In 2008, amidst the upheaval of the American economy, Lisa Ascarrunz lost her job in the telecom industry.
To support herself and to be available to care for her ageing parents, Ascarrunz started dogsitting.
“When I was young, I used to have six dogs,” Ascarrunz recounts, “and at different times in my life I’ve worked in kennels, and was actually a live-in kennel worker. I just love dogs, and I’ve been into rescuing and fostering as long as I can remember.”
As she started taking in clients through Craigslist and supplementing her unemployment, she realised that although the gig was supposed to be a stopgap measure, it was bringing in enough money to support her Bay Area lifestyle outside Berkeley, California.
“The idea was that this would be temporary until my parents passed,” Ascarrunz explains. “It wasn’t something I was thinking of as a viable lifestyle or career.”
After a few years of patching together dogsitting jobs, Ascarrunz signed up with DogVacay, a website that just raised $US25 million to facilitate dog boarding and care in different cities across the US.
She and her partner, who also cares for dogs full-time, are now some of the company’s highest-rated caretakers. On any given day, they have 8 to 9 dogs at their home: two of their own (Gus, a labradoodle, and Taco, a chihuahua/terrier mix), a few fosters, and a few daycare attendees ($US30/day) or overnight boarders ($US40/night).
“The best part is the dogs,” Ascarrunz says. “I get to have personal relationships with these dogs, to learn so much about their language and their communication. They’re all so different. I put everything into them, and they’re like my own.”
The hardest part is what you might expect: the wear and tear on her house, and the cleanup.
While Ascarrunz says she hasn’t taken the time to sit down and figure out exactly how much money her dogsitting brings in, she explains although it can fluctuate widely, she’s never had a problem paying her mortgage or bills.
Her retirement savings, however, have taken a backseat, and she aims to resume contributing in the near future as services for freelance and contract workers become more available. “It’s less than I was making in telecom,” she says, “but I don’t ever see myself going back.”
To other people who might be interested in earning money similarly, she says, “Go for it. If you love dogs, this is for you. If you own your home and have the kind of car you don’t mind getting trashed, there’s nothing better. There’s a tradeoff to your financial stability, but it’s there — the money is there.”