Dog sitters use peerto-peer networking
Alex Eubanks started dog sitting for extra money when he found himself unemployed and was missing the Jack Russell terrier he had to give up for adoption to keep the family budget in check. Two years later, fully employed, the White Plains resident continues looking after other people’s dogs and maintains his dog sitting profile on rover.com.
“Rover’s a website where people who want to dog sit can put up a profile and get found by people looking for a dog sitter,” Eubanks said. “When you get paid for dog sitting, it goes into an account. You can actually use that account and turn it around and pay for others to dog sit for your dogs. In my case I don’t have any — at least I haven’t had any for a couple of years.”
Eubanks learned about the service from a friend who had one of the few Rover profiles listed in the area.
“I was just looking for ways to make money and I had a friend who was doing Rover who lived up in Brandywine,” Eubanks said. “I got into it and realized I loved it. I’ve had a lot of fun and have been doing it ever since.”
Rover was started by dog lovers in 2011 in Seattle to primarily link up dog owners with dog sitters, but some sitters also provide boarding and in-home services for cats as well as more exotic pets. A search of the site for Southern Maryland turned up 17 sitters, a few of whom also look after cats, though most are dog-centric.
Lisa Epp of Mechanicsville offers cat care but her focus is definitely dogs.
“I’m the crazy dog lady,” she said. Her husband, Jim “calls me the Paw Patrol, because when there’s a loose dog in the neighborhood everyone calls me. They figure I know where the dog goes, and they know I’m going to run out the door and chase after the dog down the street. He says he’s going to put a light on the top of my truck.”
The Epps have four of their own dogs as well as two young children and a menagerie of other animals.
“I get up a couple of hours before the kids so I can get all my animals situated: We have a cat, we have a guinea pig, we have chickens, we have a rabbit,” Lisa Epp said. “My little mini-farm has to be taken care of before I can get my kids up.”
A couple of years ago, Epp, a longtime canine lover, began fostering dogs for an animal rescue group and has continued working there two to three times a week.
“I started as a volunteer fostering through Last Chance Animal Rescue,” Epp said. “Occasionally I’ll foster for a different rescue when I don’t have any pups from them. I work for [Last Chance] on the weekends and I’m actually their photographer.”
“I’ve only fostered one adult dog,” she said. “All of my other fosters have been litters of puppies. I think our biggest litter was seven pups.”
Consequently, she already had a variety of crates and pens and an assortment of pet toys, characterizing her basement as “half kids, half dogs.” The move into pet sitting wasn’t much of a stretch for the stay-at-home mom.
She had been dog sitting “for family and friends all the time,” she said. “I saw a Rover ad pop up on Facebook and wondered if it was legit — is this like a real thing? I signed up [in October last year] and within a week or two of signing up I already had people that wanted to book me. By the end of the year, I had three or four ‘stays.’”
Epp has been getting a lot of queries from people who work at Patuxent River Naval Air Station who are new to the area and haven’t yet established a network of friends.
“We’ve always had friends or family watch our dogs, but I guess if you’re not from this area and you don’t have any family or a whole lot of friends because you’re new to the area, you have to go online to find someone to watch your dog,” she said. “A lot of people, because their dogs are like their kids, they would rather them be in a home setting than in a kennel.”
Epp said a lot of dog-sitting requests come in during the holidays and she’s hoping the summer vacation time will be busy as well.
Eubanks’ experience confirms the busy holiday periods for the Rover sitters.
“The busiest times are holidays,” he said. “July 4th is always crazy. Christmas, I think we had five dogs over at the same time on Christmas. There was a day overlap with some of them, so it wasn’t five dogs for several weeks.”
Rover only allows dog sitters to have four dogs at a time.
“We had to make a funny little exception in Rover,” he said. “I actually had to call them because they only allow up to four dogs at a time in a profile. I couldn’t have someone book through the website, so we had to do something with Rover — I don’t remember exactly — so more could be there for at least that one day.”
Epp charges $30 a night for the first dog and $20 for the second and allows dropoffs as early as 5 a.m. and pickups as late as 11 p.m. Most of her stays are overnights rather than day care. Eubanks charges $35 for nightly stays and $20 for day care. Rover takes a 15 percent cut.
“My longest stay was almost three weeks,” Epp said. “That was for two dogs. I have weekend stays and one-night stays, too. I’ve had shepherds, I’ve had huskies. I’ve had Yorkies. I’ve had little tiny dogs, which my kids love because they think they’re puppies.”
“Most of them have been big dogs,” she added.
Eubanks has had a variety of dogs in his home and a variety of reasons for the dog sits.
“I’ve had a couple of people go on vacation to Europe for three weeks and I watched their dogs the whole time they were gone,” he said. “I have some that just want to go to Baltimore for the night or something and they just don’t want to leave their dog at home. They want him to have some fun while they’re away.”
