British Columbia

Online tool helps pet owners exchange pet care

The website Pet Fam connects pet owners with each other so they can swap pet care.

Free website Pet Fam connects pet owners with each other so they can swap pet care

Going away for the holidays? A new online network can help you connect with free pet care while you're away. (Austin Kirk/Flickr)

Vancouver pet owners looking to make a getaway this Christmas have a new online tool to find free pet care.

Pet Fam, a free local website, connects pet owners with each other so they can swap pet care.

Adrianna Hepper, who launched the website, is a lifelong pet owner who also loves to travel.

"This feeling of imposition I felt every time I needed to ask the same friend or family member if they wouldn't mind watching my pet yet again became so overwhelming," she said. "I realized that we are surrounded by other pet owners in our neighbourhoods ... Imagine if there was a way to meet people to swap care between us?"   

On Hepper's website, pet owners sign up online and are invited to a private Facebook group. They receive a five-step guide that explains how to connect with other pet-owners, and how to vet and screen potential pet-sitters.

It's then up to each individual to organize when to swap and reciprocate care based on schedules and needs.

Can you trust your pet with a stranger?

For those pet owners wary of leaving their beloved four-legged friend with a total stranger, Hepper says the website is no different than other sharing economy services like Uber, AirBnB, and online dating apps.

"I think we're becoming more comfortable with reaching out to our communities for the things that we need."

Nevertheless, Hepper says it's important for pet owners to conduct their own due diligence.

"We really encourage people to ask for a minimum of three references that you can check," she said, adding pet owners should use the same consideration they would use if they were looking for in-home childcare or caring for an aging parent.

It's important to swap emergency information, vet information and consider issues of liability before committing to an exchange, she said.

Hepper said the project has been warmly received so far.

"It's been overwhelming ... We have over 250 people actively exchanging care right now," she said.

With files from The Early Edition

To listen to the interview, click on the link labelled New online tool connects pet owners with pet sitters