Written by Sandra Murphy
What's the best way to get started as a cat sitter? Sit for your friends or neighbors. No matter how much you love cats, pet sitting may not be right for you so it's best to take the job for a test drive before committing to a new career.
Pet sitters are most often women, working part time to supplement income and indulge their love of cats, dogs and other critters. Some specialize in cats only. Why specialize? Cats come pretty much one size, are indoor pets and use litter boxes. Unless the cat is taking medicine, your visit can be made at your convenience. Most cats have basic care—food, water, clean litter, and optional petting.
Working with an established pet sitting service makes your job easier. The service will do the advertising, screen clients, collect the money, send your 1099 (W2 for independent contractors working for a service) at tax time and give you the ability to say you're bonded and insured. A service also acts as backup in case you're sick or unable to do your visits. You'll make less money per visit but have more clients and support. Meet the client well before their trip. Most of them will be wonderful people, good paying clients and dedicated cat owners. Once in a while, you'll meet someone you're just not comfortable with—nothing specific, just an uneasy feeling. Follow your instincts. Remember, you'll be going to an empty house to care for the cat. If you're uncomfortable when people are there, how will you feel when you're alone?
Ask if anyone else is coming to the house—the grass cutter, a workman, a family member—no need to give each other a shock. Always, always test the key in a closed door. You don't want to be standing on the wrong side of the door with a key that doesn't work. A key that worked fine with the door open can be hard to turn when the door is closed.
Ask about a burglar alarm. Is the code to turn it off different than the code to set it? What is the password to use if the alarm company calls? Provide good service to your clients. Bring in the newspaper and mail, water indoor plants; spend a little extra time with an anxious pet. Cats tend to be shy for the first couple of days, accept you for the next three or four days and then begin to show anxiety at being alone so long. Leave notes about your visit.
Ask your client to tell the neighbors you'll be coming by. Having a stranger ask, “Who are you? Where did they go? When will they be back?” puts you in an awkward position. You don't want to antagonize a neighbor but don't want to give out personal information about your client either. Be sure to carry identification in case a nosy neighbor calls the police. Having a clearly labeled key will usually satisfy the responding officer but your driver's license or ID from your sitting service will help.
Ask where to dispose of used litter, does the cat always have access to food or is it limited amounts, does he take medicine and if so, how and when? If the cat is hiding, where are her usual spots to disappear? Verify dates and times of visits; ask for a call when they return in case of delay.
If a visit to the vet is needed, where is the cat carrier? Make sure you have a working phone number to contact the owner. For older cats, cats who are chronically ill, or cats who become ill—what does the owner want you to do especially if they can't be reached? Some owners discuss this in advance with their vet; some will leave you a letter of authorization to act on their behalf, outlining what procedures they will okay—a feline medical directive.
What to do about an invisible cat? Play on her curiosity. When you come in the house, rattle the food dish, let the water run an extra minute, scoop the litter and maybe turn on the television. If that doesn't bring kitty out of hiding, sit down and read the paper or watch television, and wait. Most cats will check to see if the stranger is still in their house. If that fails, check the hiding places. Don't force a confrontation, just say hello and let him hide.
Sometimes the only way to know a cat is okay is to see an empty food bowl and a full litter box. You'll meet cats like Nicky who let you go downstairs to clean the litter box but block your return, Oliver who you only see if you look under the bed and Punkin who pats your cheek with his big orange paw. You'll grow to love them which is both good and bad. You'll have work you enjoy. You'll be a cat sitter.
Sandra Murphy lives in the land of booze, blues and shoes - St Louis, Missouri. When not writing, she works as a pet sitter. In her spare time, she caters to the whims of Reilly and BB, stray cats rescued by her dog, Avery.