When Uber and Lyft entered the ride-sharing market, cab companies were caught off guard. They didn’t see on-demand ride-sharing as a legitimate threat. As a result, they failed to develop the necessary infrastructure to compete on a convenience level. With on-demand pet sitting companies like Rover and WAG! making a splash in the pet sitting industry, the question is, would you give the keys to your home and your beloved pet to your Uber driver?
Why is Pet Sitting is Different than Driving Uber?
Being a pet sitter isn't like driving an Uber. Over 200 million cars and trucks hit the road every day in the United States. It's an activity that 2/3 of the country are proficient at from an early age. Like driving a car, there is a learning curve to working with animals. There are some important differences:
First, every car is pretty much the same. There are some minor differences like manual and automatic transmission, but if you can drive a Ford, you can drive a Chevy. Every animal is unique and has different needs and issues that need attention.
Second, training to work with animals is not something most people obtain through the normal course of their lives. Unlike driving for Uber, It takes time to adjust to being a pet sitter and having a support system in place is important.
Every new dog walker runs into issues when they first start out. Sometimes it's seemingly mundane things. They can't open a tricky lock or find a house in hidden city space with no house numbers. Other times its because a dog is afraid and they just don't have the experience to know what to do. There are a million little things you take for granted when you're only accustomed to going in and out of your own home and caring for your own pet. Just like learning to drive as a teenager, being a pet sitter takes practice; you have to learn how to work with people's pets. No two are the same and it takes a professional to understand an animal's behavior and safely handle them in public areas.
Local Pet Sitting Companies Provide Training and Oversight
Using an on-demand company has a number of drawbacks for pet owners. Hiring a pet sitter requires more than just a background check. I was a pet sitting client once, and a background check just isn't enough for me. I want to know there is a local business owner who has ties to the community, a reputation that means something and, for bigger companies, well defined hiring practices. Unlike taking a ride from a stranger, a pet can't tell you what happens when you're gone. Building trust with a pet sitter is important. Local, professional, pet sitters provide mentorship to new pet sitters and give expert guidance to pet owners. This level of service is not something that on-demand services are equipped to provide.
Many on-demand services do offer a meet and greet with their dog walkers, but what happens when the person gets another job or decides not to show up and stops turning on their app? You don't expect to get the same Uber driver every time, schedule them days before you need a ride or need them to feed you to stay alive. I have had a recent uptick in frantic calls from people using an on-demand pet sitting app and experiencing accountability issues. I also get this from people who rely on family and friends to watch their pets. Reliability and high turnover are issues almost all pet sitting businesses experience. Independent dog walkers often have a trusted network to help cover their services in a pinch or they can refer you to someone in case they decide to pursue other opportunities. Larger, local dog walking companies, have a management structure and staff in place so pet owners don't experience a disruption of service if someone is sick or doesn't show up.
At my company, new pet sitters have to have experience working with animals beyond growing up with a family pet. To start, they also shadow our long-time walkers. They get exposure to 20 or 30 different pets before they are sent out on their own. They also have access to a knowledgeable professional who's only a short distance away if they have questions or run into difficulty. It's also becoming more and more popular for the local pet sitting companies to provide continuing education to their staff as well. From Pet CPR to animal behavior courses, local pet sitting companies know it's important to have a dedicated and educated staff.
Local Companies Are Convenient Too
Independent dog walkers and local business owners aren't sitting back on their heels as the cab companies and hotels did. Pet owners are beginning to ignore the inherent risks and drawbacks of on-demand pet sitting companies in exchange for the convenience they promise. People are busy, they work longer and longer hours and they're spending more and more money traveling. The widespread success of companies like InstaCart, GrubHub, and Airbnb prove that consumers of all ages want the ability to open an app and be done.
The local pet industry is starting to fully embrace technology. In its most recent survey, the American Pet Products Association (APPA) found that there were more than 8 million new pet owners between 2015 and 2016 and that millennials are the largest age groups among new pet owners. Companies like Scout are giving local business owners and independent walkers the tools to compete on convenience and in turn help them service this new demographic. Scout provides apps to pet owners that make scheduling and billing a breeze and instead of spending hours every day on administrative tasks, pet sitters can focus on providing a high-quality service.
On-demand pet sitting services are nothing more than multi-million dollar backed marketing companies taking a large portion of the fees earned by pet sitters for little to nothing in return. At a time where customers are clearly willing to pay a premium for convenience and disrupters are trying to enter the market, local pet sitters are embracing technology and using it to provide a level of service that can't be duplicated by a company who's based 3000 miles away.