In the heart of a community where pets are not just animals but family members, Gretchen Samuels stands out as an innovator in pet care, transforming the very nature of how we interact with and care for our animal companions through her unique and comprehensive range of services. Gretchen’s business, Sammybaby Fur Babies Transportation, is not just another pet care service; it’s a one-stop solution for every imaginable pet need, infused with love and personal touch.
Picture a service that transcends the ordinary, where transporting your pet is just the beginning. Imagine a pet care specialist who not only trims nails with gentle precision but also installs the cozy window perches you purchased, ensuring your feline friend enjoys the perfect sunbathing spot, or helps you get your dog into the backseat in time for the vet appointment he dreads. Her services are a testament to her belief that pet care should be as unique as the pets themselves. It is about addressing those niche, often overlooked, aspects of pet care that make a huge difference in the daily lives of pets and their human companions.
Gretchen’s deep understanding of the needs of pets sprung from a lifelong affinity for animals.
“We always had a dog and a cat. Friends had pets, and we all were pretty much animal lovers in my family. I was the only one that stuck with it when I got older.”
Her passion for animals steered her towards a career as an animal care specialist, where she gained valuable experience in various settings like veterinary offices, kennels, and pet care centers. She recounts that finding a job in the field was much more difficult years ago.
“Kennels were not everywhere like they are today. As soon as I could get a position somewhere, I signed up. Back then, it was hard because it was just veterinary offices.”
Gretchen emphasizes the role that hands-on learning and a lifetime of experience with her pets played in establishing her own business. Her approach to care is rooted in extensive practice and a genuine passion for animal welfare.
“Just from having pets my entire life, I learned as much as possible, listened to my vets, and absorbed advice over the years. I learned what to do and when.”
The genesis of Sammybaby Fur Babies Transportation was not without challenges, especially with its inception coinciding with the onset of the pandemic. Gretchen shares her struggles and the courage it took to finally pursue her dream.
“I’m older, and it’s something I should have probably done a long time ago, but the situation and the finances were never there. It was too much of a risk when my kids were younger. Not everything is always handed to you. You have to work. So, I pursued and tried to get as much knowledge as I could.”
Driven by a desire to provide ethical treatment and personalized care to pets, Gretchen distanced herself from the profit-driven aspects she sometimes witnessed in the greater industry. She was internally guided to a different path—one that prioritized the well-being of animals.
“I’ve worked at overcrowded kennels. For my own moral compass and peace of mind, I was tired of going home and feeling sick to my stomach because things could have been different or should have been run differently.”
She initially considered specializing in cat boarding but shifted her focus to meet the unique needs she observed in her community. Recognizing the challenges pet owners face, particularly the elderly, in transporting their pets for necessary appointments, she decided to fill this gap.
“The elderly are a big reason why I wanted to start this because they are the ones with the biggest struggles. They can’t get their pets to places they need to be due to mobility issues.”
In addition to transportation services, Gretchen also provides nail-trimming and in-home pet care services, emphasizing the importance of keeping pets in their familiar environments to reduce stress. “Cats get stressed out. You can’t always take them to get their nails trimmed, and not a lot of places come to your house to do that.”
“I also do let-out services where I visit a client’s home. I prepare meals for their pets, look around to see if there’s any mess, and ensure everything is neat and tidy. I make sure that their pets eat. This is instead of taking them out of their home and putting them in a kennel. In my experience, many dogs get stressed out and putting them in a kennel doesn’t make it any better.”
The challenges of starting her business in January 2020 were manifold, particularly with the arrival of widespread lockdowns. Gretchen talks about adapting her resources and persevering through tough times.
“I decided to use my own vehicle instead of getting a new van. I got the engine worked up, a new paint job, and decals for the windows. I put more money into advertising than I brought in that year because, in April, there were lockdowns, and that set me back a lot. That was just heart-wrenching. I was just so excited. I quit my job. We refinanced the house so we could pay off the debt. Lockdown happened, and it was just like a knife through my heart.”
