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Going to the dogs: Despite economy, pet-sitting services still popular luxury

Posted: Tuesday, November 25, 2008

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Amy Disney was 12 in 1982 when a pit bull owned by her father's friend brutally attacked her at a family barbecue, leaving her with 250 stitches in her face and in need of a dozen plastic surgeries.

But Disney, now 38, bears only a small scar and no hard feelings toward dogs.

"It never affected me that way," she said of the traumatic experience.

Today, she and her fiance, Travis Parmelee, 35, have four dogs and three cats. "I love my animals. There isn't a dog I don't love."

And in September, the couple went into business based on their love for animals, caring for other people's pets when they are on vacation, on business trips - or just at work for the day. They started up a local franchise of Fetch Pet Care, a 6-year-old national company whose franchisees serve 1,800 locations in 35 states, according to the company's Web site.

Fetch isn't the only national pet-sitting and kennel franchise. Other companies include Dogtopia, Preppy Pet, and Central Bark Doggy Day Care.

Paul Mann, CEO of Fetch Pet Care, said in a news release that the company is doing well despite the economy because people don't want to neglect their pets as they work longer hours to make ends meet.

Fetch services include private dog walks, off-leash dog "playgroups," cat and small pet visits, in-home overnight sitting, fitness programs, private dog boarding and yard clean-up services. There's even "day care" for animals while owners are at work.

Disney and Parmelee have 60 feline and canine clients. But so far, that's not enough for them to quit their day jobs, she said. He works full-time in health care marketing, and she works a flexible 15 hours a week as a billing specialist.

Vicki-lynne Gloger, who has four dogs, travels a lot and sometimes works long hours as a chief operating officer of a multi-specialty physician practice, relies on A Friend in the Woods Pet Sitting.

"It's a heavenly service. When we come back, the dogs are happy, and the house is safe. It makes me feel very comfortable and not guilty for traveling as many weekends as we do," she said.

Matthew Meshnick has run A Friend in the Woods for six years. He said some other private pet-sitting firms have reported business has been off lately, but his has held steady.

"We've had a little drop, but it hasn't been marked," he said.

Disney said she's not aiming for fortune.

"We're not trying to get rich. We get to play with dogs and get paid for it," she said.



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