Summer vacations are looming ahead and this is the time to think about the best options for your pet if you need you travel. Cats, being creatures of habit normally prefer to staying home instead of being boarded. But who can you trust with your precious pets and home? These were some of the questions I had while chatting recent with premier pet sitter Jill Delzer, owner of Ally McPets in Redondo Beach, California. She is a charming combination of practical know -how, hands-on experience, a big heart and an effervescent spirit.
Q & A with Jill Delzer
LMW: Have you always been an animal lover?
JD: I’ve had animals since I was born. We always had dogs and cats in my family. My parents bred Cairn Terriers when I was little. A couple of litters later and they decided it really wasn’t much fun. After that we always had Labs and cats.
LMW: When and how did you become a pet sitter?
JD: I became a pet sitter when I was 20. I was bored with college and if I was going to quit school my parents said I had to have a job. Pet sitting seemed like a “no brainer” to me since I was always the neighborhood kid who took care of all my neighbor’s pets when they went on vacation. Boy, was I wrong! So many details to remember! I started with a company that was struggling and the owner was burnt out. She sort of dumped it on me and went traveling leaving all her pets at her home. I learned take care of everything by myself for her company including wrangling her 6-8 pet sitters she had working for her. Eventually I left that business and became the assistant to the owner of my company Ally McPets Pet Sitting. I actually had more experience that her at the time! We worked together for six and a half years. The company grew very big- at one point with twelve pet sitters. The owner eventually decided she wanted to sell and move to New York to be with her family and so I became the owner of Ally McPets twelve years ago.
LMW: How has the pet sitting business changed over the past 20 years?
JD: It used to be, “You’re a what?!? a pet sitter? Do you even make any money?” Now every one wants to be one for the “easy work and money”. There are many small companies who are trying to make it. Pet sitting is one of the new businesses on the rise for small business owners. It isn’t easy and the money can really fluctuate with this economy, but it is getting better. My only nit pick is that I feel new companies should have all the credentials from the get-go. It isn’t cheap but I think it’s worth it to have the coverage. This means having a business license, bonding, insurance, membership in Pet Sitters International or other professional association. I feel it’s important to be certified in pet CPR & first aid. When new companies who don’t have credentials screw up- it makes it harder on the rest of us who have always done a good job.
It’s is nice to be able to say what my job is and have people not question it like they did twenty years ago. There are so many modern conveniences now to help us stay in touch with clients while they travel- cell phones & Facebook are especially nice for posting pics and sending video or texting. It gives the clients a sense of relief knowing they can see that their pets are happy while they are gone. Some have nanny cams. It’s convenient to go online or go to forums for pet sitters with questions about situations on the job. Pet sitters do not tend to talk with each other locally as the job market is highly competitive and no one seems to want to help the competition! We also have more ways to advertise with websites, Yelp and Facebook etc. The pet sitting industry has grown be a huge business with pet related business and pet sitter conventions now.
LMW: After all these years, you must have seen it all. What is the funniest, craziest or unusual situation that happened on the job?
JD: On my very first week, my boss sent me to house with a lizard but no instructions except to give fruit located on the kitchen counter, and that lizard was not in a cage or enclosure. I arrive, and nervously call out, “Lizard, lizard?” No sign of him. Then I see a huge kiddie pool aka his toilet. I turn around and there he was: the biggest iguana I’ve ever seen wearing a tiny sombrero. I leave his fruit dinner, slowly back away and out the door, vowing never to return.
LMW: Do you ever bring your own toys to a pet client?
JD: I have brought new toys to some animals. Usually I do that after their owner returns from their trip or at a initial consult if their trip is not for a few weeks so the cat can play with the toy before I come to care for them. Mostly I go with what toys are in the home. We try not to change the environment too much. The idea is to make pet sitting safer and less stressful than boarding a pet. The worst thing that could happen is for a pet to get sick from a toy while under my care that I brought in. The same thing goes for treats. We do not bring treats unless it’s a special circumstance. There are too many risks: i.e. allergies or special diets. One of my peeves is making sure the home is “pet proof” especially if they have a kitten or puppy.
I wanted to add– this year for the first time I was a Top 5 nominee for Pet Sitter of the Year for 2011 from Pet Sitters International. That’s top 5 in the United States! Nominations came from friends, family, clients, local pet biz owners, vets, any one you have worked with and knows what a great job you do pet sitting and are mailed in to PSI directly. I was so honored to be nominated by everyone! Many times we only hear from clients when we do something they are unhappy with. It was so nice to hear that my dedication to my clients pets has made everyone so happy over the last twenty years!
I’d like to add: if Jill is ever in the NYC area, I’d trust her to care of our Cat Wisdom 101 gang any day. Given Jill’s incredible experience and stories, I’m hoping she writes a book.
Not sure what to ask a potential pet sitter? Here’s a handy PDF questionnaire.