Despite the setbacks, she remained steadfast in her dedication to her business and her passion for animal care. Coming from a family of entrepreneurs, Gretchen drew inspiration from her heritage and her own resilience. “It was nice to finally have something of my own and start something.”
“I come from a long line of business owners in my family, and I’m the first one in my generation, out of my siblings and cousins, to start my own business. I didn’t go to college. Everyone else had schooling. I was the black sheep. Black sheep can turn around and get it done!”
Gretchen’s connection to her family history is profound. She resides in the house her father grew up in, and her grandfather was a pioneer in his own field. She shares with pride, “He actually invented a pine cleaner before Pine Sol ever came out.”
Her entrepreneurial spirit was fueled by a desire for autonomy and a commitment to honesty and integrity in her work. She speaks with conviction about her journey.
“Owning a business was just something I always wanted to do, but I never had the opportunity to do it or the courage to do it. Though grateful, I was tired of being managed or making other people money. There were rules about what I could do and say, but I’m not that person. If you meet anybody who has known me, they will say that I will always tell you the truth. You may not like it, but I would expect somebody else to have that respect for me. And if someone is caring for my pet, I want to make sure you are the right person.”
On the road to transforming Sammybaby Fur Babies Transportation into the heartwarming success story it is today, Gretchen’s husband, John, has been a cornerstone of support and dedication. The couple raised a full house of four kids before opening shop.
For Gretchen, the decision to delay the launch of her business was deeply rooted in her commitment to her family, given the unique challenges of raising four children. The joys of parenting were not just a backdrop but a foundational element of her journey. Her story is proof that fulfilling family responsibilities and pursuing entrepreneurial dreams are not mutually exclusive but facets of a life with purpose and passion.
Nowadays, despite his demanding full-time job, John finds the time to assist with nail trims, offering a soothing presence that their furry clients have grown to love. His involvement extends beyond just the physical tasks; financially, John’s unwavering support from the outset was instrumental in turning Gretchen’s vision into reality. “If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t have started this whole thing.”
Gretchen’s business strategy relies heavily on word-of-mouth in her community, a testament to her belief in the power of personal connections and trust. She acknowledges the challenges small businesses face, especially regarding financial resources, but remains dedicated to her mission.
“It’s hard when you don’t have that financial backing. A lot of people start their business, and they have that budget. I don’t. I’m a small business; it’s just me.”
One of her unique offerings is a specialized approach to nail trimming, particularly for anxious pets. She innovatively designed a hammock to assist in this process while continuing to work solo, highlighting her dedication to meeting the specific needs of her clients and their pets.
“I came up with this hammock, which helps out a lot with dogs that do not really like nail trims. I’m that person that will try anything to help a client out.”
Gretchen’s definition of pet care extends far beyond the conventional scope. She recounts experiences where her versatility and willingness to go the extra mile made a significant difference in the lives of her clients and their pets.
“I had a client who desperately needed somebody to come over to her house, and she lived in Philly, around 25 minutes away from me. I was the only one who could come to her house and help her give her cat a shot every day for 12 weeks because the cat had COVID. We tried to find people in her area to come help her, but we couldn’t, even vet techs. For another client, I went over to her house and helped her put together a window hammock for her cat. I have people who are like, ‘Can you come over and help me get my dog into my car?’ I’ll do anything you ask me to do as long as I can do it.”
This level of custom care allows her to build strong relationships with both animals and their owners, a crucial aspect of her service. Unlike larger businesses, which may have a more clinical and formal “tone” while providing their services, she puts effort into building rapport with her clients one-on-one. “I would want someone to do that for my mom or dad.”
“You have to go in with positive energy. You sit and talk to them, and that’s how you build this relationship. Whenever I go to do transportation, I go a day beforehand to go over and meet them, go over information about their dog or cat, how we’re going to transport them, whether they have to go in the kennel in the back or just sit on the backseat. I have to go over temperament. It isn’t as simple as ‘I’m going to go pick up your dog.’ You need to know what you’re doing.”
