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Professional pet-sitters provide personal service

Amenagerie of animals fill the pages of Sandy Rat tray and Ellie Gerli’s scrapbook –all pets that they have come to know and love in the 20 years they have spent watching over them.   Both have owned and taken care of animals their whole lives, but they began to do it professionally through Debbie’s Home and Pet Care, a business started by Debbie Anderson in 1987. Ms. Anderson saw a need for pet sitting and was accustomed to watching her friends’ and neighbors’ pets. Since then, Ms. Rattray and Ms. Gerli bought the business and tripled its size. Debbie’s Home and Pet Care now caters to almost 400 clients, each of which are assigned one of nine caretakers so each client receives personalized services.   The two say they see similar service providers come and go on the bulletin boards of supermarkets and the like, but say it takes a certain stamina to continue providing pet care the way they do –it’s a 24 hour service and the busiest times of year are the holidays. Click for Full Size ImageSandy Rattray, co-owner of Debbie’s Home and Pet Care, cuddled with Sugar, Toby and Cody at her home last Thursday.      -Kristina Berlin photo   The next step is providing service tailored to the customer’s needs. Ms. Rattray and Ms. Gerli can carry out specific instructions to watch over both the home and the pets while the customer is away. Ms. Rat tray has been hired to drive a dog across country, staying over in motels along the way.   “We love to do it,” said Ms. Gerli. “We try very hard to give personalized service.”   Sometimes this can lead to interesting situations. One client had a whole room for her three dogs, complete with television, toddler beds and sheets to tuck them in at night. Other clients ask their caretakers to go shopping and cook a whole dinner for their pets.   Ms. Rattray and Ms. Gerli also know how to administer shots and other medical care. Having dealt with so many pets over the years, Ms. Gerli said she knows what trouble signs to look for in a sick pet; for example, a diabetic cat acting sluggish could be going into shock.
  “That’s the nature of the business,” said Ms. Gerli.    Turning an informal way to make money into a business is not without its challenges. Providing alternative vacation care is the goal of Debbie’s Home and Pet Care, because many pet owners do not want to see their animals stay in a kennel, where they are often stressed and exposed to diseases like pneumonia and kennel cough. In order to stay true to their goal of personalized care, Ms. Rattray and Ms. Gerli would like to open their homes to the pet owners as one alternative.   Ms. Rattray and Ms. Gerli are working on a way to get this done, and note that the market for this type of service is so new that zoning regulations don’t properly address it.   Trusting the caretakers is one obstacle the business has to overcome, but so many of the clients are repeats that the trust is long established, and the caregivers are often friends of Ms. Rattray and Ms. Gerli. Ms. Rattray’s husband even helps out at times. Debbie’s Home and Pet Care is also the only Greenwich organization that is a member of NAPPS, or the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters.   Ms. Rattray said there had been few incidents over the past 20 years that the client was not satisfied with the care given. New hires get rigorous background checks and supply Ms. Rattray and Ms. Gerli with several references. The caregivers also meet with their new clients to answer further questions.   Sometimes even with the best care, the animals eventually pass away, and it is always hard for both women.   “That’s one of the hardest parts of our business, when clients die,” said Ms. Gerli.   “It’s hard to even go back into the house when you know one of them is gone,” said Ms. Rattray.   Both are animal lovers. As a child growing up in Greenwich, Ms. Rattray owned everything from turtles that lived outside hooked on a chain to a chicken that knew how to swim.   “I used to have ducks I’d walk on a leash,” she said. “I also had goats that knew how to open the door and would come inside.”   “I can’t imagine life without a cat or dog or animal,” said Ms. Gerli. “Till the day I die I’ll have animals.”   For more information about Debbie’s Home and Pet Care, call 698-2136 or visit

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Ellie Gerli, left, Kenneth Rattray and Sandy Rattray of Debbie’s Home and Pet Care can make friends with any animai, including those pictured here: Sneakers, Sid and Casey. -Kristina Berlin photo