Tuesday, March 2, 2010
Wags and WhiskersMichelle Wilkerson with some of her furry babies: K-9, Tapers, Bella (the puppy with the sock) and Jessica (the small brown brindle). You may contact her at 416-7380. You may read more about Michelle by going to wagsandwhiskerslittlerock.com.
Going on vacation? Got a new puppy who needs some love while you're at work? Just call Michelle Wilkerson at Wags and Whiskers, and she will provide quality care for your "furry babies" in their own home environment.
Mrs. Wilkerson started her business 14 months ago, and it has been a great success in no small part due to her genuine love for animals and their happy response to her care.
"I have a greyhound, the owner swears he gets mad when she gets home. I say at least you know he's happy when you're gone," Michelle said with a laugh.
When Michelle gets inquires from potential clients, she sets up an appointment to come and meet them and their pets.
After a bit of paperwork to get emergency contact numbers and their vet's name and number, Michelle will work with dogs to determine how they respond to other animals and to kids on a walk. Then the clients will choose the number of times a day they want her to come by.
"Dog people usually want me to come three times a day. It's a 30 to 40 minute visit (each time). Some families want their cats visited once a day. Others, twice a day. One older cat I sit gets morning tuna and night tuna.
"I walk the dogs if needed. Walk them, feed them, pet them - whatever they are used to. Some like to play ball in the back yard. I have several, we play ball and then we go walk. I want to keep them happy as they can be when their family is gone."
Decidedly, it is hard work. Often Michelle is up at 4 a.m. and doesn't return home until 10 p.m.
"Dogs have to go out early," she said. "If I have four different households doing three visits a day, that's all the dogs I can handle, but I am in the middle of hiring my first employee to help me at night when I get too busy.
"There will be times when I have two days off and other days when I'm working pretty hard, but I knew it would be that way."
She said the business is going really good. "And I know it's going to build and build."
Shameless Shoppe Talk Plug
Michelle said she had received a great response from her ad in Shoppe Talk, even generating many more calls from Chenal clients than her ad in a Chenal magazine.
"I really did get the best response from Shoppe Talk. Seriously, I get calls every week. What a lot of people do, they hold on to the ad, hang it on the refrigerator until they are ready to go, and then they call."
Michelle is licensed and bonded. And she is a member of the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters.
"I am responsible and security concious. I do take what I do very seriously. I treat every dog like I would treat mine, and mine are treated very well.
"I actually enjoy what I do, as crazy as that may be."
Many cats and dogs prefer to be in their own home environment rather than being boarded, and Michelle's service is less expensive than boarding.
"I'm not against boarding at all. Some animals do good, but a lot of them don't. I'm there for the ones that can't be boarded."
At home the animals get some perks that boarding can't provide - like getting to sleep with the sitter.
"They definitely like to sleep with me. It doesn't take very long. I've been sitting two little French bulldogs - the first one slept on my head, and the other one at my feet. It definitely made me feel at home."
Why? Because Michelle has lots and lots of dogs of her own. She didn't plan it that way. but when she and her husband bought 15 acres in the country about 16 years ago, they found out first hand some ugly truths about animal abuse.
"They dump them," she said.
"I always had animals growing up. I thought (all animals) were spayed and neutered and slept in the bed with you.
"355 have been dumped in front of our house - dogs, cats, litters of puppies or kittens. One had shot the mom in the head and left the puppies. It's terrible."
"I find homes for as many as I can. Others have to go to the Humane Society. It's hard, but when they are starving to death ..."
For a number of years, Michelle worked with rescue groups, but had to stop. "It was so hard on me. It's so sad.
"You think it (animal abuse) comes with a certain mentality or education level, but you'd really be surprised by the people who don't take care of them. It's mostly people in Little Rock (who dump animals). You hear things. Several people have said things like, yeah, I dropped my dog off in Roland."
Michelle said she believes one of the reasons so many animals have been dropped off at her country home is because she has the reputation as "the dog lady" who will help find them homes. "Word gets out."
One dog was dropped off in the rural area with his mouth duct taped, so he would starve to death.
"Of course, no one would take him. I have all the delinquents at my house. That was 7 years ago. He has a gray muzzle. He still has gray there where the duct tape was.
"I have 15 dogs. All my friends' kids want to come out and play with them.
"I always think, 'oh my gosh, I'm such a nutball to have so many.' But I know a lady in Chenal with seven cats and three dogs. I talked with an attorney in the Heights the other day who has 10 animals."
These are her people.
"I've always been involved with animals. There's no escaping it. It's in my blood."
Tell us about your family. I have been married for 19 years. My husband's name is Jeff. I have an 18-year-old son, Tanner. And 15 furry children.
Where were you born? North Little Rock.
Is there anything you would like to learn how to do? Interior design.
What do you do in your spare time? I teach fitness classes at the Athletic Club and the Racquet Club and I help out Invisible Fence, training dogs on their system. Which I guess is all really work, she said with a laugh.
What's your favorite food? An Acai sunrise smoothie from Whole Foods.
Do you like to cook? No! My family actually told me not to cook. "Don't worry about it any more, mom." And it didn't hurt my feelings at all.
What's your favorite restaurant? Whole Foods. Seriously, I'm there every day.
What do you like to watch on the tube? The FBI Files, Cold Case.
What's your favorite movie? Dirty Dancing. This is pretty embarrassing.
Do you support any charities? I do. The ASPCA, and on my own, I get one dog in our community spayed every month.
(This story was written by Bobbi Nesbitt and ran in the March 2010 edition of Shoppe Talk.)