Pet sitting has long been thought of as a job best suited for begrudging parents, extremely generous neighbors and broke college students. However, thanks to easy and efficient websites that bring pet owners and caregivers together, dog mommas and papas have many more options for pooch help, and it’s easier for animal lovers to pick up a few extra bucks playing catch and giving foot-thumping tummy rubs. But with so many choices, it can be hard to know which sites are the best for pups, their humans and their hired sitters. Here is a review of the top pet sitting services available today.
Rover was the first of a new breed of platforms created exclusively for pet-care services. Though similar to other sharing-economy sites, Rover was the first site of its kind created solely with pet care in mind. And with this modern platform, it has popularized a brand-new method of finding a sitter for Sparky. Founded in 2011 in Seattle, Rover advertises itself as a community of animal lovers organized so that pet owners can find reliable sitters in their neighborhoods. Rover offers a variety of services, such as dog boarding (in the sitter’s house), house-sitting (in the client’s house), drop-in visits, dog walks and doggy daycare. Though Rover is clearly marketed for dogs, sitters for all sorts of other animals are available as well. The prices for each of these services are set by the individual sitters and generally range from $20 to $50, depending on the service and the experience of the sitter. A prospective client would log in to the website, browse the sitter profiles in her area and then book whoever makes her tail wag. Rover even has an app, making it exceptionally simple to book a sitter on the go.
The ease of this process has garnered Rover big success; their site claims to service 10,000+ cities with 40,000+ sitters. However, the advantages of this setup in some ways are also its downfalls. For the dog owners, a primary concern is reliable and consistent sitters. Rover does not perform any interviews or other hiring processes besides approving a sitter’s profile before it is posted to the site. Credentials such as background checks, reviews, letters of recommendation, etc., are then provided at the discretion of the sitter and evaluated by the client on a case-by-case basis. Meet-and-greets with the pups and their humans is standard practice, which can help eliminate some of the worry about leaving your pooch in the home of a stranger for a weekend. However, the range of experience and professionalism among the sitters certainly varies.
DogVacay, founded in 2012 in Santa Monica, California, is remarkably similar in setup and services to Rover, but their cuteness is on point (seriously, go watch their adorable animated promo video). DogVacay wants to be Airbnb for your pooch. The site even has the same color scheme and abides by the same design principles. Sitters are referred to as “hosts” and animals as “guests.” Sitters are found, booked and paid for through the site or app, just like on Rover. Unlike Rover, sitters for DogVacay “pass through a strict screening process, including interviews, video training and reference checks,” theoretically providing more quality assurance for pet owners. Like Rover sitters’ profiles, DogVacay sitters’ profiles also include reviews, letters of recommendation, pictures and earned badges suggesting various courses taken on pet care. Sitters will also provide on-demand updates of the animals while owners are out of town via text, pics or, for the extra-paranoid dog momma, a video stream.
The drawbacks for sitters are similar to those for Rover sitters as well. DogVacay takes a flat 20% out of earnings for service fees to provide similar services as Rover. Their insurance policy is a bit better (most notably, on account of the smaller deductibles), but again, it does not cover any property or bodily injury for sitters. The network of sitters is also smaller than that of Rover (20,000+ sitters nationwide), which might be a drawback for pet owners looking for a specific sort of care but an advantage for sitters—after all, fewer users equals less competition for jobs.
Care.com is the granddaddy of care-service provisions, as the name might imply. It launched originally in 2007 and since then has gathered 18.4 million members spanning 16 countries. The breadth of the services offered extends far beyond pet care. Services include (but are not limited to) child care, senior care, home care, odd jobs, housekeeping and pet care. Each of these categories also has several subcategories of service. As explained by their website, Care.com is “the world’s largest online marketplace for finding and managing family care,” which seems to translate to lots of resources for family care and a little bit of everything else. As one Care.com pet-care provider, Megan Wurdmuller, put it, “It’s as if [service-care seekers] are like, ‘Hey I need someone to take care of my kid ... and you can walk my dog too, I guess.’”
Scale seems to be the largest issue for both care seekers and care providers on Care.com. Unlike Rover or DogVacay users, Care.com users seeking assistance post jobs to the site, which prospective providers then respond to. At this point, the seeker performs whatever interviews and reference checks they deem necessary in order to select a candidate. However, because the network is so large, seekers get overwhelmed by sifting through the large number of options, which seems to defeat the purpose of signing up for a service to make life easier. Conversely, providers (especially those in urban areas like San Francisco) find it difficult to get noticed among the pack of candidates vying for jobs. Care.com’s solution to this issue is to offer a Care.com premium account, which a provider can sign up for by paying a monthly fee. In return, they receive select perks that help them get noticed, such as appearing higher in search results and being notified about jobs in their area before non-premium members. This creates a scenario in which essentially one could realistically find work on Care.com only if she is willing to pay for it, and who’s to say if it would be consistent.
Fetch! Pet Care
Another option for finding care for Fido is Fetch! Pet Care. Fetch! was founded in 2002 in Berkeley and offers a more traditional setup for finding pet care. Unlike Rover, DogVacay or Care.com, Fetch! Pet Care is a nationwide franchise that is regionally owned and operated. Fetch! offers all the same services as the other pet-care sites and also provides insurance and around-the-clock customer service.
Pet sitters apply for a position through the Fetch! Pet Care site and are then contacted, interviewed, evaluated and hired by the local regional owner. Once hired, each pet sitter takes part in an orientation before beginning work. Unlike Rover and DogVacay, the sitters’ rates are set by Fetch!, who also assigns sitters to their clients. This allows for a more consistent level of service for the pets and their humans. Sitters also get to choose which jobs to take and when, allowing them to maintain flexible schedules. However, some sitters have reported irregular or sparse work, and like other service sites, Fetch! skims a pretty large service fee off the top of sitter wages. Additionally, Fetch! is significantly smaller in scale than their competitors, reporting 3,000+ sitters in 1,500 cities, which means less on-demand availability for pet owners than Rover, DogVacay or Care.com offers.
NAPPS and Pet Sitters International
Now for your tried-and-true, non-Millennial-branded options for professional pet care, the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters, or NAPPS, founded in 1989, and Pet Sitters International, founded in 1994. Both sites function similarly: sitters pay a yearly membership fee (around $150 and up), and in exchange, they receive a myriad of exclusive perks and resources, including insurance, bonding, educational tools and listings on the organization website. However, besides these listings, both sites do little to connect pet owners with appropriate care. Pet owners instead must contact each pet sitting business directly through the website or the email address provided by the sitter. NAPPS and Pet Sitters International are geared toward the promotion of individual pet sitting businesses rather than the creation of a network of sitters in one centralized location. For this reason, prices and services offered can vary quite a bit from business to business. Also, because of the lack of a flashy modern website and larger up-front costs for sitters to join, membership to these sites is significantly less. When I did a search, NAPPS brought up a meager 15 listings for all of San Francisco—not ideal for last-minute-booking needs. However, this is arguably the best option for pet sitters interested in having complete control and autonomy over their work lives, considering that unlike their other options, they are not functioning as independent contractors but instead as small business owners.
So whom to choose? It all depends on the needs. Every business has its drawbacks, for both pet owners and pet sitters. Ease and quickness of booking may mean giving up quality care as a pet owner. And pet sitters working in a contract-labor economy will find it tough to make ends meet in the long term with a patchwork quilt of jobs. When in doubt, take a hint from the pups and follow your nose.