There are more than 7,000 self-employed business professionals like Kate McPike of Ahwatukee in the country.
That may not mean much until you have to go on vacation or a business trip and leave your pet at home alone.
Many people rely on a relative or a neighbor, but if something goes wrong, they’re not likely bonded. Or Fido gets sick, they’re unlikely to know pet CPR or other techniques that might be required for handling a medical emergency.
But as a member of the 22-year-old Pet Sitters International, McPike, the sole proprietor of K8’s Pet Care, is bonded, insured and trained in animal CPR and first aid.
“I want every pet owner to be able to leave home with peace of mind knowing his or her pet or pets at home are in my responsible care,” she said.
Though she grew up on a California ranch with horses and “lots of dogs and cats,” McPike started her working career in banking after getting a business degree.
She eventually moved to New York City, where she became a trainer and then district operations manager for Weight Watchers International. She moved back West and became a trainer for a credit union trade association, teaching tellers and supervisors about fraud prevention, robbery, cross-selling and other subjects.
She got so good at that she still develops and delivers webinars on those kinds of subjects for a company in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
But McPike reached a point where she wanted a career change.
“I have always been passionate about animals and animal causes. Pet sitting was always in the back of my mind, but I had a job in California that required extensive travel. After leaving that job, pet sitting was a perfect fit for me,” she explained.
She had moved to Texas, where she met a woman who owned a pet-sitting business called Not Home Alone.
“I received all of my training from her,” McPike said. “After working for her for a year, she sold the business, and some of her clients wanted to me to continue taking care of and walking their pets.”
Although she moved to Ahwatukee earlier this year, McPike said she stays in touch with the woman who trained her.
“I still call her if I have questions, and she and I have remained best friends,” said McPike, who not only is a member of Pet Sitters International, “where I take advantage of their webinars and online training programs,” but also belongs to the Arizona Professional Pet Sitters Association, “where we get information and network with other pet sitters in the area.”
She set up K8’s Pet Care in April, and has found “the biggest challenge was moving to an area where I knew no one.
“Competition is pretty stiff,” she said.
Pet Sitters International said its members collectively care for animals in more than 720,000 households, generating $392 million annually in revenue.
And the pets they care for aren’t necessarily furry.
The association reported this year they’re seeing increasing demand from owners of reptiles and even chickens.
“There has been a jump in the number of pet sitters who offer services for chickens or barnyard fowl,” it said. “In 2014, around 58 percent of sitters who offered livestock care said they offered care for chickens, while this year the percentage jumped to 85.4 percent.”
The trend is slightly different when it comes to reptiles.
“More than 9.3 million reptiles are owned in 4.9 million households across the United States,” Pet Sitters International stated. “But reptiles have not achieved the same popularity or acceptance as other pets such as dogs, cats or fish.”
McPike is trained to handle a gamut of animals.
“I take care of dogs and cats mainly, but I have also taken care of a mouse, sugar gliders (a kind of opossum), a rat, fish, frogs and a lizard,” she said.
She also is a typical trained and insured pet sitter.
Pet Sitters International found that more than a third of its 7,000 members have college degrees and 58 percent left another career to start pet-sitting businesses.
Still, the general public’s acceptance of pet sitters is slow in coming, McPike said.
She said her biggest challenge is “educating the public that there is a difference in pet sitters when the person they hire is bonded/insured, trained and pet CPR/first aid trained.
“There are so many other people that think pet sitting would be fun, so they decide to get into the business not really knowing what's involved,” she said. “With my training and experience, I feel equipped to give pet owners the best possible care for their beloved pets. I also feel confident that I can handle a pet or home emergency should one occur.”
“We learned about the causes of a pet's heart stopping and what signs to look for to determine if CPR is necessary,” she said. “If it is, I would apply compressions—there are three different types—and breath into the animal's nose while keeping its mouth held together with my fingers.”
“In addition to learning CPR, we learned how to deal with choking, heat stroke, burns, cuts, seizures, convulsions, pets that have been hit by a car and other injuries. We also learned how conduct a snout-to-tail assessment for injury and for wellness.”
She said Malinda Hall Malone, owner of Diamond Cut Pet Spa in Ahwatukee, was the instructor for her wellness assessment training and “if I have a concern or a question about a certain pet in my care, she's my go-to person.”
Of course, it’s not just the owner who might be wary of a pet sitter.
The sitter has to be wary of the pet.
For example, McPike follows a routine when she is asked to take on a dog.
She schedules a “meet and greet session” to see if she and the dog will get along.
“Most dogs are very protective of their owners,” McPike explained. “When I go to a complimentary visit to meet the pet owner and the pet, if the dog starts barking or seems aggressive, it is usually because it is protecting the owner. When I'm alone with the dog, he or she is usually a sweet puppy.”
Still, she doesn’t take on every potential customer who calls.
“If the dog appears aggressive and a danger to me or others, I will pass on the pet-sitting job,” she said.
While they may be minimal, hazards do come with the territory.
“I have been bitten by a very small dog,” McPike said. “I survived and now carry two first aid kits in my car—one for me and one for the pets I care for.”
McPike doesn’t just feed her clients and make sure they haven’t been injured. Besides walking the dogs, she’ll also give the pets “a comforting touch” so they can be reassured their owners haven’t abandoned them.
The fish and reptiles may miss out on the cuddles.
And McPike just doesn’t care for the pets; she brings in the mail, waters the plants and makes sure the premises are secured.
She falls for the pets sometimes, as she did in Texas with a dog named Bruce.
Bruce was a dog whose owner wanted McPike to sit with and watch TV while the client was at work.
“When he saw me, he saw ‘walk,’ so I would leash him up first and walk him back and forth in the back yard for about 10 minutes before we started watching TV,” she said. “I did that on a regular basis and miss spending my evenings with Bruce now.”
Information: k8spetcare.com or 480-718-5063.