Start a pet care business! Work from home! Play with dogs and forget about doing any real work!
That’s the gist of it, right? Those banner ads on websites like theanimalrescuesite.com that offer to make you a certified dog trainer, or the Entrepreneur magazine mini-stories that position a pet-sitting business as the ideal venture for stay-at-home moms? They make it sound easy enough, right?
It’s not. Pet care is exhausting. It’s time consuming. Occasionally heartbreaking. And it requires you to love animals enough to contend with the noise, the energy, the demanding schedule, and, yes, the poop.
In the notoriously fly-by-night world of pet care businesses, the Skillman-based Maverick Pet Partners is a bona fide veteran. Founded in 2004 by C.C. Cartier and run by her and her partner (in life and business), Dave Irmiter, Maverick is actually at its capacity for clients.
Cartier and Irmiter care for about 60 pets, though that number fluctuates. And they charge premium fees, though they do not make those fees public. “My competition is always trying to learn our rates,” Cartier says. But, she admits, Maverick’s rates are on the high end.
A cursory glance at pet care and pet sitting companies online suggest that most companies charge between $10 and $20 for a half-hour to an hour visit. The pricier ones charge $25 an hour and up.
Do not, however, make the mistake of calling Maverick a pet sitting service. Cartier is a pet consultant, nutritional and weight loss advisor, trainer, first aid instructor, and fitness coach. Maverick does pretty much everything except boarding and grooming and caters primarily to working professionals.
Maverick offers pet sitting, of course, but Cartier attributes her business’ longevity to the fact that she does not merely sit with your dog while she chats with her friends on the phone. “It’s more than just putting a leash on a dog,” she says. “We don’t talk on the phone. We don’t even chew gum when we’re on the job.”
Its clients, who include attorneys, corporate executives, and other high-level professionals, attribute the firm’s success to the fact that Cartier is a serious, reliable, mature — read: not 17-year-old — professional.
And it is immediately obvious that Cartier deeply cares about the well-being of pets. Her feelings for pets are perhaps best expressed by her sentiment that human beings do not own pets, we are guardians to them. Or by her statement that she and Irmiter “don’t have human children.”
They do have many of the animal kind, though. Simone is her cat; Ella, Billy, and Bella are her chickens; and Bis (pronounced “bees”) is her goat. Her favorite son is her longtime canine companion, Coltrane, and yes, he’s named after John Coltrane. Cartier likes “true jazz,” as is evidenced by the fact that all her pets are named for jazz greats. All except Bis, which is short for “bisous” — French for “kiss.”
A native of Quebec, she moved to Farmington, Connecticut, with her family as a child, where her father and brother went into business as developers. Cartier went to law school at Arizona State and worked as a trust attorney at a New York firm for someone she charitably refers to as unpleasant. One day a thought struck: “This is not the life I was meant to have. Life is a gift and I wondered, how can I give back to the universe? It wasn’t as a trust attorney.”
With Coltrane in the passenger seat, she moved out of New York and settled in northern New Jersey for a few years before heading south to Pennington about seven years ago. She opened a vintage clothing store in Lawrenceville. The move, she says, allowed her to settle in the kind of area she had been searching for — one in which the creative, intellectual energies of art galleries and book stores outweighed the ceaselessly combative energies inherent to New York’s legal scene.
It is also where she met Dave Irmiter. A 2007 graduate of the College of New Jersey, Irmiter was an early customer at Cartier’s shop. Irmiter is a quiet guy who handles the company’s website (www.maverickpetpartners.com) as well as the day-to-day pet care. He earned his bachelor’s in interactive multimedia and dabbles in the creative arts when he and Cartier are not on the job. He even makes some of Cartier’s jewelry.
Irmiter also has a long history with dogs. He and his family always had rescue dogs and his father was the CFO of Seeing Eye, which places guide dogs with the blind.
