Call of the wild

Sue Stack

Photo By Larry Dalton

Citrus Heights resident Sue Stack knows the joys and challenges of pet-sitting for a living. The job consists of 12-hour days, seven days a week, spent walking, feeding, exercising and playing with people’s beloved pets, as well as performing basic house-sitting duties and providing in-depth care for animals with special needs. (She’s CPR-certified for pets and can give shots to diabetic animals, for instance.) She spends her time with animals, which she calls “an absolute pleasure,” but she also has to forfeit her holidays, when clients rely on her services most. But the connection with animals—especially wolves, her specialty—makes the odd hours worth it. For more on Stack’s services, visit her Web site (at or call her at (916) 849-9050.

How do animals respond to a pet sitter?

Animals are stressed when you leave. … When you’re kenneling a dog, not only are you taking it away from its comfortable environment, but you’re putting it in with other animals. It tends to be a very noisy environment for them. The dogs in the kennels bark all day, all night. They don’t get much sleep. … They don’t eat as much, because they’ve got separation anxiety, and they may lose some of their hair from the stress. It’s a big trauma for them. It’s scary. And people don’t understand that. If you visit them in their own homes, of course they miss their owners, but it’s just not so overwhelming, and it’s not so scary, because they’re in their comfortable environment. They’re eating their own food. And you meet with the client ahead of time. I usually spend an hour—sometimes a lot more—in getting to know the pet so that they feel comfortable with me. And if you walk through the door with a treat in your hand for them, it’s an automatic reminder: “She’s not a threat. She’s here to feed me and take care of me and play with me.”

Is there any kind of animal you won’t sit for?

Absolutely not. In fact, that’s my specialty: the large, hard-to-handle dogs. Even some of the more aggressive dogs that are aggressive to normal people. I just have a knack with them.

So, exotic pets? Lizards? Anything?

Yeah, horses—you know, I’ve done anything from snakes to iguanas to special birds, exotic fish, dogs, cats. Even a cattery, a well-known breeder of Bengal and Savannah cats, I pet-sit for her.

How did you come to specialize in wolves?

I had wolf hybrids myself. I got my first pair in April of ‘80. And they’re just the most incredible creatures. They are so amazing. And the reason that they’re so amazing is that they’re very intuitive. … They’re easy to train, and provided you respect them and they respect you, there’s just an unbreakable bond. And they’re so easy to work with. Simple things, like, at 3 weeks old, they’ll know to walk out of the doghouse, off the deck and go to the bathroom in the yard. A normal puppy is not going to know that. And normally it takes a wolf one or two times of you teaching them “no,” and they understand it. That’s what’s so neat about wolves. They don’t have a scent, so you don’t need to groom them. … They don’t bark unless they’re provoked. Or when a siren goes by, they’ll howl because it hurts their ears. But, otherwise, they’re quiet dogs. They’re the best pets for the right people.

You also offer pet exercising for clients who can’t walk their pets for one reason or another—such as the elderly.

I am facing this with my own dad, who is out of state. He can’t walk his poodle any longer, so we set up a pet sitter to come into his assisted-living facility to walk his dog. I think if people knew that they could call a sitter to walk their elderly parents’ dogs, and encourage the elderly to exercise along with them, what a great benefit for both!

We can also be the extra eyes to watch out for changing conditions of their elderly parents who are still at home. … While a pet sitter would monitor the health of their pets, it is really not a burden to keep an eye on their parents’ condition as well. We could also check to make sure that the pets have food and water. I know with my dad’s short-term-memory loss, he sometimes forgets to give the dog water.

Any complaints?

One thing, and it’s a serious problem: People who let their dogs run loose or walk them without a leash. Right now, every single one of my clients whose dogs I walk, I can no longer take the dogs off the property, because loose dogs have attacked them. It just happens so often that I run into these unleashed dogs. And people don’t realize that they will get hit. It’s just a numbers game. Maybe not today, but tomorrow, they are gonna get hit or hurt.