Pet sitter Joan Wambui walks a dog in Kabete.

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Youths who have specialised in tending for pets are now making a fortune out of the new career trend. Some earn Sh1,200 per hour to play with a cat or get the same amount to walk a dog on a leash around posh estates. The rate goes even higher when it involves spending the night to care for the pet. A rub on the stomach for the cat, throwing a chew toy to the dog, changing their litter and monitoring how they respond is part of the job description. Sounds like a script from a movie, right? Well, for Joan Wambui, that is what her daily diary looks like.

Wambui is a professional pet sitter in Nairobi, and one among the many young people who are embracing the emerging trend of offering customised home-based care for pets as a career. Social media platforms and websites are now dotted with many pet sitters in the city looking for a home where they can care for pets at a fee. The number of people looking for such services has also grown, as indicated by several pet owners and veterinarians.

“People get surprised when I tell them that my job is to play with pets. They get even more surprised when I say how much I make from it,” says Wambui.

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Her main clients are people who travel regularly out of town but have nobody to take care of their pets or “fur babies” as they fondly call them.

Different clients

On busy days, Wambui works close to nine hours for different clients. Her main areas of operation are Kitisuru, Kilimani and Karen. The former public relations student at African Nazarene University says when she was in college, she never imagined she would spend most of her days hopping from one home to another to care for cats and dogs. It takes more than passion and love for animals to get a job as a pet sitter. The recruitment process is rigorous. Wambui says it involves an initial meeting to confirm if there is chemistry between the sitter and the pet. There is also a lot of paperwork involved before an owner hands their pet over.

There is a contract that binds, indicating specific needs of the pet such as feeding times, favourite foods, the vet to visit in case of emergency, among others. There are also details on the animal’s behaviour, especially past aggression incidents that the pet sitter should be aware of. The contract also indicates how often the sitter is supposed to send videos to the owner as proof that one is indeed doing pet sitting and the animal is well taken care of.

Phillip Ogol, who also works as a pet sitter in Kilimani and Kileleshwa, says some clients are willing to pay up to Sh2,500 per hour, as long as they are assured their pets will not be lonely. They pay even better when videos are sent and the animal seems to be bonding well with the sitter.

“You would be surprised how much more you can get when the dog is wagging its tail happily or the cat is lying cosily next to you,” says Ogal.

He says when he first broke news to his mother that he is taking up pet sitting as a job, she thought it was a cove-up for some illegal deals.

Some earn Sh1,200 per hour to play with a cat or get the same amount to walk a dog on a leash around posh estates.

“I had struggled with unemployment for long. I love animals, so I decided to make it a paying job,” he says.

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Daniel Karugu, a veterinarian, says having personal pet sitters is becoming a common trend, and he always advises those who are taking pet sitting to be aware of the basics such as signs that a pet could be sick.

“With the owner gone, the pet might be moody. Most sitters always mistake this as a sign that the pet is not well,” he says.

Early signs

He adds that the earliest signs pet sitters should look out for include refusal to eat and diarrhoea since animals rarely develop the signs unless they are sick. Jibar Muna, an expatriate from Egypt who uses pet sitters whenever he travels, says the biggest challenge they have is getting a trustworthy person to leave in his home for the many weeks he is away.

“Sometimes I travel with my dog, but other times it is easier to get a sitter because flying with a pet involves too much paperwork,” he says.

December is always the busiest month for the pet sitters as families go on vacation, but this year is different. The restricted movement due to Covid-19 has slowed things down but pet sitters are hopeful that as the festive season approaches, they will get more clients.