While the popularity of side hustles grows with Britons looking to bolster their finances during the current period of high living costs, a woman from Caversham is making thousands of pounds a month extra by cat-sitting.
Gemma Khal, 38, started her side hustle in 2019 after her friend recommended she try an app called Cat in a Flat to make “a bit of extra cash” while she was on maternity leave.
Mrs Khal, who is very fond of cats, didn’t end the side hustle after returning to work in her role as a senior press officer, and now rakes in over £3,000 a month extra looking after the felines.
Mrs Khal told Express.co.uk: “I’ve always loved cats, they’ve been around me all my life and I have two rescues of my own, Rowley and Dora who my husband and I rescued from Cats Protection in Newbury in 2014.
“I also used to volunteer for the Blue Cross before [the COVID-19 pandemic] and I loved meeting all the cats and socialising them before they went off to their new homes. Sadly, the rehoming centre was permanently closed during the pandemic, so I was missing my kitty fix.”
Mrs Khal started gaining business through Cat in a Flat, which allowed her to set up a profile and set her own prices and availability, and then matched her with potential customers in the area. Now, she has her own website, Caversham Kitties.
Mrs Khal said: “I tend to visit cats once or twice a day, depending on what their owner wants, and then spend around 30 minutes with the cats making sure they have fresh food and water, clean out their litter trays, and then play with them or give them cuddles if they want.
“I also have my own website and my own Facebook and Instagram, so people find me that way too. A lot of the time, my customers recommend me to their friends so my client base has grown really organically, which is lovely.”
Since Christmas, however, things have “really taken off”. Mrs Khal said: “I’m not sure if it’s a combination of more people going away now restrictions have lifted, or that I have a solid collection of reviews, but I have been taking between £1,500 to £2,000 in an average month.
“Because of all the bank holidays and half term in May, I took £3,500 after fees but before tax. Cat in a Flat takes a commission on all bookings through their site, and I set aside 20 percent from each booking for my tax return each year.”
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Mrs Khal said she now has over 100 cats to look after and sometimes, this will see her tend to eight different households in one day.
She cat-sits pretty much ever day, adding: ”It’s very rare for me not to be seeing at least one cat a day at the moment. During school holidays, I do get very busy and have been known to look after eight different households per day.
“It isn’t so bad at the weekends as I have a bit more time, but fitting them all in during the week before and after work can lead to some very early starts and late finishes! I now have over 100 cats who I look after, some more regularly than others, but I love visiting them all.”
According to Mrs Khal, the concept is that it is an alternative to a cattery, which some cats “really don’t get on with”.
She said: “With cat-sitting, they get to stay in their own home with their own things, their own food. I appreciate how much trust it takes to let a stranger come into your house while you’re away, which is why I always do a meet-and-greet beforehand so the owners can meet me.
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“But I also do things like watering plants, putting bins out and making the house look lived in while the owners are away, so I guess it adds a bit of security for them as well!”
Mrs Khal added: “I’ve made some genuine friends through cat-sitting, and it’s just lovely to be out and about in my local area and bumping into people whose cat I’ve looked after. Sometimes at the end of a long day, my face hurts from smiling so much. If I’ve had a bad day at my full-time job, knowing that I get to cuddle a cat or five at the end of the day makes it all seem a lot better.”
Despite the odd 5.30am wake-ups and the venture being “tricky” to manage at times, Ms Khal said that with her main salary “just about covering” her bills, the extra money has really “taken the pressure off” of her, financially.
She said: “All of my cat-sitting earnings go into my holiday fund. I love travelling and I’ve been able to afford to go on some really lovely holidays because of this extra money. I went to America twice last year, Madeira in February this year, and I’m going to Norway this summer.”
She added: “It’s also been really great not having to worry about money on days out with friends or when it comes to Christmas or birthdays. Having this extra ‘fun money’ has taken the pressure off.”
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