Where your pet is her family, too Company offers care while owner's away

June 10, 1993|By Amy L. Miller | Amy L. Miller,Staff Writer

Just when much of Carroll County is preparing to play in th summer sun, Emily Johnston's business is heating up.

The owner of Vacation Care Inc. in Westminster looks after pets in their own homes while their masters are off on vacation or business trips.

For about $10 per day and $5 for each subsequent visit that day, Ms. Johnston or one of her assistants will feed, walk and play with Fluffy as often as mommy and daddy desire.

"These animals are part of the family, and people feel guilty when they go away," she said. "People dote on their animals, and I understand that because I do, too."

In addition to cats and dogs, Vacation Care will care for livestock, horses, snakes and any other type of animal. Cost estimates are given based on the type of animal and how often the caretaker must visit the home, she said.

"Livestock is a little more, because it's a little more trouble and takes more skill," Ms. Johnston said. "Anyone can handle a dog or a cat."

The business was started about four years ago by former Westminster resident Susie Littrell.

Looking for something to do, Ms. Johnston joined Vacation Care's army of caretakers and took over the business when Ms. Littrell's husband accepted a job transfer two years ago.

"I inherited it," she said. "She had about 50 clients to take care of, and I agreed to take it over."

One client has her come to the home about four times a day, even when he's just away for the weekend, she said. The faxed request letter, signed by the cat, usually asks that Ms. Johnston come over and play while the cat's "people" are away.

"For a weekend, you could probably put down about three bowls of food and six bowls of water and the cat would be OK," Ms. Johnston said. "But he wants us to come because the cat gets lonely."

In addition to Ms. Johnston and her son, Arne, Vacation Care also employs five people strategically placed around the county. Employees work when a client from their area goes on vacation, Ms. Johnston said.

Employees, mostly older people, have been found by word of mouth or ads in local newspapers, she said.

Interviews are conducted in the Johnston home so she can see how the prospective employee interacts with strange animals.

"I have all the props here I need," she said. "[When dealing with animals] you cannot show fear or caution. A dog will go right after you, and then it's all over.

"What I'm looking for is not easy to describe, but easy to spot."

Loving animals is a primary job requirement, Ms. Johnston said.

"Sometimes you have to do some strange things," she said. "You have to clean up after the animals, and some clients have animals who are on medication."

One client had a dog whose back legs were paralyzed, so the caretaker had to carry the animal outside and hold up its back legs, she said.

Also, all prospective employees must pass a police check and be bonded, Ms. Johnston said.

"We are going into someone's house with their key, and they don't want to come home and find all the silverware gone," she said.

Prospective clients are interviewed to judge the compatibility of caretaker and animal.

"If the animal is vicious, they'll have to find somebody else because we won't do it," Ms. Johnston said.

Only one animal, a Lhasa apso, has been temperamental after the owners left town, she said. For the first four days of the two-week job, the dog would viciously bark at Ms. Johnston whenever she entered the home.

"I couldn't get the leash on her, and finally had to lasso her and lead her outside," she said. "Once I got her outside, she was a different animal."

RF Ms. Johnston said she finally just left the leash on the dog after

checking that it wouldn't get snagged on anything and harm the animal.

"I don't worry about the big animals," she said. "The larger the animal, the nicer they are."

Three Belgian horses, weighing about 2,000 pounds each, are very gentle and usually want to play, Ms. Johnston said. Also, a Doberman pinscher she regularly cares for routinely hides under the bed when she enters the house.

"I then have to go up and try to coax him out to take him outside," she said.

From ferrets to French poodles, Ms. Johnston said she will care for them all. Except for maybe one thing.

"I couldn't get too excited about spider care," she said. "I guess I would take them if I could do it without getting too close."

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