Forest Hills biz keeps eye on 4-legged friends

Diana Hurtado sits with her dog, Cookie. Photo by Joe Anuta
By Joe Anuta

Your pet may be smart, but it probably can’t operate a treadmill.

Luckily, Diana Hurtado is open for business.

In Home Pet Services can make sure your pet exercises and eats well while you are out of the house. Her family company, run by her and her sister, provides dog-walking and pet-sitting services to residents in the Forest Hills area.

And Hurtado seemed to fit the description of an ideal pet-sitter.

“You have to show the animals love and respect,” she said, cradling her dog Cookie as if it were a human baby. “And you can never want to hurt an animal.”

Hurtado honed her animal-handling skills at another branch of Home Pet Services in Bayside for three years before deciding to start her own branch in what she believed was a neglected neighborhood.

“We got a lot of calls and e-mails to come to this neighborhood before,” Hurtado said. “But it was too far away, so we felt like this was the right move.”

Hurtado said Forest Hills is rife with dog-friendly locations like parks and runs, and her business is perfect for residents who are busy with work or go on vacation. In fact, she will even sleep at a customer’s house to make sure the pet is safe overnight.

And she has plenty of training, thanks to Robyn Elman, who founded In Home Pet Services.

“You really have to be trained in taking care of all kinds of animals,” she said.

Elman and Hurtado have dealt with dogs, cats, rabbits, hamsters, birds and reptiles and about every other kind of pet.

“Once we had an 8-foot iguana we had to put in the bathtub,” she said.

And often the animals can be more mischievous than humans.

Elman was once startled by the voice of a man booming through a house she thought was empty, but it turned out an African Grey Parrot was just mimicking its owner’s voice.

Then it mimicked the alarm code.

“We left the house and had to go back when we heard the alarm going off,” Elman said.

Elman and Hurtado prepare for the bizarre, but they are well-versed in everyday dogs and cats as well.

“You have to know how to approach a dog,” Hurtado said. “Don’t touch it or pet it.”

Instead of a handshake or scratch behind the ear, dogs prefer to use their sense of smell for introductions.

And Hurtado said that while she loves pets, it’s never love at first sight. Initial firmness lets the animal know that Hurtado is in charge.

“We don’t want people to think we don’t care about dogs,” she said. “But I have to be in control.”

And being in control means knowing how to care for a dog in all situations, even during the worst winter in Queens history, according to Elman.

“Right now the salt is very bad for dogs’ paws. They need to be rinsed,” she said. “If you see a dog limping, it’s not because they’re hurt. It’s because the salt is corrosive.”

Elman even has her employees take pet CPR training.

“In humans it’s mouth-to-mouth, but in pets it’s mouth-to-snout,” she said.

Hurtado charges by the hour and separately for overnight services. She can be reached at 718-326-0303 or at inhomepetservices.com.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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