On the Curbs: East Sac Pet Pals is more than just dog walking

Rick and the Honda Element. Photo by Michael Saeltzer

Rick and the Honda Element. Photo by Michael Saeltzer

Rick Edwards is the former owner of East Sac Pet Pals. He used to be seen jamming around in his small jet black super charged 2003 Honda Element with the pink stripe around it reading “East Sac Pet Pals.”
He owned the business with his wife Deb who overcame one bout of ovarian cancer, but ultimately was not able to overcome the disease. After Deb passed away, he transferred the business entirely over to Leanne Mack who is quickly making herself known in our community for her decision to quit corporate life and pursue a different lifestyle. Rick and Leanne both experienced situations in their lives that unexpectedly included pets, community, and personal transformation.

This is their story.

We met one morning at the Queen of Tarts to have coffee and chat about how they both left incredibly well paying jobs to end up in the pet sitting business. It turns out Rick’s background was in aerospace. He was a master scheduler at Vandenberg Air Force Base, located about nine miles north of Lompoc, Calif. in Santa Barbara County. There, he worked extensively on the Space Shuttle program, and then eventually transferred to Aerojet Rocketdyne in Rancho Cordova. After 12-13 years of intense pressures at work, and a realization that eventually computers would be taking over a large portion of what he did, Rick took advantage of the package that was offered and “retired.”

Having a degree in Business, Rick always wanted to start and run his own company. He drew up business plans and models for about six different ideas. Having volunteered as a dog trainer, and at the SPCA, the idea of pet sitting was one of them. Surprisingly, this model stood out as far and away the best, at least from a numbers standpoint.

As Rick explains, “I was incredibly afraid to do it. I mean coming from the security and pay in my past career I just thought I cannot possibly make a decent living pet sitting.” He decided to attend a conference designed to help entrepreneurs.

The gentleman teaching the course asked, “There are three birds sitting on a fence and one decided to fly off, so how many are left on the fence?” The answer: Still three birds, because the one bird only decided to fly, but never actually did.

Rick went home and within a week started East Sac Pet Pals generating clients largely through his volunteer work at the SPCA. Eventually, he ended up doing The Pet of the Week on TV with well known personality Dewey Hopper.

Rick jokes that every Wednesday he was on the air – except it was only his shoes as the camera was pointed at the dog. Soon, he was invited to do Good Day Sacramento with Tina Macuha. One day, she asked Rick what he did for a living and he told her. Her jaw dropped as he explained he was making enough to live quite comfortably in one of Sacramento’s most desirable neighborhoods. During that day’s broadcast Tina put her arm around him and introduced the viewers to “Uncle Rick” and East Sac Pet Pals. It was an incredible plug, and business accelerated.

Because of their connections and referrals, Rick and Deb never had to advertise, other than having the car and business cards. Deb was pre-vet at UC Davis and besides overseeing the care of the cats that also needed to be sat, she worked closely with the SPCA and The Sacramento Animal Hospital on 57th and H streets.

When Deb fell ill with ovarian cancer, she, Rick and Leanne began to get to know each other. Leanne came from a 20-year career as a high level executive sales and marketing director in the hotel and hospitality industry. She worked for Hyatt and The Hilton franchise which included the Double Tree and Embassy Suites. Moving 15 times in 20 years (different cities, not just neighborhoods) and working 12-hour days every week took its toll on Leanne’s health.

When she moved to Sacramento, she told her bosses that this was where she intended to stay – no more moving. Arriving in East Sacramento, she knew she would have to immediately hire a gardener, a new hair stylist, and of course a dog sitter. Her schedule was fiercely tight.

Leanne and Rick, owners of East Sac Pet Pals. Photo by Michael Saeltzer

Leanne and Rick, owners of East Sac Pet Pals. Photo by Michael Saeltzer

Having moved so often, her dog was especially nervous and not used to men. Her neighbor referred her to Rick and Deb but said they might not be taking on new clients. No problem for Leanne.

She used her sales and marketing skills to arrange a meeting with her, two of her best looking friends – who “just happened to be over”, and made the pitch. She explained that her dog would need care five days a week and that often she would be called upon to wine and dine clients after work hours. She was asking a lot. But, nothing that Rick and Deb often handled for their clients.

Rick explained to Leanne that East Sac Pet Pals is much more than a simple dog walking business. They provide the full package emphasizing home security and safety (Rick worked with the Sac Police to develop best practices for pet sitters), the ability to help out in a jam (think locking your keys in your car on your lunch), and years of knowledge about pet behavior and their health needs. Also included as part of the service is a daily journal of your pet’s day, pictures sent via the web, and a special package of care upon their passing – which is always a time of grief.

Because Rick knew Leanne’s dog was nervous around men he simply ignored the dog during the meeting. Leanne laughs and explains, “Any time a man ignores the opposite sex, that makes them even more interested and soon my dog could not help but come over for some affection.”

The deal was sealed.

Unfortunately Leanne’s work schedule again made it difficult for her to take proper care of herself. Her health began to fade. She was getting sick often, something that Rick and Deb noticed because she would not need service on those days. Eventually, Deb shared with Leanne that she was suffering from ovarian cancer, something that Leanne had survived. The two grew close and were relieved when the first bout was successfully treated.

Leanne began planning to exit her demanding career and become a consultant. She quit her job and began to discover a sense of peace, balance, and health, now having to work about half the hours she had to in the past and actually having time to meet new people and go out on the weekends.

When Deb got sick again with cancer, Leanne knew that Rick was getting stretched thin being the caretaker of his wife, and having to run more and more of the business on his own. Leanne said she offered to help and soon she was really enjoying it. “I grew up in a town of 700 people in Humboldt on a farm. I was riding horses literally at the age of two. When I was four I was riding and roping in the rodeo. I paid for my education at Sac State with pigs I sold at the fairs. When I was a girl growing up I always thought I would work with animals as a large animal veterinarian.”

Tragically, Deb did not survive her second fight with cancer and Rick and Leanne pretty much had become business partners. Leanne brought to the table new ideas about marketing, social media, and supervising staff. Rick was always focused on the animals, and shied away from those parts of the business.

He jokes, “Leanne would constantly request that we start a Facebook page. I just was not into it. I did not want more clients and did not see very much value in it.”

As time passed, another unexpected event happened. Rick fell in love. And, he decided he no longer wanted to work. Instead, he wanted to retire and live out the rest of his life traveling, surfing, riding fast motorcycles and being with his new-found life partner. This meant that he would turn over the entire business to Leanne.

Now, new clients are slowly being accepted, East Sac Pet Pals has a Facebook page, and that black Honda that had a pink stripe around it has a blue Hawaiian “leah” around it. Rick loves Hawaii and often vacations there. Leanne has always loved animals and giving back to her community. Look for her wearing a pink East Sac Pet Pals T-shirt walking about the neighborhood with her friends.

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