If your child is itching to make some money this summer but
isn't ready to babysit or run the lawn mower, pet sitting might be
the perfect option.
Simply put, pet sitters care for animals while owners are either
on vacation, gone for a day outing or at work. Sounds easy enough,
but before you let your child leap into it, ask a few questions.
Taking care of a living creature is a big responsibility and, as
the parent, you don't want to find yourself doing most of the
Talk to them and make sure they understand the time commitment.
If a dog needs to be let out at noon every day, that means even if
they're having fun at a friend's house, they're going to need to
stop and let the dog out.
There's no magical age when kids are suddenly ready to start pet
sitting. Pam Scheunemann, author of Cool Jobs for Young Pet Lovers
(Abdo Publishing Company), suggests "somewhere around the age of 10
kids are generally ready for at least some simple pet care duties
such as walking a smaller dog, cleaning up the yard or filling food
and water bowls."
Analyze what they're capable of doing. Can they clean up dog
messes on walks? Would they be able to clean a hamster's cage or
change kitty litter? If not, that's going to limit what services
they're able to offer. Can they follow explicit directions?
In the excitement of getting a job, kids tend to assume that
they're capable of handling more than they can. Make sure you feel
comfortable with what is being asked of them. Talk them through all
kinds of possibilities.
To get started, the best bet is to send out a flier or email to
friends and neighbors you know. Keep it close at first and let your
kids branch out later by handing out business cards or posting
fliers around town. Have them outline what services they'll
provide-walking dogs, feeding cats, cleaning cages and playing with
hamsters, changing fish water, etc. And keep in mind that if the
pet owners live far from you, you'll need to do some driving.
Have them offer a house-watching option as well. They can bring
in mail, water plants, turn on lights and open and close
Scheunemann recommends meeting with the pet and its owner before
starting the job. "It helps if the animal gets used to a new person
first," she says. "Kids need to feel comfortable being in control
of the animal."
As the parent, have your child take notes-don't assume he or she
will remember what the owners are saying (it helps if you go along
for this part). Find out where they keep food and any medicine. As
an extra precaution, write down the brands. Have them write down
the phone number of the veterinarian. If your child will be
changing bedding or cat litter or scooping poop, make sure they
know where to dispose of it. No one wants to deal with a toilet
clogged with hamster bedding.
Learn the pet's preferences-long walks or playing in the
backyard? For how long? Do they need medicine? Learn if they have
grooming needs. Also find out some fun details such as the pets'
habits, likes and dislikes, favorite toys and other personality
Have the pet owners leave not only their contact information and
the phone number for the veterinarian, but also a local emergency
number. Scheunemann cautions that if they'll be walking a dog, use
common sense if it's near a street or at night. And always use a
Finally, make sure the owners leave a physical key to get in and
out. Many houses and condos rely on key pads or garage door openers
but if the power fails, you're stuck. Karen Weiler remembers being
out of the country when a storm knocked power out of her house for
"Luckily, the 10-year-old girl was in the house when it happened
but she had to take the dog back to her house the rest of the week
because she had no other way to get in except the key pad," she
Finally, Ingrid Roper, author of Moneymakers: Good Cents for
Girls (American Girl), suggests keeping a checklist at the house
letting the owners know when you were there and what you did
(feeding, water, let outside, played, any special activities or
Rules and expectations
Together, determine a set of rules for pet sitting. No friends
along unless the pet owner has approved. Never go through
homeowner's personal belongings. Bring a cell phone if going alone,
in case of emergency. No snacking or raiding the fridge. And no
using the bathroom at the house-not only do some people turn off
the water, but there's also the worry of a toilet overflowing or
(more realistically) forgetting to flush.
Finally, remind them to always, always double-check that the
door is locked when they leave.
Laura Amann is a freelance writer and the mother of four living in Elmhurst.
See more of Laura's stories here.
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