While the movies might have us believe that left unattended, pets joyously live a life of wandering adventures, a la The Secret Life of Pets, pet sitter Janann McInnes has other ideas. She believes every pet deserves top notch care, and no fur babies or feathered friends will be running amok on her watch.
McInnes, 78, is a native of Florida where she studied communications, literature and criminology at Florida Southern College and the University of South Florida. She has had careers as diverse as clown for the Ringling Bros and Barnum Bailey Circus World and State Investigator for death penalty cases in Florida and Tennessee. At one time she interviewed serial killer Ted Bundy.
But today McInnes is a much in-demand pet sitter who cares for animals as diverse as her various careers, including dogs, cats, bearded dragons, ducks, and crows. “I get energy from working with animals,” says McInnis.
Employed by Melinda Walker, owner of Athens Pet Sitter, McInnes is often specially requested by clients to watch their homes and animals. In fact, she has become almost like a member of the family with some pet owners who designate their guest rooms as hers. “I spend time loving the animals and touching them. I give them extra care while their owners are away,” says McInnes.
One regular client that she serves has an aging dog who counts on sleeping with her at night. Knowing that McInnes doesn’t like to deal with stairs in the dark, the family surprised her with the installation of an elevator that opens into her bedroom. “I mash a button,” says McInnes, “and there’s the bedroom.”
Walker says she was thrilled that her clients would be so generous. “They didn’t want her to be in danger,” she says. “It was one of the wildest gifts we’ve gotten over the years.”
When asked why McInnes is in such high demand, Walker says that it’s largely because she has a lot of patience and goes the extra mile. For instance, when she sits for ducks, she often must wait until they are ready to go into their pen. “She will just sit and wait, she’s not eager to be done and leave. She has patience,” says Walker.
Walker says that older adults she has hired have a different approach to pet sitting. Unlike younger workers who thrive on multi-tasking, Walker says older employees are usually willing to go slower and are very conscientious with their assignments. “They have a very strong work ethic,” she says.
Likewise, they have a different relationship with electronics. “They will call and talk to me instead of shooting a text. Plus, they will stop and chat with a neighbor, which can build the business, instead of listening to ear buds. They just give a little extra.”
There are other advantages, too: “They don’t have to ask permission to work on Christmas morning,” she says.
She began the pet sitting business when her daughter was born in 2005 because she didn’t want to go back to work. She had no idea that it would grow so fast.
“Back then pet sitting wasn’t a thing, so I always had to explain what I was doing.” By the time the economy crashed, her business had grown enough that she and her husband made the decision to make it full time. “We had about two dozen clients, so we decided we’d try to turn this into something.” Serving Clarke and Oconee counties, and Statham, Athens Pet Sitter currently has 18 employees and makes 12,000 pet visits a year, including day visits and overnight.
Walker, who has three employees over 50, says that when her pet sitters are on the job, they are required to take care of the home as well as the pet. She tells them to wipe up splattered cat food; take out trash; water plants. We notice little things that aren’t on clients’ list of instructions.” Older employees, she remarks, take feedback well. “They want to get better.”
Because of the nature of the business, the Walkers were completely shut down during the pandemic. Luckily, during that time, some clients donated money to keep the business open because they wanted reliable pet care when they began traveling again. To adapt to the restrictions, Athens Pet Sitter allowed customers to prepay for future travel. “We’ve created a community,” says Walker, “not just a business.”
Along with her regular routine visits, McInnes has been called upon to be a dog nanny for a wedding, which required her to transport and supervise the pet for the ceremony. Recently, she has been hired to go into a memory care facility to provide pet care.
“Janann goes into this facility to care for a cat,” says Walker. “It requires a special person, and we hope it will inspire others. Having a pet in a facility can have many benefits for residents and their families, says Walker. “It can open up a whole new world to them.”
The dedication McInnes brings to her work opens the world to all her clients because they can travel with the confidence that their pets are in good hands. What makes it worth it for McInnes? “It’s the animals… all the different animals.”
Kelly Capers is a homesteader who lives with her family in Oglethorpe County. She is a 1984 graduate of the University of Georgia and recently finished her master’s degree in English from Georgia College.