In Home Pet Boarding has been around for years, but with the arrival of online directory matching services such as Rover.com and DogVacay.com, this alternative to traditional pet sitting and boarding has certainly increased in popularity. This also appears to ring true with PCA members insured via the PCA Liability program, as today almost 25% of members insured under the program now include coverage for this service as opposed to just 5% a decade ago. Unfortunately, many people will jump at the opportunity to board pets in their home and sign up on one of the online directories without considering the risks they may take by doing so. So for this briefing, let's take a look at some of the claims we have seen arising out of In Home Boarding (they too have increased!) and examine the different risks involved to make sure PCA Professionals and any others that may be reading this are aware of the exposures that exist.
Before we begin, it is important to note that some exposures that exist may not be insurance related, but still may pose a risk to your business. For example, many states and municipalities have laws in effect that are directly related to boarding pets in your home. Some require you to take out a permit in order to board, while others may not allow you to board in your home at all due to zoning regulations. Be aware that even if you are boarding 1 or 2 pets in your home at a time, and are being paid for it, that this would likely be considered a home based business, and many communities will have specific zoning laws that stipulate what types of home based businesses are allowed in a given community. To protect yourself be sure to consult with your town/city, county and state officials to be sure you are operating legally. Otherwise you may one day be hit with an unexpected fine and/or a cease and desist letter.
Now let's take a look at In Home Boarding in terms of liability risk, and how it differs from traditional pet sitting in client's homes. When you are paid to take care of a client's pet in your home you cross a line in the insurance world from personal liability to business (commercial) liability. Although some people may think they are covered automatically if they have a homeowners or renter's policy (which typically includes personal liability coverage at their premises) they unfortunately are not. Most homeowners/renters policies specifically exclude coverage for business-related liability claims. Therefore, if a dog in your care were to bite someone while at your home or bite another dog in your care, you need a business liability policy that specifically provides coverage for In Home Boarding, including vet medical coverage for the pets in your care. Most insurance companies are hesitant to offer this coverage, due to crisscrossing of personal and business liability. For example, what if your teenage son brings home a friend and that friend gets bitten by a dog in your care? Or what if a plumbing contractor is working at your home or a delivery man delivering a package is bitten? To better illustrate, here are a couple of actual claims examples:
1. While staying at the pet sitter's home, a client's dog got into an altercation with the pet sitter's roommate's dog. The roommate was bitten attempting to separate the dogs. Total paid $4,174
2. Pet Sitter opened door to her home just as mail carrier was entering front fence. The mail carrier did not see the dog coming out until she turned around and was bitten on the leg. Total Paid $21,647.
These are not the typical exposures you would be concerned about if you were pet sitting in the client's home, as you are not likely to have personal friends, roommates, or repair or delivery folks coming to see you at the client's home.
Another difference to consider when boarding in your homes is the pets themselves. After all, they are the ones you are caring for. If they have never been to your home before, they are not familiar with where things are, where you want them to hang out, or other people or pets that may be in the home. When you are taking care of pets in the client's home, they know all of these things and are accustomed to their routine. Bring them to your house and it may just rock their world, or cause them injury! Below are several examples of claims:
1. While boarding at sitter's home, dog got into the sitter's medications, which were left on the counter, and required vet care. Total Paid $575
2. Dog suffered ruptured disk while staying at pet sitter's home. Total Paid $5,054
3. Dog ate a rope while staying at sitter's home. Total Paid $5,116
4. Pet sitter was taking care of client's dog in her home. The dog attempted to be social with pet sitter's personal cat, but cat scratched dog in the eye. Total Paid $4,170.
5. While staying at pet sitter's home, dog fell off deck and suffered injuries. Total Paid $2,652.
Furthermore, if you are providing in home boarding and are boarding more than one client's dog at a time, you run the risk of dog fights/dog injuries. This is by far the number one claim we see arising out of in home boarding operations. The fact is, dogs may get along great with other pets in their own household, but if you put them with other pets from other families without caution, you may be in for a rude awakening. Most animal shelters and boarding kennels are aware of this exposure and typically perform temperament tests before placing a dog in a playgroup with other dogs. It is highly recommended that if you are going to board multiple dogs that you do the same, as some dogs can suffer anxiety and be stressed if outside of their own home environment. While some dogs are simply more prone to aggression, others are more fearful in groups and around others. Here are a few examples of what can go wrong:
1. Pet Sitter was boarding multiple dogs at her home. She left to go eat lunch and upon returning home discovered two of the dogs had been in a fight, and one had passed away. Total Paid $3,531.
2. Two dogs staying in pet sitter's home got into a fight, and one of them had to be hospitalized due to loss of one eye and multiple other injuries. As a result of injuries, dog lost a lot of blood and passed away. Total Paid $17,311.
3. During a play group at pet sitter's home, two dogs began to fight and both suffered multiple injuries. Total Paid $9,989.
4. Multiple dogs were being boarded in sitter's home. One of the dogs attacked two others causing multiple injuries. Both required extensive medical care. Total Paid $8,238.
In addition to injuries to client's pets, please be aware that most business insurance companies, including the insurer for the PCA Liability program, exclude coverage for injuries to your own pets and damage to your personal property (contents of your home) as this is yet another example of the crossover between personal and business exposures. So if a client's dog in your care attacks your personal pet(s) and inflicts injury, or chews up your furnishings or personal belongings, you would be on the hook for the cost to replace these items. You could purchase pet health insurance to cover injuries to your own pets, but unfortunately, even a homeowners or renters policy will exclude coverage for your contents if they are damaged by animals that are owned or kept by you. Additionally, many insurers will also exclude injuries to pets in your care that are caused by your personal pet (although that's not the case with the insurer for the PCA Liability program), so if you have a pet that can be aggressive or fearful around other pets, in home boarding may not be ideal for you or your pet.
Lastly, depending on the number of pets you are caring for in your home, there is one additional exposure that can be a potential nightmare, and that is fire. When you are pet sitting at a client's home, if you accidentally cause a fire, you would likely have coverage under a business general liability policy if you carry one. If this occurs at your personal home/residence, you would be covered by your personal homeowners or renters policy for your home and contents, but what about the pets in your care? Once again be sure that you carry a general liability policy that includes coverage for pets in your care who are boarding in your home (or add the "In Your Home Pet Care" endorsement option if insured under the PCA Liability policy) and that you have a sufficient limit of coverage to cover all pets in your care, custody and control, or else you may be out of pocket for claims like these:
1. Pet Sitter came home to find her home on fire. At the time of fire, insured was caring for multiple pets and all but one passed away. In addition, the sitter also lost her personal pets to the fire. Total Paid $15,522.
2. Pet Sitter's home caught on fire and 3 dogs in her care passed away. Total Paid $10,000.
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