Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell

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Posted on March 31, 2004
Page: 8


From snakes to terriers, Barking Club cares for pets

Pet-sitting business serves southern Johnson County

Eddie Valdez admits that snakes aren't his favorite type of pet, but he has gotten used to them since starting his business, the JoCo Barking Club.

Snakes are just one of the many family pets that the JoCo Barking Club will sit while pet owners travel or spend long hours at work.

"About 50 percent of our business is cats, but we sit dogs, reptiles and birds," said Valdez. "I initially didn't want to do snakes, but the smaller ones aren't so bad."

The JoCo Barking Club represents a growing in-home pet sitting trend in the United States. According to Pet Sitters International, the largest trade organization for the industry, their national membership has grown from 1,000 pet sitter members in 1995 to 5,700 members in October.

"Pet sitting has been around for awhile, but it has really taken off in the past 10 years," said Sheila Smith, public relations specialist for Pet Sitters International. "The main reason is that people are showing their pets a lot more care."

Carrie Bernauer of Leawood has two dogs, Lucy, a 14-year-old Border collie, and Lily, a 1-year-old Labrador retriever. She prefers a pet sitting service to kenneling her dogs while out of town.

"Having an older dog, she can't hold it for a long time and the younger one needs exercise," said Bernauer. "I feel like they are more settled at home."

Smith's organization estimates 62 percent of U.S. households, or 64.2 million homes, have at least one pet and that pet owners spend an estimated $31 billion a year on their animals. About 30 percent of pet owners use a pet sitter while traveling and 22 percent use a kennel or veterinarian.

Smith said the trend in providing better care for pets and the downturn in some aspects of the economy has led to the boom in the pet sitting industry.

"People get laid off, and this is an opportunity to start their own business," said Smith. "There aren't a lot of start-up costs, and there isn't a lot of intense training to start."

Smith said they have eight members in the Johnson County area, including five in Overland Park, two in Leawood and one in Olathe.

"I've seen a lot of fly-by-night operations come and go," said Valdez. "People don't realize when they get into this business that we can't go on vacation when other people go."

For example, Christmas is one of their busiest times of the year, Valdez said.

"We can't have a regular Christmas, but it is a small sacrifice because most days are usually pretty stress-free," Valdez said.

Concern for his own animals while he was out of town several years ago prompted Valdez to start his business in 2002. Like Bernauer, who is one of his clients, he has an older and a younger dog.

Valdez researched the industry online and through Pet Sitters International. He acquired books on dog breeds and learned about their traits.

"We have never found a problem with a particular breed, but we visit with the animals first so they recognize us," Valdez said.

For a pet under 25 pounds, the daily rate for each 30-minute visit is $10. Additional pets are $2.50. The rate increases to $11.50 a visit for a pet 26 to 50 pounds.

Valdez or one of his three employees will meet with the pets and their owners before agreeing to sit with them.

They then determine whether owners need a one-time service while out of town or if they would like to take advantage of daily rate discounts, which require a four-day continuous weekly visit.

The sitters will visit pets for 30 minutes at a time up to several times a day. They will play and exercise the pets, feed and water them and, if necessary, dispense special treats and/or oral medications.

About half of the JoCo Barking Club's business requires daily visits to assist pet owners who work long hours.

The JoCo Barking Club has about 200 clients and serves southern Johnson County. They also serve the Waldo and Plaza areas on the Missouri side.

Finding a pet sitter

Pet Sitters International advises that good pet sitters:

Are bonded and insured.

Can provide references.

Have experience in caring for pets and are clearly mindful of the animals' safety and well-being.

Provide literature describing services and fees.

Visit the client's home before the first pet sitting assignment to meet the pets and get detailed information about their care.

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