Essential business: Virus pandemic bites into dog walking, pet sitting business

Katie Mitchell with one of the dogs she walks, Cali. Ms. Mitchell owns Claws and Paws, which is still operating during the pandemic. Submitted photo/Katie Mitchell

DOVER — Humans are staying inside during social distancing, but dogs still need their walks.

The demand for dog walkers and pet sitters is lower than usual due to families following the stay at home order to limit the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic,

However, local dog walkers are still able to serve pets belonging to essential personnel.

Katie Mitchell, the owner of Claws and Paws Pet Sitting, has seen her client base drop from 15 pets statewide to three. The three current dogs she has been caring for all belong to nurses who are working extra hours during the pandemic.

“I feel for them and I’m trying to do whatever I can to help them,” Ms. Mitchell said. “I never expect anything extra but in the last couple of weeks I have had so many people tell me how much they appreciate me, which is awesome for someone like me. I really want to do whatever I can to help these people, but it’s very hard because I’m not bringing in much money right now.”

Angela LaVere founded her pet-sitting company Boopersnoots LLC last March after doing it part-time for years. It grew to double-digit clients throughout the state and some in Maryland, but she is now down to two dogs during the pandemic.

Both those pets’ owners are also in the medical field and considered essential personnel.

Angela LaVere’s pet-sitting business Boopersnoots LLC is still offering dog walks. One of her clients Snickers enjoys a walk last week. Submitted photo/Angela LaVere

“They’re very appreciative and the dogs are very appreciative too because they’re getting much longer walks,” Ms. LaVere said with a laugh. “They’re enjoying the walks more and I enjoy it too because it’s been very therapeutic for me. I think it’s really grounding for me during this time and takes a lot of pressure off my clients. I’m very thankful for my clients and I’m grateful I’m still able to offer the services.”

Pet sitters have taken a hit financially because of the decline in business.

And of course they miss the furry friends they’ve made along the way.

“I miss all my other clients and their pets,” Ms. LaVere said. “I’ve built up a good client base over the last year and all my regulars have been reaching out to make sure I’m doing well. I’ve been getting pictures of their pets so we’re still in contact but I miss spending time with them.”

“I don’t do this because of the money, I just love animals,” Ms. Mitchell said. “I’ve been milking cows since I was 14. I just always had animals in my life since I was a kid. That’s what makes me happy. I miss it drastically.”

The closures due to the virus hit at one of the busiest times of the year for pet sitters.

Both Ms. Mitchell and Ms. LaVere were booked through March and April for not just walks but for house-sitting when owners were scheduled to take vacation for spring break. All of those appointments, which serve not only dogs but cats, birds, snakes and even horses, were canceled and clients are also beginning to cancel summer vacation plans as well.

Ms. LaVere said Boopersnoots LLC is down to three days a week with her clients. She took another job in retail in order to help her out financial.

Ms. Mitchell is also working on something else during the pandemic. She has expanded Claws and Paws to now offer mobile vaccinations, testing for heartworm and nail-trimming.

Ms. Mitchell is a former vet-tech and team up with veterinarian Dr. Ruthie Franczek of Smyrna for the mobile clinic.

“That has saved me,” Ms. Mitchell said. “We had always talked about it, doing it with the elderly and nursing homes, but I was trying to get my business off the ground. Now we do have the time and we know how important it is to get these vaccines out.”

“This really struck me hard,” Ms. Mitchell added. “If I didn’t have the vaccine clinic, I don’t know what I would be doing to pay the bills. I’m doing everything I can do to help my family and to help the pets.”

The pet sitters are also making sure they follow all the proper protocols to combat the spread of the coronavirus during their visits.

“Being a pet sitter, you’re constantly washing your hands anyway,” Ms. LaVere sad. “You don’t want to transmit anything to one house to another so that was already a practice. We’re definitely taking extra precautions now. One of my clients lets the dog out so the dog just comes to me, I don’t even have to go into that home.”

“With my clients being on the front lines I know they’re already staying on the safe side,” Ms. Mitchell said. “I just follow that. Anything I touch I wipe off with Clorox wipes, I wash my hands before and after. I’m going through so much hand sanitizer, I never even knew I owned this much.”

Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

Have a question, tip, or resources about the coronavirus pandemic? Submit it to our newsroom and we’ll do what we can to provide answers.