Going to the dogs
After working 18 years in a legal field, often commuting into Salem or Canby from her rural Clackamas County home, Melinda Hammelman decided to explore other possibilities.
That was roughly two years ago, and ever since then her life has gone to the dogs, literally.
Melinda entered a relatively new, or at least revised, profession as a "pet sitter." Traditionally more commonly known and understood as kennels, but there's a significant difference -- no cages.
These days there are always a good mix of canines around the Hammelman household, sometimes inside and sometimes outside, and that suites the family just fine. In fact, it has become Melinda's main gig.
"I think my favorite part of the job is being able to work from home and love on dogs all day," Melinda said. "But I also love when the owners pick the dog up after their stay. I love how excited the dogs get and their owners too -- it's so heartwarming."
Melinda is part of Rover.com, which gained traction earlier in this decade and now has independent contractors that offer services in and near municipalities from coast to coast. Pet services offered are dog boarding, house sitting, drop-in visits, doggy daycare and dog walking.
Some contractors, like Melinda, concentrate on one area – boarding and daycare in her case. Others may be more geared toward walking or checking in on a pet. A quick view of the Rover website lists dozens of pet-service contractors working between Salem and Wilsonville, including a handful in the Woodburn-Hubbard area and quite a few more across the Willamette River in Newberg and Sherwood vicinities.
Rover.com spokesperson Kristin Sandberg said the company actually spawned from a negative experience that co-founder Greg Gottesman had at a traditional kennel while he was on vacation. After hearing of that experience, his daughter said she would be delighted to get paid for taking care of someone else's dog.
Gottesman saw a business opportunity.
He formed a team, including co-founder Phil Kimmey, and pitched the Rover idea at the 2011 Startup Weekend in Seattle – and won first prize.
Fast forward to today, the seven-year-old company is the largest pet-care marketplace in the U.S., connecting more than 300,000 pet sitters and one million pet owners every month for walking and boarding services.
Nobody's more delighted to be among that mix than Melinda.
The convivial former court clerk left her Canby job in January of 2017 so she could be at home with her kids. She looked into dogvacay.com, which later became part of Rover, but more out of curiosity than anything else.
"I never thought about it seriously until I was home and looking for some additional income. I've always wanted to work with animals but wasn't sure how to go about it," Melinda said. "I decided to put my profile up in June of 2017 just to see if I got any response.
"We live out in the country so I wasn't sure if our location would be very convenient for people. I was surprised and pleased at the number of requests I started to receive. I didn't get really busy until the fall of 2017, and it hasn't slowed down since."
It was a perfect match, and a gig Melinda has groomed for all her life.
"I grew up on a farm near Amity with all kinds of animals and they've always been a big part of my life," Melinda said. "I can't recall any time in my life where I didn't have a dog or a pet."
The home "facility" also matches up well; a 1.5-acre fenced yard that give the dogs room to run.
"My main goal is to make the dogs feel at home here and treat them like they are a part of our family," said Melinda has three dogs of her own as well as chickens and horses. "I don't use kennels. Every dog sleeps in the house… I try to be as consistent as possible with whatever the dog is used to at their home."
That means Melinda spends a good chunk of time chucking sticks, tennis balls or Frisbees, and even filling a kiddie pool in the summer months for water-loving breeds.
"I enjoy getting to experience different breeds that I've never owned," she said. "I just love what I do and really enjoy having dogs return after their first stay so excited that their owners can barely control them when they get to my front door. Or I've had many people tell me that their dog gets excited when they turn onto my road. That tells me that I'm doing my job and they enjoy coming to stay with us."
Tasks beyond the care include meeting and greeting owners and dogs to make sure they are a good fit, and taking photos and sending them to vacationing clients.
"I know if it were me, I'd love receiving the pictures and the peace of mind knowing they are happy, having fun and are safe," Melinda said. "The last thing I want an owner worrying about is their dog while they're trying to enjoy their vacation or time away. I want to alleviate that stress."
Besides, it's a joy to take fun pet snapshots to share.
Melinda has built up her business with more than 40 repeat clients. She has one firm rule for clients: their dog must be able to get along with other dogs. She said her kids love having the dogs around and frequently ask her when a particular one might be coming to stay again.
"I love that I'm able to keep them distracted if they're missing home. I hear clients say to me a lot that their dog is having so much fun that they aren't going to want to go home," Melinda said. "That's never the case, but I'm glad that their dogs enjoy their time here."
On the web
Learn more about the pet-care marketplace and services at www.rover.com.
Learn about Melinda's pet-care services at www.rover.com/sit/farmmomof3