By LaReeca Rucker

When Kimberly Stubbs sits with her “babies,” she doesn’t need Barney videos and baby bottles. Tennis balls and tasty treats are her tricks of the trade.

Stubbs babies don’t cry; they bark. They don’t throw tantrums; but they do sometimes growl. They don’t teethe; but sure like to chew on things. And they don’t use a potty; but have to be trained just the same.

As a licensed and bonded professional pet-sitter, Stubbs is part of a growing group of service providers in a world that seems to have gone pet crazy.

The American Pet Manufacturer’s Association reports that 63 percent of U.S. households own a pet, and the amount of money spent on them has increased each year from $17 million in 1994 to $35.9 million in 2005.

Last year, $2.4 billion was spent for the grooming and boarding of pets, and people like Stubbs are capitalizing on the trend, motivated by their love for animals.

Kimberly’s Pet Sitting, a Madison-based business, became operational in March, and now Sanders, Jasmine, Sweety, Lucky, Ginger, Oscar, Robert, Peaches, Foxy, Rusty, Lucky, Lindsay, Molly, Peanut, Solo, Chester, Ewok and Audrey are just some of her many Madison County clients.

It’s an alternative to kennels and why Madison resident Linda Speaks hired Stubbs to sit with her dogs Jasmine and Sweety Pie, pampered pooches who dine on dog food and mixed veggies.

“I think the culture that we live in with our animals; they more and more have become our companions,” said Speaks. “I see them as furry people. And even though the vet that I have is very good and they have good attention there, it’s not like being in their home. Kimberly comes once or twice a day, and they can stay right there and sleep in their chair. It just gives me a lot of peace of mind to know that they are here.”

Both pups were adopted from MARL. Sweety came first followed by the attention-demanding Jasmine, brought in to keep Sweety company while Speaks worked.

Because all pets have different personalities, Stubbs said her furry clients participate in different activities.

“Sometimes I sing to them,” she said, “and I talk to them like they are everyday people. Sometimes I play with them inside, depending on the situation. Sometimes we go outside and play ball. Sometimes we run around the couch. And I just love on them. I just treat them like they are mine.”

The Madison County native has also learned their various personal habits and bathroom preferences. One prefers the woods over grass. Another has arthritis and must be carried outside, and one must spin around three times before doing her business.

Like other jobs, pet-sitting can be very time-consuming. Stubbs sometimes leaves home at 5:30 a.m. and doesn’t get in until 10 p.m.

“Some days, I just get up and throw on a baseball cap,” she said. “That’s one of the benefits; the pets don’t care what you look like.”

She has cared for birds, cats, dogs and rabbits, but chooses not to sit with snakes and spiders.

" The one animal that I was not able to feed is a fish named Ropy,” she said. “He is a rope fish who looks like an eel with wings, and you are supposed to dangle an earthworm for him. “I dangled and dangled and danged that thing, and he would not eat. They said that sometimes he doesn’t. He didn’t eat for another week, and then he ate.”

While excessive dangling may not sound very stressful, pet-sitting does have its moments. Most of Stubb’s clients take her duties very seriously.

“One of my clients was a little apprehensive about it,” Stubbs said. “She talked to some of my clients and decided to do it. When she came back, she said it was the best experience she and her dog had ever had. She said normally when she gets home, he is depressed, but he was just bouncing off the walls happy.”

New Orleans resident Jerry Barbier was also serious when he hired Stubbs to care for kitties Ewok, Audrey and Chester, two of which he has had more than 15 years. As a dislocated Katrina victim, Barbier’s business transferred him to Ridgeland until his recent return.

“Pet lovers really become attached to their pets. It’s like a child,” Barbier said. “I called Kimberly, and we sat down and talked. Her professionalism made me feel very comfortable.”

Some clients request Stubb’s service daily. Others use Stubbs when they go out of town on business and vacation. She works around all schedules. Prices vary, but are comparable to kennels, she said.

Pet Sitters International was founded in 1994 for industry professionals, and March 5-11 was Professional Pet-Sitters Week.

“Thanks to the fact that pet owners have embraced in-home pet care so enthusiastically, pet sitting has become one of the fastest-growing home-based industries in the world,” said ‘Pet-Sitting for Profit’ author and PSI President Patti Moran. “At PSI, our goal is to help our members grow in knowledge, confidence and professionalism, and to celebrate their effort along the way.”

A magazine called Pet-Sitters Plus has also been created for industry professionals, and Stubbs is not the only one in Mississippi. Three others companies are listed on the PSI Web site. Pets-R-Us Inc. is based in Raymond. Pet-Sitter’s Plus, in Madison; and PetCall Inc. is located in Brandon.

Stubbs said the service also works as a theft detourant. When pet owners leave town, she brings in the newspaper and mail, waters the plants and closes the blinds at night. And as a treat for pet owners, Stubbs leaves notes written in the pet’s “voice” that chronicle daily activities.

“It’s serious,” Stubbs said. “You don’t just want anybody in your house, and you don’t just want anybody taking care of your babies.”

Stubbs has three babies of her own: Pepper, a black Labrador retriever; Fozzie Bear, a Chesapeake Bay retriever; and Dusty, a Jack Russell terrier.

For more information, contact Stubbs at 601-668-4068.

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