Lily, Nina Thorsen's 14-year-old calico, prefers her own bed, so she'll have a petsitter visit. (Photo: Nina Thorsen)

Many pet owners have family, friends or neighbors who can look after their cats and dogs if they’re going to be gone for a while. But for those who don’t — or whose pets need some extra TLC — there are professional petsitters and even pet “hotels.”

Jan Brown has her own petsitting business, primarily serving clients in the San Mateo-San Carlos-Redwood Shores area.  She’s the president and co-founder of Peninsula Professional Petsitters, a group of 15 or so bonded and insured care providers.  Brown also teaches animal first aid and CPR and sometimes a class on how to start your own petsitting business.  I talked to her last week. Here is an edited transcript of our conversation:

Jan Brown: After the dot-com bust, and later in 2008 when the economy tanked, we had a lot of new people get into the business. People were getting laid off, and they think, “Oh, I like animals, and there’s not a lot of cash outlay up front, so I’m going to be a petsitter.”  And after about a year or so, they’re usually gone, because they realize, “Oh, it’s really hard work. It’s seven days a week!”

Nina Thorsen:  So knowing that this is a busy time of year, what will your workload be like?

Brown: On Thanksgiving Day, we’ll start early in the morning, probably around 7 or 8 AM — or earlier — and take care of our clients who have dogs. Most of the dogs don’t have free access to a backyard, so we have to get them out. Also in the morning on Thanksgiving Day, I have a client with a cat who needs insulin, which is very time-specific. So I have to be sure I have that on schedule, and then we just fit the rest of the visits in when we can.

For dogs, it’s nearly always two visits a day, and for some cats too. On Thanksgiving Day, I’ve told my clients unless the cat is on medication, we’ll only do one visit on that day. And they’re fine with thatMany of our cat clients are just getting one visit a day anyway.

We’re also bringing in the mail, putting out the garbage if it’s garbage day, feeding the cat, cleaning the litter box, giving the cat some play time and making sure the cat is doing okay.

And it’s a house security check — making sure all the doors and windows are locked, and accounting for all the cats. If it means I have to be looking under the beds or in the closets, I do that. I’ve had cats knock over their water bowls. I’ve had cats, and dogs too, accidently shut the bathroom door and lock themselves in the bathroom. If people leave a window open a bit, I’ve had cats push the screen out and escape.

Thorsen: Is Thanksgiving the worst of the holidays?

Brown: It’s the start of the busy season, but Christmastime is the worst.  For Thanksgiving, typically it’s just those four or five days, but Christmas vacation season starts up on the 22nd or 23rd of December and goes through after New Year’s.  And other people will go on vacations between Thanksgiving and Christmas, so it’s pretty much continually busy from Thanksgiving on.  I’ll try to schedule a little down time in the middle of December, because I know that Christmas week it’s going to be crazy.

If you want a petsitter for Christmas or New Year’s and you haven’t booked yet, you need to call today. You really do. Especially around the holidays, every petsitter in the business will get a call from someone at the very last minute. I will get calls on Christmas Eve from people I don’t know, wanting me to start Christmas Day. Usually what happened is, Susie next door was going to take care of the cats for them, and then her plans changed and she’s going on vacation too. That’s one reason why you have a professional petsitter.

Another option is to take your dog or cat to one of several businesses that will take care of their needs and show them a good time while you’re gone. It’s not the old-school boarding kennel where the animals are stuck in cages most of the day. These places feature cat adventure playrooms and dog swimming pools.

The Wag Hotel has two facilities: one in Sacramento and one in San Francisco just a few blocks from KQED. When I stopped by on Tuesday, the lobby was full with several dogs and cats being dropped off for the holidays.

A couple named Dan and Becky were leaving their golden retrievers, Kodiak and Maia, while they went to visit family in Seattle. The dogs were on a return visit and seemed excited to be back; Kodiak obligingly barked into my microphone, and then less obligingly squatted and left a puddle in a corner of the lobby.  “No problem. It happens,” said the woman who’d come to take the dogs to their temporary home as she wiped it up.

Wag Hotel’s director of client services Jose Gonzalez says Thanksgiving is peak time. Right now both Wag Hotel locations are full — and have been so since last weekend. They expect to urn away 50 to 100 people at each location.

I was curious why people would bring their pets to a pet hotel when neighbors or friends are often available to help out. “We get that question a lot,” Gonzalez told me, adding that people certainly trust their friends and neighbors, but there are limits.

“You don’t necessarily trust them with your kids, per se. Dogs are kids,” he said. “We have a professionally trained staff, a very safe environment for the pets, and a fun environment. Dogs can interact with other dogs, which is something they’d never get if they’re home alone.”

There are still a few spaces left for the Christmas season, but Gonzalez says they’ll go fast.

Among the Busiest Folks on Thanksgiving? Petsitters 21 November,2012Nina Thorsen

  • jy lisowski

    fantastic tips for the pet sitter and the pet owner! thank, jan!


Nina Thorsen

Nina Thorsen is a KQED radio producer and director, and frequently reports on sports, food and culture.  

She co-created and produced KQED’s Pacific Time,  a weekly radio program on Asian and Asian American issues that aired from 2000 to 2007. Before coming to KQED, Thorsen was the deputy foreign editor for Marketplace.  In her home state of Minnesota, she worked for A Prairie Home Companion and for Public Radio International.  

Nina was honored by the Radio-TV News Directors Association of Northern California in 2012 for a series of stories on the Oakland A’s stadium.  She is a graduate of the University of Minnesota with a degree in speech-communication. 

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