by Grant Moser
CaroleAnne Hensley, “a young 53,” found her calling in life while having dinner at the Valley Green Inn over 15 years ago. “I saw some feral kittens running around. I took them to get spayed and neutered and started doing rescue work. My life was in transition, and I was also getting ready to go to France for a month.
“I had some cats of my own and thought to myself, ‘Who is going to watch my cats?’ I couldn’t put them in a kennel because they’d be too upset, so I started looking into pet-sitting services. After speaking with them, I thought, ‘I’m much more qualified than they are.’ I thought I’d put an ad in the Chestnut Hill Local [offering pet-sitting services] and see what happens. That was in 1997.”
Hensley pounded the pavement for the first few years. “I was a divorced, single mother, and I knew I had to make X amount each week to pay my bills. I was a vet tech and had volunteered with the Schuylkill Wildlife Rehab Center before, so I had experience with animals.”
Hensley never did take that trip to France, but her company, Furry Buddies, has grown over the years, and she now has 13 women working for her. The company does up to 500 pet visits every week. Until 2009 Hensley lived in Erdenheim, but she then moved to a farm in Sellersville and expanded her service area “from Germantown to Quakertown.
“Many people have started their own pet-sitting companies, but many don’t succeed because it’s 365 days a year; it’s definitely on weekends and holidays; it’s very demanding. Anyone can walk a dog, but there’s so much more, like walking in on sick animals and knowing what to do or finding a tree fell on the house. You want responsible people who can handle any situation that arises.”
Apart from walking dogs and checking on cats, Furry Buddies also feeds them, provides medical services like insulin shots or pills, waters plants, picks up mail and even provides transportation help for pets who need to see a vet.
“I love animals,” said Hensley, “and they’re fun to work with. It doesn’t matter what you look like, what kind of day you’re having, most of them are head-over-heels happy just to see you. The only negative for me with my business getting so big is that I end up being in the office a lot, and I miss that one-on-one with the animals…
“When we meet a client, I ask tons of questions because I want to know about the pet and the client because I want to put the right girl with them. It really is a relationship; we keep the same person with that client for as long as they use us.
“The pets get comfortable with us. That’s good because you notice when an animal is behaving oddly. For example, one client had three cats, and they would always greet me when I came, especially this one long-haired black one. One day it came to greet me at the door and then ran away growling. I noticed this because I had built a relationship with the animals. It turned out he had gotten constipated, and we were able to help him. Had I sent someone else, they wouldn’t have known that behavior was not normal.”
A cookie-cutter approach does not work in the pet-sitting business. “We have clients who are at work every day, and we walk their dogs at lunchtime. With a lot of my clients in Chestnut Hill, we’ve been working with the dogs since they were puppies, and now they’re 15 or 16 years old. They hired us every weekday for all those years.
“And when people go away for the weekend or a vacation, we sleep at their houses. We provide medical care since a lot of pets are diabetic or because elderly people with sick pets might not be able to manage giving them their medicine, or need help transporting their animals to the doctor.”
And while most of the business is cats and dogs, Hensley has also taken care of some uncommon pets. “I worked with a volunteer at the Wildlife Center, and her expertise was bats. She once brought her 10 bats to my house, and I pet-sat them and hand-fed each one. There was a crack in one cage, and I found one bat hanging on my kitchen curtain one day. We’ve watched people’s snakes and lizards and even chickens. We’ll work with any kind of animal.”
Hensley has her own pets as well. “I have nine cats — and I’m not a crazy cat woman! It’s because I’ve done so much rescue work over the years. I used to take my daughter on rescue missions, and she’d get attached, and we’d end up keeping some of them…
“I would like people to spay and neuter their animals and to adopt. Do not buy an animal because there are so many euthanized every year. I’m fortunate because the clientele I have, like in Chestnut Hill, are intelligent and caring people about their pets. It’s not about the money for me; it’s about making sure the animals are happy.”
To learn more about Furry Buddies, visit http://furry-buddies.com/