Pet sitter playing with dog in the pool.

PetPlace Chat: Pet Sitter of the Year, Daniel Reitman

Selecting a dependable pet sitter is no small task. Imagine how challenging it is for Pet Sitters International, the preeminent professional association for pet sitters, to choose the very best. This year, that title went to Daniel Reitman. The founder of Dan’s Dog Walking and Pet Sitting faced some stiff competition, but innovation and dedication have helped him earn his industry’s highest honor. Dan spoke to PetPlace earlier this year about his business and the qualities that make a great pet-sitting professional.

Meet Daniel Reitman, The Pet Sitter of the Year

Have you always been a dog person?

Short answer, absolutely. From what I have been told, my dad used to let our Golden Retriever puppy named Sasha take naps in the crib with me. Growing up, I was always thinking about animals. Whether it was my obsession with all things dinosaurs, wanting to build a reptile museum in my backyard, or trying to befriend any and all dogs and cats I met. We had dogs, fish, turtles, frogs, lizards, and toads. Name an animal and I wanted to be near it. It wasn’t until college that I was able to make the jump from amateur animal lover to the professional side of things.

How did dogs first become a part of your professional life?

It was supposed to be the start of my junior year of college, the car was packed and ready to go, but I just knew that I had no idea what I wanted to be doing and that college was a waste of time at that moment. I decided not to go back to school, and, to my surprise, my parents were supportive. They did tell me, however, that I needed to get a job . . . like that day. The decision changed my life. The next day, I went to the Manhasset Animal Hospital (my family’s vet for my entire life) and asked if they had any available positions. They offered the opportunity to work as a kennel assistant and train to become a vet technician. I fell in love with all of it! My business was born. I started with a few walks here and there for hospital clients and then I realized there was an opportunity to create a business around caring for pets.

You recently earned the title ‘Pet Sitter of the Year,’ but pet sitting is one of the many services Dan’s Pet Care offers. Can you tell me more about the organization?

It was an immense honor to be named as Pet Sitter of the Year by Pet Sitters International, our entire team was blown away by the award. I started the business as a solo dog walker and never thought it would get to where it is today. As of this year, we have employed hundreds of pet care specialists, cared for thousands of pets, and generated over $5 million in revenue. We are a full-service pet care business offering everything a pet parent needs when it comes to everyday care. We offer dog walking, pet sitting, pet taxi services, post-operative care, training (including group and puppy training), grooming, cage-free boarding, and doggie daycare. We also offer doggie adventures and international pet transportation.

If you could walk a famous fictional dog, which one would you choose?

Clifford the Big Red Dog because, honestly, who wouldn’t want to take a giant, house-sized dog for a walk? That would be the best day ever!

Standing Out from the Pet Care Pack

What tips would you offer to new pet parents looking for a pet sitter or dog walker for the first time?

First, always make sure they are fully bonded and insured. It never hurts to ask for proof of insurance and bonding as well! Always ask how long someone has been in business and try to speak to a few references. Go online and check out reviews as well. What do past customers have to say? What is the company’s emergency protocol if there are any issues with your dog? What if something happens to an employee? How do you know your dog is actually getting their walks? Ask about GPS verification to ensure your dog is getting enough exercise. Finally, how will the sitter or dog walker be entering the home? We always suggest setting up a lockbox. That way, you’re set in the event of an emergency and always have control over when and where keys are accessible.

Could you describe a few key milestones in the history of Dan’s Dog Walking and Pet Sitting?

Our first milestone was of course our founding back in 2009. I started the business the day after I had to put my childhood dog, Rusty, to sleep. I don’t think I had any idea what it would turn into, but I knew that I wanted to be able to spend my days hanging out with dogs. From our founding, it was a few years of dog walking before I got to the point where I had to hire my first employee. It was around 2012 or 2013 when the business first broke $100,000 in revenue. Things really started to pick up steam in the next few years. We made our first expansion over to Connecticut, which came with plenty of learning experiences. COVID-19 might end up being one of the most impactful milestones in our history. We went from generating over $1 million in annual revenue to maybe a few thousand dollars each month. During this period, the business underwent a full overhaul, we added dog training, streamlined operations, launched a podcast, and started offering online dog training courses. Our most recent milestone is our expansion into a new suite of services, including boarding, daycare, and grooming. One year to the day after I had to tell 48 employees they didn’t have jobs for the foreseeable future, we signed the lease to open a brand-new facility.

In your opinion, what sets Dan’s Dog Walking and Pet Sitting and its team apart from similar organizations?

We aren’t in the dog walking business; we are in the peace of mind business. You can have a friend or neighbor take care of your pet, but will they know what to do in an emergency? What happens if they get sick and can’t come to take care of your pet? When someone hires Dan’s Pet Care, they are hiring a team of trained and vetted Pet Care Specialists who are supported by Field Managers and a full management team. That team is really what sets us apart from other companies. Each member of the company goes through thorough in-office and field training, has full field support from our Field Managers, and gets continuous training from our management team. We’re also all about transparency. That is why every visit is GPS verified and comes with notes about the appointment as well as photos of the pup! We’re deeply committed to using new technology too, so clients are always getting the best possible support.

Dan’s Dog Walking and Pet Sitting is just one of the numerous organizations you’re affiliated with. Can you tell me more about your role as Brand Ambassador for the Paway app?

When it comes to recommending anything pet-related, I always take my endorsement seriously. With Paway, I was very excited to get on board and help spread the word to all dog lovers. This platform is a great way for pet parents to see when and where their dog was walked, get safety updates, find pet-friendly routes, and socialize with other dog owners.

Why would you recommend Paway to pet owners?

Paway is a must-have app for all dog owners. If you are going to have a dog walker come into your home, you want to know your dog is actually getting walked. Walkers with Paway can easily track their walks and the app even sends out a cute report card after each visit too.

The Future of Professional Pet Care

How have you and your businesses had to adjust throughout the pandemic?

The last year has been one of patience, learning, growth, and fear. When the pandemic first started, I was absolutely terrified. I had to furlough a team of 48 people with no idea of how, when, or if it would be possible to rehire them. The first big change we made was the addition of grocery and pharmacy pickups for our clients. From there, we moved into launching the podcast, Let’s Talk About Cool Animals. When we realized how many people were adopting pandemic pets, we moved into the training sector for the first time. The team was amazing throughout all of this, everyone stepped up and helped when they could. The management team even offered to work for free to just help keep everything running. I don’t know what I would have done without Kristen, KC, Adam, Alex, Mauro, and Deb. Now that the world is starting to open up, we are so excited to launch our first doggy daycare, boarding, and grooming facility on Long Island. There were times when I didn’t think the business would survive, but we’re stronger and better than ever. I also absolutely owe my sanity and health to my amazing fiancée, Alex. She has a nutrition and wellness practice called Olox Nutrition. She not only made sure I was eating and doing the right things for myself, but also coached my entire team as well.

Any advice for pet lovers who want to turn their passion into a profession?

The best thing you can do is educate yourself. Figure out what part of the industry you would most want to work in. Go volunteer at a local animal shelter, animal hospital, groomer, or dog walking company. Get as much experience as you can and make yourself a sponge for information by reading books, listening to podcasts, and watching YouTube videos. Find someone who is already doing what you want to do and ask them what they did to get there.

What’s next?

National Expansion. Our goal has always been to raise the bar when it comes to what is expected of a pet care service provider and we plan to do just that! As I mentioned, we’re currently in the process of opening our first brick-and-mortar location. The team has also discussed plans for getting into the product and software space as well. We are very excited to be able to do what we do and look forward to continuing to grow and expand our service offering.