Monday, June 7, 2010

The Great Tin Quilt Caper, a.k.a. home petcare business

A few people now and then ask about the petcare business I mention in here now and then, and I thought it might be interesting to give you a biz eye view of it from nearly ten years removed in time.

The picture at the top is of the Great Tin Quilt, which was the centerpiece of a solo show I executed in hammered, embossed and pierced tin, with wire and black gesso. That was a black gesso period! quite a few people got into it, after seeing the show, since it is exciting stuff. Since this was in the days before digi cameras, my pix are 1. not very good to put it mildly, it being damn near impossible to get good pix without glare of polished tin pieces on a matte black background and 2. all done on film camera, no online presence in those days. So this pic is the one of the whole show that worked well enough to at least show you.

It was also a community artwork, which I will explain as we get to that point, hang in.

So it came to pass many years ago, that both HP and I needed some new job/business/enterprise each, he being forced by health issues into early retirement from the world of atom science, and I being an artist, an artist is a person with a day job, needing a new enterprise that would give me flexible time so I could use daylight to make art rather than being stuck with trying to pursue my art career by artificial life after I got home from fulltime work, though I must admit that was flexible. I was a consultant to small businesspeople, getting them from the intermediate stage of their business to a bigger, more secure footing. But that was day work.

Sooooo, I created two side by side home petcare businesses, one for each of us. I set it all up, HP not being of a business frame of mind, and I umbrella'ed, if that's a word, the bonding and liability insurance to cover both businesses. We were not business partners, but this concept is a bit hard to grasp for people who haven't been there, in fact we weren't life partners, either, but were parallel businesses. Not unlike a bunch of doctors sharing the insurance of their building, but with separate patient groups and no access to each others' files. Anyway, that.

And I got us out first clients, designed all the rules and regs and how we would operate (consulting with an enterprise years earlier in a similar area, long since defunct, though, helped quite a bit avoid pitfalls here). And we were in business.

I created the little flyers, and drew the animals on them, very cute, and we needed very little advertising to get under way. In no time at all we had as much work as we could handle, and the word of mouth via vets who knew us, was great.

Of course that meant we were both working flat out seven days a week, since animals need care every day, no Monday to Friday in this business, but it was also the greatest fun. You simply never knew what was coming next, from parrots that might or might not let you in, to cats who tried to stow away in your coat in the hope of going home with you, to dear white rats who were so intelligent and sweet, to all kinds of dogs, of varying degrees of training.

Actually the most interesting part was the human element. Some wonderfully hilarious people with nutso bonding to their animals, thinking nothing of calling daily from New Zealand to check that Max the Bernese Mountain Dog was eating his dinner nicely, or people who had actual menus for their pets, only half joking, to people who unloaded all their emotional life on us.

Many of the clients were single women in demanding jobs requiring a lot of travel, so they were constant bookings. For them it was lovely to come home and there their pets were, all clean and happy to see them, no need to book a kennel or to wait the extra day to collect Fluffy.

Since I was an active exhibiting artist all through this period, though I did not let people know that right away, since a lot of folks have an odd idea about artists, that the are flaky, might not be reliable, etc. Actually real artists, as opposed to wannabes, are totally invested in coming through with whatever they have committed to.

But anyway, at that time I was interested in black gesso, wire, which I knitted and crocheted with as part of mixed media pieces, and tin. As a lifelong recycler, and now a person handling many many cans of petfood, rather than recycling them into the bin, I began to save, clean and wash them and found they were stunningly beautiful inside.

I hammered them open and flat, and embossed, pierced, cut and turned and bent them, and used them in many artworks. Nearly drove my studio colleagues barking. But the best was the community piece, for which I spent three months creating the center of the Great Tin Quilt.

For the opening, I invited all the people whose pets had contributed food cans to the operation, naming the pets in the catalogue of the show. And, since this involved maybe 50 or so animals, we had a doorbusting opening! people only, this not being an animal type gallery space, at which I set out tools and tin pieces ready hammered and pierced, and nails and glue and invited people to add their own work to the margins of the Great Tin Quilt. Which they did happily.

