DOGS WANDER at the Happy HoundPlay & Daycare inOakland, where smalldogs are keptapart from big dogs.
DOGS WANDER at the Happy Hound Play & Daycare in Oakland, where small dogs are kept apart from big dogs. (Ray Chavez - Staff)
THEY SAY necessity is the mother of invention. For Paul Mann, it was the catalyst for a pet-services franchise operation.

Mann is founder and president of Fetch Pet Care Inc., a Berkeley-based business that is the nation's largest pet-sitting and dog-walking franchise.

Four years ago, Mann became frustrated while searching for a pet sitter to look after his dog and two cats.

"I called everyone in the Yellow Pages and got very few responses. They didn't respond because either they were booked up or didn't feel compelled" to do so, Mann said. "What I found is that the industry has a lot of loving, caring people but the issue is they are not business people. There was a huge need but a very undeveloped market for pet services."

So Mann left his job as head of a software company and started Fetch in June 2002. There was such demand that he soon had to hire other people to help him walk dogs and go on pet-sitting assignments. Eventually, the business expanded to serve the entire Bay Area.

"From day one, I knew I was going to franchise this," he said. "A year and a half later, we launched our first franchise in January 2004 in San Diego."

Today, Fetch has 55 franchise locations in California and 22 other states that reach almost

4,000 clients. The Bay Area's 12 franchises reach about 1,800 clients.

Fetch (www.fetchpetcare.com) charges $22 for a 30-minute dog walk. A 30-minute

pet-sitting visit costs $22 and includes feeding, play time, giving medication when needed, cleanup of the pet's environment and light home maintenance duties such as watering plants and bringing in mail and newspapers.

Indeed, some mom-and-pop pet services have not always been the most business-minded entrepreneurs, according to David Lummis, a pet care services analyst.

But that is changing as a new generation of pet-service owners are becoming more sophisticated along with the growth of professional groups such as Pet Sitters International.

Pet Sitters International has an accreditation program for members who take its pet care educational and business courses. There is also a Web site (www.petsit.com) that makes it easy to find a local pet sitter

CAREIBusiness 2associated with the group.

Since its founding in 1994 by a pet sitter, its membership has grown to more than 7,400 members.

The pet-sitting business attracts far more women than men to look after somebody's pet at an average cost of $14.36 for a 36-minute visit, according to the Pet Sitters International Web site. Some 91 percent of the group's members are women.

Fetch franchises are accredited through Pet Sitters International as well as being bonded and insured. Dozens of independent pet-sitting businesses in the Bay Area are also accredited through the organization and are bonded and insured.

"There is a much more professional (approach) being brought into the business, and it is reflected in the growth of associations that support the industry — like Pet Sitters International," Lummis said. "A younger generation of entrepreneurs — GenXers — they are bringing into the pet (services) industry a whole level of sophistication in the way they look at the business."