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“Autumn is the time of year when Mother Nature says, ‘Look how easy, how healthy, and how beautiful letting go can be.’”
– Toni Sorenson  
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  Volume No. 15 Issue No. 9 September 2018  

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Bill Radford

  An exotic pet sitter
  By Bill Radford

   Growing up in Missouri, Abby Ersland had an affinity for furry, feathered and finned friends that are out of the ordinary.
   
   "From a very young age, it was mice, then rats and hamsters and things," Ersland said. "I was always interested in the different kinds of pets."
   
   That fascination with exotic animals hasn't dimmed. She and her boyfriend live in Peyton with five ferrets, two cats, a hermit crab tank and an aquarium. Ersland runs a pet-sitting business, Chirp 'N Dook, that serves the plains east of Colorado Springs. While she is happy to pet sit dogs and cats and farm animals such as horses and goats, she is trying to develop a niche in exotics.
   
   "I want the focus of this business to provide a service for people who have these weird animals and don't know anyone who knows how to take care of them. … You can find tons of dog and cat sitters. As a ferret owner, if I wanted someone to take care of my ferrets, I'd want someone who knew how to handle them, who wasn’t afraid of them, who knew what their needs were."
   
   (Speaking of ferrets, they're responsible for the "Dook" part of Chirp 'N Dook. Ersland said ferrets make a "dooking" sound.)
   
   Much of her life revolves around animals; Ersland also works at Bentley's Pet Stuff, an all-natural pet food store. "I get to talk to people every day about proper pet nutrition and natural diets, and what I’ve learned has proved useful in pet sitting as well," she said. When she is not working at Bentley's and doesn't have a pet-sitting gig, you'll probably find her at The Perch, a parrot rescue in Colorado Springs where she has volunteered for the last year and a half.
   
   Animals consumed much of her time growing up, too. Her first gig as a pet sitter was at age 9 for a neighbor who regularly traveled; that relationship lasted nearly 15 years; and Ersland would also pet sit occasionally for other neighbors. During high school and college, she worked part-time as a kennel worker for a veterinarian.
   
   Despite that passion for animals, it was a different love –- a love of music –- that guided her for a while. She majored in instrumental music education at the University of Central Missouri. After substitute teaching for six months in Missouri, she headed west to Colorado; she had fallen in love with the area while visiting as a teenager.
   
   Ersland landed a job teaching at Elizabeth Middle School and worked there for two years, but concluded teaching wasn't for her –- at least not for now. "I just kind of decided that the stress that came with the job wasn't really something I wanted to be around for the rest of my life," she said. However, she does offer private music lessons.
   
   For now, her focus is on building up her pet-sitting business.
   
   "The No. 1 thing is word-of-mouth," she said. Working at Bentley's also helps drum up business. "Someone will ask for a good pet sitter and that's where I'll chime in, 'I do pet sitting!'"
   She knows people typically board their pets while on vacation or get a neighbor kid to watch their animals, just as her neighbor did all those years ago. But her website lists all the reasons for considering a professional pet sitter, including reliability, experience and the security of an insured business. Ersland also noted that she has been trained in pet CPR. To her frustration, while there is education on dog and cat CPR, and even horse CPR, she hasn't been able to find training anywhere in the country focusing on CPR for exotics. But if she, for example, had a ferret that's choking, she can still use the general techniques she has learned, Ersland said.
   
   If one is considering getting an exotic, do the homework first, she said. People might get a ferret and not realize it's like "a perpetual puppy," or get a bird and not understand it could be a lifelong commitment.
   
   And in getting an exotic, she said she urges people to get a rescue animal. At The Perch, she sees birds that were given up or abandoned by owners who couldn't handle the noise or were moving or whatever.
   
   "There are so many rescues out there. We have enough homeless birds."
   
   (To learn more about Chirp 'N Dook's services, go to chirpndook.com or search on Facebook.)
  
Abby Ersland holds a feline friend. Photo by Bill Radford
 
When she was a kid, Abby Ersland wanted a pet ferret  but her mom wouldn't let her. Now Ersland has five ferrets. Photo by Bill Radford
 
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