Joanna Gardiner of Loving Care for Animals is leaving her business this summer after 23 years to be closer to family and a grandchild living in Detroit.
The house and critter-sitting service will remain open, with longtime islander Peggy Linker stepping in to see that the legacy Gardiner created through the years is carried on.
“I have loved animals my whole life and enjoyed a special closeness with them,” said Gardiner, who turned a simple favor for a friend with animal care needs into a small part-time job to help make ends meet. That got islanders talking, and soon, many were calling on her before taking off for vacation or going away on business for extended periods of time.
When her duties as island dog-walker and house sitter extraordinaire began to compete with her other commitments, Gardiner decided to explore something new and see if the position she created could work as a full-time occupation.
Just one year later, Loving Care for Animals had become so successful, according to Gardiner, that she had to consider what she wanted it to become before going any further.
“I did not want to turn people away when I was full, and more than that, I wanted to spend time with the animals that I was taking care of, because I have always believed that just like us, their emotional and intellectual and spiritual needs are as important as their physical ones,” she said.
Gardiner decided that to do the work well, she needed others to help. Thankfully, she said, Vashon is a place notable for the many islanders who possess a deep reverence and respect for all animal kind.
The business has since evolved organically — today, Gardiner’s staff of five offers dog walking, house sitting and a dog playgroup.
“I don’t know how to describe it other than there’s so much joy when you’re working with animals,” said Linker, adding that she was excited to begin, though no one can quite replace Gardiner. Linker said she has a special affinity for dogs and has been described as a “dog whisperer” by friends for the calming presence she brings to even the most anxiety-ridden pooch. But she also has a particular soft spot for a playful African grey parrot named Sharkey. To Linker, it’s just another highlight of the job.
“That’s what this island has done for me over the years, is to help make that connection … with the animals that live alongside us,” she said.
Linker described the business opportunity as a privilege.
“To me, it’s not a job, it’s a calling, and I know that Joanna gets that. We want to continue to do it.”
For her part, Gardiner plans to volunteer for an animal adoption center once she has settled, as well as try out her hand at running an Airbnb. She said she will also be on the lookout for her next dog, and getting in plenty of time to play with her grandchild.
“I was blessed, as is Peggy and everyone we work with, to work at a job where you give and receive love on a daily basis. There is nothing as healing and joyous,” she said.
For more information, call Peggy Linker at 206-707-6435.