You simply never know where petcare will lead you, if you let it.

Aside from visiting multiple times daily, we also did housesitting, where we moved in with the pets, and the plants. I also had several nonanimal clients, who knew I was experienced with plant care, too, and left their conservatory in my hands over the winter, or their patio gardens in my hands over the summer, cuttings a bonus.

The housesitting we both did, moving in with the animals, and running operations from their house, was largely for dogs who need much more attention than most pets, and can't go all night being lonely.

I noticed with some high strung but charming clients that the first couple of days the were away, their animals slept almost round the clock. I guessed that the pandemonium of packing and planning and finding tickets and passports and finally getting away, had exhausted the animals totally. They were glad of a rest.

We learned a lot of tricks, such as making the client demo the housekey before we took it. Amazing how often they were trying to give us the wrong key. Or give us the key to a door that hadn't been opened in years and the combined strength of the family couldn't get it open! Or to insist on a housekey even if we had the garage door opener, since if there's a power outage you can't get the opener to work.

And always insist that they get a confirmation from me before leaving, to make sure I had actually got the booking. Amazing how many things go wrong when people are not very organized. And in the winter making sure there was a way for me to get IN, after a blizzard. Clients would realize that they had to continue with their snow clearing company in their absence.

And those dear clients who would say, well, Pumpkin is very very shy, you will not see him at all, so here's a picture so you'll know if you catch a glimpse, oh, will you look at that, he's grooming your hair! here, let me get him off you, come OFF, Pumpkin, oh, you don't mind, oh, okay then.

And the wonderful giant black Great Dane, big even for a Dane, of uncertain temperament in her old age, mother of many showdogs, who had to meet me outside her house, since she might take offense if I just walked in, even with the owners they brought her out onto the patio, whereupon she lunged right at me, put up her paws on my shoulder and starting kissing my face and licking and generally making a dancing fool of herself. I did a lot of housesitting with her after that.

Then there are the black and white cats, tuxedos, the clowns of the feline world. One of whom learned to switch on the can opener, and did so when I was there, thinking I was too slow at getting the lunch out. I unplugged it always after that. And her brother whose ambition it was to freeze in the refrigerator, and would leap in every time the door was opened. I learned to check the fridge for cats before I left.

And the two glamor girl cats, seen on calendars and catfood labels, who alas hated each other and had to be kept strictly apart in the house. I wonder if there are human parallels to this scenario...

Those were the years of physical strenuousness, since we reckoned we probably walked up to 30 miles a week with dogs, quite apart from all the stairs we covered and all the steps involved in the other petcare rounds.

I used to have an early morning round, out of the house at dawn, this was not my fave, not a morning person, but I saw a lot of lovely dawns, then another round at midday, largely the midday dogwalking time, then early evening to feed dinners, and some late night for special needs animals who needed medications.

This lasted for twelve years, with about two days off a year, rain or shine or snow or hail, or anything. It was the terrorist attack of 9.11 that demolished my business. I had deleted dogs from it earlier, out of fear for my shoulders and hands, since I needed them for my art, and dogs are very hard on your upper body, but I still had a huge and thriving business.

But the attack closed down airlines, and all corporate travel came to a screeching halt, which knocked a lot of my clients out of my business. There were a lot of them in the financial world, which took a terrible hit, and alas, there were some who did not survive that day.

By the time the travel business started again, it was years later, and the world was different. But my biz was great fun, and you probably wonder why I don't have pix of my clients to show you here. That's because when I returned keys, everyone asked for their pictures, too, just to close the circle. That was nice, and many people were so sad about how I had to close what was left, but there you are. Collateral damage.

But after I panicked, having no income now, too young for SS, I regrouped and got into other adventures, about which more another time!


  1. I love a good shaggy dog story. More please.


  2. I love the "shaggy dog" comment...made me laugh!


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