By Amy Box Fellhoelter

As a person who has poured her life into helping others as a nurse and now caring for pets as a pet sitter, Jennifer Mills, owner of Pet Nanny Pet Care, desires for the animals of her clients to be not only well cared for, but genuinely loved by her staff as well. Not to mention, the services her company provides may allow pets to escape stress, sickness, and possibly death as compared to other pet boarding companies.

Jennifer Mills moved to Knoxville from California in 2001. After working several years as a nurse, she decided, like many of us, to enjoy a vacation with her family. She owned two dogs at that time and secured a place to board them while she and her family were gone on a ten-day trip. When she returned, her dogs were extremely sick and in need of multiple veternarian visits and medications. Fortunately, her beagle recovered but her basset hound did not and died eight months later due to sickness. “He struggled. He was on three or four different antibiotics … and he was only four years old,” said Mills. The boarding company never claimed any responsibility in regard to the sicknesses of both dogs.

“So the next time we went on vacation, I knew there had to be a pet sitter who would come to my home,” she said. Mills researched pet sitting companies and found just a few at that time, which was 2007. She picked one and had such a great experience with the company that when later she discovered they were hiring pet sitters, she signed up for the job. “I was still a nurse, but I loved it. I would do it on weekends, after work, before work, at lunch, and I just loved it,” she added.

She loved it so much so that when the company owners relocated to Florida to expand their business, they asked Mills to manage the Knoxville location. She ran the business successfully for two years until the owners stopped mailing paychecks to their sitters in Knoxville. Eventually, the company closed and Mills realized how much she missed taking care of animals. “So I started doing research on how to start a business, and before I knew it I had eight clients that I would visit before work and after work. I decided if I could get eight clients in one day, then I can make enough as what I do for nursing,” Mills explained.

Before long, her nursing job was traded for managing a pet sitting business “and it worked. It was scary, but I did it,” she said. Mills began this venture in 2013, and she has currently nine part-time employees and more than 250 clients. “And I still love it, the hardest part for me is sitting in the office. That’s my struggle right now. But I learn as I go,” said Mills who has been voted “pet sitter of the year” for five consecutive years by her peers. And she never left her nurse training behind completely because she is First Aid and CPR certified for dogs and cats.

“I know there are more and more pet sitting companies coming to Knoxville, so we go above and beyond for our clients by doing something extra – that extra is all about keeping the pet happy,” declared Mills, also owner of a puppy and three cats herself.

Yet “something extra” is also for the clients, such as watering plants, bringing in the mail, setting the garbage out for pickup, turning lights on and off, sweeping up litter, vacuuming pet hair, and more – all free of charge.

As the successful owner of Pet Nanny for six years, Mills knows the most important part of establishing a good relationship with a new client is the consult. As a free service to interested parties, it is a time to meet the owner and his or her pets, and learn about the routine, schedule, and needs of the animal. Each client’s pet sitting session is customized to fit the pet. The client may need a pet sitter to come visit a dog four times a day or a cat once a day. Mills wants potential clients to ask lots of questions and encourages them to call her references.

“It depends on the dog. Coming four times in one day to pet sit may seem like a lot, but if a dog isn’t used to being alone, it really is not,” she commented. Pet Nanny Pet Care does not accept clients with aggressive dogs for the safety of its pet sitters.

Each pet sitter is hand-picked by Mills, must be 18 years old, and have access to a car. Sitters must also pass a background check for all 50 states — not just the state of Tennessee — and of course, be an animal lover. “They have to love what they are doing,” added Mills. This process involves an in-depth interview session with open-ended scenario questions, walking potential sitters through training, and conducting pet sitting visits together. If everything goes according to expectation, the potential sitter will receive a pet sitting job or two, and then will be evaluated. All sitters are insured, licensed, and bonded and never bring company or visitors with them to a client’s home.

“I don’t have to check up on my sitters. Ninety percent of the homes of my clients have cameras so the owners can see exactly what the sitters are doing when they are there,” she mentioned. Also, clients have the option for Pet Nanny to install a pet camera in their home for an extra fee.

Some of Pet Nanny’s clients are called “lunch dogs,” that are served at the lunch hour. They are usually dogs whose owners work long hours and are unable to come home during the day.

Another service provided is private home boarding. Mills can personally board up to four dogs in her home at a time, and her manager can board up to two dogs in her home at a time. “Boarding a dog is very stressful for the animal, a different environment, and getting no sleep,” said Mills. Some pet benefits of boarding with Pet Nanny are: not being left in a cage, receiving lots of one-on-one attention, plenty of exercise, and not being exposed to ill pets.

If your dog needs to be walked at a park or taken to a dog park, pet taxis are offered too, as is overnight pet sitting/house sitting.  Sitters can sleep with the pets mimicking their same routine when their owners are home. Since more than half of the pets they sit for sleep in bed with their owners, this has become a popular choice. These benefits include staying in a familiar place, and receiving food, medicine, and bathroom breaks on a regular, schedule.

Pet Nanny provides services the following areas: West Knoxville, Powell/Karns, Downtown Knoxville, Bearden/Rocky Hill, Farragut, Knoxville Center Mall Area, Halls, Alcoa/Maryville, and South Knoxville.

Mills hopes to one day open a pet day care to provide a daily home away from home.

For more information about Pet Nanny Pet Care, check the Pet Nanny Pet Care Facebook page, or call Jennifer Mills at 865-216-6118.