One cannot live on SSDI alone, so I had to come up with something I could do that would bring in some income and I could do even when I was having a very bad day and in pain. Years after SSDI was granted for other issues I developed an idiopathic autoimmune condition. I have joint paint and swelling along with nerve issues, but I don’t meet all the symptoms for a specific diagnosis. It’s episodic in nature. In addition, I was in a car accident that has caused lasting back and hip problems over five years later and led to the discovery of a birth defect and early onset arthritis in my spine.
But! Even on a bad day I can always manage to open a door and feed a dog. I’m lucky that way. Dog sitting really is what has enabled me to pay off debt and work toward a better life. I have also developed wonderful relationships with pet parents and swollen my heart with love for the pups! It’s crucial, when you are on disability to find some form of socialization. It’s incredibly social isolating and I’m incredibly fortunate to have really terrific pet parents who are clients, but also some have become friends.
I’ve been doing this for about five years off and on, but it has become my main income these last two years. It took a while to develop a solid clientele, but things are generally fairly steady now, but one must always be prepared for a bad month. This past month, September 2018, I only made $150 pet sitting. It happens.
Let’s start with the bad parts:
People can be jerks. I have fired about 10 pet parents over the last few years. People who did not respect that this was my home and not a place of business. Most often, they would not show up at their scheduled pick up or drop off time and that would cause me huge amounts of anxiety. It’s something that I desperately need – for you to show up as promised. For myself, but also for the pups. If I have multiple dogs coming or going that day, I need time between pick ups and drop offs. I need time for the dogs to acclimate and I want to have all the time with you to tell you how wonderful your pup did during their stay, or make sure I have all info I need at their drop off. I want no one cut short.
Here is a story:
I hear a pounding on my door. I’m in bed sleeping. It’s six am. I’m in jammies. I peek out the door. It’s a pet parent with their dog. Here three hours early. “Well, I texted you.” Um, I clearly didn’t respond to you dude. He acted as though I were unprofessional for making him wait outside while I dressed when he showed up three hours early and pounded on my door while I was sleeping. You, sir, are in the wrong. Fired.
Benny. Adorable, fluffy Maltese Benny. Benny’s dad had huge anxiety. This was reflected in his dog. Benny’s dad would drop off saying this, “Oh Benny, it’s okay, you’ll be okay, it’s alright, goodbye Benny,” in as high pitched and frenetic a manner as possible. And make his dog a stressed out MESS. This dog was already prone to anxiety coming from a hugely anxious owner. When his wife dropped off, Benny was relaxed within an hour or two and happy to be here. When the husband dropped off Benny was a mess for 24-36 hrs. After repeatedly discussing this with the dad and telling him he needed to do a silent hand off, he did the same thing all over again. I was so disappointed. I told them I could no longer watch their dog. I couldn’t stand to watch them torture their dog any longer. I felt terrible, as he was adjusted and comfortable here, but in addition to harming their dog in this manner, they would never, ever, ever show up on time. Always an hour early, two hours late, even after explaining these were like doctor’s appointment times and needed to be respected. For a long time, I excused behavior thinking I had somehow not communicated clearly with the pet parent. I would take the blame myself. My dad had a party, a huge event, and I missed it because of them. That’s when they got the one last talking to. And screwed up on the next stay by being late for drop off and pick up, and making his dog a gibbering mess. Fired.
There are more, many more, and they are almost always about the pet parent and never the dog. I have only had two dogs I had to fire. One was destructive, incredibly destructive, and the pet parent refused all suggestions and I could not eat the damage costs any longer. The other picked on my dog badly. He bullied my dog, and he’s not a bad dog, it’s just that mine won’t ever stand up for himself. If my dog had just told the guest pup, “no” once, it would have been fine, but alas – my dog will never say no. Pushover.
A few years ago, I let go of nearly all my large breed dog clients. I found larger dogs were more destructive simply because of their size or, in cases where they were not trained, too rough on my dogs or me. With my nerve issues, I didn’t feel comfortable restraining large dogs. In addition, I have a 500sq ft house. They simply take up more room!
So now I only watch small breed dogs and life is easier. There are more potty accidents, but I’m skilled at handling that. I highly recommend Nature’s Miracle. This particular one labeled, “Disinfectant,” is unscented. I’ve used Nature’s Miracle for over a decade now and it really is the best at odor elimination and removal without leaving a scent behind. I’m very scent sensitive, and they reformulated last year and the smell was overwhelming and I had an asthma attack the minute I opened the container. I contacted them, and at their recommendation tried the “Disinfectant” product and have not had any issues and find it works just as it always has.
I limit to a couple dogs at a time, schedule in regular breaks or “vacations” in advance as a built in form of self care, and find my income is fairly regular. I do not do day care as all that coming and going is too stressful for me, and I feel unfair to the pups. They never get to relax if lots of pups are coming and going all the time. I prefer boarding a couple puppies, and I prefer long stays, where everyone gets comfortable in their routine. I’m fortunate in that over the years I have weeded out all the “d” and “f” clients, and have just a handful of “a” and ‘b” clients that are really terrific with wonderful pups that all get along with each other. It’s incredibly rewarding to see dogs from different families that have developed strong bonds over the years. They may have never met if not for staying at my home. Makes your heart squish.
Dogs are therapeutic wonder houses provided they are not stressing you out with difficult to handle behavior. I am so grateful that I get to spend my time snuggling dogs. When I feel poorly, snuggles in bed. When I feel good, snuggles on deck or company on a walk. They keep me moving, motivated, and are my little saviors.
Great article. I love that you are so proactive and not letting a disability stand in your way from FIRE. Go girl!
Dogs truly are therapeutic wonder houses. My mom, of blessed memory, had PTSD. She bred and raised purebred German Shepherds. I think that’s what saved her sanity.
The last few years have been struggling to figure out how to make all this work, but we’re getting there! I love GSDs! I’m sure they did. They certainly do mine on the daily.
People have such a hard time understanding if they’re a terrible client, they’ll get dropped. Unlike a retail store, a single person WILL drop you! Good for you for getting rid of the bad.
It took time. I couldn’t do it right away until I had a decent client base, but once I felt secure it was time to separate the wheat from the chaff.
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