Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Sliding Scale or Slippery Slope?

One of the first times I hired a cat sitter, in my late 20's, I was appalled at the expense. The only sitter I could find charged extra because I had three cats, bringing us to a grand total of $21 per visit. I reluctantly paid for every other day visits and left the air conditioning off to save money (not my finest hour, folks).

Now that I am a sitter, I use that memory to form some of my pricing policies. I charge by the amount of time spent in a client's home, not by how many animals they have. If they have such a demanding household that it takes an hour, I charge for a hour. If they have three cats that I can care for in 30 minutes, there's no reason to charge extra.

It's the same deal with medications. Yes, subQ shots and giving a cat her oral meds can be strenuous, but there's no reason to charge extra because someone is attending to their animal's medical needs. The vet has probably liquidated their assets anyway.

I only charge for my TIME, which becomes more valuable on holidays and on short notice. There is a  perfunctory $2 fee for that, which I have mentioned in previous posts.

Even with what I like to consider fair pricing, some of my clients can't seem to afford my services. It is important to note that these usually aren't the people who tell me they can't afford me (while we are sitting in their home which costs approximately twice as much as mine). What they are really trying to say "I don't understand your pricing. Please explain to me the value of your service." For that reason, I do not advertise a sliding scale. I would rather they find a neighborhood kid who is happy to make $5.

The only time I publicly advertised a sliding scale was when our elected officials found it appropriate to shut down the government over their inability to cooperate with one another (gentle reminder: election day is coming soon). I live in an area that employs a large proportion of government workers, who employ daily dog walkers such as myself when they commute in to work. Due to the government shut down, I barely had a paycheck. I offered a sliding scale to anyone who showed me a government ID so they could afford to live their daily lives or take the trip they had planned well in advance . Oh yeah, and so I could eat dinner.

The Congress's incompetence notwithstanding, I still give sliding scale rates to one or two clients. I and another colleague basically did the same thing: when we raised our rates, a couple of clients who couldn't afford it simply weren't notified. They don't even know they are receiving a discount. If they did know, they would certainly insist on paying the higher rate like everyone else. While their hearts are in the right place, we know this would result in late payments and bounced checks.

As dog walkers, we are privy to very personal details about our clients' lives. It's important to be sensitive to the post it note to "renew food stamps," the little old lady who adopted an aging dog to keep her company, and the day care provider who asks that you hold her check until Friday. Although we spend our days with animals, we must not forget that we are also generously serving the people who need them.


  1. Excellent information for all who employ pet sitters but especially your clients. I hope they receive your blogs!?

  2. I complain way too much about my clients in my posts, so most names have been changed and most clients don't know that I blog. A handful who support my writing do subscribe, though.