Key Management for Pet Sitters and Dog Walkers
Keeping track of all your client’s 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 in place to manage client keys so that they can provide consistent, reliable care to clients’ pets and keep their homes safe and secure.
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 lot of sitters working for your company, using lockboxes can make key management simpler and save time because you’ll never need to arrange key exchanges with sitters. 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 client's who have a garage code or a code on their door, you may not even need to have a lockbox at all. Check out some recent updates to Time To Pet showing how to manage a No Key Required customer.
But lockboxes aren’t always allowed or wanted. Many 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 key 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, 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 to pick up and return 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.
How Many Key Copies Should You Have?
As a pet sitter you need to be able 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 in case the original key is misplaced, breaks, or is accidentally locked inside the home. If you use lockboxes, you could require two keys be stored in each lockbox or require a backup key 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 if you have multiple sitters serving the same client, 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.
Keeping Client Keys Safe and Secure
With any key management system, it’s important to have procedures in place 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 and test them to make sure they work, and return keys either 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.
A good key labeling system is a must if you keep keys on file. Label keys with either a code (Time To Pet has a tool to help you randomly assign key codes) or the pet’s name; don’t label them with any of the client’s identifying information, like their name, address, or phone number, so that if a key was to get lost, anyone who finds it will not know what house it goes to. Make sure the key tags and labels you use are durable and 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.
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.
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 to 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.