by Daniel Granderson
August 7, 2017
There are 43 million pet owners in the 18- to 34-year-old age demographic and Millennial pet owners account for 31% of all pet owners, according to the Packaged Facts report Millennials as Pet Market Consumers. Between 2006 and 2016 the number of 18- to 34-year-old dog owners grew by 39%, the market research firm estimates.
Yet even as the number pet owning Millennials swells—and really as pet ownership in general continues to see gains across age demographics—it only takes one person to make a difference. Take for instance Joelyne King, an entrepreneurial Millennial, who turned her lifelong love of pets into a business.
Joelyne is the founder and owner of Prance Around Pet Services, LLC, a family owned and operated dog walking and pet sitting company with locations in Laurel, MD and Germantown, MD.
Packaged Facts sat down to speak with Joelyne about what it means to be a modern pet owner and small business operator.
To me there is no such thing as being a "pet owner". I have what I call fur kids. Kids that simply have four legs instead of two and have a little more hair than most other human kids. Caring for these fur kids is no less responsibility than that required by having human children.
I adopted my pup Freasky when I was just 18 years old. I adopted him from Montgomery County Shelter because I wanted a companion to join me along my journey through college. I remember picking him up from the shelter and as soon as I got in the car to take him home, I cried hysterically. My boyfriend, who is now my husband looked at me as though I had five heads. He wondered why I would be crying over such a joyous event. My tears were the result of realizing what I had just committed to do.
By adopting this pup, I had just committed to providing him with everything he needed to be safe and live a happy life. I was now responsible for making sure he ate every day, making sure he had proper medical attention when needed, making sure he received proper exercise. The overwhelming thought that I had gone from a carefree 18 year old to a full-time parent hit me hard. In my head there was no, “Well if he just doesn't fit into my schedule I will just re-home him.” Sure there are several reasons why re-homing a pet is the best options for a household but not wanting to step up to the plate to be a pet parent, was just not one of them for me. Freasky was mine now and I was going to make sure he had the best life he could have ever asked for.
Little did I know that Freasky would be and still is not only my fur kid but he is my best friend and the reason behind the start of my pet care business. In addition to Freasky, I am the fur mother to four cats, Baker, Puff, Bellatrix and Homer and a bearded dragon named Marty McFly (yes you heard that correctly) and a turtle named Cookie. I truly cannot imagine my life without any of them. They are such a primal part to the family my husband and I have created. There is nothing more special than being able to come home to a house full of love, some pet hair and dander!
Your mindset mirrors some of our recent research data: 79% of dog owners and 77% of cat owners agree with the statement “I consider my dog(s) or cat(s) to be part of the family (U.S. Pet Market Outlook, 2017-2018). And over 90% of dog and cat owners say their pets benefit their mental health. In your personal and professional experience do you agree?
Absolutely. Studies have definitely shown that pets aid in the mental state of individuals. In fact, my husband and I certified our dog Freasky as a therapy dog back when he was younger because we wanted to visit patients in nursing homes, hospitals and hospices. The group we volunteered with was called Fidos For Freedom, Inc. It was immensely rewarding to see our dog bring a smile to the faces of patients. Animals have a way of bringing a sense of well-being to an individual. Adding a pet to your household is a lot of work but the rewards you will reap from your pets are endless.
You mentioned your dog Freasky was the inspiration for founding Prance Around Pet Services, LLC. Can you elaborate?
While in college I had the typical college student odd jobs. One of my favorite jobs was babysitting. One day I thought to myself, if I like babysitting so much...I wonder if people need babysitters for their pets? I started to post flyers in my local apartment building as an available dog walker and pet sitter. The calls immediately started to come in!
I quickly knew I needed to think of a catchy name. Joelyne's Pet Care was not cutting it. One day, I was walking Freasky around my apartment complex and realized how nice his walking gait was. I turned to him and said, "Look at you prancing around" There it was...it hit me...Prance Around! It was so catchy and easy to remember and pets prance around all the time. I changed all of my flyers to Prance Around Dog Walking and Pet Sitting Services. Well...it appeared that someone else in my apartment building thought that dog walking and pet sitting wasn't such a bad idea for a business either. A few weeks after my initial posting someone posted a similar ad and called themselves Prancing Paws! I freaked. How could this be? What if they take my name?! Definitely not cool. So I did what any 19-year-old would do. I immediately gathered up as much money as I could and trademarked the name Prance Around d.b.a. Prance Around Pet Services in 2006. Ok, perhaps not every 19-year-old would do that but I was driven to start a small pet care enterprise. Today, I can proudly say that my hard work, persistence and determination have really paid off. It was certainly not easy. There were a lot of people that doubted not only my ability to start a reputable pet care business, but a pet care business that would be successful enough to actually put food on the table and pay the bills. I can honestly say that many of those that doubted me and the business I envisioned turned into believers fairly quickly.
Prance Around Pet Services has become greater than I envisioned it would be today. In addition to myself, my husband is now part owner of the company and together we have built a great foundation for Prance Around. Our main branch is located in Laurel, MD. In 2013 we added a second branch in Germantown, MD. Each branch covers various cities surrounding the main branch locations allowing us to provide a good amount of coverage. We have an average of 15-20 pet care professionals, including my husband and I, covering both branch locations to ensure proper coverage. Our Germantown branch has a designated Branch Manger appointed to that location.
