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Published: Sunday, 7/3/2011 - Updated: 3 years ago

PETS' BEST FRIEND

Professional sitters step in when owners are away

BY ROD LOCKWOOD
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Marilyn Schnapp, a professional pet sitter who has owned Luv’n Your Pets for 12 years, says she enjoys being around animals. Marilyn Schnapp, a professional pet sitter who has owned Luv’n Your Pets for 12 years, says she enjoys being around animals.
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Marilyn Schnapp’s clients greet her every day with big toothy grins, some of them jumping with unrestrained joy when they see her walk in the door. Others yowl excitedly and rub themselves against her legs.

Just imagine how cool it would be if you walked into work every morning to this: "YOU’RE HERE!!!! YOU’RE HERE!!!! OH MY GOSH, I’M SO HAPPY TO SEE YOU!!!!!!!!!"

For a professional pet sitter it’s the daily routine, and for many of them that reaction is the biggest fringe benefit of a job that requires relentlessly adhering to a schedule, maintaining the finely detailed logistical coordination of an army on the move, and possessing a unique combination of people and pet skills.

"When you walk in the door everybody goes, ‘Yay, she’s here,’ so that part is really cool," said Lisa Damschroder, who has operated Pet Valet in the Toledo area for 10 years. "And it’s a very personal business because people are letting you into their homes to take care of their babies, their living creatures, and I take that very seriously."

Her attitude was echoed by Ms. Schnapp, who has owned Luv’n Your Pets for 12 years.

"They’re all glad to see me, every one of them. I just enjoy being around animals, I’ve always had animals and I enjoy teaching them new things."

Not surprisingly in a country where there are an estimated 77 million dogs and about the same number of cats — not to mention birds, rabbits, turtles, hamsters, and who-knows-what — pet sitting has become a fairly bustling business. The trade association Pet Sitters International has 8,000 members and a third of them make $40,000 a year or more caring for pets in the animals’ homes.

There are nine pet sitting services listed in the Toledo-area AT&T Yellow Pages catering to pet owners who need someone to check in on their animals while they’re on vacation, unexpectedly out of town, or dealing with long hours at work. These are generally people who don’t want to take their animals — dogs especially — to kennels.

Comfort factor

Chris Davies of Sylvania has utilized Ms. Schnapp’s services for about nine years. She has four dogs, four cats, and a bird and she said she has complete trust in the pet sitter to ensure that if she’s gone, the animals are in good hands.

"The thing I like about Marilyn is she doesn’t come in and say, ‘Go potty’ and leave. She spends time with the animals," Ms. Davies said.

Sally Jeffrey, a professional pet sitter, lets Rascal, a female shih-tzu, have a treat after their walk around the perimeter of Sunset House. Sally Jeffrey, a professional pet sitter, lets Rascal, a female shih-tzu, have a treat after their walk around the perimeter of Sunset House.
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Over time they’ve developed a strong personal friendship that grows from trusting someone to look after pets that in some cases need medical treatment — Ms. Schnapp has given insulin shots to Ms. Davies’ diabetic cat — a theme that was repeated by other pet sitters in the area.

"It’s just a comfort you have to have because your dogs are part of your family," Ms. Davies said. "I love those people who do that kind of stuff. It’s a comforting thing for me to go away and have her here."

What you need to know

Hiring a pet sitter starts with determining how often you will need the person, whether it’s every day or just a couple of times a year for vacation. Of course, you need to make sure that your animals are friendly with strangers and that they’ll accept someone coming into the home when you’re gone.

Professional pet sitters are bonded and insured, which means if anything turns up missing in your home or your pet is injured or lost, those costs are covered. If the pet sitter is not bonded or insured, you might want to look for one who is because it is a general professional standard.

You should always interview the prospective sitter before making a decision to make sure you have a good feel for the person, that he or she meets your animals in advance, and that you feel comfortable about the relationship. After all, you’re giving this person a key to your house and entrusting your animal to him or her.

Sally Jeffrey of We Share Pet Care in Toledo recommends checking the Better Business Bureau and doing some simple Google searches to double-check the sitter’s qualifications and see if any complaints have been registered. She also said it helps if the sitter has his or her own animals.

"It doesn’t really take a lot of training to do this, it just takes common sense, but I probably wouldn’t trust somebody who doesn’t have pets," Ms. Jeffrey said.

The fees for pet sitters are generally $15-$20 a visit, but they vary based on factors such as how many animals you have and what’s required.

One major advantage of hiring a sitter is that your animals don’t have to be kenneled. While many kennels are fine, they involve taking the pet — usually a dog — out of his element into one that can be strange and potentially stressful. For some dogs this isn’t a problem, while others don’t react well.

Professional pet sitter Marilyn Schnapp takes Zoe for a walk. Professional pet sitter Marilyn Schnapp takes Zoe for a walk.
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Dorothy Ashley of West Toledo hired Ms. Schnapp several years ago to watch her five Labrador retrievers when she and her family go on vacation because she was tired of kenneling them.

"They get real depressed; they were outside their environment and [at home] they get excellent care by Marilyn and they’re in their own environment and that’s a comfort for me," Ms. Ashley said.

Hard work

Working as a pet sitter is a surprisingly demanding job. Your schedule has to be finely tuned so you don’t have too many clients and each morning, afternoon, and evening you have to coordinate your visits so the animals get outside to do their business, have some time to stretch and play or walk, and eat.

Cat litter boxes need to be checked and sometimes animals require medication.

Ms. Damschroder said summers and holidays are hectic.

"Summertime is always extremely busy for me. On a busy day I basically do three shifts where I’m doing a group of pet visits in the morning, the afternoon, and the evening," she said. "It’s extremely busy. I would not recommend trying pet sitting if you have another job because it’s impossible. This is a seven-day-a-week job and you have to be available all the time."

Ms. Schnapp said the job is "24/7" and she has as many as 50 active clients at a time. Of course they don’t need her all at once, but she has everything from regulars who have her come over and walk their dog a couple of times a day to people who are vacationing or need last-minute help.

Ms. Jeffrey has been running her business for four years and, like Ms. Damschroder and Ms. Schnapp, she said the most rewarding part is the relationships you develop with the clients and the animals.

But, she added one piece of advice for cleaning up after your "customers."

"I had a part-time job and quit that to do this full-time because I’ve become that busy, which is wonderful. I’d much rather do pet-sitting than anything. And you can’t be allergic to poop, that’s for sure. You have to be poop-friendly," she said, laughing.

Contact Rod Lockwood at rlockwood@theblade.com or 419-724-6159.



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