A small investment in a pet care business brings big profits for this home business, including how to gain customers, types of pet services to offer and tips on boarding and fee charges.
Our total-care dog and cat business offers a homelike environment for boarded beasts.
PHOTO: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
With vacationing pet owners searching for home-style animal care, it's a good time to start a pet care business with minimum investment and maximum profit home business! (See the pet sitting photos and diagram in the image gallery.)
A few years back I suddenly found myself without a job. However, what could have been a disastrous—or, at the very least, unpleasant situation—actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise. You see, once we were faced with the prospect of not having a regular source of income, my wife and I were forced to look into the possibility of starting a home business. And, after some thought, we settled on a highly profitable enterprise that I believe almost anyone could begin in his or her home—either on a full-time basis or for only a few hours a week—with a minimal cash investment. Just what was this gold mine we discovered? A total-care dog and cat business!
Believe it or not, our operation is as easy and enjoyable to run as it likely sounds to the animal lovers among you. The services we offer include bathing, dipping, trimming nails, grooming, boarding, walking, training, housebreaking, selling collars and leashes, and maintaining breed/stud files. And all these duties can be performed by any enterprising individual . . . at a surprisingly high profit.
IN THE BEGINNING. . .
First of all, don't believe everything you hear about the difficulties of going into business for yourself'. The professionals we've spoken to estimate that it takes anywhere from $10,000 to $50,000 to open a full-scale kennel operation, but we actually encountered only a few minor costs in setting up our individualized dog and cat service.
We began preparations by converting part of our garage into a work area (although we later discovered that—weather permitting—it was much simpler to deal with the animals outside). We already had many basic grooming materials on hand for use with our own pets, and simply had to increase our stock of some of them. I'd estimate that purchasing a full supply of animal-care products, if we'd had to buy them all new, would have involved a cash outlay of about $90 . . . to which could be added the cost of a grooming table and a crate: two helpful but nonessential items (it's possible to rig up homemade substitutes).
Our only other start-up money was spent on the purchase of city and county operating licenses. Because we hoped our enterprise would provide our sole source of income, we wanted to be fully authorized right from the start. The two fees added up to about $25, but that expense allowed us to promote the "Koontz kennel" as a licensed, professional business.
And advertise we did . . . whenever, wherever, and however possible. We deliberately kept our "blitz" both low-key and low-cost, though. First, we placed a small classified ad in our local newspaper, then put colorful hand-lettered signs in the windows of our van. We also posted eye-catching flyers and posters in pet shops and self-service laundries, and on community bulletin boards.
We knew we'd be facing stiff competition from veterinarians and well-established commercial kennels, but we stressed—in our publicity—the advantages of in-home, personalized service. It was our hope that most pet owners would appreciate the fact that their special friends wouldn't be locked in concrete-and-wire "cells" . . . but would, instead, be housed in a warm, loving home and have plenty of free space. And, as the business grew, we received lots of word-of-mouth endorsements from satisfied clients.
BRING ON THE CUSTOMERS
Our first few queries were, naturally enough, from potential customers . . . but we soon turned most of them into repeat visitors by dealing with each one on a personal basis. We told them who we were and what we were all about, then went on to ask about the caller's pet: Could we include it in our stud listing? Was a litter expected soon? Were they interested in breeding the animal? The information file that we built up as a result of such inquiries eventually led to stud services and puppy sales . . . which provided income for our customers and various commissions for us! Those extras really helped get our business rolling in the beginning, put us in touch with the "pulse" of the animal lovers' community in our area, and boosted our reputation.
THE SERVICES WE OFFER
Here's a rundown of the basic services we offer to our customers.
Bathing/dipping (for dogs). This job might seem imposing to some people, but it's really a very simple operation. The following guidelines have helped us handle the task with a minimum of problems.
 Work outside whenever possible. If the weather is bad, we use the garage, garden shed, or basement . . . any place that can be cleaned up easily afterwards.
