Kansas City, Mo. When Jim Amen retired two years ago from his career as a claims supervisor for State Farm Insurance, he wanted to find a way to stay busy.
He tried selling real estate, but "it was too much like work."
Turns out, the solution was living in his house. His wife, Ruthie, had been pet-sitting on a small scale since retiring as a recreational therapist and teacher, and was trying to make it into a business.
Jim agreed to help, and the couple now operate Angel Watchers Pet Sitting Service. The Leawood, Kan., couple are happily spending their retirement years visiting other people's pets at their homes, and bringing peace of mind to the pets' owners.
"We just love it so much," Ruthie Amen said. "We help people feel like we would want to feel when we leave our pets, secure that everything will be all right. And we get to play with animals all day."
The Amens are part of one of the fastest-growing home-based industries in the country, according to industry experts, who say the growth has been especially pronounced in the last four or five years.
Membership in the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters, based in Mount Laurel, N.J., has increased from 850 four years ago to 1,500. Pet Sitters International, based in King, N.C., has seen its membership grow from 1,000 in 1995 to about 6,800 now, said John Long, public relations coordinator for the group.
While every company differs, in general pet sitters will spend about 35 minutes on each visit, feeding and watering animals, walking dogs, cleaning up messes and playing with the animals. Besides dogs and cats, pet sitters usually will care for other animals, such as birds, rabbits, fish and reptiles.
Donna Monpemore is one corporate refugee who has found happiness -- and a career -- as a pet sitter. Her job in the insurance industry was fine and paid well, but "it was just a job. I had to drag myself out of bed a lot of mornings." And she felt guilty leaving her dog alone all day.
She left voluntarily to become a pet sitter for Critter Sitters of Kansas City Inc. Four years ago, she bought the business, which employs 50 to 60 pet sitters and serves about 2,000 clients in a year. But Monpemore still visits pets.
"Owning your own business is really stressful," she said. "I will never give up getting out of the office to visit pets. It's relaxing, it's exercise, and it's something that I love doing."