Since moving to the country, I've taken a few vacations, but they were all "staycations" - sticking around home, getting things done, taking a breather.
But one of these days, my wife and I are going to actually want to get away. And that raises the question: Who's going to take care of all our animals?
Those animals, as you know if you follow this column, include a horse, a mule, two goats, two rabbits, six chickens, three dogs, two cats, two guinea pigs and two often-irate parrots. That's an awful lot to ask a neighbor or friend to look after. And while there are places where we could board the dogs or cats or horses, I'm not aware of any place that would take in all the critters. And if there is, I wouldn't want to try to transport them all anyway.
One solution: a professional pet sitter. There are pet sitters who include horses and other farm animals in their services - though not all do.
"There's a lot who don't want to mess with the bigger animals," says Vanessa Walker, owner of Good Shepherd Petsitting. "I'm real comfortable with them. Some people are scared to death of horses or cattle or llamas or whatever. Nothing bothers me."
Walker, who was a vet technician for 10 years, lives in the Black Forest area and has plenty of animals, including goats, chickens, ducks, a donkey and a horse. Her client area includes Black Forest, Elbert, Peyton and Falcon.
The benefit of hiring a pet sitter vs. enlisting a friend or neighbor, she says, is that the pet sitter has expertise and a focus on the job at hand.
"When you pick a neighbor or a cousin or whatever, they're just doing it to be nice, and you can end up with some real messes." A trained pet sitter is also more prepared to handle any problems, Walker says.
"You want someone there who loves the animals, who wants you to be happy, who understands the animals."
Patricia Hunnybun of Pampered Pets & People has numerous clients with farm animals; she has cared for, among others, horses, mules, goats, chickens - one client had nearly two dozen chickens - and alpacas. She managed a stable in Minnesota when she lived there, so she has plenty of equine experience.
Hunnybun cautions that anyone can call themselves a pet sitter - and also claim experience they don't have. Ask for references and credentials, she says, and be wary of the "casual" pet sitter.
"High-quality pet sitters are going to be accredited, certified, bonded and insured," she says.
Of course, hiring a pet sitter costs money; calling on a neighbor or friend doesn't, though the experience can cost you in other ways - such as a frayed friendship - depending on whether that neighbor or friend lives up to expectations. (Think escaped dog or piled-up poo or the cat they forgot to feed.)
Hiring a sitter for all our critters wouldn't necessarily drain our bank account; Walker and Hunnybun charge by the visit, not the number of animals seen during that visit. Hunnybun charges $25 to $30 for a standard visit up to 40 minutes; a longer visit will cost a bit more. Even at a sprint, I don't think you could get through all our critters in 40 minutes.
Hunnybun keeps her customers to a maximum of four or five a day "to ensure the quality time I have committed to." Business has been brisk enough that she has had to turn away some new clients. January and February are often slow months, but she says she hasn't had a day off this year and probably won't until July.
Not that she's complaining.
"I'm in this profession because I have a passion for animals. I love what I do."
Bill Radford and his wife live in the countryside east of Colorado Springs. Contact him: Twitter @billradfordiii, gazettebillradford
on Facebook. Follow his blog at blogs.gazette.com/thecountrylife.