Beyond the sign on Route 28 that declares Kaminsky Arabs, past the red and white octagon that says WHOA, in a tin-roofed Catlett barn, a woman feeds six Arabian horses a mash of carrots and apples while another sprays them to ward off flies. Both check for cuts and scrapes and lameness, as attentively as if these animals were their own.
"Good girrrrrl," Carolyn Loggy croons to the gray named Tsasah. "Okay. I'm done, see? Eat your feed."
With all the horses chewing, the barn sounds like a dishwasher churning into a new cycle. As they finish, Loggy and her daughter, Fiona Hill, unlatch the stall doors to turn them out into the paddock. But the horses are playing musical stalls. "Ahab," Loggy calls to an old dappled gray, "take everybody out, please. You're the boss man."
Finally, the horses saunter out. It is just after 9 a.m. on a Monday, and the two women will be back tomorrow, same time, to feed and spray Skip Kaminsky's horses while he is away.
Loggy and Hill, New Zealand natives who live in Midland, are among a growing number of pet-sitters in Fauquier and Loudoun counties who have taken the business beyond walking Rover, changing Tabby's litter box and watering a few plants while they're at it.
Horses make up a significant part of their clientele, which includes dogs and cats, hamsters and macaws, Highland cattle and Clydesdales. Loggy, 49--who has lived in Midland with her husband, a computer consultant, for more than 10 years--said the business, Animal Guardians, pays for the upkeep of her three Arabians, four cats and Milo, her boxer.
Seven years ago, Loggy and a friend considered buying the client list of a retiring pet-sitter, but the asking price was too high and they launched their own enterprise. "We ended up with half of her customers anyway," Loggy said, because the business proved more than the eventual buyer could handle.
"It's a big responsibility," she said as she headed from Catlett to a house north of Warrenton where she would tend to four bull terriers.
Loggy begins each job with a consultation visit. To people, she offers references and letters of thanks as proof of her skills; to animals, she offers a cheery voice, a stroke or a scratch behind the ears. But "The 65-Cat Lady"--whose cats actually number 63--needed no references. When she saw how Loggy treated her cats, letters became irrelevant.
" 'These cats have given me all the reference required,' " Loggy recalled the woman saying. "And she is very particular."
Pet-sitting can be fraught with obstacles, time-consuming chores and some downright unpleasantness. More than one sitter has squeezed through a doggy door when the door key wouldn't work. Besides simple feeding, a job may involve persuading a horse to stand quietly with its sore hoof in a bucket of Epsom salts. Or mucking stalls. Or mopping indoor accidents. Throw holidays, even Christmas, into the mix, and the work appeals to a select few.
Belinda McLawhorn, 48, is one of them. Three years ago, the lifelong Marshall resident was searching for a way to make extra money to provide for her own animals--goats, chickens, ducks and geese. She needed to find something that would complement her full-time counter position at the Gainesville Post Office, and she had had plenty of part-time jobs she didn't like.
Her business, From Alpha to Omega House & Pet Sitting Service, "kind of materialized in my head," she said. The name implies thoroughness, not all-inclusiveness, however. "I don't do snakes and spiders," McLawhorn said with a chuckle. "I draw the line there." But she does "do" pot-bellied pigs and llamas--any job, in fact, that she's sure she can handle.
"It's my reputation at stake," she said. "If I don't do a good job, that's going to get out to people just the same as if I do a good job." McLawhorn advertises once a year in a community advertising circular; Loggy took out her first ad, in the telephone book, only this year. Most clients find them through word of mouth, referrals from animal clinics and vets or, in the case of Loggy and Hill, from their farrier.
Hill, who received her veterinary technician's license in New Zealand and likes working with exotic animals, also promotes the business with her customers at the Warrenton Pet Store, where she is the manager. McLawhorn leaves her calling card--a magnet--on clients' refrigerators.
Before Fauquier County's business-license ordinance was amended to raise minimum gross receipts from $1,000 a year to $10,000, five active pet-sitters had licenses. Kathy Lee, deputy commissioner with the Fauquier Department of Revenue, said she knows of none with licenses now--although Loggy said she recently acquired one because she went over the mark. McLawhorn still doesn't need one.
In Loudoun County, all businesses must have a license no matter how little revenue they bring in, but they owe no tax until they make $4,000 or more. Finance officials don't keep a record of the number of pet-sitters--lumping them all under "personal services"--but kennel owners and vets say they know of "five or six" active ones and none that offer full-service "sitting" for livestock.
Chris Hatch, a cattle and sheep farmer in Leesburg, said most small farmers without employees vacation on the barter system, finding a friend or neighbor to take over in return for the same favor later. "You scratch my back; I'll scratch your back," he said. As hot and dry as it is this summer, he added, most farmers are staying home to ensure their livestock get enough to eat and drink.
For those who do go away and have no willing neighbors to fall back on, Hatch said, "there are some folks who get a kick out of farm work, and those are the ones you try to find."
Whether for small animals or large, "there's plenty of market," said Hill, 27, who must decide whether to take over Animal Guardians full time when Loggy retires to New Zealand next year.
In fact, such large-scale organizations as Pet Sitters of America and Pet Sitters International have sprung up to cater to the growing class of professional sitters. The organizations subscribe to a code of ethics, offer a forum for networking and host annual conferences.
"There are some people who are making big money in this business, but they have a lot of employees," Loggy said. "It depends on how ambitious you are." One such person is Patti Moran, founder of Pet Sitters International and author of "Pet Sitting for Profit," who is, Loggy said, "way beyond making a living for a family."
Loggy's last stop on what has been a fairly easy day is in Amissville, past Hackley's Store, down Dodson Road. After she walks Deborah Kioussis's dogs--Warren Lee, a poodle, and Raven Lee, a terrier of some or many sorts, she lets them back in and goes to fix their suppers. In a tan-carpeted room, where an old-fashioned wooden radio plays to keep the dogs company, she sets a bowl in front of Warren, who sniffs it and backs away.
Loggy plops down on the carpet and dips a hand into the dish, holding it out for him. "Are you sure your mama hand-feeds you every day like this?" she asks. "I don't think so. It makes me feel better to see you eat."
CAPTION: Belinda McLawhorn, who began her From Alpha to Omega House & Pet Sitting Service about three years ago, gets a kiss from a grateful client.
CAPTION: Carolyn Loggy works on a broken fence board on a farm in Catlett. Loggy and her daughter run a business called Animal Guardians. She says the income pays for the upkeep of her three horses, four cats and dog.
CAPTION: Belinda McLawhorn walks two of her charges. Her pet-sitting complements her full-time job at Gainesville Post Office.
CAPTION: McLawhorn locks in the dogs. "I don't do snakes and spiders," she said.