When it’s time to make lemonade

When Olga Flanders life took an unexpected turn when her husband developed early onset dementia, she was tempted to feel sorry for herself. This was not the life she had planned for them in their second chapter. Also, she needed to generate additional money, and to combat her own loneliness.

Here is Olga’s own account of how she gathered her courage and created a fulfilled life … making lemonade when life gives you lemons!

Jeff, my husband, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in his early 50s. I was still working in a corporate job and needed to balance that with taking care of him. I knew I would need to generate more money, especially when the time came for him to be admitted to a care facility.

I considered what I loved doing out of which to create a parallel career. I love animals, and am not afraid to try something new. I started to work for a small house- and pet-sitting company, but was soon put off by the fact that the company manager did not check on the quality of care being given. I resigned after an assignment that required me to care for 12 dogs at once. After my one-year restraint of trade expired, I started my own house- and pet-sitting service.

Getting going

There was no need for me to advertise. I was still working in my corporate job, so that’s where I got the word out. I currently have 18 clients on my books, and my business is small and contained. My corporate managers don’t mind my ‘side hustle’, if I am getting my day-job work done.

In peak seasons, the demand grew so much that I decided to employ my sister, Suzy. We work so well in tandem: Suzy prefers smaller dogs, and is more a people person. On the rare occasion where there is, for example, an older person living on the premises while we are house-sitting, Suzy happily chats with them and is more nurturing; I, on the other hand, am happiest among animals. I am happy with my own company. Suzy is not comfortable with the bigger dogs, while I have no problem managing them.

The software company I work for is based in Melville, but I can work remotely, so seldom leave the pets in my care alone for longer than a few hours per day.

I still enjoy my day job. I am appreciated and do whatever is required. My primary role is to monitor tasks and ensure they are delivered on time, while managing any customer feedback; however, I take on admin tasks, tidy the kitchen, check the food for the former feral feline, Sabre (now our company mascot). The owner of the company has an additional business in medical supplies, and I assist with administration there also, and will grow with that company. So, you can see that I am adaptable and willing to set myself to work. This flexibility is partly why I have been able to create my own successful business.

I wouldn’t do anything that violates my principles and values; I don’t accept assignments, for instance, where the pets are left alone, and I only need to pop in to feed them daily.

Setting up for success

Two elderly females in rose garden
Olga and her sister, Suzy, complement each other’s strengths in a successful business

I bring my administrative strength to my business. When a client is referred to me, I obtain their full contact details – email address and phone number. I then send an information document that includes tariffs and exclusions. Clients also are required to fill in a form listing emergency contacts, their vet details (including if there is a client account there), and other information. I have to ensure that I can fulfil their requirements before I undertake the assignment (for example, I am reluctant to care for expensive and exotic creatures. I once had to feed owls frozen rats and chicks! I have taken care of turtles, tortoises and geese in the past. I declined one assignment where I did not feel secure on the property.

If the assignment is further than 25kms from my home, I charge a surcharge; if it is more than 40kms from my home, I do not accept it. Our services span from East to West Rand, and most of our assignments are in the Northern suburbs, with Bryanston being my favourite – there are gated areas to safely run the dogs.

Our minimum rate R170 per night for two pets, and we charge an extra R20 per pet per night. If there are special needs for the pet, such as administering medication, the client and I agree on an added fee. I like clients to be clear – the best clients are the ones who know what they want. The most difficult assignment is a single dog, who is big and spoiled. I prefer to bring my own food, and don’t mind shopping for the dog food.

House- and pet-sitting is easy work. I have done so many assignments this year that I have hardly been home (I spent seven weeks of the year at home); others might find themselves getting tired of living out of a suitcase and in other people’s bedrooms. Opportunities come with your assignments – one client, for example, wants me to help wrap up his admin affairs before he emigrates.

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