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 work.
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 blinds.
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 traits.
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 leash.
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 four days.
"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 remembers.
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 behavior).
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.