Resources to help you manage all your pet parents' keys!
Growing your business is a great feeling! Managing a growing collection of keys, codes, and lockboxes — not as great of a feeling. Keeping track of all your clients' keys can quickly get out of hand if you're not careful. Lockouts or lost keys put your clients' pets and their home security at risk. Every pet sitter or dog walker needs to have a key management system to provide consistent, reliable care to clients' pets and keep their homes safe and secure. This post will help you create a key management system that is right for your business.
Common Key Management Systems Used by Pet Sitters
Using lockboxes lets you store keys right where you need them — at the client's house. If you have a big team of sitters and walkers working for your company, using lockboxes can make key management simpler and save time because you'll never need to arrange key exchanges. Clients may also like the fact they have more control over their keys with a lockbox than if they had to give you their keys to keep on file. For clients who have a garage code or a code on their door, you may not even need to have a lockbox. Check out some recent updates to Time To Pet showing how to manage a No Key Required customer. If you are using Time To Pet, it's easy to leave notes on a pet parent's profile, including a door code or hidden key location.
Some pet care companies won't keep keys on file, requiring all clients to have a coded door or lockbox on their property. This can be a great solution, but it might not be right for every business, especially if you service a lot of clients living in apartments and condos.
A few drawbacks of using lockboxes
Lockboxes aren't always allowed or wanted. Some apartment and condo buildings have rules prohibiting lockboxes or don't have a suitable location to place them. And some clients may not be comfortable leaving their keys in a lockbox for security reasons.
Lockboxes also aren't always reliable. They can freeze or rust shut or otherwise malfunction. There's also the risk that the client could forget to put the key in the lockbox, or someone else who has access to the lockbox could use the key and not replace it.
Keeping Keys on File
Keeping keys on file can be more reliable than using lockboxes since it gives your company control of where client keys are at all times. With this system, sitters bring the client keys they need on pet sitting visits, and when not in use, all keys are kept in a secure location either in individual sitters' homes or in a central office or storage unit.
The disadvantage of keeping keys on file is that if your company has multiple sitters, you have to keep track of who has which keys, and you may sometimes need to arrange key exchanges with sitters. Some clients are also not comfortable with having their keys kept by their pet sitter, and sometimes clients who live in apartments or condos are not allowed to make copies of their keys.
Picking Up and Returning Keys After Each Trip
Another option is to keep client keys only while the client is away and return them when the client comes home. Not too many pet sitting companies use this as their primary key management system because of the time involved in picking up and returning keys every time a client needs pet sitting. But if you're primarily using lockboxes, you may need to pick up and return keys for clients who aren't allowed or don't want to use them, and if you keep keys on file, you may have some clients who need or prefer to have their keys returned after each trip. Since picking up and returning keys can be time-consuming, many pet sitters choose to charge for this service.
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How Many Key Copies Should You Have?
As a pet sitter and dog walker, you need to ensure consistent, reliable care of your client's pets while they're away. Whichever key management system you use, it's a good idea to have at least one backup key available if the original key is misplaced, breaks, or accidentally gets locked inside the home.
If you use lockboxes, you could require two keys to be stored in each lockbox or require a backup key to be kept on file at your office. If you keep keys on file, always get a least two keys from every client. To minimize the need for key exchanges between sitters, you may want to even get three keys from the client or have a clause in your contract, allowing you to make key copies as needed for your sitters. It's also a good idea to have a key handling form included in your dog walking and pet sitting contracts.
Keeping Client Keys Safe and Secure
With any key management system, it's essential to have procedures to prevent keys from getting lost or misplaced. If you use lockboxes, immediately return the key to the lockbox after unlocking or locking the door; don't set the key down or put it in your pocket. If you carry keys with you, use a keyring that attaches to you or your clothing like a carabiner, lanyard, or retractable keychain.
Always pick up keys in-person, test them to make sure they work, and return keys in-person (preferably) or by mail. Don't allow "hide-a-keys" — it's a security risk for yourself, the pets, and the client's home. And don't return keys by locking them inside the house on your last visit — if the client doesn't return home on time, you need to be able to get back inside to continue caring for the pets. When mailing keys, use a service like Certified Mail, which includes tracking and requires the recipient to sign for it.
You'll also need a secure way to keep track of lockbox codes or client keys that are on file. Using software like Time To Pet is a great way to do this. For lockboxes, you can put each client's lockbox code in their profile, and for keys on file, you can add keys to the client's profile and keep track of which sitter has them.
An excellent key labeling system is a must if you keep keys on file. Label keys with either a code or the pet's name; don't label them with any of the client's identifying information, like their name, address, or phone number. Time To Pet has a tool to help you randomly assign key codes. If a key were to get lost, anyone who finds it would not know what house it goes to or where it is located.
Make sure the key tags and labels you use are durable and are unlikely to break or be rubbed off. A good option is to use aluminum pet tags, which you can buy in bulk from companies that sell pet rabies and license tags. They will come with serial numbers that you can use for keeping track of your keys, and you can have them engraved with your business phone number or address, so the keys can be returned to your company if they get lost.
If You Lose a Key
Even if you're very careful with client keys, mistakes can happen, and keys can go missing. If you do lose a key, let the client know as soon as possible. If you haven't labeled keys with any of the client's identifying information, there isn't much of a security risk, but the professional thing to do is offer to pay to have the client's locks re-keyed. Lost key coverage for re-keying client's locks is typically included in pet sitter liability insurance policies, so contact your insurance company if your client does decide to have their locks re-keyed.
Which key management system is right for you?
Just like how every pet is different, so are their pet parents and their homes. The key management system you use will likely be a combination of those listed above. It's hard to create one concrete rule that will apply to all your clients as they all have different needs and living situations. The most important thing is that you always keep the safety of pets and their homes at the forefront of how you conduct your key management. Safety first!