Jackie Pekar, owner of South Paw Pet Sitting, has never been bitten by a dog. But she did have to feed Swenson’s cheeseburgers to a client’s Doberman to keep it from attacking her once. Within three days, that Doberman was eating out of Pekar’s hand. “It was so cool that eventually I won this dog over,” she says. “I love being able to handle a situation like that.”
A Brecksville native and long-time Akron resident, Pekar was the kind of child who always brought home injured birds or stray dogs and cats. While attending Kent State University, Pekar read “Pet Sitting for Profit,” by Patti Moran, president and founder of Pet Sitters International, and was inspired to launch her own company. Now in its 11th year, South Paw is still growing, with six employees, four of whom are former clients themselves.
Pekar loves taking her own dogs—two rescued dachshunds, a basset hound and what she calls the Great American Brown Dog—out to explore local parks and festivals. Sometimes she stays home with her tuxedo cat, Oreo, but she really prefers being outdoors.
How many dogs do you walk at one time?
JP: We don’t do pack walks, like how you see in New York or San Francisco. Depending on the dogs, we only walk three or four at a time. My philosophy behind that is, we’re very concerned with safety. We want to make sure the dogs are happy. When I watch people do that, it doesn’t even look like the dogs are enjoying themselves. The walk should be for the dog, and not for me.
How many miles do you walk in a day?
JP: I don’t know the miles, but on my pedometer, I average about 16,000 steps a day. I have walked up to 23,000, but that’s starting at 6:30 in the morning, at Christmas or Thanksgiving, when we’re doing daily walks and vacation walks. That’s a super busy day, and it takes a long time for me to recover from that. You’d think I’d be in super good shape!
What’s your favorite breed of dog?
JP: My favorite would have to be the basset hounds. They’re so funny and goofy and have such a good nature. I volunteer for BAGS [Beautiful Aging Gracefully Seniors], a small grassroots rescue that specializes in older bassets. Since I was little girl, I always wanted a basset. Now Suki’s been with me eight years. I’d love to get a blood hound too. I like them long and low.
You’ve attended the Pet Sitters International Conference, veterinary conferences and other educational opportunities. Why is education important to you?
JP: I’ve taken classes on everything I think would relate to my clients, like improper feline elimination or geriatric pet care. I’m not a vet or animal behaviorist, but I take these classes on a lot of behavior and nutrition issues because a lot of people get into the vet office and don’t know what to ask or are afraid to ask. I try to arm the client so maybe they’ll know what to ask the vet or trainer, or maybe do a search on their own and have a starting point.
What’s the advantage of using a professional pet sitter?
JP: As a professional pet sitter, you want someone who’s bonded and especially that has liability insurance. Insurance is never an issue until you need it. Make sure they’re first-aid trained, [and] if they have to deal with an emergency situation, they’re not going to have a meltdown. This is a super fun job, but I take it very seriously. We try to be as professional as we can and we back that up with education.
What is the most unusual pet you’ve cared for?
JP: Probably the coolest set of animals I cared for was a flock of chickens in Highland Square. I’d done a lot of parrots, African grays and cockatiels, but never chickens. I learned in “chicken 101” [that] at nighttime they go to roost in their coop, [and] in the daytime they have free range in the yard. I went over there to tuck them in, and [was] doing a head count, and there was a possum in there! They probably heard me scream all the way in Cleveland. I had to chase him out. I should’ve had a GoPro on my head: me with a shovel trying to chase this possum out of the coop. Now, it’s hilarious, but it was such a sight. It’s never a dull moment in the life of a pet sitter!