Let’s face it, dogs are no longer dogs. They are now our children, best friends, emotional support companions, and never-ending snouts of love. I’m a 34-year-old married guy with 2 amazing pups, no children, and I am not alone. Unlike the generations before, today's young adults are waiting longer to have the “traditional family” and are instead having fur children.
The money we are spending on these fur kids shows how much we care about them; 44% of milenials see their pets as "starter children" . In 2019, Americans spent over 95 billion dollars on their pets which is up from 44 billion a decade ago (American Pet Products Association). Today's workforce is working long hours and increasingly having to commute further to work. We try to take our dogs with us when we can, but what is the best option when we work long hours, and can't take our dogs to work?
With all this spending, there have been a significant rise in companies vying for a piece. Pet walking and sitting services such as Rover have sprung up over the last decade from small online platforms to giant billion dollar companies. They promise a convenient, safe and affordable option for your pet.
Another option has been around for decades and has been well established, dog kennels and dog daycares. Because we put so much into our fur family, we want to make sure they are safe, happy, and well taken care of. When we can't take them with, what is the best option? Let's explore the choices.
Because Rover's pet sitters are actually going into your house instead of you going to them, they have "background checks" for their pet sitters and dog walkers. Going onto Rover.com I looked into what their procedure was to make sure I felt safe having a stranger off the internet go into my home. Here is what their process for looking into the history of their pet sitters:
So to be clear, when hiring a person from Rover, you are trusting a stranger in your home. Many times you are trusting them in your home when you are not even present. Per their website, these pet sitters need to not be a sex offender, not a terrorist, or have a vague 'disqualifying criminal offense.' If I want to make sure my pet sitter is super qualified, they will also prove they have lived in a house for 7 years. There is a big leap from using an established business and having a stranger who passed a vague internet background check into my home while I'm not there. There have been some pretty entertaining stories of what people have come home to, or seen from pet sitters on their 'nanny cams', including this horrifying story from the New York Post.
Ok so now we have a person who passed this background check, now lets take a look at what in depth training they have to make sure that my dogs, who I love like my own child, are safe. Here is Rover's extensive "certification" program to make sure their sitters are qualified.
Ok so step one: prove I'm not a sex offender or criminal, check. Step two: prove I know how to put a harness on a dog and know how to use an app, check. Now I know everything I need to know about pets; I'm a 'certified' sitter and can start going into people's homes and taking care of any type of pet regardless of special needs or health conditions. With these strict qualifications its not hard to see why Rover has had a pretty constant stream of pets running away or dying under the watch of these 'certified' professionals. There are far too many stories to recount here but here is a pretty clear example of the risks of using these platforms.
Handling pets is not an easy side gig. It's hard work and things happen. But when things happen we expect those who do wrong to own up to it and take responsibility. There is no making someone whole who has lost a pet while it was being cared for by one of these platforms. Let's look at how Rover handles situations that go wrong. Amy Houston lost her beloved pup Coco while under the care of a Rover sitter and said about Rover's "help" in a Fort-Worth Star Telegram story , “They said they would reimburse for the vet cost, they thought they were gracious in waiving the $250 deductible. They suggested I contact the pet-sitter to cover the purchase cost of Coco and I said I was not interested in ever speaking or seeing her again. The relationship between myself and the pet sitter is solely because of Rover and I expected them to take responsibility.”
Unfortunately this billion dollar platform simply views themselves as a "match maker" between you and a pet sitter. Many people have reported that Rover required them to sign non-disclosure forms if they are to accept any compensation for lost, injured, or deceased pets. They are more concerned with maintaining their brand image than the pets on their platform.
Dog kennels and dog daycares have a stigma for much of the public. Many people view kennels as 'cages' for pets. There are many different types of kennels and daycares. The services range from the high-end luxury facilities to the standard chain link kennels. It is incredibly important to research, tour, and meet the kennel or daycare that you are looking at using. For these businesses, taking care of your beloved pet is not a 'side job' but their lives work. They live, breathe, give blood, sweat and tears to their business and to your pet.
When people begin working at these dog kennel and dog daycare facilities, they go through vigorous training to become qualified to look after your pet. When doing your research, check to see if the facility you are looking to use are members of industry associations. These associations provide training and certifications for employees to make sure that businesses have qualified staff. One of the most prominent pet associations is the International Pet Boarding and Service Association (IBPSA). They provide in depth certifications for pet staff to be able to handle any situation from pet behavior to safety and medical related situations. Here is just some of the species specific-certifications available through IBPSA:
Beyond the industry group training, most businesses have their own training manuals that new hires have to complete. Furthermore, most facilities require a long "job shadow" period before new hires are trusted with your pets. Most facilities I have spoken to have training manuals over 30 pages long with job shadow periods averaging 2 weeks. So beyond certifications these pet specialists have completed; they also complete knowledge training as well as 80 hours of hands-on training before they are ever allowed to handle a pet themselves.
Beyond being a safer option, dog kennels and dog daycares provide your pup with much needed socialization and structure. Many dog daycares use enrichment training within their daycare. One of the best and most popular enrichment programs was created by a couple of veteran trainer/daycare owners. Their company is The Dog Gurus , and many facilities out there use The Dog Gurus' principals to provide the structure and safe environment that is ideal for your dog. Not every dog wants to socialize with other dogs and that is totally fine. There are many facilities out there that cater to pups with special social needs matching them up with one other pup or just with humans to gain more human socialization than staying at home.
Many of my friends cherish their dogs more than their children. For those of us who don't have children, those wet snouts we come home to at the end of the day make the long work days totally worth it. The pet industry has blown up over the last decade and people in the U.S. show no signs of owning less dogs.
There are many companies vying for your business. There are good pet sitters and there are bad pet sitters; just like there are good and bad dog daycares and kennels. The moral here is as a pet parent it is up to you to do the research and make sure you are putting your beloved pup in the best position. In general, when I am making the decision on where I want my pups to go, I look at where they will be the happiest and safest. I personally don't have any friends who work on the pet sitting app platform, but looking at the requirements to join pet sitting apps makes me nervous. To think about letting a "background checked" stranger in my house, and also trusting a "certified with harnesses" sitter with the safety of my family members terrifies me.
With dog daycares and dog kennels you can find actual professionals who have more than a cursory "harness check". These people are serious about every aspect of your pets safety and happiness. Do your research, tour the facility, speak with the manager or owner and learn what certifications they have and what training their staff goes through. If something does go wrong, instead of a billion dollar "match making" platform, you have an actual person operating a small business in your community who you can go talk to and find solutions. These are not light decisions but your work in researching the best option will end with your pups being safe and having the best time with their pals.