Women In Business Blog Series: Pet Boarding

Tammy with a longterm boarding dog.

Tammy Osborne lives with her husband and two daughters in Knutsford, just outside of Kamloops. She runs a dog boarding business and loves all animals! Ironically, she is allergic to most animals.  But her love of pets is greater than her struggle with allergies, so she runs TLC for Pets. Here she talks about how her adventure as a small business owner began:

“I started my pet boarding business over 20 years ago.  At the time I was working at a pet store and, because so many people needed pet sitters, I started up a business. The first thing I did was work with Community Futures to get a loan. I also added on ‘Kids Pet Petting Parties’ and owned 30 pets to take to these parties. I owned two hedgehogs, two rabbits, three rats and many other more unique pets. I even had a millipede, Hissing cockroach and a leaf bug for a while!”

During the first months, prior to purchasing the large property needed for a boarding facility, Tammy took her pets to senior homes and to places with those living with special needs in order to cheer residents up.  For Tammy, sharing her beautiful pets was meaningful and a lot of fun.  She was also going to peoples’ homes to pet sit as well as bringing pets to her own home to sit.  Suddenly, her schedule was too busy and there were too many animals occupying her small residence. 

That was when she and her husband bought their bigger place. They prepped the main building, sealed the floors and painted the walls and ceiling. They had to check all the fencing around the property to make sure it was safe with no gaps in it. They modified the greenhouse to use as an outside covered area for dogs. They built 23 rooms in the beginning and then expanded to 12 more a few years after that:

“We started boarding cats, small animals, reptiles and birds! My vision was a safe place with lots of land for dogs to run around and play on together. My biggest challenge in the beginning was to pay for the loan that we needed to buy the place. We used the Yellow Pages to promote the business. Our ad was put in before we even moved just so it would be in the phone book right away. We also had signage on our vehicles and took part in the Home Show every year.”

Tammy spent the following few years upgrading her computer skills and building her client base. Three years after the inception of the business her second daughter arrived, so Tammy built a team of employees. It took a lot of organization and the support of her husband, Denis, but Tammy remembers balancing children and her business as a pretty smooth experience:

“My kids are awesome! My first child just hung out everywhere I went. She would be safely in a stroller when I was out with large dogs and in a playpen, high chair or crawling around with the small dogs with me! It was not too hard at all. The second child was much busier so we flexed and did things differently.”

Decorative train on the property.

Today, Tammy’s biggest challenges have been general, daily upkeep of the property, clients, pets and employees. Keeping the property clean and the grass growing takes continuous effort. There is also the weather to contend with because the dogs play outside during the day. There is a pond on the property for dogs to cool off in and fans throughout the building to keep the interior cool.

Like most business owners, Tammy’s schedule is very busy and her days start at an early hour.  She finds herself working seven days per week. She says her biggest daily challenge is not having enough hours in a day:

“My personal work day starts at 5 or 5:30 am and it seems to never end. Owning a business is 24/7 but with the added LIVE animals it really is 24/7!  Employees start as early as 6am and work until as late as 9pm. Long weekends and holidays are especially busy because pet owners are going on vacations. There are slower periods which we take advantage of as a family by getting out to spend time with our horses or play in the outdoors.”

This year has been especially challenging for many people. The pandemic has impacted the livelihood of business owners. Tammy’s situation is no different.  95% of her income comes from boarding from people traveling. If there is no traveling allowed, there are no boarding pets. The past few months have been a struggle for her and her family and like so many, they are unclear about what the future holds:

“We are busy August long weekend but other than that we are running at 50% for the month of August and 30% in June and July. September looks like it will be back down to 30% or lower which makes it hard to keep employees onboard. We have had some help from the government but not enough. It has been more work for drop-off and pickups as we are disinfecting everything the owners leave for their pets and then again, before picking up. We are also doing curbside service as much as possible.”

Honestly, we are not sure what the future holds for us. We can’t stay open just for a couple of dogs as the overhead of keeping power on and whatnot is far too high for just a couple of boarders.”

For now, Tammy plans to do all she can to stay open for as long as she can. She is hoping for everyone to stay healthy and safe during these times. 

A couple of lodgers taking a break.

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