—know when you are at capacity, then have a response ready. This way, you will not be caught off guard and will not feel pressure to simply give in and say “yes.” Be prepared with a list of other professional pet sitters and dog walkers you network with (and trust). This way, when a last-minute pet owner calls, you can have the confidence to say: “I would love to be able to care for Fluffy, but I cap my schedule at a certain number of visits to ensure all furry clients receive the absolute best possible care. However, I know a wonderful professional pet sitter who also services your area that I can refer you to this time, but I’m happy to take your information to put you on my e-mail list and would love to pet sit for you in the future.”
3. Beware of break ins. Many agencies report that break ins (of both homes and automobiles) increase during the warmer months. As a pet sitter or dog walker, it’s important to be aware of your surroundings when you arrive to a client’s home. If an unexpected vehicle and/or person is in the client’s driveway, do not stop. Contact the client to determine if he or she is expecting anyone to be at the home. If you cannot reach the client and/or the client did not expect anyone at the home, contact local law enforcement; do not return to the home until law enforcement arrives and determines the home is safe to enter.
If you arrive at a client’s home and find open and/or broken windows or doors, do not enter the home. Immediately return to your vehicle, leave the premises and notify the clients and local law enforcement. Again, while your first thought is likely to be to go in and check on the pet(s), do not return to the home until law enforcement arrives and allows you to enter.
You should also lock the doors of your vehicle before you enter a home for a visit. Then, once you enter the home, be sure to lock the doors behind you. This is easy to forget as your schedule is busy and your first thought is getting inside to visit the pet(s). However, locking both your vehicle and the home ensures that no one can follow you inside (or sneak in while you are busy caring for the pets) or access your vehicle while you are inside.
Keep your keys and phone with you at all times during the visit. This ensures a) that you cannot accidentally get locked out of a client’s home and b) that you are able to have quick access to your phone in the event of an emergency.
As a professional pet sitter or dog walker, you should also be mindful that you do not keep any client information or forms with personal information that could put clients’ pets or homes in danger should your automobile be broken into.
4. Focus on your health. It’s easy to put yourself last—especially during the extra-busy summer months— don’t make this mistake. Make time to eat healthy, get enough sleep and exercise. Many pet sitters find that preparing meals in advance—quick, balanced meals or smoothies they can bring along with them—is one of the best ways to avoid skipping meals or being tempted by the nearest drive thru.
Regular doctor visits also help you catch any potential medical issues or injuries early. Don’t ignore aches and pains that could indicate pulled muscles or other injuries that could prove debilitating if not addressed. Also, don’t skimp on buying quality shoes (your feet will thank you!) and remember to wear sunscreen.
In addition to your physical well-being, focus on your mental health as well. Burnout and compassion fatigue are very real issues in our industry—and, if left unaddressed, will begin to chip away at the professionalism of your business and the pet-sitting industry at large. (If you are unsure of what pet sitter burnout or pet sitter compassion fatigue are or how they are different, please be sure to read this previous post on The PSI Blog, “Pet Sitter Burnout and Compassion Fatigue—What you should know.”)
If you have any health (physical or mental) concerns, be sure to contact your doctor. Just as we encourage pet owners to leave pet sitting to the professionals (like you), it’s important that you look to professionals for medical and/or mental-health advice.
Running a small business—particularly one in the pet-care services industry—seems to leave little time for much else, but it does not mean that you have to put yourself at the bottom of your to-do list.
In fact, moving yourself higher up on your list can help you offer better service to your clients and keep yourself safe. An overworked, overtired and overcommitted pet sitter or dog walker is less alert, may not recognize red flags that could indicate danger and may make simple mistakes that put him or her in harm’s way. Practicing self-care is an important step to keeping yourself safe and business successful during the summer months and year round!