The Story of a Sitter
Updated: Aug 17, 2021
Hi! I’m Jess Schwarz, a certified, bonded and insured pet care professional serving Suffield, Connecticut and the surrounding towns. As a dog mom, I know it can be difficult to trust a complete stranger with the care of your four-legged loved ones. Maybe you’ve had a negative experience with a sitter in the past which has made you apprehensive about hiring someone new. I hope that you’ll find reassurance in reading my story and learning more about my qualifications as a professional pet sitter.
My journey with animals started at a very young age. In fact, I’ve been surrounded by them for as long as I can remember. I was fortunate that my parents let my sister and I grow up with fish, hamsters, chameleons, birds and a very patient orange tabby named Dale. It didn’t stop there. I quickly realized my love for horses and I’m blessed to have parents who supported that obsession whole-heartedly. My dad built me a two-stall barn in our backyard which was later home to a stubborn Appendix Quarter horse named Hercules (along with a whole bunch of chickens, two mini horses, a Haflinger and a few other special guests).
Growing up in Suffield also had its benefits. I was accepted into the Suffield Agriscience Program (FFA) where I began building a strong foundation in animal care. I learned more about caring for small mammals and even had the opportunity to watch two ferrets and a rabbit over my summer break. The program also led me to volunteer at a local horse rescue.
Like most teenagers, my path wasn’t immediately clear to me after graduating high school. Instead of going to college, I accepted a resident student position at an equine Dressage training facility in Maryland. I learned a lot about riding, equine reproduction and handling young horses during my year and a half there. Sadly, Hercules developed a condition within his hooves that led me to the heartbreaking decision to put him down. Helping him during his last few weeks inspired me to become a veterinary technician (a career choice that should have been more obvious during high school) so I started applying to colleges back home in New England.
In 2011 I was accepted into the veterinary science program at Becker College in Leicester, Massachusetts. My course work ranged from anatomy and physiology to equine and farm animal care. I learned from some brilliant professors who pushed me and encouraged me to absorb as much knowledge as I possibly could. I interned at several incredible veterinary hospitals, horse rescues and a zoo, which allowed me to strengthen my knowledge and hands-on skills. In addition to that, Becker College had its own veterinary clinic which allowed students to assist in surgeries, care for resident Greyhounds and Beagles, practice handling techniques of laboratory animals and much more. The experience I gained through Becker College is incredibly precious to me and I wouldn't be where I am today without it.
In 2015 I graduated from Becker College with a bachelor's degree in veterinary science, a minor in equine studies and an overall GPA of 3.9. In the same year, I passed the national examination to become a certified veterinary technician. After four years of intense studying, passing this challenging exam was a huge accomplishment for me.
Almost immediately after graduating, I accepted a position at IDEXX Laboratories where I stayed for over six years. Working in a veterinary diagnostic laboratory and helping veterinarians find answers was a rewarding experience, but in my heart I missed working directly with animals. The challenge was that I didn’t want to work in a veterinary hospital either. My training had shown me that it’s often a stressful, emotionally draining and under-appreciated career choice. So I started searching for other options, such as working as an animal caretaker in a research laboratory or kennel attendant at an animal shelter. Nothing felt quite right (for good reason) until "pet sitter and dog walker" appeared on my search.
Like most people, I never imagined I could make a career out of watching people’s pets. I thought pet sitting and dog walking were only side hustles or hobbies. Feeling discouraged, I put the idea aside for over a year. In hindsight, it was a blessing that I didn’t pursue starting a business at that time in my life. Not only was I planning my wedding, but COVID-19 was right around the corner and it would have derailed any progress I made. It wasn’t until early 2021 that I revisited the dream while quarantined for several weeks. I had plenty of time to dive deeper. I discovered that pet sitting was actually a thing and that many people have their own successful businesses all over the country. I became a sponge. I listened to podcasts every day on my hour commute to and from work. I did A LOT of reading (my library definitely grew). I asked questions and found the answers. Brainstormed, dreamed and created.
I began forming the foundation for my business. I spent weeks tossing around ideas for a name. It would literally keep me awake at night. I started researching LLC formation, insurance options, website design and what qualifications I could have to set myself apart from a hobby sitter. One of the first things I did was complete the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters (NAPPS) certification course. It was an in-depth course that covered everything from the care of exotics to diseases of elderly cats. Throughout the next few months, I also completed pet first aid and CPR courses through ProPetHero and Rutgers Pet Care School. Some may call it overkill given my veterinary science background but I wanted to be highly prepared in the event of an emergency. I wanted pet parents to have reassurance that their pet was in experienced hands. Most recently, I completed the Fear Free Veterinary Certification Program in an effort to help reduce fear, anxiety and stress in the pets I visit. This was important to me because I recognize the stress pets experience when their owners are away and someone new comes into their house.
As my business took shape, I came to a critical point. I needed to share the secret I had been keeping with the most important people in my life. It took me a long time to open up to my family and friends about this next chapter. I was afraid of what they would think. I’d be giving up a stable career for an industry that many people don’t see as legitimate. Slowly but surely I told them and, of course, they supported me endlessly. The final leap was by far the hardest. I mustered up the courage to tell my supervisor and coworkers that I was leaving to start my own business.
What do I have planned going forward? It’s now my goal to create a successful and reputable pet care business that gives pet parents an option they can trust. I've been on the other side of this, wondering if my sitter would arrive when they said they would. I've found myself questioning if they remembered to refresh the water bowl or if they're giving my dogs the attention they deserve. I want my clients to feel at ease knowing I’ll be there for their babies while they’re gone. That's why I decided to send arrival alerts and "report cards" with GPS tracking, photos and detailed updates after each visit. Little details to provide peace of mind.
As I grow, I hope to hire and build a team of pet sitters who have the same devotion to animals as I do. I hope to expand my service area (Simsbury, Avon, Ellington and Somers are up next) and offer new services (like pet event attendant for weddings and pet taxi). On the more personal side of it, I hope this career choice allows me the flexibly to raise a family, foster pets in need and adopt elderly animals so they can spend their later years in a loving home. My husband and I plan to buy land for a farm in the future as well. I'm sure he can't wait for me to bring home ALL the horses, donkeys, chickens and goats... (he knew what he was getting into).
I hope the honesty of my story helps you understand my heart for animals. Advocating and caring for them is my passion and I have found so much happiness in this career already. I truly appreciate every client who trusts me in their home and with the care of those they hold most dearly.