Gretchen often responds to emergency calls, especially from elderly clients with larger dogs. She and her son work together in these situations, demonstrating their commitment to the community and the well-being of its pets.
“I help out with a lot more stuff than what I advertise. Some clients may have walking problems, and when I go over, they’re just so grateful that someone came and helped them. That’s what makes me feel good.”
In her quest to establish a more organic connection with the pets she cares for, Gretchen takes the time to get to know each animal before performing services like nail trimming. Her approach is patient and considerate, focusing on the comfort and security of the pets.
“I always tell clients we’ll come over, we’ll meet your pet and you, we’ll let them get all excited, get the wiggles out, let them smell us, and then we can get started on the process of them getting their nails trimmed.”
For highly anxious pets, she recommends consulting a vet for anxiety medication, but she utilizes various methods to calm them during the trimming process.
“We will try anything to get them to calm down, like give them peanut butter while we’re doing it or encourage parents to talk to their pets while they are getting their nails done. I hold onto them to make sure they feel secure. You have to have patience in this field.”
Gretchen believes that her personalized approach sets her apart from traditional groomers, who often operate on tight schedules and lack the opportunity to form connections with the pets they care for.
“I always tell my clients that I’m not like anybody else. I don’t have employees. You always deal with me. That’s what I think is refreshing to a lot of people. And when I get a call from a client again, for the next month, for nail trims or something, I’m so excited I get to see them again. That is what this job is all about—having a relationship with these pets and letting these clients feel comfortable knowing who I am. When it comes to pet care, I know what I like and love, and I want people to feel as comfortable as possible and know that they can trust me fully.”
Gretchen is a firm believer in the significant role small businesses play in the local economy and community. She passionately argues for the value of such enterprises, often overshadowed by larger corporations.
“It’s totally underrated. Big corporations take over everything because they have the money, the glitz and the glamour. Small businesses are becoming obsolete, and it’s sad. Anytime I look around, everything is corporate. That’s why I encourage people in my Facebook announcements to support small local businesses.”
She nostalgically reminisces about the community-centric nature of local neighborhood businesses, which she feels is lacking in today’s corporate-dominated world.
“Back in the day, when you went to the corner store, you knew the person you would talk to. I’m old school in that way. I think I’m an old soul.”
Looking ahead, Gretchen aspires to expand her services to include cat kenneling, an idea she had in the earlier days of her business. She believes in continuous learning and advises those aspiring to enter the animal care field to gain as much knowledge and experience as possible.
“Get all the knowledge you can. Don’t just get one or two jobs and think you know everything. Every job you get, you’ll learn something new and different. There’s a lot you need to know when learning how to handle animals. It isn’t just playing around with animals. It’s hard work, and it’s messy. It’s smelly. You’re going to get dirty. You better be ready for it. Because that’s the responsibility.”
For those contemplating starting their own business or struggling with an existing one, Gretchen offers heartfelt and wise counsel. Despite wanting to quit several times, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, her perseverance and determination kept her business afloat.
“You have to make sure you’re ready, even financially. But don’t give up on it. I’m 50 now, and I started this business in my late 40s. That’s because it was the right time and place. People can get frustrated if it doesn’t happen right away or isn’t working out. There’s no reason to get upset and depressed. Maybe it’s just not your time, so don’t give up on it.”
Gretchen Samuels’ story is not just a narrative of a pet care specialist; it’s a saga of love, dedication, and resilience. It’s about the enduring bond between humans and animals and the beautiful journey of making a difference, one pet at a time. Her tale inspires and reminds us that it’s never too late to follow your passion, to make a positive impact, and to cherish the companionship of the animals that grace our lives.
Moumita Basuroychowdhury is a Contributing Reporter at The National Digest. After earning an economics degree at Cornell University, she moved to NYC to pursue her MFA in creative writing. She enjoys reporting on science, business and culture news. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.