Conflicting reports come from a newly hired pet-sitter and a client. 
Which one should Bella believe?

Bella poured herself a big cup of coffee and snuggled up in her couch with her laptop and a calculator. It was Sunday morning and time to look at the sales for the week. She read the numbers out loud to herself as she tapped them into the calculator.

ABOUT REAL DEAL

Real Deal is a fictional scenario designed to read like real-life business events. The businesses and people mentioned in this story should not be confused with actual pet businesses and people.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

LINDA LIEBRAND is a former marketing manager for a successful doggie spa and boutique who is now helping others promote their local pet businesses. She writes about pet biz marketing at mybrandbuddy.com and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

“$250 for Molly the cat, plus $300 for Alfie the Weimaraner, and another $250 for Billy and Bob the twin kittens.” That’s $800 all in all, she thought and smiled to herself. The new pet-sitting part of her store was adding up nicely, and using independent contractors as well as employees had allowed her to expand her reach to neighboring towns too.

She felt her phone buzz in her pocket, and she looked at the screen. It was an unknown number. She picked up and before she had a chance to say hello, an angry male voice started shouting in her ear.

“My whole house stinks of smoke! I thought you said this Helen was trustworthy? I found her on all fours in the living room picking up cigarette butts and beer bottles. The brand new rug is completely ruined, and my wife is in tears.”

“I’m sorry, who is this?” Bella asked, as she racked her brain to try and place his voice.

“It’s Morgan. Billy and Bob’s dad. Remember me? You said in the store that Helen would be perfect for looking after my boys, and now I come home to this mess.” the man replied. Bella immediately recalled the couple who had taken in two rescue kittens after their eldest child had gone to college.

Bella’s heart pounded wildly in her chest, but she managed to remain calm and asked to look into the situation and call him back. Morgan hung up the phone without another word.

She immediately dialed Helen’s number and got straight to voicemail. She left an angry message and asked Helen to please explain herself. An hour later her phone rang.

“Hi Bella, it’s Helen. I have no idea what’s going on, I’m so confused. I went to the movies and got back to the cats late last night and found the house in this mess. So I got up early to clean up. Then Morgan and Louise showed up earlier than expected and started yelling at me. I think their kids might have let themselves in with friends and had a party while I was gone, I can’t imagine what else might have happened.”

Bella’s head was spinning and she felt conflicted and confused. She wanted to believe Helen, she really did, but it was the first time she had hired her and she didn’t really know her that well apart from a recommendation from a friend and the reviews her business had received on Facebook.

And if Helen was telling the truth about last night, then why hadn’t she told her about the situation before the clients came back home early to discover the mess? And why on earth did she go out that late when she was on a job in the first place? Now, thanks to her actions, Bella had a real problem on her hands. Thank goodness at least the cats were safe and accounted for.

The Big Questions
  • Who is responsible for the damages to the client’s property and why?
  • How should Bella respond to the client’s complaint?
  • What systems could Bella put in place to avoid this and similar problems from happening again?

Real Deal Responses: Expanded Online Version

ILLUSTRATIONS BY KARLA DURANGPRANG

Christine D.
Harrisburg, NC

Helen should have been in the home if she was being paid to be there. She should have called the owner of the business immediately and explained the situation. This would have allowed the owner to be proactive with the customers.  

Gretchen B.
St. Louis, MO

If you believe Helen, you let her know that a client is a client and regardless of whether they are right or wrong, you as the owner, need to make sure they are taken care of. She also gets paid; she did the job she was hired to do. It’s up to you to make sure clients are happy. If you don’t believe her, you still take care of Morgan’s house, and you fire Helen. 

Mark D.
Eugene, OR

Some ways to prevent this: in-person interview, review a list of dos and don’ts, contract for expected behaviors, text check-in after every appointment, check references. Don’t trust your friends with your business.

Jay P.
Mystic, CT

Bella is responsible; she was the contractor. She should use her insurance to pay for it. Bella should vet her subcontractors and make sure they are not AWOL. 

Dawn T.
Florida

Bella is responsible because she referred Helen when she should have done a better background check before actually utilizing her. Bella should apologize and offer to pay for damages. She should research backgrounds further, meet the individuals and follow up with previous clients and current clients.

Claudia L.
New Jersey

Getting to the truth does not matter; what matters is customer service. Bella should apologize and offer to make it right by offering to pay to have the house cleaned. She should also either not charge them for the sitting or reimburse them if they paid in advance. She should also do something a extra for the couple, like give them a cat goodie basket. 

Lisa D.
Phoenix, AZ

It is the pet sitter’s fault. She was hired to do a job, and going out to the movies wasn’t part of it. She should have been at that house the whole time.

Colleen B.
Lake Villa, IL

I would require my sitters to be insured. I would do spot checks at the properties unannounced until you know the sitter personally. I would take before-and-after photos (or video) to ensure no attempted blame on previous damage. I would personally ask about the whereabouts of their college-age children and provide the ticket stub from the sitter as proof she was not there at the time and entered the home to this mess. Do not waste money on being bonded! Only way that pays out ever is if it is proven by the police that the sitter actually stole something.

Randy D.
Eldora, IA

Bella needs to tell Helen she needs to be at her job, not off doing something else. This is why this happened, and this is why Helen needs to pay Bella back for all damages that resulted. Bella needs to set rules and guidelines for her subcontractors in a written contract to avoid any misunderstandings in the future. 

Kassi C.
Carlsbad, CA

Bella should respond to the client's complaint by calmly calling the clients and asking them if their children or anyone who had access to the house was planning on coming over. She should then explain to the them what Helen told her, and wait for their response. If the clients response is that their children couldn't have come over, then Bella should apologize for what happened and pay for the damages on the clients property. If the clients say, you know what maybe it was my kids, and then come to find out it was. Then the client should have to pay for the damages. 

Bella can do more detailed background checks and reference checks of the people she hires. She can also have set in stone procedures for her contractors and employees, making sure that if they are on the clock that they come to the clients home at a certain time. 

Eric M.
Columbus, NC

Bella needs to offer to have the house cleaned professionally. As the one who put this sitter into their home. I can understand a late movie, but it sounds like to me she had people over and got caught. Not sure I buy the kids came to have a party excuse. I'd terminate that relationship instantly. New sitters can't be given overnights without vetting by owner(s). Also, insurance might be a good idea in this case, if it's not already in the portfolio. 

This article originally appeared in the September-October 2017 edition of PETS+.

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