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Sitting Pretty | Fall 2004 Out Here Magazine

Beth taking care of a goose - Tractor Supply Co.
Beth Manuel's livestock-sitting service finds her tending to just about any kind of farm animal — even a goose who refuses to leave the nest.

Livestock-sitting business benefits everyone

By Noble Sprayberry

Photography by Andrew Fox

With seven horses, three dogs, and a passel of cats, leaving home was once difficult for Miki Oliver and her husband, Reed.
"We just wouldn't go somewhere together, or we'd take the horses to a boarding facility," Oliver says. "Or, we just wouldn't go at all."

Beth Manuel's Livestock & Pet Sitting service made life easier. Now, the Reeds and other neighbors can take vacations again. When a mare birthed a colt early, six hours before the Olivers intended to depart on a trip, they knew who to entrust with the newborn.

"Normally, we wouldn't have left," she says, "but with Beth here…"

"I do all of the worrying," Manuel says, finishing her customer's sentence.

Pet sitting in the prairie 35 miles east of Dallas isn't just about dogs and cats. Small farms and ranches dot the wide-open countryside. Horses, cattle, sheep, and rarities such as peacocks are all part of the mix.

Manuel, 49, of Kaufman, Texas, believes anyone who is responsible, likes animals, and wants to own their own business can thrive as an animal sitter in a rural community.

"If you know a lot about animals and have the common sense not to take on something you don't know about … the rest is just advertising," says Manuel, who, after about six years in business, has about 45 customers.

"If you know a lot about animals and have the common sense not to take on something you don't know about … the rest is just advertising," says Manuel, who, after about six years in business, has about 45 customers.

Manuel started the business after nagging injuries made the drive to Dallas and her job at the U.S. Postal Service difficult. She works from the farmhouse she shares with her husband, Luke. They have 20 acres, two horses, two cats, four cows, three calves, and five dogs.

She generally charges $15 for each pet-sitting visit. During the holidays, when many people travel, workdays may stretch to a dozen hours.
Often trips are straightforward and brief. Typical was a visit to a small farm only a few minutes' drive from her house.

Belle, an aging horse, munched contentedly as Manuel tended to a barn kitten's eye infection. After putting out feed for a second horse, she fed cats inside the house and made a quick count of cows in the pasture.

But Manuel also is prepared to troubleshoot. Her tools include reference books on animal health and a willingness to call a veterinarian. She might repair broken fences or treat a minor wound.

To help others enter the business, she sells a $19.95 primer that explains how to begin a rural pet sitting service. Information in the manual ranges from properly tracking appointments and customer relations to safety and consulting with an attorney about liability. The book is available through her website: www.horseinthebarn.com.

"If you do these things well," she says, "you can really be a service to people."

Noble Sprayberry is a freelance journalist based in Dallas.