When most people think of pet sitters, thoughts turn to a caring individual who comes to your home to visit with your cats and dogs. They may sit on the couch with your cat, giving plenty of love and attention, or take your dog out for a walk or run. And of course, pet sitters also care for small animals like hamsters, rabbits, and other small pets. Although taking care of these types of pets are the most common, there are those who take care of much bigger animals as well.
Pet sitters in rural areas are often called on to take care of animals such as horse, sheep, goats, chickens, and other animals. Cathy Kerkes, The Fairy Barnmother, is just one of these pet sitters. She cares for pets of all types and sizes in East Haddam, Connecticut.
The woman who calls herself the Fairy Barnmother wakes at dawn, slips into well-worn dungarees and mud-caked boots and hops aboard her new pickup truck to visit the farm animals.
But unlike most farmers, she does not own many of the animals that she will feed, clean and comfort. Cathy Kerkes is a professional critter sitter, someone who travels from barn to barn to care for other people’s livestock and pets.
“I’ve got animals of my own, so I know how hard it can be,” Kerkes said as she tossed hay bales to sheep on a recent Saturday morning. “You may love them, you may even need them to pay your bills, but animals can really tie you down. That’s where I come in.”
This 38-year-old animal lover fills a niche that falls somewhere between pet-sitting, which usually involves feeding and cleaning up after someone’s pets, and farm-sitting, in which a farmer works someone else’s fields or animals while they are away or sick.
Kerkes launched her business in 2005 as a sideline to a full-time job at a local feed store. She started by taking care of friends’ horses, then expanded to an assortment of other animals, ranging from a customer’s flock of wild birds to sheep, chickens and goats.
Her clients say Kerkes knows when a horse is lonely and needs to listen to local country radio, when it is suffering from a mild allergic reaction and needs a common over-the-counter drug, or when she should call a vet for immediate attention.
She also pays attention to the animals’ individual needs, much as an owner would. She knows, for example, that the two cute-as-pie ponies at Amy Napolitano’s Just-Mi-Farm in East Haddam will bully Onyx, the big horse in the next stall, and steal his food if she lets them.
“I could hire a kid to throw grain and drop hay for my horses, but are they going to know that they need to protect my rescue horse, even though he’s twice the size of the little ponies?” Napolitano asked. “Cathy’s got a real way with animals.”
Kerkes said she has known since childhood that she would grow up to work with animals. The idea for this job came when she realized how difficult it was to find somebody to care for her own animals when her family wanted to take a vacation.
Read more about Cathy Kerkes.