Spa treatment for bunny's all in a day's work

Spa treatment for bunny's all in a day's work
PHOTO: Reuters

WHEN Amelia Harris took up a rabbit-sitting job during the Chinese New Year period, she did not quite know what to expect.

As soon as the 18-year-old reached the doorstep of the owner's home, she was instructed to take off her shoes, sanitise her feet and put on what the owner called "rabbit-approved slippers".

She dropped by the home to look after the rabbit twice a day for a week. Her daily duties included giving the bunny five different supplements, an IQ test (a set of blocks, one of which contained a treat for the rabbit to find) and a spa treatment.

Ms Harris is a pet-sitter with the local branch of San Francisco-based Pawshake, a website that links pet-sitters with pet owners.

It has 15 branches worldwide, and had a soft launch here in October.

While some pet owners opt to send their pets to pet hotels when they are on holiday, others prefer to have their pets looked after at home, where they are more comfortable.

Pet-sitting services cost upwards of $35 per hour for a dog, and $30 per hour for a cat or small animal, although costs vary based on the number of animals and duration.

Tanguy Peers, co-founder of Pawshake, told My Paper that about 20 per cent of its total revenue in Singapore comes from pet-sitting for small animals.

"There is little awareness but it's an emerging trend," said Mr Peers. "People get emotionally attached to their pets, not just dogs or cats but also rabbits, hamsters and guinea pigs."

Pawshake was launched to provide pet-sitting services for dogs and cats, but Mr Peers is considering adding a specific category for small animals to meet demand.

Pet-sitting differs from pet boarding in that the pet-sitter goes to the customer's home to care for the pet, instead of transporting the pet to a central location for boarding.

Although pet-sitting services have been available for dogs and cats for some time now, a few businesses have turned their attention to smaller pets in recent years.

One such enterprise is HomesittingSG, which started in 2011 as a house-sitting service and quickly expanded to include pet-sitting.

Founder Bernie Ong said that the firm's services extend to pets such as rabbits, hamsters, guinea pigs and koi.

"It's usually a by-the-way kind of thing from owners who already have dogs and cats," said Mr Ong.

He has taken on jobs to care for koi before, and said it was not that different from regular pet-sitting.

"Usually it's about feeding them, making sure the pumps are working and the water level is all right," said Mr Ong.

Another pet-sitting business is Mau House, which started operating in 2012 and is run by co-founders Angie Sy and Gin Oliveiro.

They get a pet-sitting request for something other than a dog or cat approximately once every two months, mostly rabbits or hamsters.

Ms Sy once looked after five green tree frogs belonging to a owner with three cats.

She said: "I found it quite amusing actually. Imagine my surprise when I was engaged to care for cats and found out I had frogs to care for too."

Ms Sy said that most of her clients are repeat customers, largely working adults in their 20s. She also has a few elderly customers.

One of her regulars is Tammie Caldwell, a 39-year-old expatriate from Australia, who hired Ms Sy to take care of her hamster Heidi, which died recently.

Ms Caldwell, who owns an online store in Australia, also has a cat. She spends about $120 to $200 on pet-sitting when away on short trips.

"Last year was the first time we ever used a pet-sitter, when we went back to Australia for Christmas," said Ms Caldwell. "I liked the idea of my animals being in the comfort of our own home rather than a boarding facility."

Her requests included fresh water, food and a clean cage for her hamster.

When asked if getting a pet-sitter for a hamster was any different from getting one for a dog or cat, Ms Caldwell said: "No, not at all - she is our responsibility and she needs fresh food and water just like a cat, so we accept that if we want to go away, she requires a pet-sitter."

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