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  • Tara Crutchfield

Aussie Mom Pet Sitting

It’s 8 am on a weekday morning, and a puppy in Lakeland is waiting patiently by the front door. He makes a few trips padding back and forth to the front window overlooking the driveway. Joyful barks and tail wags can only mean one thing – the Aussie Bus is here! The good boy can hardly contain his excitement for the day ahead – fetch, playing with his friends, and belly rubs from his favorite doggy daycare moms. What does your dog do while you’re at work all day?


Owners of Aussie Mom Pet Sitting, Ashley and Nancy Lee, live in Bartow with their four dogs, three cats, and a tortoise. Ashley has degrees in graphic design and information technology and is currently pursuing a marketing and business degree. She began pet sitting while working full-time as a graphic designer and office manager for two aeronautics companies in Sarasota.


“I’m a veterinary technician, but I prefer not to work in the clinic because usually, that deals with the sad parts,” Ashley said. In 2016, she moved back to Polk County to care for her grandmother, whose health was declining, and Nancy’s mother had been diagnosed with cancer. Both Ashley and Nancy were in jobs that didn’t afford them the time with family they needed. So Ashley started pet sitting. She could use her education to care for animals without the emotionally challenging moments of working in a veterinary clinic and have freedom of schedule.


Nancy has ten years of certified dental technician experience and has also worked as a licensed cosmetologist. She wanted to be there for her mother’s chemotherapy treatments when she was diagnosed with cancer in 2016. “In the corporate world, your hours are set. And of course, I was a manager at the salon, so nobody could take my place,” Nancy said. She thought, “Let’s do this so we can both have opportunities to leave whenever we want and visit our family and be there for them.” She joined Ashley as a co-owner in Aussie Mom Pet Sitting. Though Nancy’s mom passed away in 2017, the career change allowed her to be there for her mom’s chemo each week. Nancy said that she has found her passion in pet care and, after having animals all her life, finds comfort in caring for them every day.


Another reason the Lee’s started a pet sitting business? “I also don’t trust anyone to watch my pet,” Ashley said. “There’s a need for somebody to provide a home environment where when I’m gone, they can take my dog, and they can still feel like they’re at home.”


DOGGY DAYCARE

When Aussie Mom first started, they offered home visits and overnight services. Their clientele has grown so much in the last six years that they no longer offer home visits but have plenty of services to keep tails wagging. In that time, they’ve taken care of kangaroos, cats, lizards, chinchillas, and bearded dragons, though now they focus their services on dogs (and the occasional bird). The Aussie Mom owners pride themselves on providing a professional and personalized pet care experience in an in-home environment serving Lakeland and Winter Haven. Services include doggy daycare/ play dates, boarding, and even transportation for pets on their Aussie Bus.


The latter service is a hit with pets and their humans alike. “As soon as [the dogs] see the leash, they know they’re going to Aussie Mom,” Nancy said. It eliminates the stress of adding another stop on the morning commute for clients. “I come between 7 am and 9 am,” said Nancy. “I pick them up, they come all day, and I drop them off between 4 pm and 6 pm. So, when you come back home from work, they’re tired.”


Clients fill out a form allowing Nancy to enter their homes so when she drops them off, she can fill their water and make sure they potty one more time. The Aussie Moms often have clients send pictures of their tuckered-out dog passed out on the couch with a big ‘Thank you!’


For any potential overnight guests, they set up a meet and greet for an assessment of the dog and always have them come over for a play date before boarding to make sure they get along with other pups. Nancy said, “It all depends on the dynamic – what their temperament is and what behaviors they have.” The number of dogs they’ll accept for boarding depends on the circumstance. They take the health and temperament of each precious pup into account. According to Ashley, “We’ve had dogs with heart failure where they can’t be overstimulated. We have to check on them every two hours to make sure they’re still breathing. They could go at any moment. If we have our pups and that guest, we wouldn’t take anybody else.” If there isn’t a high-maintenance pet coming in, the Aussie Moms limit boarding to four to five dogs.


