KATHIE LYNCH and her daughter, Shannon Ball, have never been without a pet. And they are ready to take on more with their new Pampered Pets Sitting Service, which provides care of pets in the owner's home.
Ball is 19 and in her second year at Essex Community College, working toward a degree in elementary education. Lynch is 39 and a resource specialist at the Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., where she has worked nine years. She also spent four years in the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve and is a member of the American Legion Auxiliary Post 183.
The two live in Parkville and have three dogs -- a German shepherd, a golden retriever and a cocker spaniel -- two of which are volunteers in Pets on Wheels in Baltimore County. Their cat is a 2-year-old silver tabby named Abby.
The German shepherd, 9-year-old Heidi, came to them from a friend at age 3 months and for the last six years has gone with one of her owners each week to visit nursing home residents.
They visit the Meridian Nursing Center at Perring Parkway.
"We see the change a pet can bring," Lynch says, citing one particularly rewarding case.
"A gentleman who had Alzheimer's and was only in his 50s had stopped speaking, even to his family. He had been in the home for three or four weeks when Heidi and I first began visiting. When he saw Heidi, he perked up and began talking to her. Every Sunday, he would wait at the door with a dog biscuit.
"I saw him as he came out of his withdrawal and got involved in several things, such as crafts and arts. Many of the staff there knew that a pet visit made a difference, but they had never seen it working."
Two-year old Chelsea, a cocker spaniel, has been volunteering for just over a year. "Chelsea was one you cannot turn away from in the pet store window," Lynch says. "She is very sociable and just the right size for sitting on the laps of the residents."
Lilly, a 4-month-old golden retriever, will likely become a volunteer before long. She came to the family from a cousin in Cumberland whose dog had a litter of seven puppies.
"I brought them all back here and found good homes for them, predominantly in my neighborhood," Lynch says.
A dedicated love for animals coupled with a desire to own their own business inspired Lynch and Ball to begin their pet-sitting service. Eventually they hope to serve pet owners in an area from Perry Hall to Towson, including Parkville, Carney, Overlea and Hamilton. "In an emergency we would try to help someone in another area," Lynch says.
Their 24-hour, year-round service includes feeding, walking and spending "quality time" with the pet up to three times a day while the owner is away. "And I mean playing ball and really giving them time," Lynch says.
"We'll keep the pet on its current routine as closely as we can, and of course, we'll keep everything clean," Ball says.
The women insist on a pre-sitting screening to meet the pet owner and pet, evidence of a valid rabies vaccine and a list of the pet's likes and dislikes.
"This also helps us determine if we are intimidated by the pet. However, neither of us has ever found an animal we couldn't befriend and handle with loving care," Lynch says, including a 140-pound mastiff they recently kept for three weeks. "She seemed formidable at first, but it was just her size. She turned out to be the cutest and sweetest baby I can think of.
"We know from personal experience how unsettling it can be to go away and constantly worry about a pet and its care. I don't want my animals in kennel cages."
Pampered Pets generally charges $10 a day for up to two dogs or puppies; $15 for more than two dogs or puppies; $8 for cats and kittens; $5 for birds, hamsters, guinea pigs, chinchillas and similar small pets; and $2 for fish.
"We limit our service to domestic pets and not exotic or wild animals such as reptiles or monkeys," Lynch says.
The telephone number for the Pampered Pets Sitting Service is 882-8323.