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Votes

Going to the Dogs

Three and a half years ago, Lydia Best was director of recruiting for information technology companies. Her husband, Pat Lewsen, was working as a human resources consultant. Best was traveling all the time and, by her own admission, was exhausted with it. So, she decided to take a break. Best was looking forward to staying home and spending more time with her children, Madeleine, now 11, and Patrick, now 9, and their new bulldog, Daisy.

"[Daisy] was my inspiration to do something that didn't require me to travel as much," Best said.

After taking several months to "decompress" Best answered an ad for a dog walker and embarked on a new career.

Now, almost four years later, Best owns Everything and the Dog, a professional dog-walking and pet-sitting company, that is made up of 50 independent contractors serving 1,200 active customers in Loudoun and claims to be the largest Loudoun County-based pet service in the area.

"After I started dog walking, I wanted to do something more," Best said.

WHEN BEST, who grew up on a working farm in California helping to raise all kinds of animals, started her company, she had a vision of being more than just a dog-walking, pet-sitting service. She saw that a lot of her clients worked during the day and did not have a lot of time to do the smaller things in life, such as picking up prescriptions or buying groceries. So Best decided to expand her services and offer typical concierge and errand services, as well as home care.

"I had the idea of it being a one-stop shop for people," she said.

Lewsen, who Best said had always been passionate about food, began to provide personal cooking services to clients as well. Unlike a personal chef who will provide prepackaged food, Best said that Lewsen will actually go to people's homes and be there when they arrive from work. Lewsen provides chef duties for anything from private dinners to 250-person parties.

"The idea came from the fact that we entertain a lot and every time we did, he would be in the kitchen and everyone else would be out talking and enjoying," Best said. "We figured it has got to be happening to other people."

RECENTLY, EVERYTHING and the Dog has grown even more. On Halloween, Best officially acquired Reston-based company, Pet Attention Inc., expanding her companies service to Reston and Herndon.

Kim Fisher, who Best had known through the Northern Virginia Professional Pet Sitters Network, called Best and asked her if she wanted to buy her business, which was solely dedicated to dog-walking and pet-sitting services.

"She was looking for someone who has the same philosophy that she does," Best said.

Best said she had wanted to expand out into Fairfax County for a while, but knew she needed a client base there to be successful and some of Fisher's clients lived in Sterling and Ashburn, an area that Best already served.

"We realized it would be a very good fit," she said.

ALL OF BEST'S services are personally developed, from the private parties to how an animal is cared for.

"It is all about what is the best thing for their animal," she said. "It's all about what each animal needs."

Before making a first appointment with a new client, one of Best's pet sitters will visit the home and spend time with whatever animals they will be caring for.

"I like to hire people that aren't just animal lovers, but who are animal trained and experienced," Best said.

During the initial visit, the pet sitter will get to know the animals and the family free of charge, in order for both the client and the sitter to become comfortable. After the initial consultation, Best said, often the only contact a sitter will have with a client is through notes that they leave tracking the animal's day.

"It is almost exactly like a day-care sheet," client Margaret Brown said. "Sometimes they will notice things that we as owners don't."

Best said the notes also help to create a relationship between the sitter and the client by sharing similar experiences they have with the animals.

"It really grounds the client into the whole experience," she said.

DUE TO THE personal relationship they cultivate and personal services that Everything and the Dog provides, some clients see Best and their sitters as friends, rather than just employees.

"We are sharing our home with people who work as a team and who really care about our animals," Kris Greiner, a River Creek resident and client since 2003, said. "Everything is totally catered to the individual."

In addition to daily dog walks and the occasional overnight stay, Everything and the Dog has also taken Greiner and her family to the airport and taken one of their cats to the veterinarian for radiation therapy.

"Our cat needed to go while we were on vacation," Greiner said. "It was really nice because we didn't have to worry about changing our plans, she took care of everything."

Brown said that she tried to use Best's services for five weeks when her family went to Europe and was surprised by Best's response.

"She told me we shouldn't have a pet sitter for five straight weeks," Brown said. "She said we should break it up, taking [our dog] to the kennel for some of the time. Anyone could have said, 'Sure, I'll take the five weeks,' but she took over all of the nightmare for me. She took care of all of the logistics of arranging the kennel."

Greiner said she tells everyone with animals about Everything and the Dog because of her experiences with Best's company.

"It is different than any other experience I have had with home care," she said. "They communicate so well with each other. We have three different people [that take care of the animals] and if there are any concerns, they all know about it. I am really happy with all of their services."