We offer dog walking, pet sitting, pet waste clean up, pet taxi, medication administering and more. Our business structure is quite simple. We train our team of pet care professionals to believe that pets are not just pets. They are furry kids, sometimes feathered and scaly fur kids too. We are responsible for living creatures that rely on us to care for them when their parents can't. We pride ourselves in providing pet owners with personalized pet care and the peace of mind that comes from having true pet lovers take care of their pets. We take our job very seriously. This is not a part time job for us. You cannot work in the pet care industry to just have a job. You work in the pet care industry because you care for the well-being of animals and you want to make a difference.
There is nothing better than doing what you love and loving what you do!
As a local business owner, can you speak about what a company such as yours offers that say Petco, PetSmart or Walmart cannot? What sets you apart?
To my knowledge, Walmart and Petco don’t offer any pet care services like the ones we offer. PetSmarts do have Pet Hotels in several of their stores. Our service is actually very different then theirs. They offer doggie day care and pet boarding where pet owners drop off their pets at their location. We do not offer those kinds of services. All of our services are done in the comfort of the pet’s home. For clients that are away on vacation, we make trips to their homes multiple times a day to visit and care for their pets. This allows pets to stay in their familiar environment and reduces several of the stressors that come from being in an unfamiliar place.
So it’s our hands on, personal loving touch that makes the biggest difference. Our clients have an opportunity to know us, and we to know them and their pets. To me there is no difference between whether I am caring for one of my pets or one of my client’s pets. At the end of the day, they are all living beings that deserve to be loved, cared for and cherished.
Recent trends suggest that fewer Americans are purchasing pets through stores or from breeders and instead are adopting them from shelters and other animal welfare organizations (U.S. Pet Market Outlook, 2017-2018). Are you surprised to hear that?
I am a big supporter of adopting pets from animal shelters. All of my fur kids, with the exception of our bearded dragon which we purchased at a pet store, have either been adopted or brought in from the street. That said, had there been a bearded dragon at a local shelter, I would have adopted one too, but sadly there wasn't. There is nothing more rewarding than being able to provide an animal with the opportunity for a better life.
I worked in animal rescue for seven years at a large animal welfare organization and we had an entire department dedicated on Puppy Mills. The sad reality is that there are many animals that come from breeders that are not in the industry for the right reasons. They see animals as a source of income and put the animal’s welfare on the back burner. Please understand, that is not the case for all breeders. There are wonderful breeders out there that have nothing but good intentions and care deeply for the welfare of the animals they breed and raise. There is no right or wrong answer as to where people choose to find a pet to add to their family. As long as people are making educated decisions and are taking the time to research where their potential pet is potentially coming from, then they are being responsible.
Also I always recommend visiting local animal shelters and rescues and interact with the kind of pet you are considering to adopt. This will give you an idea of what you may be getting yourself into. Another great option if you are considering a dog, dog sit for a friend for a weekend. Get to know the responsibilities that come from owning a dog 24/7. The same goes for a cat. While you may not be able to easily borrow a cat, you can visit a local shelter, volunteer and see what it takes to care for a cat.
You have a background in animal rescue and saving animals from inhumane conditions. Can you tell us what you’ve learned from these experiences?
As mentioned I worked for at a large animal welfare organization for many years. During that time I was privileged to partake in a few animal rescue deployments. It is easy to imagine the conditions that some animals live in but very different to actually to see it. It is very easy to get caught up in the idea that animals were placed on this earth for our entertainment and our use.
While it is correct that many animals are used for food in factory farming and also used in medical experiments to further the science of medicine, we must remember that animals never chose to be born animals. We are privileged as humans to stand at the top of the food chain. As humans with sensible brains, thoughts and emotions it is our responsibility to ensure that animals being used for any purposes other than living their full lives outright should be handled and cared for with respect and allowed to live in humane conditions.
Oftentimes we see people dropping their pets off at the shelter or giving their pets away to others. There are several reasons this may need to occur, but fortunately the reasons for having to relinquish an animal can be addressed even before the animal comes into your care to begin with. Think about the kind of pet you are looking to get. Do you have the space needed to properly house the pet you are interested in getting? Is your current living situation and conditions a good fit for a pet at the moment? Are your work or school hours going to interfere with your ability to care for your pet? Do you have the financial means to properly care for your pet? Have you thought about the impact the pet will have on others in your household, including other pets that already reside there?
As you can see there are several questions you need to ask yourself and be honest in answering before jumping into pet ownership. If you can honestly answer these questions and think of the idea of adding a pet to your home as a permanent change and not a decision that can be reversible, then you are going to make the right decision for yourself, your family and for the pet you choose to give a home to.
As someone experienced with pets, do you have any opinions on the various emerging trends in pet products and services? I’m referring to things such as grain free foods, natural/organic/premium foods and products, products made exclusively in the USA, homemade pet foods and treats, etc.
From a personal experience with our dog Freasky, we have found that animals do in fact have sensitivities to foods and certain kinds of materials, such as latex for example. Our dog Freasky is allergic to chicken, beef, pork and various grains. He can only be feed a fish, lamb or turkey diet. If our dog did not have these allergies, we would not particularly choose a special diet for him. Everyone must do what they think is best for their particular pet. If we think feeding them a particular diet or giving them certain toys to play with benefits their overall health and mental stimulation, then as their parents we must feel comfortable with the items we choose to expose our pets too. There is no right or wrong here. We must do what we feel is best. It is no different than how you choose to raise your child.
-- by Joelyne King as told to Daniel Granderson
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