The Accidental Pet Sitter

It was 5 am, and the milking parlor was humid and warm despite the still frigid temperatures outside on this frosty April morning.

The 4:30 a.m. alarm had been especially appalling this morning, as all during the  night I had been awakened every two hours to feed young Dominic. He was nearly a month old now, and was the joy of my life.

When Dominic was born, I had been working full time as a Licensed Veterinary Technician at a small animal clinic in Middleburg. All full time employees there worked a 4-day 40-hour week. My schedule was to work 10 hours per day, Monday-Thursday. I loved this work schedule and I thought it would be an ideal schedule for me to come back to upon my post-maternity return to work. What Mom with a new baby would not LOVE to work 4 days a week, and have three consecutive days off to spend with their new bundle of joy?

My six week maternity leave was approaching its end, and I was growing restless and impatient to get out of the house and resume my work at the clinic. Imagine my disappointment, then, to receive a phone call from my office manager just three days prior to my return to work, explaining that the decision had been made to return all employees to a 5 day a week work schedule. This meant I would no longer have the coveted three day weekends that I had grown used to, and which I felt were of the utmost importance and benefit to the emotional development and wellbeing of my newborn son. I did not have to give the matter much thought. I knew immediately that I was not willing to leave Dominic in the care of a baby sitter five days each week. If I couldn’t have three days each week to spend with my baby, I simply would not, could not, go back to work. I immediately resigned my position at the clinic. The fierce maternal instincts of a mother with a newborn baby outweigh reason.  Although I felt no regrets about quitting, I knew that I still had to have some form of income. Therefore, my first move was to return to my previous part time work at the dairy farm next to my house in Bluemont.

For several years, I had worked part-time at Whitehall Estate in Bluemont, one of the last remaining dairy farms in Loudoun County. After school and during school breaks, I helped out at the dairy, milking the cows, feeding the calves and assisting in the AI breeding program. Even occasionally packing silage using the big green John Deere backhoe. And although the hours were grueling, with the never-ending 4 a.m. and 4 p.m. milking schedule, day in and day out, I was happy to ease back into the familiar rhythm of the work.

That blustery April morning, Scott Brownell and I milked the cows in companionable silence, trying to stay warm in the drafty concrete milking parlor, all the while skillfully dodging the direct aim of the south end of the cows. Each cow patiently munched grain while standing in their stanchions, with the four vacuum hoses attached to their great udders, the hiss, hiss, hiss of the milking machines drown out the sound of the wind that howled outside, trying to inch its icy fingers under the bottom of the barn doors.


A young woman named Tina leased a small apartment which was connected to the elegant white plantation style house at Whitehall Estate.  Tina and I regularly crossed paths in our comings and goings at Whitehall. Even so, we were no more than casual acquaintances, as we were both busy young women, each immersed in our respective work, family and relationships, both of us willing slaves to the menageries with whom we each shared our lives.

I was vaguely aware that Tina’s occupation kept her coming and going multiple times each day from her small apartment at the farm. Much like a rural  veterinarian, each day Tina travelled the dusty, rural  back roads of western Loudoun County, driving from house to house on her “rounds” in order to walk and feed and otherwise care for her clients’ dogs and cats and other various pets, while their owners were at work or out of town.  I was fascinated and impressed  that this industrious young woman was clever enough and capable enough to turn such an unusual concept into a viable business. Little did Tina know at the time, that within the next 25 years, her idea of a Pet Sitting Business would become one of the hottest, most popular, and most fashionable business-du-jours and second-career choices for burnt-out corporate ladder climbers who wanted out of the rat-race. Starting a pet sitting businesses is now one of the most popular entrepreneurial business ventures there is. Where once there was only two or three such businesses in the entire Northern Virginia area, now there are at least  three or four in every small town, and in the big cities there are dozens.

That early morning of April 1989, as Scott and I were driving in a few more cows for their turn in the milking parlor, I began complaining that I would never be able to make enough money milking cows to support a family. And although I was delighted that the milking schedule permitted me to devout myself to raising young Dominic and allowed me to be home when my then 7 year old daughter Virginia got on and off the school bus, still there was not much money to be made as a milk-maid!   I was beginning to regret my hasty decision to give up my position at the vet clinic.  I knew that I needed to find an additional source of income, but one that would not compromise my first and foremost primary responsibility of raising my children.

‘Why don’t you do like Tina does, and start a pet sitting business?’ Scott suggested. “Go talk to her about it. Ask her how she got started and see if she’ll give you some advice. She’s a really nice person and I bet she would advise you and share her knowledge.  You’re smart and resourceful. And besides, you are a veterinary technician. People would trust you with their animals. I think you have a great shot at being successful.”

Immediately a light bulb went on above my head.

“Do you really think I could do that Scott?” I asked tentatively. “Do you think I have what it takes?”

That day I went to Tina’s apartment to broach my idea. It never occurred to me that she might not welcome my idea and my questions. And to her great credit, she did welcome me with open arms. She never resented the fact that I was about to become her competition. She told me she had more business than she could handle, and there was certainly plenty of room for another pet sitter in western Loudoun. Tina graciously gave me much sound advice and guided me in the right direction to a successful start. There is no doubt that I have Scott and Tina to thank for starting me on the successful path that I took that day, that I am still on some 26 years later.

Loudoun’s oldest pet sitting service