Is Your Pet Business Killing You?

I am the type of person who, when someone asks me whether I want the good news first or the bad news, I always pick hearing the bad news first. business killing you

Here’s why: I want to get the bad news out of the way and end the conversation on a lighter note and with positivity. A lot of the pet business owners that I coach do that also. It happens when we are going over their successes and disappointments at the beginning of their coaching session.

“Which do you want to share first..your disappointments or successes?” I will ask. Inevitably they will pick the disappointments first.

So…that’s what I’m going to do here, pet business owners. I am going to start with the ‘bad news’.

Here it is:

It’s been said that ‘compassion fatigue’ is killing some members of our pet business industry. Compassion fatigue has many of the symptoms of PTSD, among them being depression, anxiety and thoughts of suicide. Dr. Yin was a well-known and beloved dog trainer who committed suicide last year. Many of those closest to her believe that her suicide was caused from Compassion Fatigue. yin

Jessica Dolce is a certified compassion fatigue educator. She says:

“Compassion fatigue is an occupational hazard of our work with animals, whether you are an animal control officer or kennel attendant in a small town or an internationally recognized veterinarian. Our work requires that we compassionately and effectively respond to the constant demand to be helping to those who are suffering and in need.“

Compassion fatigue comes from caring for people and pets and forgetting to care for ourselves. It comes from not putting the oxygen mask on ourselves first.

Pet care providers (dog walkers, dog trainers, pet sitters, pet groomers, and doggy day care owners) often find themselves shelving their needs and wants for those of their human and animal clients. This leads to burnout which leads to exhaustion which can then lead to compassion fatigue and all that comes along with it (depression, anxiety and wanting to ‘end it all’). Are you at the burnout stage or are you experiencing compassion (and business) fatigue?

Psychotherapist J. Eric Gentry tells the Sacramento Bee:

“Animal care professionals are some of the most pain-saturated people I have ever worked with. The very thing that makes them great at their work, their empathy and dedication and love for animals, makes them vulnerable.”

Here are just a few ways of how compassion fatigue can manifest to the detriment of some the pet business owners I’ve personally worked with:

-No time for family and friends. This can result in a deep and dark loneliness and despair over time if left unchanged.

-No downtime to just BE. The compulsion to check smart phone, pet business software, voicemail, computer, Facebook and other social media sites becomes an obsession/addiction. This results in always feeling like the pet business owner is ‘on’ and always working.

-When a vacation or day off is scheduled the pet business owner finds it challenging (and in some cases impossible) to follow through on that vacation or take that day off due to client’s needs and neediness. This results in a sense of life being only about work by placing client needs above the needs of the pet business owner.

-If a vacation or day off is scheduled and the pet business owner does goes away or enjoys a day off inevitably some business emergency happens and the pet business owner comes rushing back to the office or client to take care of whatever went wrong in their absence. (Or they will find themselves not enjoying their vacation/day off but rather ruminating about what happened. This can lead to despair from never getting that break that is so desperately needed.)

I know compassion fatigue from personal experience because I suffered from it though I called it ‘business burnout’ when I had it. I was working 12-14 hours a day in my pet care businesses (working to the point of exhaustion) and I felt anxious and depressed a lot during that time. It took me a long time to recover and it started with working less and setting more boundaries in my work and in my life. It wasn’t easy. But I did recover. And you can too.

So how can pet business owners combat (and recover from!) compassion fatigue? good news

Okay so I promised you good news and here it is. There are tangible ways to deal with compassion (and business) fatigue.

Just a quick note before you read the tips below because…

You can read all the tips in the world but if you don’t follow them then they won’t help. The key then is to begin to make some big and small changes in your business and your life. Start small by picking one from the list below. And yes, it probably will feel uncomfortable. Changing behaviors and ingrained ways of being always does feel uncomfortable when we first begin. But this is your LIFE we are talking about here. You are worth it. Your pet business will be just fine and your clients will respect you more too when you follow these tips. Remember: we teach others how to treat us. This includes your clients, staff, friends and family.

1. Set office hours and keep them. This means NOT checking email, text messages, computer and voicemail at times other than your scheduled office hours. I know, it’s not easy. But it will get easier over time. Be sure to have these office hours posted on your automatic email to clients as well as listed on your voicemail so clients know when they can expect you to contact them.

2. Stop sending and receiving business texts. Clients and staff members often expect instant replies when they text. And when you reply quickly and outside of your office hours this gets them in the mindset that you are available all the time. If you REALLY need to continue receiving and sending texts then let your staff and clients know you will only be texting between your office hours. Hide your business phone from yourself. Turn off the ringer. Stick it in a drawer. Do whatever you need to do to separate yourself from your business cell phone.

