Demand for pet-sitting is booming in Charlotte as dogs and cats acquired during the pandemic stay at home while owners return to the office or take summer vacations. The going rate for an experienced pet sitter to stay overnight in the owner’s house, watch the pet, and water the plants is $100 to $140 per night.
A growing, popular service called private boarding, in which the dog or cat stays in the pet sitter’s home, is $40 per night. Rates like these are creating lucrative part-time jobs for students, who say the work also strengthens their connections in the community and provides a healthy regular dose of mood-enhancing serotonin.
National research conducted by the ASPCA and Ipsos Group indicates pet acquisition during the pandemic probably didn’t increase as much as popularly believed. But pet sitters with long-term experience say Charlotte owners are concerned about the separation anxiety and loneliness of their dogs and cats.
Is pet-sitting the new babysitting?
“Charlotte, which is really nice, has a lot of people who like their dogs and cats to be watched in their house,” said Victoria Pyle, 26, who has been pet-sitting since she was 10. She believes the pandemic increased demand for in-home pet care. She charges $120 per night, which she considers about average.
The benefits of house-sitting, she said, include a familiar home environment for the pet, personal attention, and proper dosing of medicines.
“It’s better than staying in a kennel,” Pyle said. “They can walk the dog in their own neighborhood and it helps keep your dog on a more regular schedule, so your dog isn’t traumatized by the situation.”
Private boarding is the most popular service offered by Pet Sitters of Charlotte, said Stephanie Sutka, scheduling manager. Her agency was founded in 2015, and this summer is their busiest ever. The service charges $40 a day for private boarding. House-sitting starts at $140 a day.
An August 2020 report by Grand View Research indicated the market for pet-sitting is expected to grow at 8.7% through 2027. People are spending more on the health and welfare of pets because they view them as family members, the report concludes.
A national study of babysitting rates by UrbanSitter.com, a babysitting website started in 2011, found an average hourly rate of more than $20. The site estimates hourly pet-sitting rates at $16. The agency rate for a one-hour pet visit in Charlotte, which could include a walk, feeding, or playtime, is $30.
Dogs and cats strengthen social capital
Beyond paying well, pet sitters say the job builds connections and strengthens their knowledge of the community. It may also enhance their cachet on social media, sometimes called ‘clout.’
“I really like meeting different pets and getting to know different clients because you end up building a nice little relationship with them and their pet,” said Haley Ritter, a nursing student. Her relationships with some pet owners and pets have lasted for years.
Building and maintaining a personal pet-sitting business isn’t as tough as it might seem at first, the pet sitters said. Happy clients provide referrals and connections to other pet owners.
“The great thing is, when you’ve kind of made a name for yourself, then you know a bunch of people and friends,” Pyle said. “You can tap into that network and you can say, ‘Okay, I can’t watch your dogs now, but my brother could. Let me get you his number.’”
Sports teams, clubs, churches and schools provide good networking opportunities, Popelka said. Another option is joining pet-sitting agencies and apps, including Rover, Wag!, Care, and Fetch!
Lora Smith, a communication professor at Queens University of Charlotte who researches social media, said social media users increasingly post photos and videos of themselves while they’re walking dogs or hanging out with cats on pet-sitting gigs. “Lately, there has been a huge push for creators on Instagram or TikTok to join apps like Rover or Wag, and walk dogs for clout,” Smith said.
While pet sitters are building networks, bank accounts, and client bases, they’re also bonding in relationships with animals.
“The most rewarding part of it is that I definitely get a serotonin boost from seeing and petting dogs and cats all day,” Ritter said. As an animal lover, she loves connecting with pets. One dog owner told Popelka that they feel like the sitter and that she’s the actual owner, because the dog comes back so happy after a stay at Popelka’s home.
When Ritter connects with a dog or cat and they pass away, she feels the loss.
“That can be the hard part, where you get to know these animals and then they end up getting sick or passing away and you kind of have to just watch that happen,” Ritter said.
Popelka sends her clients daily photographs of the dogs she takes care of. “And just seeing their reactions and how much they love their dogs just makes me so happy,” Popelka said. “Seeing the joy that dogs bring into the world, I think it’s just so awesome.”
Sam Carnes is a student in the James L. Knight School of Communication at Queens University of Charlotte, which provides the news service in support of local community news. Her summer work is supported by the James E. Rogers Research Program.