 Get the dog off the ground by standing it on a crate, table, workbench, or whatever. (An old bathtub set on concrete blocks in the back yard works fine.) This arrangement allows the handler to work in a standing position—without straining his or her back—and will also help restrict the animal's movement.
 Put a nylon slip collar on the dog . . . attach a lead to the collar . . . and fasten that to a metal "arm", a tree limb, or anything else that will allow you to keep the animal in one place. Do leave enough slack to enable the dog to stand in a relaxed posture, though.
Remember, too, not to leave an animal alone in this position, because the beast could bolt in fear and seriously injure itself. We've always found it best to provide the "clients" with lots of attention and reassurance, to keep them from becoming overly nervous during the procedure. If you pet and talk to a dog throughout its bath, it usually won't mind being leashed, since it knows it's with a friend. And, contrary to popular belief, most canines not only tolerate but actually enjoy a bath . . . simply because of all the extra attention they get in the process. In fact, no pet should be a problem if the person bathing it uses common sense, shows some friendliness, and exercises a little patience. Except for a bit of initial squirming, I've yet to have any serious trouble with any of my charges.
 Wet the animal thoroughly and uniformly, using lukewarm water whenever possible. Scrub the coat all over with a good "tearless" soap, then rinse it carefully. (You may have to repeat the sudsing step if the animal is very dirty.)
 Soak the wet, clean coat with a flea-and-tick dip. We use Dermaton (an expensive but effective brand) to counteract the fleas that are such a problem here in Florida. Usually we mix the dip and water—according to the formula on the package—in a recycled plastic gallon milk container and then pour the preparation over the dog (do NOT use Dermaton on cats), beginning at the head and carefully avoiding the nose, eyes, and ears. (Some people prefer to use a bucket and sponge to apply the pesticide.) Be sure to work the dip into the coat well, especially on the underside and around the dog's tail . . . both of which are favorite roosting spots of fleas.
[EDITOR'S NOTE: Although some herbal flea-and-tick baths can be effective, it's unlikely that they'd do the job well enough to satisfy customers who are used to the more toxic commercial preparations. Those folks who would prefer not to work with the strong chemicals would probably be best advised not to specify pest control as a part of their service.]
 Weather permitting, allow the dog to air-dry. We've found that it's easiest to walk each of our canine visitors around for a few minutes, then crate it in a sunny location. On wet or cold days, we simply confine the dog in a warm indoor area or blow-dry its coat. (Towel drying isn't recommended, since it could rub off much of the dip residue, making it less effective.)
We provide bath-and-dip service either at our home (providing pickup and delivery if requested) or the owner's residence, and vary the operation to suit the circumstances. Depending on those variables (and, of course, on the size of the animal), we charge anywhere from $10 to $15 for a bath and dip.
Nail trimming. How'd you like to earn $3.00 for 45 seconds of work? Well, it's downright easy to do so! In fact, with a good pair of special clippers, some basic knowledge of animal anatomy, and a little confidence, trimming a dog's or a cat's claws is almost as simple as doing your own nails.
As the accompanying illustration shows, an animal's claws have an inner core called the dermis (or "quick"). Since that area contains a number of tiny blood vessels, you must learn to cut the nails without slicing into the quick.
We begin by securing the beast in the same position as is used when giving it a bath . . . that is, up off the ground and on a lead. For a first-time manicure, it's useful to have a second person nearby to help calm the pet. Once I know a dog or cat has a stable temperament, I can usually work alone on its return visits.
Light-colored nails—those in which the quick is clearly visible—are easy to trim. Just grip the animal's paw firmly and snip off the tip of the nail below the dermis. Dark nails are a little trickier because the quick is difficult to see, but you shouldn't have any problem if you trim just below the point where the downward curve of the claw begins (as indicated in the illustration).
