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September 27, 2012
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In-home pet services: A booming business in the Grand Valley

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. -Leaving a pet behind - whether it's during work, vacation or even a family emergency - can be a stressful experience for both animal and owner. That's why in-home pet services (especially for dogs) are a booming business in the Grand Valley, with a demand seeming to outgrow provider capacities on a regular basis. It's a professional pet sitter's market; in fact, word of mouth is the only advertisement needed for bonded and insured pet sitters with good reputations. With waiting lists being the norm, those searching for a professional pet sitter and dog walker should do so well in advance of their need.Case in point, Erika Hall started Strutt Your Mutt in February 2012 and her business is already in such high demand she regularly turns away prospective customers. "I don't have enough time in my day" to accommodate everyone who requests in-home dog services, Hall said. The behavioral-focused dog-service business currently offers a variety of benefits for its customers - in-home dog sitting, daily dog walks, private boarding and behavioral management.Why are professional pet sitters so busy? Hall said she thinks it's because "our pets are our babies, and we want to provide reliable services for them." Plus, people are working more hours and don't generally have as much time for their dogs, causing "behavioral issues to pop up." There's also a large retired population in the Grand Valley, creating situations where people want pets but also have the time and money to travel regularly."Professional dog sitters take 100-percent pride in what they do, and we want people to come home and feel like they've never left," Hall said. "It's not a hobby, and dog service is very rewarding."With only a handful of professional pet sitters in the Grand Valley, Hall said it's a tight-knit, friendly group that doesn't view each other as competitors."We can all be in business together because there's that much demand," Hall said. "And we're bonded and insured. That sets us apart from the hobbiest."Danna Hayden, who runs A Paw Apart Pet Sitting Service in Fruita, agreed that referrals are definitely important for pet sitters operating in the Grand Valley."Pets are our furry children, and people do anything to ensure that their pets are healthy, happy and well taken care of," Hayden said. "One pet sitter can't help everybody. It's not competition, and everyone seems to be doing well. When someone is booked up, we're happy to refer. Sometimes we refer to several sitters and they're all booked up."Hayden, who started her own pet-sitting business four years ago, said she has a 50/50 focus on both dogs and cats"Hiring a professional pet sitter is a wonderful alternative to kenneling because the pet - dog or kitty - can stay in the comfort of familiar surroundings, which enables them to stick to a normal routine. That greatly reduces stress levels of a pet. Also, with pet sitters, the animals get a lot of personalized attention. Overall, animals stay happy and healthy. They're not at risk for diseases, either."While dog walking is a small part of Hayden's business, she said her pet-sitting services are her bread and butter. One visit costs between $16-$18.50, and she can care for 10-12 pets daily.And, just like Hall, Hayden said professional pet sitters take their jobs quite seriously - it takes a lot of responsibility, time management and patience."Pet services will always be in demand," Hayden said, "regardless of the economy."The Animal Nanny is a perfect example of a pet-care business seeing growth in a down economy. Colin Horton started operating on her own in 1999 when she was fresh out of vet-tech school, and she now employs 12 people, including pet sitters and dog walkers who provide in-home care. She said she has pet-care professionals with medical experience, too.Doggy daycare services are provided at Horton's Grand Junction property. And though she sees a flux in pet/owner needs around the holidays, business tends to stay steady all year. Horton's daycare is for dogs of all ages, sizes and breeds, and dogs aren't in cages. They're separated into groups and able to play all day. She also offers grooming services for pets in her care, especially if they're staying for longer periods of time.Trial periods with dogs are the norm at Horton's doggy daycare, and she reserves the right to say no if a dog causes problems."I say no quite a bit to keep the business at manageable levels, and we don't accept aggressive dogs," she said. "We don't do cats; though I want to do cats some day."Sandie Mulcahy, who runs Clifton's Grand Valley Precious Paws, cares for a variety of animals - dogs, cats, and even large animals including horses, chickens, goats and cows. "I have the best job in the world," Mulcahy said. "I get to play with everybody else's prized possessions."According to Mulcahy, she loves the variety of animals in her care and she has a lot of fun doing farm care.Dealing with big animal visits is very different from dogs and cats, she noted."You get a lot of people in the valley with horses that can't go out of town," Mulcahy said. "I have a horse, so I know the ins and outs and signs of sickness."Mulcahy also spends a lot of time transporting animals to vet and grooming appointments."People want to feel comfortable and have a warm, fuzzy feeling with their pet sitter," Mulcahy said. "It's nice to be an emergency contact."

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The Post Independent Updated Sep 27, 2012 05:27PM Published Sep 27, 2012 05:05PM Copyright 2012 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.