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The "App" is like the modern version of, "Better living through Chemistry." Our lives are constantly being simplified by technology. Need an answer? Just ask Google. Need a ride? Pull up the Uber App. Want Groceries? No problem! There are many apps for convenience these days and if you want to hire a Dog Walker/Sitter, well there's an app for that too. Couldn't be easier, right?!? But convenience is not without its costs. Just look at how many times Uber has been in the news over driver's acting inappropriately. No surprise, there are stories hitting the news with similar implications when dealing with dog sitters and walkers. This begs the question: What is the price of convenience?
I decided to research and write this article because of the most recent story in the news about a Dog Sitter hired by a couple in the US through an App. The sitters stole their car and left their dogs on a balcony for 3 full days. Tragically, one of the dogs was killed when it was panicked during a storm and somehow got hung up on the railings. Devastating, to say the least.
When I read the story, it made me wonder just what kind of credentials and experience this network of people might have. So I started down the rabbit hole.....
Using a very popular website/app service, I started by looking at Dog Sitters in my area. All had lovely profiles that talked about how much they loved animals and how comfortable they would make your pet while you were on your stress-free vacation. Some had many lovely reviews and repeat clients and others seemed to be newer to the site. No problem - we all start somewhere! I continued to look through profiles and reviews. I quickly noted that some of the reviews were more like character references written by friends and relatives. Again, not a huge issue - we all start somewhere.
As I continued to wander around the site, I saw reassuring messages about how less than 20% of the potential sitters are approved by this company. For a brief moment, I thought maybe I was way off, but then I decided to see what kind of criteria they would look at to approve or deny potential sitters.
It was all an online process from the start. If you want to be a dog sitter through this App, you are an Independent Contractor and not actually an employee. You set your own rates and simply pay the agency a 20% fee for each service that is booked. When you apply, you start by creating your profile. If your profile is approved, you will then receive a 'General Background Check (GBC).' If you pass your GBC, you're in - and you can start taking bookings right away.
Okay, so! GBC - here's where they make sure our pets will be safe. Down another rabbit hole I went. I read about the GBC, which is a public access check for education, employment and criminal record going back 7 years. It also came up pretty quickly in my research that it's not the most reliable check. With the public access system being an open database reliant on input from thousands of sources, its accuracy is questionable and it is estimated that only about 50% of the information is actually recorded in this database. I found that there were many different levels of background checks available and the GBC did not offer the substance I would hope for, like a Thorough or Criminal Background Check would.
There was very little mention of any sort of training for applicants. In fact, the only training I could find was on how to make your profile attractive so that it would appeal to both the agency and potential clients. Things like image quality and composition will make a big differenct in how people view your profile. Details warning potential dog sitters to show pictures of your home being clutter-free to appear professional.
One profile I came across was that of a 10 year old boy who suggested he had 6 years of experience (do the math). Several listed skills such as medication administration and training reinforcement, but they didn't list any experience outside of owning and loving dogs.
Being licensed and bonded was only a requirement if your local laws require it. Do you know if your local laws require it?
Okay, so this is the point where I'm sure you're starting to get upset knowing that your cousin, nephew, sister, etc. is a great dog sitter who treats every dog with the utmost of respect and care. Here I am painting them with an awful brush! I get it - I know some incredibly wonderful dog sitters/walkers/trainers as well and a few of them rely on these Apps for the initial connection with clients. Not everyone has the money to compete through advertising. Apps help good people find clients and then give them great service!
I would be feeling defensive on their behalf as well, so let me be clear....
While I'm quite certain that 99% of the people on these Apps are wonderful, quality human beings who will take excellent care of your pets while you are away, there are still a few that are only interested in robbing you and leaving your 4-legged family members to fend for themselves, or some other horrifying atrocity. There are still a few who will bite off more than they are capable of chewing and won't be able to properly care for your dog and there are still a few who will put your dog at risk by being irresponsible. With services offered through shiny, glossy Apps, with copious amounts of equally shiny advertising dollars behind them, the false sense of security is enormous. Nobody is truly vetting the people you are trusting with your 4-legged family members.
My point is: The responsibility still falls solely on you and that is not made clear from most vantage points.
My point is: Don't assume you're safely hiring a capable, kind and honest individual just because you found them on a glossy website or App.
My point is: You still need to do your own due diligence surrounding the hiring of anyone that you are entrusting with the care of your dogs.
My point is: The good people behind the App are operating a Business Model where they're profiting in a manner similar to a Franchisor. Their job is to make things look good, safe and convenient so you'll hire their Independent Contractor and they'll make their 20% booking fee.
My biggest point is: The App is only the beginning! While I may be comfortable buying a ride home without any further research into the driver, I will NOT afford the same complacency to someone I'm leaving my dog's with.
Do your research. Ask for client references that you can actually speak to. Meet the person you're thinking of hiring before you've committed. See how they interact with your dog(s). Ask questions about their knowledge. Find out how many dogs they will be caring for at once. Be thorough in showing them how to care for your dog with regards to medication, grooming needs, exercise, etc.
Trust your own research - anything less is a leap of faith.
As always, Happy Training!