Tuesday, June 19, 2007

What is the deal with insurance, licenses and bonding of pet care providers?

"This has become a pet peeve of mine", Patti J. Moran, president and founder of Pet Sitters International, writes in her book, Pet Sitting for Profit. The pet-sitting industry is self-regulated, so a "pet care provider's license" doesn’t exist as does a contractor's license, restaurant's license, etc. However, many cities require a license to do business as a company or by certain operational conditions of business within their borders and usually is only issued to companies that qualify in that capacity. Service providers may not qualify as a business if they are sole operators. She further states that it is misleading to the public to list this business license as a credential. This is based on the fact that there isn’t a state exam or course of study required prior to obtaining a business license. Furthermore, any person that has access to your property should not only be verifiable as a pet care provider but as a licensed security professional as well. Just about anyone can claim they are a pet or house care provider, but they are not trained or qualified to handle security issues on private property, nor are they verifiable through a state government agency that governs the businesses that mayhave access to private properties. Licensed security professionals are not only licensed by a state government agency but are trained to handle, diffuse, observe, report and deter security problems on private and public properties as well as secure persons and provide house sitting services. No special "license" exists for pet sitting in the United States and pet care providers who use the term are often referring to the occupational permit some municipalities require businesses to obtain. Many professional pet care providers discourage their peers from using the term "licensed" to describe an occupational permit because they believe it's misleading to the general public to present such a permit as a form of credential.

A dishonesty or fidelity bond claim generally applies when a pet care provider is convicted in criminal court of theft from a client home. When the pet care provider is convicted, the bond will reimburse the client for the loss, and then seek reimbursement from the pet care provider. This process often requires many years, and usually relies on a criminal law court conviction. Many pet care providers have decided to seek actual insurance coverage for theft instead of procuring a bond. Theft insurance coverage does not require convictions, and usually includes coverage for accidental breakage, mysterious disappearance, and accidental damage to items in a client home. Bonds usually require that the person be convicted of the crime before the bonding company would make a payment. The bond further requires that the individual make full restitution to the bond company for restitution to be made.

A nationwide Pet Care provider insurance provider insures most professional pet care providers. These providers associate themselves with various professional pet care provider associations. As of 2007, the major American pet-sitting insurance providers include claim limits from 2 million to 4 million per claim for liability claims. They also include coverage for care, custody, and control of the client pets from $10,000 to $200,000 per occurrence. Coverage is included for fire damage, lost keys, and other negligence claims. Because American pet-sitting insurers do not provide coverage to minors, most professional pet care providers are over eighteen years of age. Most pet care provider insurance plans provide coverage for pet transport and services for most species of animals, except those that may be used for other business ventures, including farming. Some resources recommend that pet care providers be bonded. That recommendation has been dismissed by many professional organizations in recent years. Regular pet-sitting liability coverage generally does not protect pet care providers from injury to themselves as a result of client negligence. Pet care provider liability insurance usually covers injury to other people and other pets. In the United States, insurance professionals recommend that homeowners carry homeowners insurance or umbrella insurance before hiring a pet care provider.

All businesses should carry liability insurance in order to protect their personal assets. Professionally, pet sitting has been around for more than 25 years, insurance policies are available specifically for this type of business. This applies to businesses and their owners and may cover independent contractors. Pet care provider insurance provides protection in many different areas to the business, client's home and the pet(s). Liability coverage is “negligence insurance” and covers expenses should the caregiver have an accident and damage the client’s property or do something that results in harm to the pets. Although it is extremely wise to have any pet care provider service companies who employees who service your home have insurance, but it is not required for independent contractors as they act as the client’s employee directly. A homeowner’s insurance policy should already be sufficient to cover loss on behalf of care in your home. But if a pet care provider has insurance and/or bonding chances are they are licensed, of 18 years of age, have paid annual dues for each association membership and may or may not add those expenses in with their rates. But having these qualifications separates a professional from the neighborhood kid down the street and ensures you are getting quality in the service, which as we all know is the most important thing when it comes to caring for our furkids!