Shayna Leavy is thrilled to meet me in one of her clients’ spacious backyards; there are three dogs: a Newfoundland, a lab, and a lab-rottie mix. They’re big, sweet dogs. There’s a kiddy-pool filled with water that Tuukka—the lab—keeps walking through. Shayna is all smiles and big dark sunglasses as she tells me about the dogs and other critters and what she does. I trust her in an instant—this is the hallmark of a truly good pet-sitter: trustworthy.
I started Nanny Wags about a year ago. I was in a very bad car accident and it left me not able to go back to my old job. When I was in the car accident I was in the backseat with one of my friends’ dogs, and my first instinct was to grab the dog so she wouldn’t fly out the window. We rolled and everything. That was two and a half years ago. I said, why don’t I work with animals? I love them so much, and it was instinctual for me to just grab her.
Because I was out of work, I said to my friends, “If you ever need a pet-sitter let me know. I don’t believe in kennels. I’ll hang out with your pets, I just love them, and I love to clean, so I’ll clean your house for you too.” I’m like the Danny Tanner of Full House, and I just leave everything clean. Just by word of mouth it started going and going and then I was like, maybe I should do this full time, and within a year I went from five fur-babies to over 170. Last week I had 18 visits in one day. They’re in Haverhill, Plaistow, Methuen. There are a couple people that I started with, and I thought, “Yeah I can do Danvers, sure, I only have a couple clients.” But now I love them so I’ll obviously stay with them.
I also do overnights. It all depends on peoples’ schedules and knock-on-wood, it’s all worked out, so nothing has ever overlapped, so it’s just going smoothly.
The only advertising I do is on Facebook. Some of the horror stories I’ve heard of pet sitters are just…like them leaving overnight, just like leaving the dog alone in the house. Or they leave the dog home alone for like ten hours a day.
For now, I’m not getting much sleep, but it’s worth it because, look what I get to deal with every day! How great is that! Tuukka, how’s that water? (Tuuka is standing in the kiddy pool, lapping up water.) Benny’s the Newfie and he’s seven years old so he’s getting up there, that’s why he’s a little lazy. (Kato is a big 10 month old lab-rottie mix.)
I love the connections I’ve made with families, because for me it’s not like a job. If I’m taking care of your fur-baby, I become part of your family. I haven’t had a family that kind of treats me like the help. It’s moreso like, “You’re Aunty Shayna! Come on over!” This owner’s house, I was invited to their daughter’s babyshower, and I get to connect puppies that need homes to other people and to re-home them. I love all the people I’ve met. There’s another woman that’s in a marketing company, and she said, I’ll help you design t-shirts for Nanny Wags at a discount.
I do cats, dogs, ferrets, chickens, horses—that was really fun. But the majority is dogs. I do have a lot of kitties though. And I love them all.
I watched this family, they have five cats, three German Shepherds, they’re such loves, but she asked, “Can you also take care of my mother while I’m gone?” I said, “You know what—let me meet her,” because I’m really good with old people, they just love me, and sure enough we hit it off, I love her. She’s 93, she’s a spitfire. She’s from Italy. We ended up hanging out and watching Golden Girls all weekend. It was the best thing ever. That’s probably the weirdest thing is that I did take care of a nana.
I have a website, my Facebook page, Instagram page, I’m kind of branching out to not just pet-sitting and dog-walking, but I also started making treats; they’re called Paws for Treats. I have it for cats and dogs, but for the dogs it’s all natural peanut butter and applesauce, and they’re organic and they’re really healthy. Soon I’m starting my own side pet photography business. People like the photos that you get. That’s going to start up when I have a spare moment, it’s going to be called So Fetch Photography.
Nanny Wags came to me when I was in a Chinese Restaurant, eating rice. I thought, how about Nanny Wags, that’s just catchy, and it sticks with people.
I have a few friends that are like, “The minute you get big, I will leave my job and work for you.” So I definitely have backup and stuff like that, but for now this is my baby.
I’ve gotten a couple of her clients because of complaints (discussing another pet-sitter). Any kennel. I just don’t like the fact that they leave them in a cage overnight in the place. What if the place catches on fire? No one’s there! Especially animal hospitals, they’ll board your animals and they’re by themselves overnight. Why is that a thing? A lot of places do that. I remember a friend’s cat was at a place in Ipswich and they said, “Yeah we came back in the morning and she must have passed overnight.” I mean, she was dying, they were going to put her down anyway the next day, but for someone not to be there, that kills me.
I don’t charge extra on holidays. I try to charge people a reasonable amount of money. Some people are like, “Oh I thought I’d give you $15 a night to watch my dog,” and I’ll say, “I’m staying at your house, literally staying at your house, and you want to give me $15?” It all depends on how many animals they have, if the animals are senior, if I have to administer shots, which I’ve done, I’ve administered medication; but I start around $60 and I go to around $85 a night. Some people want their cats watched overnight, so those are a little bit cheaper. Even though cats are badass and can take down coyotes and stuff—one of my clients’ has. He’s taken down a coyote. His name’s Rosco. He’s the sweetest cat, but he is crazy. He will come back limping and just be like, I beast, I just killed a rabbit.
I think my last day off was, I went to New York for like two days. But I booked it in advance; like five or six months. I used to work for 92.5 the River. I couldn’t go back to it, because I used to work the street team and I used to have to lift the speakers. I can’t do that with an injured back, and the driving too. After the car accident I didn’t drive for two years.
I’m a big person in everything happens for a reason, and if it wasn’t for that car accident, I wouldn’t have this job now. I would have stayed at the River, and granted I loved it, but it wasn’t where I was supposed to be. I’m supposed to be with these guys, and being their advocates and their voice.