When Laura Andrade worked at PJ’s Pets, she found visitors to the Toronto pet store came chiefly to one conclusion when it came to leaving their furry friend alone at home: They’re going to need a bigger bowl.

“I was like, ‘What, do you have a rottweiler? What are you trying to feed?’” she recalls. “When I would ask people, ‘Why don’t you just get a sitter?’ their response was normally that it’s too expensive.”

Caring for your pet can be costly. Many commercial sitters’ daily rates sit around $25 per visit. That’s not including other common surcharges like those for key pickup and drop-off, visiting more than one animal in the same home and holiday premiums. With a sitter visiting daily for one week, pet owners could face fees over $200.

At such an exorbitant rate to make sure kitty gets kibble and cleaning, looking for a larger food dish doesn’t seem so unreasonable anymore. But Andrade’s shock at the risk run by leaving a pet alone without attention urged her to open For Paws House Sitting and Boarding Services eight years ago, to offer economy and assurance to absent pet owners.

“I chose to offer people an alternative to the $25-a-day businesses that are out there and to give them a bit of a break to make sure at least their pets were safe while they were gone,” she says.

Andrade charges a fraction of that cost — $15 per day for visiting pets at their home, and $9 daily for boarding others’ animals — because she’s a low-overhead, one-woman operation. She doesn’t deal with dogs, but maintains her rates for cats, small animals like rabbits, exotics like chameleons and birds. When she visits, she tops up a pet’s food and water and cleans their litter. But the attention doesn’t stop with the animals.

“If something happens in your house while you’re gone for a week and there’s nobody coming in to be in your house while you’re gone, the results can be horrific,” says Andrade. One of her client’s toilets once backed up while she was pet sitting. With an inch of water on the bathroom floor and no end in sight for the leaking lavatory, Andrade was lucky that she happens to be handy.

“If I hadn’t been there, it would have been absolutely insane,” she says.

But despite any home horrors that could emerge during one’s absence, Andrade maintains her focus on her labour of love — the pets.

“Never mind your home. Things can be replaced, but your pet is the primary concern … The most rewarding part is knowing there are people out there willing to set aside a budget to accommodate their pet’s needs, and not just their own.”

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