Like many who run pet-sitting businesses, Lauren Swartley loves snapping photos of her clients and showing them off on social media to a growing online following. Tails wagging and enjoying time outside, these upbeat animals look like any other happy-pawed companion.
But they are a bit different. Most come from traumatic pasts of abuse and neglect and/or years in animal shelters. In Swartley’s eyes, their pasts don’t define them.
Swartley is the founder of Lend a Paw, a pet-sitting service targeted at pets suffering from anxiety and fear. After years of working with and fostering animals with emotional and behavioral issues, she now aims to show Baton Rouge that they deserve a second chance.
Swartley was inspired to start the business following experiences with her own pets. Though she grew up pet sitting, her real start came from volunteering at the Capital Area Animal Welfare Society in 2013.
As she began helping out around the shelter, she was apprehensive of one of the dogs it received: a pitbull named Hayes. The shelter determined Hayes had been neglected and needed to go into immediate foster care. Swartley was the only one able to take him.
“I was terrified of this pitbull,” she says. “I thought pitbulls were bad—that’s what everyone always says. But after taking him in, he was the sweetest dog I have ever met.”
Three years later, and Hayes had become her greatest companion, accompanying her around town, wagging his tail.
“That kind of brought out a new part of my life in terms of animal rescue that I really never intended on having,” Swartley says.
She soon rescued another pitbull, Piglet, who had been raised in illegal dog-fighting rings. Swartley says she was told Piglet’s stress and anxiety would prevent her from ever being around other dogs or people—or in a public setting. But through Swartley’s compassion and constant care, Piglet began to heal emotionally. Today, Swartley says, she lives the life of any normal happy dog.
It was the transformation of her own dogs that showed Swartley the potential for abandoned animals, as well as the need for specialized care.
“I began realizing how hard it was to get these dogs adopted,” Swartley says. “Then I started wondering, even if these dogs were adopted, who would care for them while their owners couldn’t? They couldn’t just bring them to a day care center like other pets.”
A few years later, Swartley has created a business that addresses these cases. Partnering with shelters across the city, Lend a Paw provides in-home pet care services for many types of animals and rescues who struggle to be in normal settings. She says leaving animals in their homes is the key to keeping their stress levels down.
“Most pets, regardless of their pasts, have their couches or beds they love. So when you take them out of that setting and into a kennel setting, it can be hard,” Swartley says. “They are not like us. They don’t react well to that or understand.”
She meets with both owner and animal beforehand, learning how each animal best feels happy and relaxed. Most pets are timid around new people, so Swartley goes through a lengthy consultation process to help the animals get comfortable with her, as well as ensure she is aware of all potential anxiety triggers.
As for actual care, Swartley offers a few different services spanning from occasional check-ins to entire overnight stays with the animal. She says most owners can tell that their animals are relaxed when they return instead of anxious and confused, which is especially beneficial for pets who deal with issues stemming from fear.
Ultimately, Swartley aims to not only ease the pressure for owners who are considering rescuing animals with difficult pasts, but to improve care for all animals in Baton Rouge.
She is currently working on an educational program for schools that will teach students how to care for animals and the importance of adopting from shelters.
“I hope I can encourage the adoption of more animals or at least get people to check out facilities and shelters around the city,” Swartley says. “I want people to know that the dogs you see in shelters are just as good as any other dog and should be adopted, and that there are resources out there to help you care for them.” lendapawbr.com
This article was originally published in the June 2019 issue of 225 Magazine.