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There are many mental health benefits as well as physical ones that come from spending time with animals and pets

The health benefits of dog ownership are well documented and a study commissioned last year by pet food company, Butcher’s Pet Care found that dog owners are fitter and healthier than those without canine companions, with 73 per cent saying they love the fact they get so much exercise looking after dogs.

In fact, non-pet owners are four times more likely to be diagnosed with clinical depression than pet owners.

However, you don’t have to be a pet owner to benefit from spending time with animals, you could become a home and pet sitter instead which is an increasingly popular form of employment for retired people.

Homesitters Ltd, the UK’s leading home and pet sitting company has seen a 10 per cent rise in the number of new homesitters in the last two and a half years.

Homesitters tend to be fit and active people in their 50s, 60s and 70s who are employed to stay in people’s homes while they’re away and look after their pets. This gives all the benefits of spending time with animals with none of the long-term responsibility.

Walking dogs can help improve mental health because fresh air and sunshine elevate the spirits and boosts vitamin D, and taking dogs for walks gets people moving and makes them more physically fit. Having an active lifestyle and being fit also makes people less susceptible to mental health issues.

Sue and Gordon Heels, a retired couple in their mid-sixties from Bedfordshire have been home and pet sitting through Homesitters since 2010. One of the biggest attractions for them is looking after other people’s animals, especially dogs. They love dog walking as it gives them a chance to get out into the countryside and keep fit, whatever the weather.

Sue says, “Home and pet sitting provides us with a complete change of scene and we love spending quality time together taking the dogs for walks. One of our regular assignments is at a home surrounded by beautiful woodland where we take daily walks enjoying the wild flowers and the birdsong.”

Petting animals can also reduce stress, rhythmic stroking can be comforting to both parties and can release oxytocin, the hormone related to stress and anxiety relief.

Martin Bell and his wife Kristine (pictured above) from Collingham in Nottinghamshire decided to start homesitting when they lost their beloved West Highland Terrier. While they love animals they decided not to get another dog so becoming homesitters seemed a good compromise.

Martin says, “There’s no better way of spending an evening than with a dog on your knee or by your feet to stroke while you’re reading, it gives us a great feeling of contentment.”

Earlier this year Homesitters surveyed their homesitters to find out what they enjoyed most about the role and 72 per cent said that looking after people’s pets was the biggest perk of the job.

How much you can earn

The sitter base rate is £11.00 per day for 1.45 hours of activity. To this you can add the various rates for pet care or extra responsibilities. For example a homesitter looking after three medium dogs can expect to receive an additional £5.45 per day, and an extra £8.95 a day for three large dogs. There is also an additional £8.20 per day food allowance, together with return travel costs at 40p per mile.

HMRC recognises the provision of accommodation homesitters have while on assignment and the statutory “accommodation offset” currently £6.40/day applies (https://www.gov.uk/national-minimum-wage-accommodation). This means that the homesitter receives an additional £6.40 per day on top of the £11 base rate.

One couple who have been homesitting for five years and say they can earn up to £300 a month.

Homesitters Ltd are currently recruiting, if you’d like to find out more about home and pet sitting visit www.homesitters.co.uk