Taking the lead
Some would say Jill Blackmore’s life has gone to the dogs.
And while generally, that’s a bad thing, it’s not in her case.
Blackmore, who lives in Conception Bay South, walked away from a career in the faculty of medicine at Memorial University to follow her heart back to her first love: dogs.
She founded Tails and Trails, a dog-walking and dog-sitting business just over a year ago.
“I had jokingly always wanted to be a stay-at-home dog mom, and after thinking about it for a while, I looked into it and here I am today.” — Jill Blackmore
“I have always had this desire to own my own business,’’ she said last week, a day after a picture of her on the job was taken by chance for a feature photo in The Telegram.
“I was working at MUN, a good job, but there was a lack of animals in my life,’’ she said.
“I had jokingly always wanted to be a stay-at-home dog mom, and after thinking about it for a while, I looked into it and here I am today.”
Her business plan is simple, to spend one-on-one time with her clients’ dogs, starting at 15-minute increments, up to hour-long sessions.
She has 30 clients and the number is growing, so she has two additional dog-walkers she uses to meet the needs of those customers.
“For a lot of people, their pets are their babies,’’ Blackmore said. “When I was at MUN, I couldn’t get home at lunch so I had to rely on my husband’s parents, who were able to help us out when we needed it. Not having that would have been additional stress on me, and that is what other people are facing who are pet owners.”
She said the process starts with a complimentary — but mandatory — meet and greet with customers and their dogs.
“Safety for the walkers and the dogs in our care is paramount, so coming to the individual’s house and meeting the dog is vitally important,” she said.
Blackmore’s grew up with a veterinarian for a father and a Canadian Kennel Club registered dog breeder as a mother, so it seems inevitable she would love dogs.
As a child, she helped her mother groom, feed and walk the dogs they had at their house. As she grew older, she began working in her parents’ veterinary clinic in Whitby, Ont., where she tended to hundreds of pets over the decade she worked there.
She decided to follow in her father’s footsteps and become a veterinarian, and enrolled at the University of Guelph where she received a bachelor of science in zoology and statistics, and a master’s of science in epidemiology, while also working part-time at a veterinary clinic.
"I have always loved dogs. I am obsessed with golden retrievers, but I love all dogs.” — Blackmore
The next phase of her life saw her move to Newfoundland, where she worked in customer service at Paradise Animal Hospital. After three years, she pursued a career as an epidemiologist full-time at MUN, researching primary health care. She also started a PhD in community health and completed the entrepreneur training program.
Although the research she was doing was interesting, she found herself longing for daily contact with animals. After thinking long and hard about what truly made her happy, she decided to leave academia and start a business, and Tails and Trails NL was born.
“I am so grateful for the opportunity to combine the skills and experience I have gained through my years of animal care, and with my university training, to bring the first insured and first aid certified, professional dog-walking business to Newfoundland,’’ she said.
“I have always loved dogs. I am obsessed with golden retrievers, but I love all dogs.”
She is also the owner of Rep The Rock, a clothing and handmade jewelry store she opened in St. John’s in 2016. A portion of sales go to the Wellywoo Fund, which helps pet owners pay for emergency pet care.
What the future holds for Blackmore and her business is part of her master plan. She’d like to expand her client base and the number of dog-walkers she uses, and even open a dog daycare on the large property she and her husband have in C.B.S.
“I would also like to host some community events, fun, pet-related outings that are filled with pet-friendly things to do,’’ she said.
“Oftentimes there are not many things to do on the weekend, so I post on social media to see what people are doing with their pets, and hopefully this will give all pet owners ideas of what they can do or co-ordinate.”