The case of the client who might not come back. 

A pet sitter’s client returns home, only to be whisked by ambulance to the hospital. What happens next?


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.


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 and can be reached at linda@

Janine strolled on the sunny path along the creek and smiled at Benji the Labrador, who was paddling along in the water. He’d found a big stick and carried it proudly, tail held high and a big grin on his canine face.

“This is such a great gig,” she thought. She had looked after Benji for an older gentleman named Bruce a couple of times now, and every time Bruce had made her feel so welcome, leaving groceries in the fridge and a stack of magazines in the guest room. He was coming back from his vacation today, and she hoped she’d get a chance to see him before leaving.

Suddenly, the wailing of sirens broke the peace.

“What’s that, buddy?” she said to the dog and craned her neck to see where the noise was coming from. Seconds later, an ambulance whizzed past, speeding toward the farm.

“Something’s happened to Bruce!” she thought and picked up the pace and ran toward his house. Bruce’s car was parked in front, and his suitcases were on the porch. The EMTs, a man and a woman, were loading a stretcher carrying a pale man she barely recognized as Bruce into the back of the ambulance. Bruce clasped his mobile phone with his right hand, but his eyes were shut. The female paramedic jumped in next to Bruce and started grabbing medical equipment before the man slammed the doors.

“Which hospital are you taking him to?” She yelled, straining to hold the worried dog still.

“Are you family?” the man asked.

“No, I’m the dog sitter,” Janine replied. “But I need to know where you’re taking him, please.”

“We’re going to St Mary’s,” the man replied. “But that’s all I can tell you if you’re not next of kin.”

He slammed the door and drove off. Benji, who had smelled his owner’s scent, lunged toward the ambulance and whined.

“Come on boy,” she said. “Let’s go inside and call the hospital and find out what’s happened to Bruce.”

Later that afternoon Janine put the phone down for the umpteenth time. Why wouldn’t the hospital talk to her? She still had no idea what had happened to Bruce, and even though she could stay another night with Benji, she had another booking the next day.

She picked up her bag and dug out Bruce’s booking form. She squinted and tried making out the old man’s handwriting to find his next of kin when she spotted the foreign phone number next to his daughter’s name.

“+44,” she read, and her heart sank. “That’s in Europe.” Not once when Bruce had talked about his daughter had he mentioned that she lived on the other side of the Atlantic.

Janine buried her head in her hands and tried to focus. Europe is what, eight hours or so ahead of us? She’ll be asleep by now, and besides, there’s not much she can do from across the pond.

“What am I going do with Benji?” she thought. “I can’t find someone to cover with such short notice. And what if Bruce doesn’t come back?”

The Big Questions
  • How should Janine deal with the immediate situation while waiting to get ahold of Bruce’s daughter or hearing from Bruce himself?
  • What should Janine do if Bruce actually passes away?
  • How can Janine protect her business against situations like this in the future?

Real Deal Responses 

Holly LevisPetPort, Northport, NY

Janine has to figure out a way to take care of Benji, no matter what! It is not mentioned where the next booking is. Is it local? If so, she’ll have to go back and forth to make sure all dogs are well taken care of. If not, she has to find coverage or take Benji with her. If you chose to be a pet sitter, you have to expect such life circumstances, and if you are a successful pet sitter, it’s not because all you care about is the money; you’re in it because you’re passionate about the care and well-being of pets. That’s the priority above all else. If Bruce passes away and a family member does not want to adopt him, Janine should find him a home and foster him in the meantime. I own a busy pet supply and grooming shop and work crazy hours, and have three dogs including a puppy. I’d find a way to make sure that Benji was taken care of because that’s part of the gig!

Beth Stultz Pet Sitters International, King, NC

It’s vital for professional pet sitters and dog walkers to ask for emergency contact information, and the emergency contacts should include at least one person who is local. Pet Sitters International advises pet sitters and dog walkers to also have an emergency pet guardianship form on file for each client. This indicates who will assume temporary guardianship of a pet should the pet owner pass away or be unable to resume care of the pet. For this scenario, because the forms were not used, the pet sitter can reach out to the daughter, who, while abroad, could still act as the emergency contact and advise her how to proceed.

Ramie Gulyas Follow Your Nose, Evanston IL

Twice we have had pets in our care when their owners were lost, and we had to make adjustments to the schedule to accommodate continued care and contact family members. In both cases, we had to contact the authorities and family members. In one case, we cared for the dog until one relative was able to take the dog, and in the other case, the family gave the dog up to one of our caregivers.

Pennye Jones-Napier The Big Bad Woof, Washington, DC

Janine  should make sure Benji is fed and exercised, and try to reach the daughter to see if there are any other close friends or family nearby. If Bruce passes away, she should help the transition with Benji either going to friends or family, or perhaps the vet who can help with placement. To protect her business against situations like, Janine needs to make sure she has second and third contacts in the immediate community.

Bronwyn Lane Pet Minder, Fonthill, Ontario, Canada

In the immediate situation, Janine should stay calm, cool and collected and continue to look after Benji as per her contract and investigate alternative care options for Benji  while awaiting word from either Bruce or his daughter as to what should be done next. Janine can protect her business against situations like this in the future by having a plan in place at the initial meet and greet with a new client that includes emergency contact numbers.

Dawn Taylor Pug Rescue, Vero Beach, FL

Janine should try to see if someone could cover for her on her next assignment. She should also call her next assignment and explain the situation to see if it’s possible to arrange for her to care for Benji at the same time.  She can protect her business against situations like this in the future by having connections and backups in place. It does not hurt to always have a backup in place just in case of an emergency.

This article originally appeared in the January 2018 edition of PETS+. 

What's the Brain Squad?

If you're the owner or top manager of a U.S. pet business serving the public, you're invited to join the PETS+ Brain Squad. Take one five-minute quiz a month, and get a free t-shirt, be featured prominently in this magazine, and make your voice heard on key issues affecting the pet industry. Sign up here.

This story is tagged under: