Running a Pet Care Business: Chatting with Marlene Richardson, Former Pet Care Professional

Marlene Richardson with her pooch Zeus. Photo provided by Ms. Richardson and used with her permission.

Meet Marlene “Marly” Richardson, a neighbor of mine. We met because we both walk our dogs. One day we got to talking about our pets (she has four others in addition to Zeus: Tipsy, a free-roaming house rabbit; Pip the guinea pig; and two doves, Cisco and Cecilia) and our love for animals. Somehow my being a Pets Blogger came up and she mentioned how she’d been a pet sitter.

I thought, “How interesting. That’d make a neat blog.” So I asked if she’d consider being interviewed. She enthusiastically agreed.

In this first part, I focus on how she got into the business and how she ran it.

Courtney Mroch: How did you decide to get into the pet sitting business?

Marly Richardson: I have always had a passion for animals. Even as a child, the neighbors depended on me to care for their pets while they were away. Long-story-short, I grew up, went to school (majored in Organizational Communication and Psychology), and spent the next 13 years climbing the proverbial corporate ladder, all-the-while volunteering at local animal shelters and caring for other peoples’ pets.

When my husband and I moved to New York in 2004, our circumstances finally allowed for me to devote my full attention to my TRUE CALLING: providing TLC to critters of all types -furry, feathered and finned!

CM: How long did you have your pet care business?

MR: About two years. (We moved from Boston to NY in mid-2004, and moved from NY to TN in early 2007… husband’s job situation, you know.) Prior to launching the pet care business, I had worked in Corporate America for 13 years while getting my animal “fix” by volunteering at animal shelters and, of course, pet sitting for friends and neighbors (although at the time, I had no idea “pet sitting” was even an industry!).

CM: What did you call it?

MR: “Southern Dutchess Pet Care Services.” “Dutchess” was the county, and my theory was that people would be able to discern my territory from the name of the business. My tag-line was, “Peace-of-mind for pets and their people.” :)

Southern Duchess Pet Care Service Logo, created by Megan Belanger and provided by Marlene Richardson, former owner of Southern Duchess

CM: What sort of services did you offer?

MR: My services were completely customized to the needs and requests of each individual client, two-legged or four! And by “completely customized,” I mean “COMPLETELY CUSTOMIZED!” For example, I had a client that liked me to sing to her parrot! (And you know I did it, too!)

“General” services (for lack of a better term) included

• dog-walking

• exercise & playtime

• all-positive, reward-based training (no choke chains or punishment – ever!)

• feeding & watering

• medication administration (I discovered I have quite the talent for pilling cats!)

• transportation (ie; to the vet or groomer)

• light grooming (brushing, nail trims)

• yard/litter-box cleanups

• lots of quality care, attention, companionship, and LOVIN’s!!!!

I charged by the half-hour, as opposed to per each service performed (I didn’t want to “nickel-and-dime” my clients). I also offered “complimentary” services such as watering plants, bringing in the mail, taking out the trash, and alternating lights and curtains (as a crime-deterrent). People entrusted me with their pets, but also with their homes and possessions; I took my clients’ security very seriously.

I also sold one product: the Sense-ation Harness.

CM: What kind of pets did you care for? The standard dogs and cats or all sorts of animals?

MR: The majority of my furry clients were dogs and cats; however, I also cared for birds, rabbits, rodents, ferrets, reptiles, chickens, fish (including sharks!). I even looked after a couple beehives! I also received accreditation through Pet Sitters International after successfully completing a 400-question exam which covered every imaginable facet of caring for every possible “pet” (if the animal was considered a “pet,” I was qualified to care for it)! To give you an idea of how much information was covered in this course/exam, question #1 on the test was, “What is the average body temperature of a chicken?” (Answer is: 104-107 degrees).

CM: Did you watch the animals in their homes or yours?

MR: 99% of my business was caring for the animals in their own homes. I operated under the premise that pets fare best in their own environments, where all the sites, smells and sounds are familiar. Animals, like many humans, are creatures of habit and prefer to follow consistent schedules and routines. I feel that visiting pets in their own surroundings greatly reduces their stress while their people are away.

CM: What did you enjoy most about it?

MR: THE PETS! What other job can you imagine in which the “clients” are always happy to see you, greeting you with wagging tails, happy barks, sloppy kisses and wiggling butts! I also greatly enjoyed creating/updating my website and advertising materials, and sending out newsletters and pet tips to my human clients.

CM: What did you dislike about it?

MR: The driving between appointments. I would easily put 100 miles on my car in one day! And fuel prices in New York were insane at that time!

CM: Do you think you’ll ever start it up again?

MR: Oh, I would absolutely love to, and hope I will at some point in the future. At present, our situation requires me to re-enter the corporate world, but I will always have pets and pet care in my heart!

In Part Two, Marly answers questions about what it takes to start a pet sitting business…

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