Bored 11-year-old launches her own pet-sitting service

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CYNTHIA MARTENS
The entrepreneurial spirit is alive and thriving quite nicely at the Nikkel home in Hillsboro.

At the age when most children are spending idle days at the swimming pool, Taylor Nikkel, 11, is operating a pet-sitting service called Taylor’s Animal Inn.

“I was bored one summer day and wanted to earn some money,” Taylor said. “So I decided to have a business, and something I like to do is take care of pets. I decided I’d just call it Taylor’s Animal Inn, because it’s like a hotel pets can stay in.”

Her services are offered year round and include taking care of a pet’s needs for $4 a day at her home, or she will go to a client’s house.

“It really doesn’t matter,” Taylor said.

“If they want me to go over to their house to take care of their pet, if they feel more comfortable with it over there, that’s fine. And if they want to bring it here, that’s fine, too. We have a cage out in the backyard that has a dogie pen, and they can be outside. Or they can be inside, too.”

The client must provide the pet’s food, and Taylor will be in charge of the rest of the care. Picking up newspapers and mail while visiting a pet’s home are included in her fee, and a generous dose of tender-loving care is free of charge.

“I love any kind of animals or mammals or anything that’s alive,” Taylor said.

“When I was little, my dad was in the cattle business, and there were lots of horses and animals. I’ve loved dogs and cats ever since.”

The Nikkel home includes dad Vince, a real-estate agent, mom Jessie, a bank loan officer and an older sister, Jandi, 14. The family’s new pet, LaVette, is a 7-month-old toy poodle. “I take care of her a lot,” Taylor said. “I also have turtles and a fish.”

This is just one of Taylor’s many businesses, Vince said.

“She’s had a lemonade stand outside, and she’s sold tomatoes, which she grew in our garden and sold door to door-things like that. She’s sold the most cookies in the Hillsboro Girl Scouts for about two to three years. This year, she sold about 605 boxes.”

The idea to operate a pet-sitting service was first discussed by Taylor and her parents in the fall of 2002. By spring break 2003, she was prepared to open her arms to other’s pets.

“The whole idea was because I was sitting at home, and I wanted to do something,” Taylor said.

“I didn’t have LaVette, and I was bored the whole time watching TV. So I decided I could have a business, and I needed money anyway during the summer. The only time I get money is for my birthday and Christmas.”

During spring break, she began putting up signs about her new business venture. Her first customer that summer was a schnauzer named Misty, the pet of a friend’s family.

Later in the year, with the help of her sister, Taylor put up hand-made fliers at businesses. “I also put an ad in the Free Press last year for about four weeks,” she said.

Taylor appears to have plenty of time and a heart big enough to take care of her own animals and others.

“It really doesn’t matter how big or small they are,” Taylor said. “And we’ve had four dogs at once-three large dogs outside and a little dog in the house.”

When deciding what to charge her customers, Taylor first considered $10 an hour, but her parents asked her if she thought that was appropriate.

“And I said, “No, that would be $240 a day,'” Taylor said. The figure of $20 a day was tossed around next, “but my mom said that’s still to high because the vet charges around $20 to $25 a day. So I’m charging $4 a day, because that’s a nice minimum.”

Vince added, “And we figured for her age, we felt $4 a day was probably appropriate at this time for her to get started.”

Although boarding with a veterinarian is an appropriate and traditional option, Taylor said she’s earned positive responses from her clients who want to use her services as an alternative.

“It’s kind of weird,” Taylor said.

“My customers say they’d rather come to me than go to a vet because at the veterinarians, they have to be locked in the cage the whole day, basically. They walk them and everything but here, they can be out and play and have someone to play with. And it costs less, too.”

Although only into her second summer of pet-sitting services, Taylor already has regular customers as well as a growing list of new ones.

“The regular customers count on her whenever they leave town,” Vince said. “One family counts on her quite a bit all throughout the whole year. Most of them bring them here to the house.”

Her services include taking the pets for walks, playing with them and feeding them.

“We exercise them every day,” Taylor said.

The number of pets she can care for at one time depends on who is boarded in her care and any extended plans her family has. “It doesn’t matter how big or small they are,” Taylor said about her typical four-footed furry friends. Vince added, “We don’t have any limits per se. But, we can only take care of so many at the same time.”

The longest guest stay at Taylor’s Animal Inn was a dog who spent six weeks with the Nikkel family. And in the rare case when Taylor is away for a short time, mom and dad fill in to help with her duties.

The young entrepreneur said the worst experience in her business career was a lesson she learned in the early days, and it was not repeated again.

“Never leave the door open when you have a dog or pet,” Taylor said. Forgetting to close a door behind her when going outside, Taylor was surprised to see guest Missy tear full speed out to unforeseen freedom along the 300 block of South Kennedy.

“We were running after her,” Taylor said. “She went all the way down to Adams Street. Dad drove the car, and we finally got her.”

Individual pet personalities are not a concern Taylor said. “One of the dogs I had was really, really wild and wouldn’t stop running around,” she said. “It was hyper but after awhile, it cooled down.”

Even the unenviable job of cleaning up the infrequent dogie messes doesn’t bother her, Taylor said.

“When they first get here, they’re really excited. If I find something, I have to clean it up.”

In her first year, Taylor earned about $200 during a six-month period stretching from spring break to the beginning of the school year.

“I put it in my savings account,” Taylor said. “I’m saving up for a DVD player for my room and different things.”

Her business earnings have also come in handy on vacations or when she needs extra spending money. In the past, she contributed to the cost of a new bicycle and, just recently, a new scooter.

A growing business is not static, and Vince said Taylor’s business is no exception to that rule.

“If the response continues to be as positive as it is, we talked about adding more pen situations or something like that for her to be able to take care of multiple dogs at a time a lot easier,” he said.

They also might enlist the help of Taylor’s grandmother to teach her granddaughter grooming techniques. “So that’s probably what we’re going to start looking at next year already, is starting some grooming,” Vince said.

Crediting her parents with supporting her pet-sitting service, Taylor said, “They really helped me getting started in the business. And they take me to different places to help me with it.”

In turn, Vince praised his daughter for the personality to take on a business venture. “She’s very outgoing and energetic, and there’s a lot of sales person there, too,” he said.

It’s probably no surprise that some day, Taylor may study veterinary medicine.

But for now, with money in the savings and business skills under her belt, Taylor said she simply enjoys being around the animals entrusted to her care.

“The best part is to have fun with them and play with them a lot,” Taylor said. “I just love animals.”

For more information about the services offered at Taylor’s Animal Inn, call Taylor Nikkel at 947-2407.

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