When some non-pet sitters hear that you pet sit for a living, they imagine a life of luxury, lazing about all day long, cuddling and playing.
But it's so much more than that. It's keeping an entire property clean, safe, and secure, free from break-ins and vandalism. It's plant care and mail pickup, and keeping the place looking lived-in. It's such a safety bonus that some homeowner's insurance policies will even reimburse the homeowner for hiring someone while they're away.
It's snow/ice removal. It's A LOT of driving and walking, many times in inclement and even dangerous weather.
It's being in constant contact with some owners, and not at all with others, and being expected to intuit the communication balance.
It's being the only one on the premises (in my case with no pinch hitters) to take care of the animals and property, no matter what, even when you're under the weather, having a blinding migraine, a sprained ankle, dislocated toe, broken finger, or hairline fractured shin. Yes, I have worked through all of the above.
It's stall mucking. It's hay throwing. It's heating up pasture water in winter. It's med delivery at very precise intervals, needles, handling chemo pills, stomach tube feedings, nail clipping, diaper changing, helping a geriatric dog with mobility issues to get from lying down to standing.
It's calming storm-terrorized pets. It's holding on to a trembling dog while fireworks go off for hours next door on July 4th and New Year's Eve. It's panicking thinking you've accidentally let the cat out when in fact it was napping in the bathroom linen closet. It's trying to sleep crushed between two 90 lb. Weimaraners.
It's getting snapped at, bitten, and scratched. It's expressing bladders, changing bandages, delivering surprise early litters, and managing grand mal seizures. It's cooking specialized diets, it's poo cleanup in the yard, it's hypervigilance, making sure no one is where they're not allowed to be and that everyone is safe.
It's running/driving around a neighborhood looking for a Houdini dog that got loose. It's driving very carefully for two miles to catch a horse, pull over, park the car, walk the horse back to the stable, then walking back to collect the car.
It's bathing animals, cleaning vomit, wiping leaky anal glands, tick picking, CPR following a freak cardiac event, doing the Heimlich Maneuver for a dog who's choking on a piece of toy. It's helping a dog with a severe paraphimosis issue. Don't Google that. It's noticing undiagnosed cancer, having CPR not be enough, having to make that dreaded phone call, taking the animal to the vet for the one way trip and crying your guts out.
It's a lot.
Oh. Also, there's cuddling and playing. <3 :D And I did all of this and more for 20 years. And I am currently below the poverty line.
In 2016 I raised my rates for the first time. Ever. True story. And when I did, it was below the average going rate. Still, I got objections. The day I got told that my fee was too much for 'hanging around with animals all day,' my heart broke. Completely. I cried for hours. I was at a very challenging, high-maintenance special needs sit with eleven animals when I got that message. And for some reason, it was one thing too many. The heartbreak was complete. It was the day I realized that to some, this work has no value. The time they enjoy away on vacation had value, but not the work which allowed them to be away.
It felt the same to me as if someone said that I don't deserve a home, or a car, or paid bills, or food on the table. Some humans will never be able to comprehend the amount of personal energy and hypervigilance is invested in every sit, no matter how healthy or unwell the pets may be, no matter how big or small the house, no matter how sick or injured the pet sitter may be. Some will not understand that this is WORK and a primary source of income and not a hobby. I have crochet for that.
I spent a good while in a terrible sulk over this. And then it hit me: The objections were only a mirror. I had been undervaluing my skill set for nearly two decades. It was a moment of personal crisis. I had not known until then how much of my identity and self-worth was wrapped up in caretaking, and at the same time, how badly I had been mistreating myself in the process.
So I decided to switch gears entirely and look into another field where the stakes were emotionally lower, but where I could make an actual living wage. And here I am.
Aside from the general need to turn in a new direction to shake off the stagnancy of self-neglect, I also suffer stress when driving with accident-related PTSD since 2014. I just need to slow down, drive less and lower my coritsol. I decided to do something else for a living with plenty of time in nature. The forest is where I find my center, always. Horticulture and permaculture, CSA work, and food forestry is my new life in the making.
I will forever love animals, but it's time to look after me for a change, and to find peace. Thank you for the good years, and thank you for understanding.