Dog sit­ters use peerto-peer net­work­ing

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By DAR­WIN WEIGEL dweigel@somd­news.com

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.”

‘Crit­ter Sit­ter’

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.”

SUB­MIT­TED PHOTO/ALEX EUBANKS

Dog sit­ter Alex Eubanks holds a toy poo­dle named Dal­las. Eubanks has been of­fer­ing the Rover.com ser­vice for two years.

STAFF PHOTO BY DAR­WIN WEIGEL

Art Fournier of Ch­e­sa­peake Beach re­laxes with his res­cue dogs, Jake, fore­ground, a golden retriever, and Cassie, a Great Pyre­nees.

SUB­MIT­TED PHOTO/ALEX EUBANKS

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.

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