Are you emotionally ready to be a pet sitter?

Sep 17, 2018   Tracey Aston   Hiring a Pet Sitter

While compassion fatigue is well documented for veterinarians and rescue workers, not much is mentioned about those in pet services. In actuality, pet sitters and dog walkers have an even higher chance of developing caregiver burnout and compassion fatigue. 

Caregiver burnout is a state of physical, mental and emotional exhaustion brought on by one's job. Responsible pet sitting requires a high level of dedication, care and service to those who have trusted you with their furry family members.  Add to that, a lot of pet sitters are small business owners and as such are more prone to experiencing stress and burnout from running a full time business in addition to caring for animals themselves.  Caring for an animal, putting their needs above your own, is very emotionally demanding -every pet sitter wants to the best for both their human and furry clients. 

Pet sitting can come with a wide array of emotional challenges, such as stress, anxiety and exhaustion.  It's not uncommon for those in pet services to feel isolated -there's no time off, no sick time and schedules often include evenings, weekends, and holidays.  They must remember schedules, client phone numbers, employee phone numbers and emergency numbers, medication schedules and animal routines.  Pet sitters care, deeply, that's why they are in the business they are in. They care about the animals in their care, bond with them, look forward to seeing them and want the best for them, and because of this, yes, worry about them.  Pet sitters give 100%, to every client, all day long.

In addition to the emotional toll, Pet Sitters deal with mental and physical exhaustion as well.  Pet Sitters must always be thinking, always be alert, and always be on their ‘A' game.  They must be aware of changes in the animal, remember medications, and while on walks, they are on constant watch for cars, children and other animals running loose.  They must have precision time management to keep on their very tight schedule and make sure all clients have their needs met in a timely manner. Pet sitters deal with traffic, road closures, construction and detours on a daily basis that can definitely increase stress levels.

Physical stamina is required to do multiple walks all day long. Dog walkers are constantly walking on varying surfaces, suffer joint pain from being on their feet all day and dog's pulling on leashes and constantly bending to clean waste.  They deal with frequent temperature changes all day long - from their vehicle, to homes, to outdoors and back again. They must be conditioned to walk in sun, rain and snow.  They must also always be aware of the potential dangers of an aggressive dog, a serious bite or scratch. 

Compassion fatigue, also known as secondary traumatic stress (STS), is described as “a state experienced by those helping people or animals; it is an extreme state of tension and preoccupation with those being helped to the degree that it can create a secondary traumatic stress for the helper.” 

While veterinarians see the animal a few times a year - and yes, sometimes must deliver heart breaking news to the families of their pet patients - the pet sitter sees the animal every day, sometimes more than once a day and more than one animal.  Those in pet services witness firsthand the physical decline of a much loved animal, the side effects of the medications and sometimes have to use assistive devices for the animal. Anyone who has ever lost a pet, or watched as a disease ravages their beloved family member, understands the extreme emotional toll this can take on a person.  

A devoted pet sitter will have formed a bond with the pets in their care and deal with illness and even death of pet clients in their care.  Many times, a pet sitter, as a trusted friend to both client and dog, will accompany a client to the veterinarian's office for checkups, diagnosis and prognosis and yes, even for euthanasia. During these times, a pet sitter is dealing with their emotions as well as the emotions of their client, and lending emotional support.  

On account of pet sitters dealing with several pets a day, and are invested in the wellbeing of every one, a typical day can be an emotional roller coaster ride. A pet sitter could spend time playing with a new puppy and the next hour have to defend a dog from a roaming animal while on a walk. One animal can get great news such as a good prognosis or finding out a pet is in remission, and the pet sitter shares the sheer joy of the news! The next animal can be in decline, or have a disheartening prognosis and again, the pet sitter feels every bit of those emotions with the client. 

On other occasions, a pet sitter may arrive to find an animal is sick or has injured themselves and must provide immediate care and get the animal to emergency services.  Once stable, the pet sitter must contact the pet's owner and provide an update. The pet sitter must remain steadfast for both pet and client.

Pet sitters are never off duty, most work nights, weekends and holidays with few days off in between. They rarely have time to destress from the emotional rollercoaster that comes with providing outstanding care to multiple clients and being bonded to them all. 

Pet sitters also become very close with their clients as well, even becoming friends with some. Being so involved in the everyday lives of the pets and pet parents, pet sitters witness divorce, illness and even death of family members. 

Adding to the emotional toll of pet sitting, pet services providers are animal advocates. As such, they are often called upon as a contact in rescue situations. In these situations, they can see abandoned pets, injured, neglected and abused animals. Always wanting the best for animals, pet sitters will work tirelessly to provide resources and care to all who require it. 

Though it's not as widely discussed as those in the veterinary and rescue fields, it's important that we don't forget pet services professionals while discussing the possibility of falling victim to compassion fatigue and caregiver burnout.  A little knowledge and understanding can go a long way in helping a pet sitter combat compassion fatigue and caregiver burnout and in turn be the best possible pet professional they can be for your pet! 

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