Though she doesn’t have a wand or wear a gown, The Furry Godmother is someone you can trust with your pets, and that’s no fairy tale.
A computer programmer for 25 years, Dale Thall started pet sitting after she was laid off. “I was home anyway, so I wanted to make good use of my time,” she said of her decision to switch careers.
Like most independent businesses, hers grew by word-of-mouth and referrals. The Furry Godmother officially launched in June 2011, amidst a busy summer season.
“That’s when most people are away and need care for their pets,” said the Thousand Oaks resident.
“It slowed down a bit during the fall and picked up again with the December holidays,” she said, explaining the cyclical nature of the business.
Thall, who owns two dogs and two cats herself, is quick to point out the distinction between a dog walker and a pet sitter. She considers herself more of the latter although dog walking is one of the services she offers.
“The service I offer is at-home pet care, which is an alternative solution to kennels,” she said. “I don’t just walk pets; I check on them while their owners are out, feed them, give them medication and do all these other things.”
Linda O’Connor has used The Furry Godmother for six months now. “Dale not only keeps our two large dogs company and walks them, she also brings in the mail and the newspapers,” said the Simi Valley resident who uses Thall whenever she's away for more than one night. “She really goes the extra mile and will even turn the lights on and off, bring out the trash.”
Thall won’t bring the pets to her own home, mostly to comply with insurance stipulations, but also because “they’re happier in their own home,” she said.
While some pet sitters charge by the pet, Thall charges for her time. A basic, daily visit usually runs for a minimum of 45 minutes, depending on the services needed.
She cited a recent client that had four dogs, three cats, two rabbits, two guinea pigs and two fishes. “I got all the feeding done in 45 minutes, so I just billed the client for that,” she said.
So far, Thall has not met a pet that refused to bond with her. She has not refused care of any domesticated animal. “I have yet to take care of snakes, but as long as they’re in an enclosed cage, why not?” she said.
To stay on top of trends, Thall takes continuing education classes and stays active with Pet Sitters International, the largest professional organization of pet sitters.
To expand her client base, which spans Agoura Hills, Simi Valley, Newbury Park, Thousand Oaks, Westlake and Oak, Thall has even taken classes on chicken-sitting.
“They’re more time-consuming than dogs,” she said. “Their eggs have to be picked up 20 to 25 minutes after laying, and they need enormous amounts of water.”
She also seeks first aid re-certification every two years and is licensed, bonded and insured. Her car is complete with a first aid kit, water bottles, and she always carries her iPhone with her containing all the pets’ information, just in case they need medical attention.
Thall also sets herself apart from other pet sitters through constant communication with the owners. “I’ll call, text or email everyday to let the owner know how their pet is doing,” she said. “Once they get home, I also ask them to let me know [how they are] so I have peace of mind.”
O’Connor is one of many who want that peace of mind. “I don’t trust anyone else with my dogs,” she said.