By Harrison Greenspan
When you can’t leave your home to socialize, and touching becomes taboo, there isn’t one better friend than the one that leaves paw prints on your heart. Thanks to social distancing, dogs (and cats) have been adopted at rates that animal shelters have never seen before. Chicago Animal Care and Control’s Adoptable Pets program at one point shared their experience by saying that the “CACC has no dogs currently available for adoption. We’ve never typed those words before.”
The Animal Shelters
As we have been practicing social distancing to help flatten the curve, many people have concluded that these trying times of shelter-in-place orders is the perfect time to welcome a new furry friend into their homes. And it couldn’t have come at a better time too, as resources and funding plummeted during the onset of the outbreak, subsequently resulting in staffs being furloughed with the animals nowhere else to go. According to Kitty Block, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, the rates of fostering, in particular, have increased by 90% in some cities. “Folks who don’t have animals for one reason or another, because of their work schedule or their travel schedule, that’s all changed right now,” Block says.
For the months of March and April, Google searches around "adopt a pet" surged about 335% in volume, according to findings from SEMrush, a data and trends analytics company. While some New York animal shelters saw foster application numbers 10 times the average rate, one Pennsylvania animal shelter saw its foster application numbers rise from about 4 per week to about 40 per day. And even though the adoption rates have slowed down as of this month, according to the American Pet Products Association's 2019-2020 National Pet Owners Survey, roughly 63 million households own a dog, which is possibly more than half of all households in America (there are approximately 128 million households as of this year).
Whether it be to lessen the risk of loneliness and depression while in isolation, to welcome home a 3-month supply of brews due to the adoption of your new puppy (yes, that actually happened), or simply to help out an animal adoption center in need, there have been an extremely high number of people who have adopted new pets because of COVID-19. However, although we do not know when the pandemic curve will be truly flattened, whenever it does, those who pre-Covid worked outside their homes will automatically be at home even less, meaning less walks for those cooped-up, but ever so wishful family members (i.e. the puppies). Instead, your future clients can be at ease.
Why Dog Walking?
As aforementioned, sooner than later (crossing my fingers on this one), we’ll begin to go back to our (hopefully) normal pre-Covid lives which for many requires commuting to their respective workplace every weekday. This also means that the kids will be going back to school, their soccer practices, music lessons, and everything else in between. The amount of travel time will severely limit the time spent at home for most Americans, leaving their furry new family members at home alone more. And when the human family members are back from work and/or school, they’ll probably be even more tired than usual, meaning these furry friends will be hearing false promises of daily walks and a procrastinating-level amount of “I’m sorry baby, maybe later.”
Why is Walking the Dog Important?
If the new family is a responsible and caring guardian for their new canine, then they better think of their dog as if it were their toddler. Like their toddler, a dog wants to explore and get to know the world around them. And while letting your dog run around in the backyard is a beneficial supplement to walking your dog, Dr. Pam Reid, a certified applied animal behaviorist (CAAB) and vice president of the ASPCA Anti-Cruelty Behavior Team, thinks that dogs thrive on variety. “Most dogs enjoy seeing different things, smelling new smells, feeling novel substrates under their feet and hearing unfamiliar sounds.”
Additionally, relying solely on the backyard for a dog’s exercise can lead to problems, because if the dog is confined just to the house for too long, it will get bored and frustrated. “It is not uncommon for these dogs to become bored and frustrated, which can lead to destructive behaviors, barking, repetitive behaviors (like perimeter circling, and even escape attempts). It is also common for many backyard dogs to begin showing territorial behaviors like barking, rushing at the fence and running the fence when people or other dogs pass by,” says Jenn Fiendish, a veterinary behavior technician who runs Happy Power Behavior and Training in Portland, Oregon. If solely kept in enclosed spaces, they can also become sheltered, says Dr. Ari Zabell, a Vancouver, Washington-based veterinarian with Banfield Pet Hospital. As a result, “They can become less confident and comfortable with new people, pets and experiences that they aren’t exposed to on a regular basis.”
This is all incredibly valuable information for any new dog owner to know, understand, and fully commit to practice, even if their lives are very different in the post-pandemic world, which is why I’d recommend that this is the exact type of information you’d be marketing to busy families when launching your Dog Walking small business.
Launching a Dog Walking Small Business
When launching a dog walking small business, there are many aspects of the business to consider, especially regarding potential liabilities of the business.
Which Business Entity Should YOU Choose?
