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Pampering Our Furry Friends: From in-home sitters to spa treatments, Centre County pet care is reaching new levels

by on September 27, 2018 10:22 AM

If you’re a pet owner in Happy Valley, you’ve likely noticed that the options for pet care are just about as varied as the type of pet you might own.

From overnight boarding to doggy daycare, spa treatments to grooming that comes to you, if your pet needs it, you’ll find it.

These aren’t just college students walking your dog to earn a quick buck; the area boasts a community of pet-care professionals that take their industry (and your pet’s well-being) seriously.

“There’s a big difference between a professional pet sitter and a hobbyist pet sitter who just does it to make a few dollars,” Trina Bauer explains. Bauer is the owner of Pet Pals Plus, serving the area for 25 years.

At the time she founded her business, she was one of the only providers in the State College area and she’s seen the industry grow by leaps and bounds over time.

“[When we first started and] people called me up and asked me what the service was about, I had to explain it to them in detail how we worked. Now, I get calls from people saying they relocated from Maryland or Virginia or New York and they had a pet sitter there and are looking for someone they can develop a relationship with here in State College. I don’t even have to sell what we offer anymore; it’s a commonplace service.

“Going back 25 years ago, it wasn’t common to think about someone coming into your home, you giving me a key and me coming into your house and taking care of your animal. It was a little odd for a lot of people.”

While having outdoor services such as roofing and gardening performed while a homeowner was away was routine, Bauer notes, pet care and pet sitting was one of the first services to go inside the home. Regardless, she says that over time, in-home pet care became what some people wanted, because they realized it causes their pets less stress.

“Now we feel guilty leaving our pets and we want to dote on them while we’re gone; we’re willing to spend the money and have people come in, and people don’t think twice about having someone come into their homes.”

It’s somewhat easier for homeowners to trust pet-care professionals, thanks in part to the large support system of services available to the pet-care professionals themselves.

Kristen Hansen, owner of Hansen Home and Pet Sitting, turned her occasional sitting for acquaintances into a full-time business in 2012. She received training and accreditation from the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters, which teaches everything from how to run a business to pet first aid and, she says, even how to dislodge something from a cat’s throat. Her business is additionally insured through companies that specialize in pet-care insurance, and the insurance not only covers the pet, but also the client’s home, in the event that a sitter leaves the water running or loses a key.

Regardless of who you speak with, the in-home pet-sitting experience is similar. A pet sitter meets you at your home, gets to know you and your pet, learns about your pet’s normal routine, and asks a series of questions in order to best meet their needs.

However, Bauer acknowledges that in-home pet sitting isn’t the best option for every animal.

“Pet sitting isn’t for every dog,” she says. “If you have a puppy who needs to go to the bathroom every other hour, we’re not going to be the service for them. If you have an older dog that’s dealing with incontinence problems, we’re not going to be the service for that dog. If you have a cat that needs a lot of medication, we might not be the right solution. When we’re not sure if [the animal is] a match for pet sitting, we do a trial run.”

In some instances, particularly for animals that may suffer from separation anxiety, a boarding facility or doggy daycare may be a better fit. Bauer mentions several she’s seen become so anxious when their owners are away that they cause mass destruction to a home, from ripped up carpet to drywall torn down to the brick.

While you might be familiar with traditional pet boarding, doggy daycare is a relatively newer concept and is, in many ways, similar to daycare for a child. Instead of acting as a home away from home while your family is on vacation, like a boarding facility, doggy daycares offer care during normal working hours only.

Dog Valley Daycare is one such provider, opened in 2016 by Nancy Sommer and her husband. The daycare runs Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. The facility, just off Interstate 99 in Pleasant Gap, was built specifically for its purpose. Sommer decided to pursue the business after taking her own puppy to a doggy daycare in State College and loving the experience.

“I had my dog in a daycare in town in State College and she loved it,” Sommer says. “I loved taking her when I was at work. She was a puppy at the time and she really enjoyed the social activities, interaction, and exercise.”

Since opening, the center has expanded its services to include grooming – and this just isn’t any old wash and rinse. Grooming manager Chelsea McCartney is a certified pet stylist and she and her team stay abreast of all the grooming trends, from the most fashionable cuts to better, easier ways to combat fleas and ticks with grooming products.

If your pooch is feeling a little under the weather, you can even schedule a spa day, just in time for game days, too; your dog is outfitted with a Penn State bandana, male or female cologne spray, and even PSU blue hair color and nail polish (all dog-friendly, of course).

Currently, Dog Valley Daycare welcomes 35-40 dogs per day in its 1,200 square feet of indoor play area and acre of outdoor play space. A planned upcoming addition and renovation will allow for 10-20 more dogs per day.

Beyond the daily daycare and spa treatments, one trend that’s made a big impact on pet care is, of course, technology. Take, for example, Rover. One of the first services to pop up on a Google search for local pet care, Rover was founded in 2011 in Seattle and quickly spread across the country, connecting pet sitters and dog walkers with pet owners in just about every city.

“Twenty years ago there was no such thing as Rover, and pet parents were forced to rely on friends, family or neighbors to walk or care for their dogs when they weren’t able to,” says Kristin Sandberg, dog lifestyle expert for Rover. “And if you needed to board your dog, if it wasn’t a friend, family member or a neighbor, a kennel or boarding facility was one of the only options.

Now, pet owners can use a computer or smartphone to find a local sitter or walker, complete with profiles and reviews, at rover.com. Bookings and payments are made through the site.

Sandberg says that, in State College, there have been more than 2,000 dog owners, sitters and walkers that have joined the Rover community.

Technology even impacts the local pet-care brands. Over her 25 years, Bauer has found the proliferation of cell phones and eventually smartphones to be a “blessing.”

“I remember having to call people on cruise ships and pay $25 to get through and have them paged on the ship so they could come to the phone so we could tell them either everything’s OK or we had a problem. Now people love that we can text them … to tell them ‘Everything is fine, we’re here, we didn’t forget your pet.’ Now they love that we’re able to send them pictures and videos and show them what their pet is doing.”

Mary Elder, a State College pet sitter with multiple pets of her own, agrees that pet owners “want updates. This really helps the owner feel at ease. I love to send pictures to the owner when I’m pet sitting and include any funny or cute thing that the pet did.”

Regardless of the type of care they prefer, pet owners say they want their pets to feel comfortable, stress-free, and actually enjoy themselves while they’re gone.

“We’ve gone from identifying [our pets] as animals in our lives, to pets, to furry children,” Bauer says.

 

Holly Riddle is a freelance writer in State College.

 

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