Pet sitting service is full-time job for owner

Barbara Hootman

Pet sitting is not a side business for Justine Hergert. Her business is Mountain Goat Pet Sitting Services is a full-time job with a well-planned future.

Hergert’s animal science degree from Ohio State University “gave me the basics to start pet sitting,” she said. “I got my first couple of clients from random people coming into a pet store in Asheville where I worked, asking if anyone knew a reliable pet sitter. I offered my services and discovered how much I enjoyed pet sitting. I have worked in a vet’s office locally, and that gave me more experience with animals.”

The name Mountain Goat Pet Sitting Services came from Hergert’s mother hiking with her. Her mother once said, “You are like a mountain goat hiking in these mountains.”

Hergert said most of her clients are from the Black Mountain-Swannanoa area.

“There aren’t many professional pet sitters in the Valley, so I am filling a niche that needed someone,” she said. “I wanted my own business that would give me flexible hours and allow me to work with animals.”

Hergert does more than check on a dog or cat while its human companions are away. Knowing the needs of an animal is one of the most important steps in animal care-giving.

“I always make an appointment before the pet sitting starts to get to know the basics about an animal,” Hergert said. “I want to know about an animal’s diet, any health issues and personality traits that will influence my stay. It usually takes about three days for an animal to get comfortable with a sitter. Cats can be elusive when a stranger is around. As long as they are eating and using the litter box, I know they are OK.”

If a dog is staying in a sitter’s home, it should be brought for several brief visits first to help conquer any fears of being separated from its family. A pet owner should notice how a dog reacts to the sitter on a visit.

Clients attest to how good a sitter Hergert is.

“I have an elderly dog that needs a sitter when my husband and I are traveling,” Sue Travers said.

“Justine takes my dog to her home, and he loves her. She gives me peace of mind and comfort about leaving him. She also comes to my home and checks on my cats while I am away, making sure they are fed and watered and are OK.

“Justine is extremely professional and courteous with humans and pets. She is knowledgeable, having been a vet technician. I never worry about her coming and going in my home. When I call her, she gets back in touch with me quickly. Also, while I am away she keeps me updated on how my pets are doing.”

Hergert said the ideal pet sitting situation is for the sitter to stay in the pet’s home and maintain the animal’s normal routine. The walking, feeding and sleeping schedule should remain as close to the same as possible.

She also suggested that since owners leave a checklist for the sitter, much as they would for a babysitter. Include important information like the pet’s veterinarian phone number and address, as well as the closest 24-hour emergency hospital (in this area, that is most likely REACH Animal Hospital, 665-4399). They should also leave a list of allergies, feeding schedules and any medications the animal needs. It is a good idea to tell the pet sitter if an animal is allowed on the furniture. Include information whether a pet can have people food or not, and how often a pet gets treats.

Hergert offers a special service - hiking with a dog that enjoys challenging walks.

“I enjoy hiking, so I never mind taking a dog if that is what it is used to,” she said. “Some sitters think a little short walk will do, but that isn’t always the case. I also brush hair and play with the dogs, and talk with the dogs and cats. If I find an animal has created a mess, then it is cleaned up immediately. I like to leave a place as I found it or better.”

Hergert believes that communicating with clients is part of her responsibilities. “I text the owners about their pets frequently, and sometimes get advice on how to handle a behavior issue that has arisen,” she said.

“I had one dog for an entire week that was aggressive, had an ear-piercing bark and wasn’t trained at all,” she said. “I usually stay at least 30 minutes each time I check on the animal. I walk them, but I don’t drive an animal anywhere while the owners are away. To date I haven’t had to take a sick animal to the vet, but I would if the situation called for it.

“I also take care of outside dogs that are not really pets. Currently I take care of (some) English bulldogs. They are very laid back and easy to handle. They stay outside during the day and sleep in the garage at night.”

Denise Drake has used Hergert’s services several times since August 2015.

“She is great,” Drake said. “I miss my dogs, but I never worry about them when Justine is looking after them. One is an Australian Terrier, an alpha dog, and the other is a mix-breed terrier. Their behavior has actually improved since Justine has been caring for them. When I am away, she takes pictures of them and sends (them to) me. I get text messages daily.”

Hergert offers a variety of services, from drop-in visits, to hikes and long walks, and whatever special attention an animal needs while owners are away.

“I am currently working on becoming bonded. I think that is necessary in the pet sitting business,” she said. “

Hergert can be reached at (614) 623-3773 and