Click. Sit. Fetch. Walk. Rate app.
Sitters for your canine only a few clicks away
Long before the term “gig economy” became common lingo, pet owners were slipping neighborhood kids a few bucks to walk their dogs. Years before apps, they were calling the local mom-and-pop doggy day care to watch their pooches during vacations.
These days, those services are just as likely to be provided by national companies with names like Rover or Wag — Uber-like operations headquartered in the techforward West and making sure the dog walker or weekend pet sitter is but a few clicks away.
The kid down the street or the mom-andpop shop might well be at the other end of that click. As independent contractors, some local providers are now supplementing their incomes while boosting the bottom lines of the companies, which take a cut of dog walkers’ fees.
Emily Pickup was hired by Rover earlier this year. The Tampa, Fla., resident was already doing some work for a local pet-care company, and handling a few dog walking gigs on her own, while holding down a full-time job at a property management company. After completing a background check and creating a personal profile, she was ready to book gigs. As all Rover hires do, she set her own prices — $12 for a 30-minute walk, plus $5 for each additional dog — and paid Rover its 20 percent commission.
Soon Pickup, 30, was taking three to six appointments and pocketing $30 to $50 a week. “It’s a great side job to make some extra cash pretty easily,” she said. “And since I love animals, it’s just something fun to do that I get paid for.”
Neither Wag nor Rover, both private companies, discloses their earnings. But dogs are big business, and apps for them have attracted big start-up funds. The Seattle-based Rover says it made $100 million in bookings last year and has more than 200 employees, not including the network of walkers and sitters. After debuting in Los Angeles, Wag expanded into San Francisco and New York and has rolled out 25 more markets in the summer. A Canadian company, GoFetch, sees the potential and is looking at “aggressive expansion plans,” into the United States, said its chief executive Willson Cross.
Longtime observers of the pet market say demand for such services was all but inevitable. “That’s just the world we live in now,” said Marty Becker, a veterinarian and prolific pet book author known for appearances on “Good Morning America.” “People are used to using apps in their daily lives. This includes everything to do with our pets, from finding a pet sitter to managing their pet’s health records.”
Both Wag and Rover started, perhaps not surprisingly, with a dog story. Wag cofounder Jason Meltzer was running a popular — and very conventional — dogwalking outfit when a bonkers-busy tech entrepreneur named Joshua Viner contacted him in 2014 with a tale of pining for his childhood dog, Brittany, and also realizing he was too busy for a pooch. But that gave him an idea.
“Uber had had a lot of success, and the on-demand marketplace was growing in popularity,” Meltzer said. “And he thought, ‘If I have something like this, I could have a dog, too.’ ”
Viner figured there must be other super-swamped people who also wanted a canine companion. Not long after, the Wag app went live.
Rover’s genesis was similar. Co-founder Greg Gottesman’s family dog, Ruby, came back with kennel cough after being boarded. That bad experience and the coincidental success of Airbnb convinced him and fellow co-founder Philip Kimmey that the on-demand market for doggy services was out there. Rover has since acquired companies including the dogwalking app Zingy and home-boarding business Dog Vacay, helping build a network that Kimmey says exceeds 100,000 sitters.
But this rapidly changing pet care landscape is drawing scrutiny from veterans in the field, such as Patti Moran, who in 1993 founded Pet Sitters International, a North Carolina-based educational association that offers a certification for professional pet sitters. Moran said the advent of Wag and Rover reminds her of that era, when professionals monitored “hobbyists” who would sometimes post flyers in neighborhoods, raising concerns about the newcomers’ proficiency.
“When a ‘pet sitter’ or ‘dog walker’ can be found in one click, it’s vital that pet owners understand that not everyone that has an online profile is a reputable qualified pet-care professional,” Moran said in an email. “It’s essential that convenience not override quality and technology not undermine professionalism.”
Emily Pickup, of Tampa, Fla., signed up as a dog walker with Rover’s app-based service to earn some extra cash.