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Does my pet need to leave a tip?

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While tipping for good customer service is common practice, this hasn't always necessarily included pet services. As our pets continue to become more a part of the family, pet owners are becoming increasingly generous when it comes to tipping those who take good care of their beloved pets.  And this practice is not limited to dogs and cats.

Take for example, Pixie Merrick.  “Kahlua” and “Kiwi” might sound like something you’d find at a bar in the Caribbean, but to Pixie, they’re just two of the six parrots she takes care of for a client in Boise, Idaho, where she owns a local pet-sitting service.  

It’s tricky business, she said, changing the birds’ paper and meeting each of their dietary needs. For that reason, her client always leaves her a big tip. Not unusual, given that many pet owners across the country practice the art of tipping.

Ask Genevieve Thiers, founder and CEO of Sittercity.com, a service that connects owners to approximately 10,000 pet sitters nationwide, and she’ll tell you tipping is less of an art and more of a science in terms of how much and how often people do it.  

“We’ve found tipping practices generally hinge on two things,” she said. “One is location, which dictates not only how much people pay for services, but also how much they’ll tip. The other is about personalized service, something people are more likely to pay a little extra for.” 

City dwellers are most generous

According to Sittercity’s research, people in the Northeast and Western parts of the country pay more for pet services -- and, as a result, tip more -- than their Midwestern and Southern counterparts. Also, the larger the city, the more expensive the pet service, and in turn, the higher and more likely the tip. In fact, in places such as New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, tipping on pet sitting, grooming, and boarding can be as high as 15 to 20 percent.

Conversely, the more rural the area -- and the farther away from a major metropolis -- the lower and least likely the tip (think three to five percent).

“Some of the best tips we’ve gotten come from people who are visiting our small town from big cities,” said Kathleen Kern, co-owner of Mountaineer Pet Center, a pet spa in Morgantown, West Virginia. “I’ve lived in Dallas and D.C. In those places, tipping is practically considered part of your bill for services.” 

More for personalized service

Tipping also depends on the combination of what’s delivered and by whom. For example, Thiers says people are more likely to tip somebody who comes to their house regularly than those who staff, say, a doggie daycare, where it’s less clear who specifically is caring for their pet. 

Thiers also suggests taking a more conservative approach. “We’ve found that if you start tipping providers every time and then suddenly stop or tip less, they feel stiffed, even though you’re still being generous.” 

Instead, it’s best to save the extras for holidays (when it’s typical to give regulars a bonus equivalent to a week’s pay), special occasions (like birthdays), and unforeseen circumstances (like caring for an ill pet). 

Not just about the money

Finally, she and others agree that the key to tipping is remembering why to do it in the first place: to show appreciation for a job well done. 

That doesn’t always require cash, said Merrick, who appreciates chocolate and a thank-you note just as much.  

“One of my clients gave me 50 pounds of fresh-killed venison for my own dogs while others have given me restaurant coupons and even free haircuts,” said Mark Gajowski, owner of Your Canine Companion in Stockton, N.J. “But the best tip I’ve ever gotten is feedback that I’m doing a great job; my clients’ pets are better for it.” 

Credit: Reviewed by Amy I. Attas, V.M.D.
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