I had a client call me recently to discontinue dog walking services and inform me that we were being replaced by an app called Wag and that Wag rates were cheaper.  We lose clients for a variety of reasons but this was particularly troubling. We live in a transient area and it is not unusual for clients to inform us that they are moving, they are retiring and plan to walk their own dog, they have run into financial issues or, the worst, their pet has passed away. I truly hate to lose good clients for any reason, but to lose a client to an app based out of California was hard to wrap my head around.

I thought I better do my research so I downloaded Wag, set up an account and checked out the dog walkers that supposedly serviced my area.  They were offering the first walk free so I booked a “free” walk for my dog 10 days out to allow the necessary time to set up a consult, meet my dog walker and provide keys to my home. Four days later I received a notification through the app that they were not able to schedule the dog walk and to be sure and check back in the future.

I have been aware for some time that there are a variety of websites and apps like Rover, Care, DogVacay, Sittercity, etc., offering pet sitting, dog walking and in-home boarding. With the growing need for pet care services it is no surprise that many tech companies and venture capitalists have entered the industry and launched large pet sitter directories, but here are a few important things to consider before you click on that site:

Do they have a backup plan? Can these apps and websites really provide a reliable backup system when things go wrong?  4 Pets’ Sake has been in business since 2003, and rarely a week goes by when we don’t have to enact a Plan B or, oftentimes, a Plan C, to get things covered.  Often one of our staff is sick, or they are dealing with a family emergency, having vehicle issues, encounter road closures, or they arrive at an assignment that takes much longer than anticipated. We have a backup plan to ensure your pet receives the care you’ve requested. One horrible day we actually had a staff person hit head on by a careless driver and airlifted by helicopter to shock trauma (she was fine, thank goodness!).  How does a CEO in California respond to a real emergency in Maryland?

Do they have the right insurance customized for the pet care services you need?  While most online pet sitter directories provide insurance for visits booked through the site, the insurance coverage offered by some of the directory sites and apps requires a large deductible to be paid by the pet owner should an issue occur.  Using our pet care service ensures that your pet (and home) are covered should an accident occur during an assignment.

How much of your money will go into your local community?  While apps and online pet sitter booking sites may seem convenient, securing the services of a local professional that is rooted in your community and involved in local pet-related efforts allows you to fully contribute to your local economy.

How will issues be resolved when they arise? When you utilize our services, you are able to contact me directly with any questions or concerns.  If you have an issue with a large pet sitter directory company, you’ll likely have to press a variety of numbers to get to a customer service representative with no vested interest in the company and who is following a policy manual on how to deal with your problem.

Time will only tell how successful these large apps and websites will be.  For now, I am very grateful for our clients who appreciate the benefits of selecting and supporting a local professional pet care business that has a backup plan for emergencies and is properly insured for their pet care needs.   I sincerely hope that any clients that do wander over to the click and tap convenience of the online sites and apps will eventually return.  We will be here and excited to care for your pets!