From Avon Life Business
By Natalie K. Pollock
When Kim and Wayne Thomas were looking for someone to care for their beloved dog Jasper on their getaway weekends and holidays, there was often no room at the kennels for their family pet. Frustration led to a new business idea.
In 2006, they began offering an alternative for those animal owners similarly situated and now they are expanding into Avon (2008) and the rest of the Farmington Valley. They have started Avon Pet Sitters with a new web site and logo, separate from their West Hartford Pet Sitters web site, and are servicing new clients over the mountain from their West Hartford home.
“Now we have a staff, so we have the time to set up a business here. We are based in West Hartford, but we travel to Avon,” said Mr. Thomas.
“The plan is to look for a house and/or space in Avon to move the business, so that we can be centrally located to both business areas. Our current house is on a small lot and all of the houses are close together.”
His wife added “in January we started visiting kennels in Avon and Canton. We found there were a lot of kennels, but not a lot of pet sitters. And some of our callers from this area were telling us they found problems with the sitters they were using, like they were not returning their calls or their keys.”
When they first established their West Hartford business, pet sitting was still a new idea. Most people relied on kennels, family and friends for their pet care. They were doing the same thing.
“We used to cobble together different people for different days, between family members, friends and co-workers. Then you feel that you owe them a favor. I heard about the pet sitting concept and began looking through the Yellow Pages,” said Mr. Thomas.
At the same time, his wife was looking for a new business involvement. She had been working in investment relations for an investor relations consulting group in New York City and then in CT, doing planning for a manufacturing facility (Stanley Works).
He told her she should think about offering in-home pet sitting as a business because the service was not readily available. He felt there would be a big demand for pet sitting. Their neighbors and friends were already calling upon them to care for their animals during vacations.
The Thomas’ began to get referrals for mostly midday and weekend services through friends and saw the demand increase. Subsequently, they contacted an attorney and went through the legal process of setting up their new business, including becoming insured and bonded to go into people’s homes.
“There has especially been a demand from people who travel for work, They usually do not get much notice and if they have to look for pet care repeatedly (in a short time frame), it starts to wear on people,” said Mrs. Thomas. As word spread from satisfied clients, they began getting calls from all over the area including Simsbury, Avon, Burlington and Manchester.
“People would see our web site and call and we would say they are outside of our area. It was not logistically possible to go to all these locations. So we started hiring employees and we were very picky,” said Mrs. Thomas.
They conduct background checks to screen for criminal activity and the owners are diligent about calling their applicants’ references. New employees are hired with a 90 day probationary period and are required to attend pet first aid classes and go through at least 3 weeks of hands-on, monitored training.
Mr. and Mrs. Thomas are certified by the American Red Cross, where they learned emergency medical techniques specifically for animals, including CPR and resuscitation methods.
“One day, a dog’s ear was bloody when we arrived. We stopped the bleeding and knew it was just a bite, but our pet sitters must be able to make that determination and know what to do,” said Mrs. Thomas.
In the summer, they are careful with certain dog breeds, like retrievers, which are susceptible to bloat and stomach turning if they are fed first and then taken outside for an extended exercise period. There are other breeds that do not tolerate heat well like pugs and bulldogs.
“We educate owners who do not know these things. I told a cat owner recently, when I saw an arrangement of lilies on the table, that these flowers are toxic to cats, just as antifreeze is toxic for dogs. This business has become my life and I love animals,” she said.
They have two tabby cats, Simba and Seymour, who are both rescued animals, and a German shepherd named Heidi who was trained as a Fidelco guide dog for the blind. They also volunteer and do fund raising for Our Companions, an animal sanctuary in Ashford. “I love puppies. We have an educational puppy program for our clients that explains puppy care. Kim wrote it up,” Mr. Thomas said. “(For example,) crate training is beneficial. Puppies want to be clean, so you should have a crate that is big enough for the puppy to lie down and turn around, but not so big that it can go in the corner. So they have to whine to go out.”
Their growing business is now a full-time venture for Mrs. Thomas, open seven days a week and 365 days a year.
Mr. Thomas works another job so that he can provide health care insurance. He is a Supervisor for a growing manufacturer or medical equipment.
For the first time in three years, they have begun going away for vacation, now that they have staff to do the pet care visits, dog walks, meds and handle client relations.
“We give our clients plenty of notice. In February there is a light demand for our services, so we take off then. Even if we are away, I want to be within a certain radius of the business, in the case of an emergency,” Mrs. Thomas said. This will change as our Manager becomes more ingrained in the business.
“I feel a certain obligation to the client. That’s what I would want. We have also developed relationships with local vets and know where to go in an emergency for good service.”
Most of their clients call for pet sitting service in the midday hours and mostly for their dogs. Sometimes during the visit, they will provide a free leash-training lesson to teach the dog not to pull and to develop better leash
Some of their clients use them regularly and others just in special situations. In either case, keeping pets on their normal schedule for meals, walks, medication and one-on-one care and attention accrues noticeable benefits by reducing stress on the animals and their owners.
A month ago, one Avon couple started using Pet Sitters every Friday night. They have decided to take one day a week to go out without worrying about their newborn baby, who stays with the husband’s mother, and their two dogs, who receive a visit from the pet sitter.
“We don’t go home after work on Fridays. We play golf in a mixed event for couples at the Farmington Golf Club. We found Pet Sitters through a LIFE newspaper ad and went online to contact them,” said Andy Ozmun.
“We had used another service, but they opened another business. With Kim, the dogs are comfortable and happy when we come back. She comes twice, in the early afternoon and later, and leaves us a note about how things went.” He hopes to continue the Friday night date tradition with his wife Susan even after golf season and will definitely continue using the services of Pet Sitters.
“We love our pets. They are like our children. So we recognize that other people feel that way. We want to give them the best possible care. This is our life, our passion,” Mrs. Thomas said. Her husband added “I would do it full time if I could. I love working with dogs.”
For more information about Avon Pet Sitters visit www.avonpetsitters.com or call 860-231-0494.
-Avon Life Magazine