Pet sitter retires from ‘the loveliest job in the world'
To hundreds of pets Val Henderson is their surrogate mum, and to their owners she is a godsend.
Over 18 years she has built a business from taking care of thousands of beloved family members – cats, dogs, rabbits and guinea pigs – and looking after their owners’ homes while they are away.
But she has finally handed over the reins of Paws Petsitting and what she calls “the loveliest job in the world” to her faithful assistant Tracey Steptoe, who has some big shoes to fill.
Mrs Henderson, who turns 60 today, said the goodbyes, the cards and the bottles of champagne she had received this week were testament to the genuine friendships she had built up with her customers.
The mother-of-two, who lives with her husband Jim in Grove near Wantage, Oxfordshire, said: “I’ve been in tears every single day this week.
“It’s not just the animals – my customers have become friends and now we have to say goodbye.”
Paws began life after Mrs Henderson was made redundant from her receptionist job at Day and Partners vets in Charlton in 1997.
Having grown up on her grandparents’ smallholding in South Wales surrounded by ducks, pigs, geese, chickens, cats and a dog, taking care of animals had been her dream job.
Taking calls from pet owners every day, it quickly became apparent there simply were not enough pet sitters around in Oxfordshire.
So when she was made redundant she immediately swooped in to fill the niche, and soon found it was all she could do to keep up.
She said: “I just have an affinity with animals.
“You know when you go into people’s houses and they have a cat that won’t come near you because she’s shy? – That cat will probably come and sit on my lap.”
At her busiest, Mrs Henderson was looking after more than 50 pets at once, working seven-days-a-week and sometimes making 50 visits in a single day.
Her one tip for pet owners everywhere is: “Get your pet microchipped. So many pets go missing in this area, and if they are found you won’t be tracked down unless they are microchipped.”