When Heidi FitzGerald heads to client meetings for work, she can always count on being greeted with smiles, unconditional love and wagging tails. That’s because her clients are mostly dogs, which she takes care of through her pet care business, Let Rover Stay Over. “I always have a warm reception,” she says.
As a creative writer and editor who freelances from home, FitzGerald decided to start the business in 2014 as a way to fill in the gaps and stay active outside. After becoming a member of Pet Sitters International and earning its intensive Professional Pet Sitter certification, she put up fliers and started growing the business, which serves the west metro area. She offers walking services, check-ins and overnights at her home in Plymouth and is currently studying to become a dog trainer.
A self-described animal lover, FitzGerald grew up with cats and dogs and has always been interested in the human-animal connection. She recalls her mom scolding her as a kid because she liked to hang out with the dog in the doghouse. These days, she doesn’t own any pets so that she can host dogs overnight and give them individualized attention. She says her 9-year-old twins “think mom’s job is the best because we get to try all these different breeds.”
FitzGerald sets herself apart with the personal approach she takes with clients. She always leaves notes after walks and check-ins to keep clients informed on things like changes in behavior. When hosting pets overnight, she makes sure to keep owners updated via daily texts and photos. She makes a point of tailoring her approach with each pet to its needs and the owner’s requests. “It’s important to have a personal relationship where I know what they want and need,” FitzGerald says. “It’s kind of like leaving your kid with a babysitter—you wouldn’t just leave [your child] with any schmo. So I look at it that way and I take it seriously.”
Cathy Tsao, a client in Plymouth, appreciates how FitzGerald maintains a balance of seriousness and fun when she walks her four Labrador retrievers a few times each week. Because a couple of the dogs have some special needs, Tsao says she’s picky about their pet care and wants them “to feel like they have a second mom” in the person who takes care of them while she’s at work. When she interviewed FitzGerald, Tsao felt confident that she could manage the dogs and was paying careful attention to their needs. “I feel like she’s really looking out for their best interest and she’s making decisions for them that I would make,” Tsao says.
Amy Bond, whose English field cocker spaniel Brady has stayed with FitzGerald several times, says she can’t recommend her enough. She especially loves how FitzGerald is committed to replicating a pet’s normal routine. She always sends pictures of Brady whether they’re playing with the ball outside—even in the winter—or just running errands. “She’s very engaged, and when he’s in her home I feel like he is part of her world,” Bond says. “He’s her dog for the week or however long we’re gone, and that gives us a great peace of mind.”
Marrying her two jobs, FitzGerald wrote about a particularly memorable experience with a canine client in an essay called “The Strength of Two” for Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Very Good, Very Bad Dog. In it, she tells the story of her connection with an enormous Malamute she walks twice a week. Upset after going through a breakup, she showed up to walk him as usual one day. When she took him out of his kennel, “he was just kind of looking at me like, ‘What is up with you?’” she says. While he normally liked to focus more on the walk, he kept his eye on FitzGerald that day. “It was just one of those moments where you have that animal-human connection. I just gave him a scratch on the head and we hugged a little bit and I thought, all right, we’re going to be OK,” she says. “It’s a neat experience. You don’t get that at the office very much.”