There are myriad motivations behind writing: money, fame, image, art, entertainment, self-expression, etc. While I studied writing at both a creative and professional level, intending to write creatively in my spare time and spend forty hours a week writing professionally to earn an income, I have discovered that doing so will lead myself to misery. From the perspective of both location and that of being an inexperienced youth, there are few desirable writing jobs within my grasp. I could eventually build enough experience with freelance and web content marketing/writing to be entrusted with a more interesting writing job. That, however, will take years, and I’ve realized that during those years, I would spend eight hours a day wasting my creativity on boring content and having none left for the writing for which I’m truly passionate.
On the other hand, with a fiancé and five pets to help provide for, I cannot afford to not earn an income. That’s why I brought my love of caring for animals, especially dogs, to a local dog grooming salon. At this job, I learned that I write better at night if I’m active and on my feet during the day, and I learned much about the subtleties behind dog handling and behavior. I also learned, though, that it is stressful to be someone who genuinely cares about animals and has to work with people who are only doing so for the paycheck. When I reached the point where I felt I’d done all I could, I left in search of something new.
This was the crucial crossroad at which I found myself: do I resign myself back to a dull, draining desk job, or do I try my hand at a different job in animal care? My fiancé has maintained a steady, full-time job as an automotive technician, but we have two dogs, two cats, and a rabbit who require food, supplies, and occasional medical care. I preferred finding a new job working with animals, but time gnawed at me to find something before our income suffered too much.
Fortunately, I found a listing for a position with Executive Pet Services.
Before I knew it, I was being asked to accompany Brenton Dickerson on a ride-along interview. Brenton, I learned, co-owns Executive Pet Services with his fiancé, Ashley Watkins. They had each been leaders in the restaurant industry and had formed Executive Pet Services after realizing the high demand for professional pet care.
Both Brenton and Ashley were lifelong animal lovers, with Ashley having grown up around horses and other farm animals. At one point during training, Ashley relayed to me her realization of the downside of having horses: How did a horse owner ever get out of the house? She and Brenton began their business catering more so to farmers and people with farm animals, operating under the idea of giving such people the ability to travel and tend to other responsibilities while Executive Pet Services cared for their animals. Their transition away from rural life and their observance of Cleveland’s busy pet parents brought Executive Pet Services to become a leading provider for countless dog and cat owners.
Interviews make me nervous no matter what, so when I stepped into the car for my ride-along interview with Brenton—as friendly and genuinely good-natured as he seemed—I was nervous, but this was also one of the first interviews I’d had since first graduating college where I felt truly excited. For me, working for Executive Pet Services would mean I would get to spend my days doing work with animals—work I legitimately enjoy—and that I would be able to earn a functional income while doing so. What was even better was learning that Brenton and Ashley shared my deep concern for the well-being of animals, rather than just being in the profession for the profit. During the ride-along, Brenton and I seemed to “click” in that we expressed similar thoughts and attitudes regarding animals and the people who do—and do not—care for them. He saw that I wasn’t just some another apathetic young person looking for an easy buck, and I saw that he wasn’t another “small business means small standards” entrepreneur. At the end of my ride-along, Brenton offered me the job, and I eagerly accepted.
My training took place over the next two weeks or so. I spent the first half of it riding with Brenton from visit to visit, and then doing the same with Ashley for the second half. Most clients consisted of people who wanted their dogs walked, fed, watered, or just let out for quick potty breaks during their work day. Others consisted of people who wanted their cats fed and watered with their cats’ litter boxes scooped while they weren’t home. Seems pretty straightforward, right? For the most part, it was, but I learned that these tasks required a certain level of time-management that I couldn’t have achieved on my own walking right into it. With multiple visits scheduled per day in different parts of Cleveland, it was important to ensure that all tasks per visit were completed carefully yet quickly. The more I watched and assisted Brenton and Ashley, the more I realized how many different ways time could be lost. They showed me how most of the information I needed would be provided on the client’s profile, but even then, sometimes things changed in the client’s household or routine, sometimes unexpected situations arose that required attention, and then, of course, there’s traffic.
So despite my familiarity with caring for cats and dogs, there was still unfamiliar terrain for which Brenton and Ashley helped me prepare. I have not, for example, handled that many different types of collars. My dogs have always had standard buckle collars, and when I worked at the grooming salon, most dogs already had their collars off before reaching my hands. I had walked my former boss’s pitbull outside on a pronged collar, but had never put on or removed a chain slip collar before. When I tried to put such a collar on a dog during my training with Brenton, I did so incorrectly, which, as Brenton pointed out, could lead to the dog escaping, which is pretty much my worst nightmare. Since we figured out this could cause me problems in the future, I took Ashley’s suggestion of going to a pet store and practicing with different collars. No one at Pet Supplies Plus, where I frequent multiple times a month for my own fur family, spared me a second glance as I spent close to ten minutes just looping and unlooping a slip collar.
Getting to train with both Brenton and Ashley was also helpful in that they each offered different insight of equal importance. There were plenty of bits of information reiterated between the two, sure, but this repetition only helped ingrain it into my memory. Likewise, though they shared the same priorities, they each had different strengths and approaches. For instance, I think Brenton focused a little more on making sure I completed tasks carefully, while Ashley focused a little more on making sure I completed them efficiently. That might sound like the same thing, but by that, I mean that Brenton paid more attention to aspects pertaining primarily to the pets’ safety and well-being, and Ashley paid more attention to the customer-service aspects of the job, such as being timely, clean, and detail-oriented in completing each task.
Additionally, I think Brenton was helpful in that he encouraged me to ask questions and provided a positive dialogue for problem-solving, and I think Ashley was helpful in that she encouraged me to be hands-on and figure out certain problems myself. These different approaches allowed me to walk away from my training feeling not only comfortable enough to discuss problems and ideas as needed, but also confident enough to take charge as needed. Brenton understood the importance of ensuring I was a team player, while Ashley understood the importance of ensuring I could work independently. From training with both of these partners, I could easily see how their blended strengths brought an ideal balance to the business, and I think it is this balance that has made Executive Pet Services the success it is today.
Written by: Kayla Kennedy, Pet Care Specialist, Executive Pet Services