Maverick does not board dogs, though Cartier is no stranger to kennels. Back in Canada she and her dad raced sled dogs. She dismisses the idea that the sport is unkind to dogs. “Let me tell you,” she says. “We treated those dogs like gold.” And, were sled-dogging a pastime in the Garden State, Cartier would still take part, so long as she felt she could devote the time. “There is a right way to do sports with your dog,” she says.
The right way involves exercise. And not just a mild walk, we’re talking full-on cardio. “We work our pets out,” says Cartier. More than just taking them for walks, she takes them for hikes — sometimes five or six miles at a time. She runs with them in the park as well. Cartier was once an avid runner on her own, but she gets more than enough cardio with the pets she oversees for the company’s high-end clientele.
One of Maverick’s steady clients is Lisa Schwartz, director of New Jersey survey research at Mathematica, based at 600 Alexander Park. Maverick watches over Schwartz’s two dogs: Leroy, a 92-pound shepherd/malamute mix, and Ruby, a 75-pound shepherd. Like Cartier, Schwartz is Canadian by birth.
She grew up in Montreal before immigrating to attend Vassar for her English degree.
Though she set out to be a writer and college professor (both of which she has been), Schwartz got tired of the academic life and came to survey research through a management recruiting firm. About a decade ago, living in Chicago, she met Clyde. He was a shepherd/Doberman mix who had resided in a no-kill shelter for a year and a half because he was considered unadoptable. He had been abused and was so skittish that he would approach no one. Schwartz moved to New Jersey with Clyde and her husband (no children) shortly before Clyde died, five years ago.
Schwartz lived without a pet for a little while, but she always had dogs as a child and as a young adult and she felt incomplete without one. “I’m just not myself without a dog,” she says.
Soon she wanted another one. Preferably two. She found Cartier through a website that highlighted pet professionals and was impressed by the fact that Cartier looked like “a serious, grown-up professional.”
Cartier helped find Leroy and Ruby and “did some sleuthing” into the dogs’ histories, Schwartz says. They too had been abused and Leroy had a sensitive stomach that needed a special diet.
Schwartz says she has learned much from Cartier about nutrition and care. But she has learned a measure of patience and open mindedness simply by having dogs. Rescue dogs in particular have taught her a lot about building trust and learning to read and respect body language. Abused dogs, she says, take a while to adjust and build enough trust to come over. Learning to pay attention to body language — dogs and other pets, like humans, are not all attention mongers; they don’t all like to be picked up and smooched, and when a pet is looking away, “that means you need to back off” — has helped Schwartz build that trust with Leroy and Ruby and helped her better relate to people.
“I’ve always been fairly fit and I love to go hiking with the dogs,” Schwartz says, “but I’d say the benefits are mental health benefits. I have a stressful job and my dogs access a really joyful part of me that knows how to play. To live in the moment, where ‘right now’ is just the best thing in the world. My day just goes away. It brings me tremendous balance.”
Cartier feels the same way about the benefits offered by her job. She stays fit from all the hiking and knowledgeable from all the research that goes into pet care.
But if this sounds like an enviable life, consider a few facts. Cartier is always on-call. She spends hours with animals, not just watching after them, but entirely focused on them. She can tell when they’re sick because she pays attention to their waste output and subtle behavior changes. She gives medicines; counsels clients who have lost pets and those who want to better their animals’ nutrition.
Food, of course, is a big factor in an animal’s health. Those handfuls of buttery, starchy love you fork over to the dog are as bad for him as they are for you. Canine health, in particular, suffers from our diets and leftovers. Dogs are omnivores, yes, but they did not evolve on processed meats, mayonnaise, and extra pancakes.
When Cartier takes on a new client with a fat pet — or even just comes across someone with a fat pet — she immediately inquires about that person’s cultural background. “A lot of people feel as if the more food I give the dog, the more I love him,” she says. But true love for your pets means understanding their dietary needs. And prescription diets often are not, contrary to what you might think, the path to health.
Cartier advocates natural and species-specific foods — like actual meat, cooked and prepared — as the best way to go. And if that sounds a little intense, then Cartier has your at tention. If you are going to have a pet, she says, you are responsible for its health and life, neither of which is to be taken lightly.
