Click. Sit. Fetch. Walk. Rate app.

Sit­ters for your ca­nine only a few clicks away

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - NEWS - By Dun­can Strauss

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.”

ROVER

Emily Pickup, of Tampa, Fla., signed up as a dog walker with Rover’s app-based ser­vice to earn some ex­tra cash.

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