Choosing a business entity (aka a business structure) is one of the first steps when first launching. Although you can decide to do nothing more than becoming a sole proprietor (which in many states require little to no leg work nor costs associated), there are numerous risks regarding liability when choosing this business structure. And especially if you are going to be handling dogs who have minds of their own (e.g. dogs can lash out in a destructive or harmful manner at any time such as biting or running away), it may be wise to thoroughly think through your options. For more detailed information on the different types of business entities, please click HERE!
Speaking of liability, acquiring insurance specifically tailored to a dog walking small business, usually known as Pet Sitting Insurance, is an essential business move considering the behavioral unpredictability of dogs while under your supervision. Having insurance can save many potential headaches down the road, especially since this type of insurance is typically affordable (starting at around $129 for the year). Also, if you intend to hire people as dog walkers, you should consider getting bonded as well for your business, which will protect you in the event of employee theft or the mysterious disappearance of your client's personal property. While there are several insurance providers who offer Pet Sitting Insurance in the United States, there are four primary insurance providers that offer to animal related services and businesses:
· Business Insurers of the Carolinas, which has been in the business of providing Pet Sitting Insurance since 1992. You must be a member of the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters (NAPPS) or Pet Sitters International (PSI), which are reputable professional organizations helping educate and offer resources to pet sitters and dog walkers alike.
· Pet Sitters Associates, which has been around since 1998. Pet Sitters Associates offers many options including a Business Listing service.
· Kennel Pro, which offers three different packages and focuses on mans’ best friend.
· Pet Care Insurance, which offers products for many different pet care professionals.
Need a Business License?
While I’d say most jurisdictions do not require a specific dog walking license, many states do require a general business license. Licensing requirements will vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, so you’ll need to investigate the requirements that apply in your specific area (meaning wherever your small business will be walking the dogs). If you’d like more information regarding whether or not you need a business license, contact the Small Business Administration to understand what you’ll need to get started. Your city council also might have city-specific requirements, so make sure to contact them as well.
Need to attend a Pet First Aid Class?
Attending and completing a Pet First Aid class is an incredible way to show your clients you can be trusted with their furry loved ones. Clients will no doubt appreciate the fact that you are Pet First Aid and CPR certified, which could easily make you stand out amongst your competition. Pet Tech has an array of resources for your dog walking small business, including a search engine to find a Pet First Aid class near you! PetProHero is another great resource that offers Pet First Aid classes online! Classes vary from $50 to $200.
It’s a smart move to fill up the doggie utility belt with all kinds of essentials you’ll need during a walk. Here are my top essential dog walking supplies:
· Dog treats are obvious, but make sure to get treats for different size dogs. Moreover, some dog owners are even more strict with their dog’s diet when compared to their own, so please always ask for the consent of the owner before giving the dog any treats (especially considering any medical issues the dog may have).
· A spare leash is great to have on hand, just in case an unexpected break occurs.
· Biodegradable doggie doo doo bags (yeah, you know what I’m talking about). Not only will environmentally conscious clients appreciate the biodegradable element of your bags, but neighbors will deeply appreciate you being a respectful member of the community.
· Collapsible water bowl, for those always inevitable thirsty moments.
· A range of dog toys, as you could also offer dog “play date” services, where they can have playtime with fellow canines in a safe and secure area.
Need an Office?
Especially when first launching, it is definitely not necessary to have a physical business location acting as an office. You can simply work from home, on the road, or practically anywhere that makes sense for you! However, until you’re hiring full-time staff and start growing as a company to a level in which you cannot manage everything yourself is when you can start considering an office headquarters. Until then, try out the Time To Pet App, which gives you the ability to effectively and efficiently communicate (and schedule walks of course) with your clients. It also allows your clients to update their info, send you messages, and even get post-walking reports in which they receive a notification and have the ability to see your walking path! Additionally, invoices are automatically generated when dog walks are scheduled, clients can make payments via the app, and you can process payments for all clients at once! Overall, this app will surely save you a lot of time managing your dog walking small business.
It’s Time to Start Walking
While there are numerous aspects of dog walking that aren’t so visible on the surface of a seemingly simple and heart-warming small business, the resources to help you launch successfully are aplenty (many of which I have laid out for you).
Are you interested in launching or sustaining a pandemic proof small business? Spot issues, take action, stay safe, and thrive in a post Covid-19 world with Legalucy. Learn more at thelucyreport.com
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