3. Set up a minimum of two one-week vacations each year. Put these dates in your calendar. Make them sacred and immovable by not letting clients or business get in the way of your actually going away. These two weeks a year are yours. You deserve them.

4. Put exercise in your schedule and do it 4-5 times a week. No matter what. Exercise helps with depression, anxiety and despair and these are all symptoms of compassion fatigue. I recently coached a pet sitter who had the hardest year she’s ever had (family members died suddenly in an auto accident, her business was struggling, etc.) She kept exercising in spite of the challenges that had come her way and she not only lost 20 pounds but she was also able to deal with her stress and anxiety in a healthy way.

5. Enjoy your hobby once a week. If you don’t have a hobby write a list of things you’d like to explore doing and pick one from the list to see if you enjoy it. A good hobby will refresh and energize you. If yours does, then keep doing it. If it doesn’t, find something that takes your mind off work and allows you to expand and grow in new ways.

6. Cultivate your relationships like the living, growing beings that they are. Your friendships need to be watered. Many pet business owners that I’ve spoken with have few or no friends. It’s sad but true. The reason for this is they turn down invitations from friends or don’t initiate getting together and after awhile friends will stop asking and/or you will grow apart. Even getting together with one friend once a month can make a world of difference in your emotional and mental outlook in your business and your life. We need others. Make time for your friends. They are worth it and so are you.

7. Pick 2 exciting-to-you goals that have nothing to do with business and set out to accomplish them. Focusing on non-business activities creates a rich inner and outer life (you will find yourself thinking about other things other than you business which will give your ‘business brain’ a well-needed rest). These life goals could include dating and/or getting married, starting an veggie garden, buying a home, or perhaps learning to play piano. The world is your oyster. What sounds fun and exciting to you?

It can be very challenging for pet business owners to put yourself first, above your clients and client pets. Your very life may be at stake if you don’t so please, please take (good) care of yourself.

About the author: Kristin Morrison started her pet care company in 1995 and it grew to be one of the largest pet care companies in California before she sold it Kristin4in 2013. Kristin provides business coaching for thousands of pet sitters, dog walkers, dog trainers, and pet groomers across the United States, Canada, the UK and Australia. In 2008 she founded Six-Figure Pet Sitting Academy™ and Six-Figure Pet Business Academy™ providing coaching, webinars and business products for pet business owners. Kristin wrote the books Six-Figure Pet Sitting, Six-Figure Pet Business and the Prosperous Pet Business book series, all of which can be found in print on Amazon and in eBook format on her websites: and

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Rachael June 16, 2015, 8:45 pm

    thank you for writing this- this is me to a T. I emailed the article to my husband as well, so good to know I’m not the only one! 🙂

  • Lawana June 17, 2015, 4:38 am

    Great article.
    I can’t believe how much it helps simply to know that SOMEONE understands this.

  • Nikki Timberlake June 17, 2015, 5:05 am

    Great article. I’m going to work on making some of these changes.

  • Penny June 17, 2015, 1:37 pm

    Hi Kristin,
    Thanks for this. My present issues is not that I am burned out from my business, but that I am burned out by my education. I am a part time student who has been in school 6 years. I graduate college next May, unless something unforeseen happens. I wish I had more time to devote to business, but for now my thoughts are consumed with summer school and making Powerpoints…. uggg

  • Kristin Morrison June 17, 2015, 2:45 pm

    So glad you enjoyed the article, Lawna, Nikki and Rachael. Wishing you ease in running and growing your pet businesses! Penny, it sounds like right now (unfortunately) isn’t the right time to focus on your business since school is so hectic. Hang in there. This too shall pass! 🙂 And Monika, thanks for sharing what’s going on for you. It sounds hard and also like you are aware of some of what needs to shift. I hope for your sake (and your clients) that you can make some changes so you can continue doing your business. Sending everyone out there who is feeling defeated some good energy in order to make the shifts that need to be made for you to feel good about your business (and have a life).