Cartier’s career in pets began when as an entrepreneurial teenager in 1984, she started babysitting neighbors’ dogs. Even then she took them on runs, exercised the hell out of them, and gave people “the speech” on how to better care for them. She eventually went to school at Northeastern University and worked briefly in government before scoring a full scholarship to earn a master’s in peace and conflict resolution from American University.
Now 40 and far removed from a career she grew to hate, Cartier continues working with pets, teaching people about proper nutrition and the proper way to train animals. There is no yelling in her repertoire. No scolding and definitely no striking. “It’s a treat-based training system,” she says. “Pavlovian.”
She likes best to head-off the purchase of pets by people entering the relationship with good intentions and bad reasoning — like when it’s Christmas and someone says they want to get the kids a puppy. “I love it when people call me before they get a pet,” she says. “Because I will talk you out of it.”
Having a pet is not for everyone. It is, Cartier says, like having children. Or, better stated, like “having an infant for 20 years.” People often want a pet because they have kids who want pets, and they, most commonly, choose a pet because of what it looks like. “That’s the worst reason to get a pet,” she says.
Small children are unable to care for pets adequately and will grow tired of caring for them before long. Dogs and cats also live, on average, anywhere between 12 and 20 years.
If Cartier is bothered by the misinformation and shady animal industry breeding practices out there — the process of making purebreds, like any search for an ideal, creates copious amounts of “by-product” — she is at least encouraged by the idea that people are changing their perspectives on animals. For centuries, animals have been seen mainly in terms of food, work, and entertainment. These days, Cartier says, more people see pets as members of the family. They are more likely to learn a pet’s language than to expect it to know all of ours.
But there is a long way to go. If you are too busy to care for a pet and can’t find or afford a quality pet care professional, Cartier says, you should not have a pet. And if you are going to get one, you need to know what you’re up against.
Maverick does not only counsel dog owners, though people with dogs are the usual customer. Maverick also assists with other common pets as well as farm animals “We are there for the animals and their owners from birth to death,” Cartier says. She is, in fact, a certified pet bereavement counselor.
When Susan Feeney lost her dog, Murphy, in March, Cartier provided some literature and words that Feeney says helped her adjust. Cartier even brought her fresh flowers for the first few weeks.
Feeney, who lives one street away from Cartier, is an attorney at McCarter English in Newark and is expected to be the 2011 president of the State Bar Alliance. A native of Cedar Grove, she earned her bachelor’s in education from Seton Hall and went almost directly into law school at Fordham.
She had always wanted to be a lawyer and her father, an engineer, instilled in her a belief in getting a college education that had practical value. She joined McCarter English in 1991, where she works primarily in taxation.
In the late 1990s she boarded her horse at the farm Cartier and Irmiter now live on, which is where she first met Murphy.
He had been bought from the Trenton Animal Shelter and was living in the barn in 1999. Feeney had just been through a divorce and was living alone and, to her surprise, fell in love with Murphy, who despite being a saluki/bull terrier mix “thought he was a person.”
Feeney had hired a service that Cartier had worked for before branching out on her own. The trio became like family, Feeney says, and Cartier would come by every day at noon to take Murphy out. On Feeney’s rare days home, Cartier would still come by, and Murphy would bound around the house when he saw her coming.
“I can’t tell you how much I miss him,” Feeney says. “I talked to my dog more than I talk to most people.”
Cartier took Murphy’s death hard as well. When she mentions him, she stops to take a breath. Cartier saw him daily for more than six years and became, Feeney says, “surrogate family.”
Feeney says she would like another dog, but will wait until after her tenure at the helm of the bar alliance ends at the beginning of 2012. Too many speeches and meetings and long days away, which she says would just be unfair to a dog.
She wants to wait — “it’ll be a while before I can look at another dog like I looked at Murphy” – but doesn’t mind doing so. “This way I have something to look forward to,” she says.
Maverick Pet Partners, 64 Hollow Road, Skillman 08558; 609-466-7387. C.C. Cartier, owner. Home page: www.maverickpetpartners.com.