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Other people's pets are her "babies"

February 13, 1999|By ANDREA ROWLAND

KEEDYSVILLE - Though they howl, need allergy shots and sometimes get fleas, April Ceravalo would do anything for her five children.

She adopted Oscar. She makes Angel's clothes. She slathers Dino, Oshi and Hairy with sunscreen in the summer. She makes them all homemade biscuits and lets them sleep with her at night.

They might be dogs, but they don't know it.

"I don't have any real children," said Ceravalo, 26. "They're my babies, and they're spoiled rotten."

The Keedysville resident likes caring for other people's "babies," too. That's why Ceravalo's a pet sitter.

Ceravalo said she started April's TLC Pet Sitting Services in 1995. She feeds, waters, walks, plays, gives medications and empties litter boxes for pets whose owners are away.

She'll bring in the mail, water the house plants, alter the lights and adjust the drapes. Ceravalo also offers midday walks for pets whose owners work long hours.

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The Tender Loving Care is a part of the package that Ceravalo said comes naturally.

"I've always loved animals," said the woman who's owned dogs, cats, birds, rabbits, hamsters, and rats. "Caring for them is what I really like to do."

Ceravalo's motto is, "There's No Place Like Home," a notion she believes will spur the future trend in pet care.

She said owners who board pets at public kennels put their animals at risk for illness and fleas, face the hassle of transporting their pets, and create a stressful situation for their animals.

"I try to keep the pet's routine as close to what the owner does as possible while they're away," said Ceravalo. "After they get me once, they never board their animals again," she said.

Besides making the animals "feel like they're not alone," Ceravalo said she offers owners peace of mind. Vacant homes have a lived-in look when she's on the job, said Ceravalo.

"I think everyone benefits from it," she said.

A member of Pet Sitters International, a group that offers support for professional pet sitters, Ceravalo spends 30 to 40 minutes, one to three times daily, with her clients, she said.

Her rates begin at $10 per house a visit, plus 30 cents a mile over the first five miles, said Ceravalo. Costs increase during holidays, when she needs to give oral medications and injections, and when there are many pets in one home, she said.

Before agreeing to take a job, Ceravalo said she meets with owners and their pets to establish rapport, learn about pet illnesses, likes and dislikes, and get emergency contact numbers.

She said she is bonded and insured, and has an agreement with an area veterinarian to provide emergency treatment if the owner can't be reached.

The free initial consultation also lets Ceravalo see how compatible she is with the pet, she said.

"I've never had to turn a client away," she said. "The animals always see to warm up to me."

Even standoffish pets like Ceravalo.

One pet owner said her cat, "Precious," was temperamental and didn't like to be brushed, said Ceravalo. By the time the owner returned from her vacation, Precious had been reformed, she said.

"She told me Precious was a different cat, that she was much nicer, now," said Ceravalo. "It makes you feel good when people tell you that," she said.

Ceravalo said she has many clients in the Hagerstown and Williamsport areas, and her hometown business is starting to grow. Within the next several years, she'd like to hire some help, and add a doggie day care facility at her house, she said.

Ceravalo is recommended by veterinarians, and has references available upon request, she said.

Holidays, especially Christmas, are her busiest times. She said pet owners interested in her service should book at least two weeks in advance.

Although three of Ceravalo's own pets are exotic- Chinese hairless crested dogs, which require special attention to skin care- she draws the line at caring for some unusual creatures.

Don't ask her to watch reptiles.

"I won't take care of anything that requires live food," she said.

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