If you’ve ever needed to go out of town without your dog, you probably know that it can be really difficult — and pricey — to find someone to watch your best friend. And during holidays, it can be crazy hard to land a dog sitter. I think it may actually be easier to find a future spouse at certain times of year than an available, reliable dog sitter.
So when I heard about City Dog Share, a new service that seeks to match up people who need their dogs to be taken care of with people who volunteer to take care of dogs, it seemed like a great idea. What a win-win. Sometimes you help others, sometimes others help you, and you don’t have to spend half your vacation money on your dog.
Since my most reliable dog-share friend recently moved, I put this in my back pocket for a future date, when we’d be out of town and couldn’t take Jake.
But then I started thinking: Whoa, leave Jake with a stranger? What if he or she isn’t a good person, or doesn’t know how to take care of dogs, or worse yet — wants to abscond with Jake? The latter thought quickly evaporated when I realized that very few people would want to steal a big, lumpy, 10-year-old dog, no matter what a great dog he is (unless they’re planning really horrible things for him. Shudder!). But if I had a small, young designer dog, the idea might not be as far-fetched.
So I Liked the Facebook page and started looking around to see just how these “matches” are made. And sometimes there are, indeed, stranger-to-stranger matchups, especially around the holidays when there’s little room to be picky.
But more often than not, at least in the San Francisco group, people generally want to get together to meet beforehand to sniff one another out. Many people who wanted to find a sitter discuss a first meeting — at a local park, someone’s house, any dog-friendly venue — to get to know each other, and, just as important, for their dogs to get to know each other. After all, who’d want to babysit a dog who wants to eat your dog, and vice versa?
There’s real potential here for building lasting relationships with other dog lovers. You help me, I help you, and hey, you’re a really nice person. We should go out for coffee sometime. I wonder whether any human matches have resulted from this. As you know, if you read my post a few weeks ago on how I met my husband (through our dogs), dogs can be great matchmakers. And there’s potential for your dog making a good new pal, too.
Some of the volunteer dog sitters on City Dog Share are people who don’t have dogs themselves who are just looking for a place to stay and sit a dog for a week or two. It’s good for someone who is couchsurfing while between places or on vacation, and great if you want your dog to stay put in your own home while you’re gone. But again, the question of vetting a stranger comes up. Most of the times I’ve seen this, another group member vouches for the person, but not always.
The City Dog Share website is developing a disclaimer page, but so far what it has is this: “This is of course all at your own risk. We are not liable or responsible for any of it.”
So if someone walks off with Fifi or your family heirlooms, or doesn’t walk her enough so she leaves puddles on your hardwood floors, it’s in your hands. And if a dog you’re babysitting decides to eat your windowsills and dig up your prized rose beds, you can’t come hollering to City Dog Share for compensation.
I’ve heard about people finding random volunteer sitters via Craigslist. And some dog-sitting and dogwalking agencies don’t do a lot to vet their own employees. So in comparison, City Dog Share gives you a lot more control — you just have to be willing to do what it takes to feel comfortable with the person you’re dealing with. Ask questions, see if you can get a reference or two, check out the Facebook page of the person you’re considering, meet beforehand, and so on.
Will I use this service for Jake? I don’t know. I’d probably volunteer to take care of someone else’s dog first, just to know how the process works and to create goodwill on the site. (The site encourages you to start this way instead of just asking for help.) And if I put word out that we need help on certain dates, and get some responses, I’d get to know the person offline, and in real life, before saying good-bye to Jake for a few days. If Jake and I both wag about it, we’ll try it out.
How about you? Knowing what you now know about this service (and possibly others like it that I don’t know about), would you use it if it were in your neighborhood? If not, why not? If so, would you take extra steps to make sure your dog is in good hands, or that you don’t end up dogsitting for Cujo?
Photos via City Dog Share
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