Animal lover Nina Cole's business could be described as sleepy but it's progressing by leaps and bounds. The....
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Nina's nannies sooth pet owners' worries

Posted on January 28, 2006

This article was published in January 2006. Please see Latest News for more recent information.

Animal lover Nina Cole's business could be described as sleepy but it's progressing by leaps and bounds.

The firm provides 'home helps' for pet owners who do not want to put their animals or birds into care if they leave home for any length of time.

But Mrs Cole, 49, of Cantilupe Close, Eaton Bray, takes her service way beyond dog walking or pop-in visits to feed the cat.

She provides carers who are prepared to sleep over at the client's home for days, or even weeks, while they are away.

Nina's Nannies for PetsNina's Nannies for Pets has almost 400 regular clients concentrated in Beds, Herts and Bucks but steadliy spreading to far-flung places.

The toital would be even higher if she could find more men and women able and willing to join her roll call of nannies.

"It requires mature people with a certain amount of freedom from family responsibilities," said Mrs Cole, a dedicated champion of animals who spent a year studying the wolves at Whipsnade Park in the late 1980s.

She started her nannies service eaight years ago.

She said: "I saw unfortunate results when cats and dogs came out of kennels and catteries and thought there must be an alternative for people who don't want the stress of leaving animals in strange places when they go on holiday.

"A nanny service was the obvious solutions, with the added benefit of providng home security as well as keeping the pets in the surroundings they were used to."

The hardest thing is trying to find the right calibre of nannies.

"We look for people aged 40 plus for obvious reasons. Our clients really don't want younger people living in their homes," she said.

Ninas Nannies advertises but typically gets its recruits through "a friend of a friend". People get in touch and if they pass stringent vetting by the Criminal Records Bureau they are welcomed on to the team.

The business has a high reputation. Mrs Cole said: "We get rung up by police officers, judges, vets and councillors among many other types of client."

Being an animal nanny is a very responsible job. Most house sitting involves looking after chickens, dogs, cats or rabbits but it can be more challenging. Pythons and Bearded Dragon lizards need a careful approach, for example.

Mrs Cole, who runs the business with her husband Doug, said: "One of my ladies looks after a menagerie. Dogs, cats, donkeys, a horse and reptiles."

Nannies become trusted family friends over time and understand the client's affection for pets, which may have been a part of their lives for many years.

"Think of parrots. They can live for a very long time and people get very close to them," said Mrs Cole.

Nina's nannies don't get together very often because of the calls on their services but the 2005 Christmas party had some hilarious moments. Mrs Cole said: "We heard some remarkable stories. You'd be amazed at some of the things people have to share a bed with - one chap had to sleep next to a St Bernard!"

But if that is the requirement then you have to do it because that's what the owner pays for.

The nannies learn to take these oddities in their stride. Most enjoy their unusual work immensely.

When the organisation takes on a client, there is an induction process for the owner.

The nannies have to check all the pet's equipment. If the client offers a lead that is worn or with any sign that it would break, it has to be replaced. "We cannot let dogs off the lead. Our insurance would not be valid if a dog gets run over because he was off the lead. Fortunately, it has never happened," said Mrs Cole.

The organisation carries generous third party insurance against damage as well. If an expensive vase accidentally gets knocked over if would be paid for.

Mrs Cole's business started with pet sitting and dog walking. It was clients asking for overnight sitting that alerted Mrs Cole to the niche the organisation now occupies.

"We still do daily visiting and occasional dog walks but the live-in sitting is hugely popular. So many people say I wish I had heard of you before."

Nina's nannies are active in Beds, Herts, Bucks and expanding in Brighton, the new Forest and Hampshire and Devon.

Mrs Cole said: "I even had someone in California call wanting an English nanny for their twobeagles. We were fully booked but I took the call as a huge compliment."

Experience with animals is obviously an advantage for nannies but major problems seldom arise.

Mrs Cole said: "It's very rare to see an animal you don't thing is being looked after properly. Our clients, who want the very best for their animals when they go away, are real animal lovers."

Nina's Nannies for Pets can be contacted via their website:

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  • Could you take a greyhound?
    Nina Cole has launched an appeal for help for homeless greyhounds on her website after visiting a dog rescue centre to give a radio broadcast.

Source: Business Monthly, January 2006

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