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Thursday, Mar 21, 2019
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Pet sitting is big business in Brandon area

BRANDON - Lisa Blackmon is a former New York City dog-walker and veterinary technician. Julie Gajewski has been pet sitting since middle school and is also a former vet tech. And Carl Capozza began his business a decade ago after giving up his formal-wear shop in Rhode Island and moving to Florida. His hobby became his business. Pet sitters, used more and more by dog and cat owners – even fish and iguana owners –come with their own stories.
But most agree, reliability and security are top priorities for pet owners in search of someone to come to their home and care for their animals. Beware of the high school kid looking to make a few bucks, the pros warn. Though their intentions might be good, they likely won’t offer the professional touches and security that full-time, insured and bonded pet sitters provide. And there are plenty of professionals in eastern Hillsborough County, many that have been in business for years. “Security is one of the main points that most people take a look at,” said Capozza, of Astro Pet Sitters, which serves Brandon, Valrico, Seffner, Lithia and Riverview. “A lot of customers have video cameras inside their house and on the entire exterior of their home. They know what’s going on every minute.” Capozza and his wife, Heidi own and run the business. Reliability, too, is high on the list, said Gajewski, who owns Fuzzy Friends Pet Care with her husband, Scott, and covers the entire greater Brandon area. “We just had a woman call on Saturday and she had already left town, but had keys on file with us,” Gajewski said. “She had a family emergency. … Probably 75 percent of our clients leave a key in our safe, so they can call us any day and we will take care of their pets.” Gajewski found her calling as a pet sitter when she was still in middle school, taking care of the neighborhood dogs and cats. She eventually went to school to become a veterinary technician, which she did for 15 years, before going full time with Fuzzy Friends in 2008. Because of her medical background, she cares for numerous special needs animals, she said, including those with diabetes that need insulin shots. For the past 11 years, Capozza and his wife have been pet sitting full time. “It’s dogs, cats, fish, birds, even two iguanas,” he said. “We try and keep it small and family-owned so we can provide the level of service customers appreciate.” Though Gajewski has employees who fill in for her and her husband to serve 350 regulars, Capozza said he keeps his client list around 60, so he and his wife can handle the work load. Lisa Blackmon, a former New York City dog-walker and veterinary technician, owns a rural spread just east of suburbia in Dover, where she “boards” dogs and has even constructed a tied-down hurricane shelter with power to board them during storms. Unlike many others, Blackmon has no website. She depends on word of mouth for her business, but still keeps plenty busy, she said. She charges a flat rate for home visits and if a dog has issues, say, with lightning, she’ll bring them to her home. Blackmon has fenced off areas at her place and air conditioned areas so she can separate dogs, depending on their size, needs and aggressiveness. She said she is one of the few that boards and visits pit bulls for no additional charge. Pet sitting prices vary a bit, but on average, the price runs anywhere from $15 to $20 per visit. Many sitters also will collect mail, water plants and put out the garbage and recycling. According to petsitting.com, an international company that steers clients to insured and bonded pet sitters, it is important to hire someone that meets specific needs. “Do not just pick any pet sitting professional to care for your beloved animal.”

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