TAMPA – There was once a dog named Lexie, a small aging beagle who was set in her ways. And there also was a cat named Bruce, who was also set in his ways.
Despite being together for a long time, they were still wary of one another.
Lexie stayed downstairs. Bruce lived his days upstairs. And this was the way they lived their lives, until their humans went away for a week.
That’s where Lou Garner comes into the story. Garner has been an animal lover her entire life. For nearly a year, she has run Jan and Bec Pet Sitting Services, serving mainly the Westchase, Oldsmar, Citrus Park and Carrollwood areas. Lexie and Bruce were her clients.
When their humans came home, Bruce was standing watch over Lexie, pawing at her head and making sure she was safe. There was a bond that hadn’t been there before.
What is the secret?
“You just have to let the animals know you love them,” Garner said. “I talk to them, play with them. Bruce loves his head being rubbed. Lexie just likes attention. I think they know that I love them.”
Garner is a one-woman operation. The business is named for her two daughters who fill in on occasion.
Garner treats every pet differently. She is certified by several organizations and is also certified in giving first aid and CPR to animals. Garner said she can take care of almost any task, including simply spending time with the animals when the parents are off on vacation. She also works mornings, afternoons and nights.
For Garner, it’s a labor of love.
“I don’t do this for the money, but I do it because I love animals,” Garner said.
Garner grew up in Columbia, S.C., and her first dog, at age 4, was half Chihuahua and half Manchester Terrier. From that point, Garner was hooked. She got a newspaper route and started to pet sit for clients along her route. She learned a lot about animals and a lot about herself.
“These animals bring me so much joy and they can for anyone,” Garner said. “They are really your best friends. No matter how you are feeling, they know how to act. They can be joyful and they can be there to sit with you after a bad day.”
Garner’s husband, Tom, was never big on pets. Garner felt it might become a sticking point when they first met, but Tom converted. Now Tom and their black lab, Lucy Lu, are inseparable.
There was a time, however, when it looked like Lucy Lu might not come into their home at all. For a while, Garner, reeling from the pain of outliving her pets, wondered about getting another dog. That’s when her daughters intervened.
“They came to me and said the house is too empty,” Garner said. “We started looking at foster homes and found Lucy Lu. She was owner-surrendered, and I knew I had to have her.”
Garner isn’t the only pet sitter in Tampa. She said there are more than 1,200 in Tampa alone. Garner is modest, but she has the credentials to prove that she is a step above.
“Animals know I love them as soon as I see them,” Garner said. “All dogs and cats have different personalities and I try to find out what they are. It really isn’t that hard. Just love them and they will love you back.”
Lou Garner can be reached for pet sitting services at (813) 956-2966.