The daycare has become the pet sitters’ most sought-after service. “It’s really good for people to take that effort and sign up for a day of daycare here and there for socialization,” said Ashley. The Bartow-based pet sitting company is currently fully booked for doggy daycare through the summer.


The ‘Aussie’ in Aussie Mom Pet Sitting is an homage to two of their pets, Aussies Roxy and Hurley. Roxy is the Aussie Mom mascot and a house mom of sorts amongst the dogs. The mellow rescue doggie, adopted at just four and a half weeks old, is now 13. Known to involve all the dogs in playtime, Roxy is helpful with dogs of all ages and dispositions. According to Ashley, “She’s really good if we have senior pups that need to be socialized but not overwhelmed.” Roxy will even comfort anxious dogs by snuggling with them.


PET CARE PROFESSIONALS

Aussie Mom Pet Sitting is a licensed LLC, insured through Business Insurers of the Carolinas and Certified through NAPPS (National Association of Professional Pet Sitters). They also hold certifications in Fear Free and Pet Behavior/Psychology. “The industry as a whole saw that anxiety was becoming a bigger issue,” said Ashley. “We network with other companies in Lakeland and Winter Haven. We have meetings every couple of months. Everybody was saying we’ve got to figure something out.” Ashley said of their Fear Free Certification, “It’s a lot about reading the body language of the pets. With COVID, a lot of people were home 24/7, and now their dogs have increased anxiety [because people are leaving home more and the dogs aren’t used to their absence].” Nancy noted that this could lead to some dogs becoming destructive when left alone.


Many of their clients have expressed that they haven’t been able to go out to dinner after the pandemic without their dog tearing up the house or becoming distressed when they go into the kennel. “That was part of the certification. It taught us how to read them and implement different ways to get them back into being a normal dog again,” Nancy said.


“When we started the business, we found there was a need for professional pet care,” Ashley said. “A lot of people will use Rover or Wag! or family members or neighbors and they find out that they never came, or they came for five minutes and left and didn’t feed them, or they went all weekend and the person came one time.” The neighborhood kid may be cheaper, but there is peace of mind with hiring a professional (especially one who is NAPPS certified) to care for your pet. The Aussie Moms encourage pet parents to do their research before entrusting their dogs into someone’s care. They work with the pet industry software, Time To Pet which gives an extra bit of assurance to their clients through tools like clock-in and clock-out if they were to visit someone’s home, photos, GPS when walking a dog, and report cards noting if the pet ate, drank water, or used the bathroom. “That software is a lifesaver because we used to do everything by hand,” said Nancy.


Ashley called pet sitting a 24/7, 365 job that is “different every day.” The pair hope to one day expand their labor of puppy love into a larger facility, perhaps a ‘barndominium’ property offering an in-home environment, and eventually grow their staff.


THE AUSSIE MOM FAMILY

For Ashley Lee, the best part of her job is seeing clients they’ve not seen for a while. “We’ll show up, and the dog just comes running to us like ‘Oh my God, where have you been?!’” she said. Though that is on occasion mixed with sad moments like when a senior dog they’ve grown to love passes away. She said, “We call them our ‘Aussie Mom Family’ because it’s like having a bunch of little nieces and nephews. We get attached, and it’s hard when they pass.”


Nancy said, “It’s probably the most fulfilling job I’ve ever had. They’re therapy. When my mom passed away, this is what got me through it. [...] You can go to your 9-5 job every day, but the happiness you see and when the clients tell you how much they appreciate you because it’s like their child – to feel like you’re a part of their family as much as they’re a part of yours – it’s just so fulfilling.”


Aussie Mom Pet Sitting

FB @AussieMomPetSittingLLC

IG @aussiemompetsitting

863-701-3137


Photography by Amy Sexson

Yorumlar


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