  • Monika Harris June 24, 2015, 6:52 pm

    OMG , this article is how I feel 100% – The depression is awful , I do see a therapist and that’s starting to help – I get all that is being said , but there are clients out there that really don’t care , it’s all about them – No matter what I do , put rules about office ours and texting etc etc , clients still ignore those rules and then threaten to write a bad review – THATS A WHOLE OTHER ISSUE !! I FEEL SO DEFEATED –
    My family and friends really should come first and they don’t , I don’t want to live like this anymore , I can’t do this one more year w/o change –

  • Kristin Morrison September 5, 2015, 5:49 pm

    Hello dear Monika, I’m so sorry I’m just now responding to your blog comment. Somehow I missed it, it looks like you wrote it when I was on vacation. I get how defeated you feel and I’m glad you are getting some support around your compassion fatigue. It is now a couple months since you wrote that and I really hope life and work are feeling more manageable. Sending you a big hug. ~Kristin

  • sara unverfehrt June 22, 2016, 10:20 am

    This is such a great article, Kristin. I think this is one of the biggest challenges that pet sitters face and it is the least talked about. Thank you for bringing the subject to light. When I’m super busy and doing tons of pet visits in a day, I get so burned out and I find myself not enjoying the pets and not enjoying working with customers and that’s a problem because really enjoying this job is central to being great at it. It also makes you feel like a liar because you are claiming to be an animal-lover but in truth you aren’t really enjoying what you do. We really do serve ourselves and others best if we honor our feelings and give ourselves permission to take a step back. Thanks for bringing light to this topic.

  • Damiane de Wit-Guzman July 26, 2016, 3:46 am

    This describes my life for the last several years but I didn’t think it had to do with my business. I knew it was burn out but I thought it was an inherent flaw within me. It affected my performance and motivation to market for new clients. My business volume dropped to about 25 to 30% of what I started out making.

    This article puts things in a better perspective for me, it makes sense with what’s happening in my life and business.

  • jerry koons July 29, 2016, 7:05 am

    Thank you for sharing this article you make a lot of good points it has been extremely difficult for me to have balance and I can’t seem to keep a steady flow of customers implementing from the list I can see would definitely make a big difference learning to say no taking regular time off can definitely help. And the whole marketing thing just got my brain spinning in wheels always thinking about the business talking about the business truly hard to shut it off. Me and my wife do not come from a business background so this is all new to us thank you so much and God bless.

    • Ginger July 31, 2016, 6:28 am

      Thank you Kristin for pin pointing this topic. I have owned my business for 4 years and it is 24/7. I never have a bad month, I always make enough and then some, I don’t have to advertise and constantly get new clients, all seem to be good problems to have when in business. I’m a single mom of two young daughters and I will be buying my first home on my own because of my successful business. I’m very proud of this. The downside, we have never taken a vacation, I’m rushed in everything I do as I always have clients to care for, no social life at all, not enough time to organize and get my financial life arranged productively. I’ve implemented some of the tips, like exercise and boundaries. I fear if I try to take time off clients will go somewhere else. I’m trying to figure the best time in advance to let everyone know so they can schedule accordingly. Most of my business is boarding, and daycare in my home with a few visits. I feel like I need another Avenue of income within my business so I don’t feel so compelled to say yes to every service request. I love the pets I care for and actually worry about the well being of many. I do need an off button but I can’t find it. I have an overwhelming feeling to make sure I can provide for my children so I don’t turn down requests very often. My clients love this and depend on this. I just want to be smart about any changes I make to find the balance we need as a family. Hoping to find a course of action to continue success and balance our lives.

  • Pam Leary August 21, 2017, 4:31 pm

    There are really good suggestions offered, but like one other blogger I deal with people who couldn’t care less about how I feel. If I push back on appts or block time, the comment I get is “Looks like I need to find another sitter”. Unfortunately, I live in an area that has a lot of walker/sitter choices. Some of those other choices are bad, but sadly I’ve encountered a lot of people who put the dollar in front of the quality of care. Many shouldn’t even have a pet. If I did most of the suggestions, I would be out of business within 2 weeks. Wish we could find someone who could help us with this type of situation. Those of us who don’t have a big staff for support or can’t afford people to help with accounting (after walking dogs all day, I have to do all my own accounting until late at night) need tools, help, suggestions to survive these types of toxic people.

  • Linda Evenrude September 6, 2017, 2:07 pm

    I shake as I write this…the summer has been incredibly busy to a total burn out for myself and team! We’re all grumpy beyond belief and I have GO TO TAKE CARE OF THIS NOW!!!! There are 5 of us, and keeping all the balls in the air has become a nightmare. Now the gals are arguing over what they want and don’t want!!!
    It’s brutal, not that the clients know any of this of course.
    I personally need a complete re-boot and if they don’t like it…oh well! They have started doing their own bookings…thats how bad it is and they want to swap with each other!!! Hell no!
    So I must take charge, even if they don’t like it!
    It’s so helpful to read through so many like situations…
    Thanks you!