If you do accidentally cut too far, you can stop the bleeding with a styptic pencil or with a special powder that's available from pet supply dealers. Obviously, though, you will have hurt the animal . . . and you can be sure it won't relish the idea of having its nails trimmed again! Sometimes, when a beast's nails have been allowed to grow too long, the quick will have descended further down than is normal. In such cases, you'll have to trim just a little at a time. (If a dog or cat has extremely long claws, we don't usually take on the trimming job . . . in stead, we advise the owner to have a vet perform the task, with the animal under anesthesia if necessary.)
Grooming/clipping. There are a lot of "cockapoos" (a term that's applied to a poodle crossed with a cocker or other small breed) in this world . . . and they all need their coats cut back regularly. You won't have to give such a dog a fancy trim . . . just an even haircut all over. The job can be accomplished with an inexpensive pair of canine hair clippers.
People sometimes ask us to provide a special cut, but we tell them we leave the unusual jobs to the professional groomers. Still, we have enough regular long-coated customers to make that basic clipping a profitable part of our enterprise. Depending on the size of the dog and the condition of its fur, we charge from $10 to $15 for the service.
Boarding. Keeping animals is the bread and butter of any pet care business, so we try our best to make sure our visitors—and their owners—stay happy. Upon the arrival of each dog or cat, we ask its guardian to fill out a contract form, providing basic information and noting any special care instructions. We always get the name of the customer's usual vet, too, in case the pet should become sick. If the owner prefers, we agree to take the dog or cat to our vet in case of an emergency . . . but that arrangement must also be specified on the form. At the end of an animal's stay, we have the customer sign and date a statement that he or she has received the pet in good health. These relatively simple precautions help us avoid any potential legal snags.
Our boarding fees are $3.50 per day for a cat and $4.50 to $8.50 a day for a dog, depending on its size (these prices are comparable to those charged by vets and large kennels in our area), plus the cost of a bath and dip. We always advise the pet owner, in advance, that a bath and dip (or a flea powder dusting for a cat) are mandatory while the animal is in our care. It's also a good idea, we've found, to quote the total fee whenever possible.
Boarding care, of course, includes a daily feeding. The "dinners" we serve consist of a small amount of canned food mixed with a large portion of dry meal . . . but we recommend that our customers supply us with some of the animals' usual food—so that we can keep the pets on their accustomed diets and avoid any stomach disorders—and most owners prefer to do so. The boarding rate remains the same, however, because preparing individual dishes requires more time.
Some dogs and cats "go off" food for the first day or two in a new environment . . . but they'll generally start to eat again once they settle in. Other animals—usually those that have been accustomed to gourmet diets of table scraps—turn up their noses at dog or cat ration. After a couple of days, though, that animal food begins to look pretty good, and even the most pampered pets eventually give in and eat it.
You might wonder if keeping animals in your own home wouldn't leave you the unpleasant task of cleaning up a lot of messes. Well, I guess the seriousness of that problem will depend more on your attitude than anything else. We've hosted dogs ranging in size from miniature poodles to a Great Dane without any major difficulty. Sure, there have been accidents on the living room carpet . . . we occasionally have to cope with dog or cat hair on the furniture and we practically had to follow that Great Dane around with a towel because he was slobbering so much in the summer heat. But those are the exceptions rather than the rule in our business, and we choose to view them not as problems, but as inconveniences. Basically, we provide a healthful environment—complete with good food and lots of attention—for our visitors . . . and that seems to prevent most troublesome behavior.
In general, we prefer to have an animal around the house where it's contented, entertained, and out of mischief. After all, if a visiting dog or cat were left unattended in the back yard, it might decide to dig under—or jump over—the fence and head for home . . . which would definitely not be good for business! Of course, if you must leave an animal alone (do so for short periods of time only), you might put it outside on a running lead (which consists of a wire stretched horizontally between two trees or posts and a free-flowing wire or chain hanging from it to the dog's collar) or in a pen. Being put in a good cage (such as the one shown in the accompanying photos) won't constitute a cruel imposition on any pet. This sort of portable doghouse-when properly designed—allows maximum ventilation and room for the animal to stand or lie down comfortably . . . and will be easy to clean. A crate is also the safest means of transporting a pet in any type of motor vehicle.
