Walking Dogs, Gathering Eggs, Mending Fences

Pet sitter Ashley Jackson takes her parents’ Golden Retriever, Rex, on a spin around the family farm.

This mini pony greets Jackson with a hug when she arrives to feed him at the Strayer’s farm in Blythewood.

“Eight crickets in the evening and lettuce for breakfast,” Ashley Jackson reminded herself of the dietary needs of the bearded dragon she was pet sitting during a recent weekend.

“It’s actually a pretty healthy diet,” she said as she tore the lettuce into strips and dropped them into the little dragon’s cage.

Owner of the Blythewood and Fairfield County pet sitting service, Palmetto Horse and Hound, Jackson routinely looks after cats, dogs and horses — but the list is ever broadening to include chickens, rodents, reptiles, birds, livestock and more. “Nothing surprises me anymore,” she said, cheerfully. “So far, I haven’t encountered anything I couldn’t handle.

“Families are naturally concerned when they have to leave their beloved animals for work, vacation or an emergency,” Jackson said. “My goal is to give them peace of mind by allowing their animals to stay in the comfort of their own home or surroundings and still receive the quality care they deserve and expect.”

Jackson’s pet sitting business grew out of her natural love and concern for animals — all animals. Raised on a farm on Friendly Woods Road on the edge of the Cedar Creek community, Jackson grew up around dogs, horses and other farm animals. “I’ve taken care of animals all my life. It’s what I love to do.”

From the age of six, Jackson has been riding horses and later had the responsibility of caring for her own horse. She spent her formative years showing horses and went on to ride for the University of South Carolina’s equestrian team from 2002 to 2006, during which time the team won two national titles. Jackson graduated from the University of South Carolina with a degree in Business Administration and an entrepreneurial attitude. Her goal was to combine her education and her lifelong love of animals — she and her husband, Lonny, have five horses, three dogs and two cats — into a business.

“Pet sitting is a business just like any other business,” she said. “I take my work seriously and I don’t cut corners. Attention to detail is everything in this business as in any other business.

“My clients know that I will do all in my power to keep their animals happy, healthy and safe while they’re away,” Jackson said.

But it’s not a job that just any neighbor can do. Dumping food into Fido’s bowl is one thing. Rescuing a horse whose leg is stuck over a 4-foot fence is another. That happened on a Blythewood family farm she was ‘sitting’ when a horse kicked at another horse and caught her leg over the top of the fence. The predicament was potentially dangerous. Jackson ripped out the top section of the three-board fence to free the horse’s leg, then, after carefully checking the leg for injuries, nailed the fence board back up before heading for home.

It’s just part of the job.

To assure the smooth transition of pet care when a family goes away, Jackson first meets with the client and the pet(s) in their home or at their farm. “I familiarize myself with their routine, and, at the same time, let dogs, cats and horses get to know me and get familiar with my scent so that when I show up again they remember me,” Jackson explained.

Jackson’s services are particularly in demand during holidays and summer months when families go on vacation. While Jackson said she totally supports boarding, she said boarding isn’t available for all pets and it’s not ideal for others, like the blind Cocker Spaniel she occasionally sits. The pup’s family said she was terrified of the unfamiliar surroundings and sounds at the boarding facility.

“They were miserable with worry any time they went away, even though she was probably getting great care,” Jackson said. Now, when her family goes away, the dog stays at home where she’s comfortable, and Jackson checks in on her frequently.

Besides feeding and watering, Jackson keeps a watchful eye for potential problems with her charges, like swelling or cuts on horses’ legs, especially horses that turn out together all day. She dispenses medicine if needed, administers a wellness check, blankets horses in cold weather, takes dogs on walks, gathers eggs and does whatever else is needed. “I care for my client’s animals as if they were my own,” Jackson said.

Jackson said each animal and family is unique. “My goal is to respect the wishes and training methods of each client and provide seamless continuity of care for pets until their families return home,” she said.

Need a pet sitter this summer? Call Jackson at 803-447-4930 or email [email protected] to discuss your animal care needs and set up a free initial consultation.

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