Life throws you curve balls. Karen Tennant knows that all too well.
After 15 years of working in the mortgage and property preservation sector, her employer, GreenPoint Mortgage, was bought out by Capital One five years ago. The jobs were moved from Columbus to Texas.
Still, the Midland resident landed on her feet, securing a similar position with a company in Harris County before that job, too, was relocated to Marietta, Ga.
Yet one constant in Tennant's life has been watching and checking up on the pets of friends and family members, something she had done for roughly two decades.
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Thus, after a year of unemployment and more time taking odds jobs here and there -- bookkeeping and catering -- Tennant decided to take a bite out of the business world. In September, she launched Karen 4 Your Pets, a home-based and insured service that operates in Columbus, Harris County and parts of east Alabama.
Should one think this a mere hobby, Pet Sitters International estimates its 7,000-plus members generated a collective $325 million in revenue in 2010. Not too shaggy ... uh ... we mean shabby.
The Ledger-Enquirer talked with Tennant recently about her sideline job-turned-vocation, and the skills one needs, along with the experiences she has had as a professional pet sitter. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What's a typical day like for you?
Last night, I did a meet and greet with somebody I will be sitting for Thanksgiving with three cats. And I've got another one today that I'm meeting to sit for one cat at Thanksgiving. I've got one lady I sit for pretty regularly and she's got five dogs and five cats. That's probably one of my busiest days when I go over there. I'm usually there about 45 minutes each visit.
What kind of skills do you need for this job?
You have to love animals and you have to have patience. If people have more than one type of animal, one may take longer to go to the bathroom or to eat if you have to pick up the bowls. I sat for a dog recently that doesn't like people to pet it. It's kind of like customer service with people, you have to be able to accommodate every type of pet, because some will jump up on you and love you, and some will be like, don't touch me, leave me alone. Some cats you may never even see them. It's so different. You just really have to appreciate animals to do it.
The animals can read your body language?
Absolutely. I've had so many people say, My cat won't go near anybody, and I'll walk in and they come sit on my lap. They really do know (if you are an animal person).
Do you ever feel threatened by any pets?
No. The lady that has the 10 animals, she has a rottweiler that actually has lifted me off the ground with his head and knocked me over. He's about 150 pounds and thinks he is a chihauhau. He just thinks he's a little baby. But I've never worried that he would hurt me maliciously. He may knock me over because he's excited to see me.
In fact, she had trouble finding a pet sitter because she's got a German Shepherd, a Staffordshire Terrier and the Rottweiler. She said everybody else turned her down. And I said, well, I judge animals like people. I assume they're good unless they prove otherwise. I don't go in with any preconceived notions of breeds. A lot of people won't sit cats, but that's crazy.
What's your biggest challenge?
It's actually holding myself back because I want to know everything and do everything. I'm just going into it so excited that I have to remember to keep organized and why I'm doing it. I just have to make sure that I rein myself in and don't go too overboard with anything.
Right now, I'm learning pet massage. I'm actually sitting in January for two golden retrievers that are going to be my first real guinea pigs. According to the classes that I've been taking (online), they're the best animals to practice on because they're so relaxed and easy to work with. So I'm going to start including that with my pet sitting.
As you are pet sitting, you do things like take in the mail and newspapers and water plants. Is that normal in the profession?
Most pet sitters do. That way it looks like somebody's home. I rotate lights, and I have a few people that I use their garage door instead of a key, so it really looks like somebody's home. When somebody's out of town, it's good to have somebody going in and out, so the home looks occupied.
It's obvious that customers have to trust you inside your home?
There is a lot of trust. That's why when I pet sit I text the owner when I get there and when I leave to let them know that everything's OK. It gives them a little peace of mind that everything went well.
Have you had any unusual experiences?
I sat at my home for a bearded dragon once, and I had a chow, my dog, and she just sat there and would not leave the side of that bearded dragon for three days. She just thought that was the best thing ever.
Have there been any heart-breaking moments?
No, but I have been sitting for a dog two and a half years. She is 11 and is a 140-pound mountain dog. She is huge and their life expectancy isn't too long, and as I watch her get older it's very difficult. The owner goes out of town four days a week, so she's like mine. I get attached to animals extremely easily.
What's the benefit of hiring a pet sitter versus dropping them at a kennel?
The best thing about having a pet-sitting service is your pet gets to stay in their own environment. It's such a benefit with their routines, their normal eating and they don't have to worry about anxiety while traveling in a car. It really does stress out a lot of pets.
You're heading into a busy season with the holidays?
Yeah. So is spring break. With Thanksgiving coming up, I'm not booked up at all, but I've got quite a few, so I'm excited about that. It kind of takes away from my holiday time, but that's fine. If everybody else gets to enjoy their holiday, it's worth it.
Why do you enjoy doing this?
Dealing with animals is the most pleasurable, rewarding job you could possibly have. They're always happy to see you. And you're giving somebody else the ability to do something fun without worrying about their pets. And the pets are always happy when you walk in the door.
Do you have pets of your own?
I do not. I had to put my yellow lab to sleep in January, and it kind of worked out that I do this business because I can have the benefit of having a pet ... I'm not ready (for another) yet. It's really hard. But I still get to love on animals everyday. It's wonderful, an absolute blessing.