If we're ever boarding two animals that don't get along, we generally separate them from each other by using a simple rotation system. While one pet is in the house for an hour or two, we keep the other one outside on a running lead . . . and the positions are periodically exchanged.
Retailing pet supplies. We were surprised (and pleased) to discover that we needed only a state tax number to be able to purchase pet care products wholesale from a local distributor . . . so we quickly completed the required paper work. The tax number enables us to buy and sell small standard items—collars, leashes, shampoos, vitamins, etc.—from our garage work area. We can also special-order any other necessaries from the distributor and receive the delivery in 48 hours or less. And since retailing isn't our only occupation, we're able to sell the products for less than pet stores charge, while still making a decent profit.
Information file. As I mentioned earlier, the fact that we maintain an animal information file not only leads to various sales commissions, but also keeps us in the know about the pet world in our community. For example, an individual who's presented with a new litter of ten purebred German shepherd pups will likely get a little tired of providing so many babies with round-the-clock care. We might, then, buy three of the puppies for a total price of $175 . . . and, a few weeks later, sell the "educated" youngsters for perhaps as much as $300 each. Our main investment in such an arrangement is simply the time required to feed the pups, housebreak them, and train them in basic obedience.
The services outlined above are the mainstays of our "pet biz", but they don't by any means represent the entire list of potential moneymakers. Depending on your location and facilities, you might want to explore the following possibilities.
Dog walking. Many urban canines are cooped up inside all day while their owners are at work . . . so a midday walk will benefit both the animal and the "parent". You can even take several furry clients on a stroll at once, to make a nice profit and get a good workout yourself.
Mobile service. You might want to offer your bathing, grooming, and clipping service only at owners' homes. If so, it's an easy matter to equip a van, small truck, or station wagon for the purpose . . . but be sure to add travel expenses to your usual rates if you try this sort of business.
Training. All forms of animal training—from housebreaking to simple obedience to hunting—can be highly profitable . . . but they do require specific knowledge of the animal, some practical experience, and a good dose of common sense.
First of all, you'll have to understand what a dog is all about—both physically and mentally—before you even consider trying to train one. You can begin your education with McDowell Lyon's The Dog in Action (Howell Book House, 1950, $12.95) and Leon Whitney's Dog Psychology (Howell, 1971, $12.95).
Next, firsthand practice in obedience training is available through classes held by the American Kennel Club in most large cities. If you want to instruct hunting dogs, though, it's probably best to apprentice with a reputable specialist in that field. Don't even consider attack and guard-dog training . . . those animals should be handled only by professionals.
Finally, remember that all your study and practice will be in vain if you don't exercise enough patience and common sense. Dog training is basically accomplished through repetition: Show the animal (as often as necessary) what you want it to do when a certain command is given, be lavish with praise when it performs correctly, and it'll catch on soon enough. Keep in mind, though, that every dog is an individual—just as every person is—and be patient if the beast balks.
If you observe the above rules and prepare yourself properly, training can provide an interesting and enjoyable way to earn a good bit of money. For example, we charge the following rates for standard obedience training: Private lessons at the owner's home run $10 for a half-hour or $50 for a six-week course with one half-hour lesson each week . . . pickup training (taking the dog daily to various locations around the city) costs an average of $40 a week . . . and residence training (while the animal is boarding with us) brings in $250 a week.
WHAT'S IT ALL WORTH?
When we began our dog and cat business in 1976, we plunged right in on a full-time basis and were almost immediately able to net an average of about $700 a month! And, besides supporting the family, those profits allowed us to make concrete plans for our move back to the land!
EDITOR'S NOTE: The author's successful business did eventually allow him and his family to "retire" to a 13-acre homestead in Tennessee. You'll find the story of how he chose his spread, by studying technical maps, in MOTHER EARTH NEWS NO. 72, page 98.