What Should Be In a Pet Sitter’s Contract
If you are just getting started with your pet sitting and dog walking contract / service agreement, you may be wondering:
- Where can I find an example contract?
- How should I get my clients to sign the contract / service agreement?
- What should be in my contract?
- What makes a document a contract?
- What’s the difference between a contract and a service agreement?
This article will cover all the details so you can get started off on the right foot.
However, This article is for educational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice. Be sure to have a lawyer in your state, region, or country review your contract to make sure it follows your local laws and is suitable for your unique situation.
Where can I get an example contract?
There are many great example contracts available for professional pet sitters and dog walkers. Another article of ours, The 10 Most Helpful Resources for NAPPS Members, covers this topic, but this article will go into more detail.
You can find the best service agreements for pet sitters here:
- The NAPPS Business Form Library
- The Dog Walker’s Startup Guide
- PSI’s Example Service Contract
- Time to Pet’s free service agreement article
To create your own service agreement, I recommend you:
- Purchase / review a few reputable example contracts / service agreements
- Pick out the policies that best fit your business from each one
- Combine policies into a single master contract
- Then have a lawyer review the contract to make sure it protects you from any liability
If you don’t feel comfortable picking out the clauses on your own, you can hire a lawyer to combine the best clauses from each example contract above. Starting with a few example contracts will be much cheaper than starting from scratch. You can use the checklist below to make sure you have at least one clause that covers each item.
One last note, be weary of any example contract on Facebook or any other non-reputable source.
How should I get my clients to sign my contract / service agreement?
When you are first getting started, you can bring a paper version of the contract with you to the meet & greet and ask the client to sign it in person. You might want to bring an extra copy for the client to keep.
However, some clients might not feel comfortable signing a contract right when they first meet you and it can be a little awkward.
That’s why I recommend adding your contract / service agreement to an online scheduling system like Precise Pet Care or Time to Pet. These systems will require the client to agree to your contract / service agreement before they are allowed into your system and this offers you the protection you need while automating the process.
Here are links to the documentation that describe how to add a service agreement to your online scheduling software:
In Precise Pet Care, the service agreement looks something like this on the customer’s side when they sign in for the first time.
What should be in my contract?
Professional pet sitters and dog walkers take on a lot of responsibility when they agree to care for a pet and the client’s home. There are many rare and unusual circumstances that could come up and your contract should have a clause for each of them.
But how do you know what to put in your contract when you are just getting started?
Luckily, the contracts / service agreements mentioned above have clauses (example wording) that cover each of the items in the checklist list below. Please note, the following list is NOT a contract.
Rather it’s a checklist of items that should be in your contract:
- Who is agreeing to the contact, the client and the company
- When the client needs to pay for services
- At what point are the visits reserved for the client
- What happens if a client needs to cancel their services
- In what cases does your pet sitter insurance come into effect
- A clause stating you agree to remain insured and bonded while offering any service
- How you handle and manage the clients keys
- A statement that the company has the right to enter the client’s home during booked service
- A statement that the client agrees to indemnify, hold harmless and defend the company in the event of a claim by any person injured or otherwise damaged by Client’s pets or negligent act.
- A statement that the client agrees to bring up any problems within 24 hours of the completion of services
- What happens if there is inclement weather
- What happens if plants wilt or die during service
- What happens if the client’s home is damaged during service
- What happens if the client’s home needs emergency repairs during your service
- What happens if any of the client’s property is damaged
- A clause stating the company is not responsible for the home’s security if any other person has access to the client’s home
- What happens if there is a burglary or other crime during your visits
- How the client should secure their home before they leave
- A clause stating the company will pay for a locksmith or even lock replacement if the company loses their key
- A statement that client, is in fact the owner of the pets, has the right to place the animals under the care of a pet sitter or dog walker
- A statement about how sitters can not care for animals that are visiting unless that pet is under a vet release and the rightful owner of that pet agrees to the service
- A statement about how the contract applies to any new pets the client obtains
- A statement about how will the contract continues to apply if the client moves to a new address
- How is the client responsible for pet proofing their house and backyard
- A statement about how the company is not liable for any pet if the client requests unsupervised access to the outdoors
- A clause about how your services are for pet animals and not people
- What services you provide and the client agrees you will be performing services, such as mealtimes, walks, treats, medication, emergency treatment, transportation, admittance to a vet, or any other services you might provide.
- The fact that you will make every effort provide safe care, but you can’t make any guarantee that will be sufficient in all cases
- A clause that states there is some inherent risk in pet sitting
- A clause that states the client is responsible for any injury their pets might cause
- A clause that states the service might cause harm or injury to the pet and the company is not responsible for that
- By paying for the services, the client agrees to all of the terms
- A statement about how you can bring the animal to the veterinarian if needed and the client needs to reimburse you for those costs within a specific time period
- A clause that you can share medical records of the pet with a veterinarian and the client authorizes your company to share the client’s primary vet records with an emergency vet
- A clause that states the client is financially responsible for any action of their animals
- Be clear about what vaccinations are pets are required to have
- A statement about how and when the client needs to inform the company if the pet has any type of injury or illness
- The company has the right cancel visits if there are any signs of the pet has an infectious illness
- The company has the right refuse service if the pet is recovering from a surgery, has stitches, or open wounds
- A statement about how the client needs to provide safe equipment, food, medicine, cat litter, and anything else the pets might need
- What you charge to pick those things up if needed, and the specific time frame in which the client needs to reimburse you for any items you need to pick up
Again, If you don’t feel comfortable picking out the clauses on your own, you can hire a lawyer to combine the best clauses from the example contracts. Also, please note, while this is a comprehensive list of each item that should be included in your contract, it should not be considered complete.
This list of everything that might go wrong at a visit and who is responsible might be scary. However, when you take the time to put together a good contract, maintain proper insurance, and have a lawyer approve your contract before you use it, you will have good liability protection in place, should the worst happen, and that’s the whole point of having a contract.
What Makes a Contract a Legally Binding?
You might think you know a contract when you see one or maybe it’s the fancy legalese that makes a contract. However, there are four main things that make a contract legally binding. The first two are important for dog walking and pet sitting business to think about:
- Agreement: a voluntary offer and acceptance regarding certain terms.
- Consideration / Payment: the exchange of something of legal value. In the case of pet sitting and dog walking, this will be the client’s agreement to pay for their services and your agreement to perform pet sitting or dog walking services.
There are two other items that make a contract legally binding, but they are likely going to be automatic for most pet sitters and dog walkers.
The contract must be for legal services. Meaning, a contract cannot be made for some illegal act. For example, two burglars can not make a contract about how they will split up their loot and expect that contract to be upheld by a court of law.
Lastly, the agreeing party needs to have the capacity to enter into a contract. For example, you can not make a contract with a minor, someone who is extremely drunk, or someone that does not have the mental capacity to understand the terms of a contract.
These are just the basics of what makes a contract legally binding. There are many other technical details which could make your contract either upheld or thrown out of a court of law. This article is not a substitute for legal advice. Again, get a lawyer to review your contract before you use it.
If you want to learn about contract law, a helpful resource is the audio course: Business Law: Contracts, by Frank B Cross.
What’s the difference between a contract and a service agreement?
A contract follows the more formal aspects listed in the previous section. However, a legally binding contract can also be called a service agreement in most cases.
So, its recommended you write your contract in a way that makes it legally binding, and call it a service agreement. Many clients are wary of signing contracts, but are fine with signing a service agreement, even though the service agreement is in fact written as a contract.