She's proud to say her job has gone to the dogs

April 02, 2001|By Kevin Cowherd

SHE HAS THE kind of arresting job title you want to lay on someone at a cocktail party, just to watch the effect.

I picture her wading into a knot of Chablis-swilling strangers, sticking out a hand to the one having the most trouble balancing the little plate heaped with crackers, cheese squares and crab dip, and saying: "Rachel Sakaduski: pet-sitter."

Then I picture everyone's eyes widening and a momentary silence descending like a veil, until the moon-faced guy in the Oscar de la Renta blazer with the dab of ranch dressing on his chin says: "Um, pet-sitter?"

You got it, brother. This is what Rachel Sakaduski does for a living, which is why I'm dialing her cell phone on this weekday morning, asking if I can tag along to watch her work.

We meet in a windswept parking lot at St. Paul's School in Brooklandville. She pulls up in a silver Mitsubishi Montero with a client's dog, named Timber, a German short-haired pointer that appears to be on amphetamines, judging by the way he shoots out of her SUV.

As we do a lap around a muddy field with Timber and Sakaduski's Jack Russell terrier, Kodie, I get the dope on this 26-year-old entrepreneur.

She graduated from Goucher College with a triple major in studio arts, art history and arts administration. Armed with this weighty education, she naturally gravitated to animals. She and her husband, Joe Sakaduski, 32, started the pet-sitting and dog-walking business, Pet Patrol, a little over a year ago, after Rachel spotted a "petsitter" license plate.

Pet Patrol is doing real well, with more than 100 clients in northern Baltimore County. Sakaduski averages eight dog-walks - the bulk of her business - a day and made $35,000 last year, although she practically killed herself doing it (more on that later).

"What got me into this business?" she says. "Just a great love of animals. I was always the girl in the neighborhood taking care of everyone's dogs, cats and parakeets.

"People always said: `Oh, you should be a veterinarian.' But I'd be too attached, too involved for that. Taking a dog ... to be euthanized, I don't think I could do that."

Although Sakaduski's rates seem reasonable - $15 for a half-hour "visit" and walk with one animal, $17 for a 45-minute visit, $50 for an overnight pet-sit - her clients tend to be well-heeled.

In fact, 20 minutes later, when we drop Timber off at her owner's house off Falls Road, it turns out to be the kind of sprawling brick manse that's missing only the Bentley in the driveway and a butler.

"Come here, sweetie. Here's a cookie," Sakaduski calls to Timber, who seems more interested in a rock under the Montero.

That's the thing about this job, says Sakaduski, you really have to be an animal person. "Picking up poop is part of the job," she says cheerfully. But she's also been in the middle of a ferocious dog attack - Timber was set on by a German shepherd and suffered a huge gash in the stomach and bad bites on the head and ears.

Last summer, two dogs she was watching toppled over a heavy floor lamp. Sakaduski tried to catch it, and it shattered in her hands, sending her to the hospital for 12 stitches and leaving blood and glass all over the carpet. ("It looked like a murder scene.")

Did we mention her own dog attacked her when she was in fourth grade? Yes! Buttons, a little poodle-terrier mix, went nuts one day and bit her in the face. She needed nine stitches and plastic surgery to close the gashes under her eyes.

"The only reason I cried," Sakaduski recalled, "is because I thought my parents were going to get rid of the dog."

But they didn't. Buttons lived to be 18. Still, your own dog coming at you like Cujo - how do you come back from something like that? "It didn't deter me from loving animals," is all Sakaduski says.

Our next stop is a townhouse in Sparks, where she'll walk a bichon friese named Bogart. Bogart is still a puppy, 8 months old. He is also, it's safe to say, spoiled rotten. His owners are a married couple who don't have any children.

So "he's the king of the house," says Sakaduski. I can't help noticing the pink, scented baggie that has been provided for Bogart's, um, poop.

"Yeah, if he walks in the snow, he gets de-iced with a hair-dryer," Sakaduski says with a smile.

This, you should know, is not considered extreme behavior in Rachel Sakaduski's world, where many of the pets are pampered. Nor are the "progress reports" she often leaves ("Bogart lifted his leg today and went tinkle!") considered odd, or the replies she receives from pet owners ("Oh, he's growing up, isn't he?!")

"This is what my clients want," she says. "And it's what I give them."

Our next stop is a sprawling house in Sparks on a farm that belongs on a picture-postcard, complete with horses in a meadow. (Ironically, this is also the "murder scene" where Sakaduski was attacked by that floor lamp.)

As she plays in the back yard with the two dogs, a yellow lab named Buttercup and a black lab mix named Jordan, Sakaduski seems tired. And she is.

Until just a few months ago, she was working seven days a week. In October, she was averaging 17 pet-sits a day. Her schedule book looked like Martin O'Malley's.

"I didn't see my family, didn't see my friends," she says. She also found herself dozing off at the wheel of her car one day. So she's hired two part-time pet-sitters and hopes to hire a full-time assistant soon.

Still, although it's a breezy day, the sun is shining and Rachel Sakaduski is playing ball on a thick green lawn with a couple of gorgeous dogs and getting paid for it. Life could be a whole lot worse.

"Spring and summer, when everyone is stuck behind a desk and I'm out here in a T-shirt and shorts, it's not so bad," she says.

If you're an animal person, it can even feel like heaven.

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