Art Fournier of Chesapeake Beach wanted to get away from the baseball card collection that was filling his basement when he retired a couple of years ago, so he decided to put his energy into animals and started Critter Sitter as a business and hobby. Dogs had already been a lifetime love for the retired Northern Middle School social studies teacher.
“Now I’m retired to take care of a few critters here and there,” he said. “I told people, sure I’d feed their horses while they were gone, take care of their chickens and fish and turtles and whatever. But I really cater more to dogs. I really enjoy being with dogs.”
Unlike the Rover sitters, Fournier has stayed away from advertising and has relied on word of mouth. Instead of dog sitting in his home, he travels around to take care of them in their own settings.
“I really like it that way because I don’t want to get over-committed,” he said. “I think once you get over-committed to this kind of thing you can’t give the quality care to the animals. I don’t just walk them, I spend some time with them. I like to play with them. I try to develop a relationship with them.”
Fournier has between 30 and 40 animals on his roster and occasionally gets referrals from area animal clinics.
“Some are periodic, a family will go away for a week or 10 days,” he said. “Some are families who work in D.C. and they can’t get back [home] until late so they need somebody around midday to take their dog out.” He ends up feeding, walking and playing with dogs “just about every day, Sundays included.”
Fournier currently has two rescue dogs of his own — a
Great Pyrenees and a golden retriever — that keep him busy as well. He views his Critter Sitter business and the two rescue dogs as good therapy for the PTSD he’s suffered from his days in the Vietnam War from 1969-70.
“I think this kind of thing has been therapy for me, really,” he said. “It’s very therapeutic. As long as I’m physically able to do it, I’ll probably continue.”
Meet and greet
Lisa Epp and Alex Eubanks always do meet-and-greets to make sure the dogs are well mannered and will be safe with their children, who are 3 and 6 in Eubanks’ case and 1 and 3 in Epp’s case.
“We make sure the dog is actually house trained,” Eubanks said. “They might have an accident here or there but if they’re really not house trained it’s not good.” He had to turn away one dog
after it started peeing in ever y room in the house.
“There was another dog that did not play well with my children,” he said. “He literally was like knocking them over and just completely disregarding their existence. He was not really a big dog but was really aggressive. The owner was the one that said ‘I’m not comfortable, I don’t think this is going to work out.’”
With careful vetting via the website’s message board and exchanging emails, Eubanks has watched more than 50 different dogs since 2013 and has only had to turn away two at the meetand-greet stage.
“I try to avoid the really big dogs,” he said. “I have small kids and that worries me a little bit. Mastiffs and things like that, I won’t take those, but anywhere from like a three-pound dog to a 100-pound dog is fine. We have a lot of Labs. That would probably be the most common dog that I see — yellow, black and chocolate Labs.”
Epp on the other hand, takes in all sizes, as long as they get
along with her dogs and her children. And she has a large fenced backyard and porch to accommodate them.
“I love it,” she said of the online sitting service. “I’ve always been a dog person. I grew up with dogs. I’m just a sucker for dogs. Big dogs; I prefer big dogs.”
“It’s really worked out. I had no idea that there was even a demand for it until I hopped on Rover. I’ve never boarded our dogs. We never go anywhere. That’s why dog sitting works so well for us — we’re always home,” she said with a laugh.
Eubanks echoed that statement, pointing out that his job gives him the flexibility to work from home often and that is wife is also a stayat-home mom. “Someone is always home,” he said “I think people like that. I put that on my profile. Some people are very protective and treat their dogs like their kids. Some dogs don’t like to be left alone.”
For Eubanks, it was more about earning money in the beginning but is now a labor
of love and a way to enjoy having dogs around without the extra responsibility of long-term care.
“I was doing it a lot more intensely when I first started and now that I’ve been employed for over a year — I’m pretty well employed — it’s just kind of a casual thing,” he said. “I’m not aggressively seeking out people anymore. I have some repeat customers that come back every now and then.”
He typically dog sits seven days a month now versus the three weeks a month he did back when he was unemployed.
“I’m just totally happy doing the Rover thing,” he added. “I don’t want to own [another dog], I’m happy just having them come and then having a break and then have another one come for a couple days or a couple weeks. It works well I think. It gives us enough flexibility that if we do want to go somewhere, we don’t have the hassle of trying to figure out where to board him.”
Dog sitter Alex Eubanks holds a toy poodle named Dallas. Eubanks has been offering the Rover.com service for two years.
Art Fournier of Chesapeake Beach relaxes with his rescue dogs, Jake, foreground, a golden retriever, and Cassie, a Great Pyrenees.
Dog sitter Alex Eubanks of White Plains plays with a chocolate Labrador retriever named Bailey and a black Lab named Bear. Eubanks has been offering the Rover.com service for two years.