Success from the Heart – Debby Wheeler

I am creating a series of stories that present women who are engaged in business that is truly a work of love; their success comes from their hearts. In Success from the Heart these women are focused on what they love and believe in. Their work comes from serving others and their products/services are intended to benefit others in a joyful, nurturing and inspiring way. With success from the heart, anything else would be unnecessary. I ask a few questions of these women to inquire into what brings them to success from the heart.

Debby Wheeler, Wheeler Pet Sitting

I met Debby just about 2 months ago at a Chamber of Commerce networking luncheon. My first impression was how nicely dressed she was; I admired her shawl of golden and green colors and noticed it matched the green of her eyes. I figured she was about my age, and she is, 55 years old; about to turn 56 in August…just like me!
Amidst the lively conversation around the table I caught some info about how she had held an executive position in a large corporation for many years. She was able to retire and from there she started her business, Wheeler Pet Sitting in the Napa Valley. She and her husband have opened their home to bring in dogs while owners are out of town or on a daily basis while they are at work. The Wheelers have three dogs of their own and have had as many as twelve dogs at home at one time! Twelve dogs! As she described her business and principles of dog-sitting she mentioned a photo she has of her husband and four dogs strewn over their bed. When Debby takes care of other people’s dogs, she insists that the dogs stay in the house with them. At Wheeler Pet Sitting there are no cages or kennels. This is a “home away from home” for dogs.

As she told her stories of pet-sitting I felt that flow of energy that I call Success from Heart. Debby has a love of dogs that creates a connection far beyond what many consider a “dog-lover”. I saw a sophisticated woman, talented, accomplished and a former executive. And the business she has chosen to create, to dwell in, to consume her heart and home is the care of dogs. I would say that if you’ve got more than four dogs on your bed and some of them don’t even live there, then that would be a work of love! Debby and her husband, Ed, are creating their success from the heart.

The Wheeler home is up in the hills of Napa, off Dry Creek Road. Their property is surrounded by woods and dips down a ravine in the hillside. The house is large and open with a big deck off the back. There are various cozy dog beds, blankets and covers over furniture. Their home is clean, comfortable and well-maintained. Pride in their home and how they care for family, friends and dogs is apparent all around.

My interview with Debby:
How old were you when you began to build the business you have today? Was it a straight journey or did you begin with something else that twisted and turned and evolved into what your business is today?
I was 50 when I retired and searched for the next thing to do. I did a “needs assessment”, what I like to do and what I don’t like. I tried in-home pet sitting first; going to my client’s home to care for their pets, not only dogs. That turned out to be a huge responsibility and very hard work. There was the home that was on the other side of the valley, a 45 minute drive up into the hills and the night a rain storm caused their roof to leak into their bedroom and on their bed. My clients were in Mexico! I couldn’t ignore the fiasco and had to do the best I could for my client. Obviously it was the unforeseen events and challenges that came with the simple idea of pet-sitting. I had to re-evaluate how the business could work; it was a filtering process.

How did you recognize what was in your heart to do?
Of course my love of dogs. I was raised with German Shepards and the first dog of my own was a Dalmatian named “Bumpo “. I was 13 and trained him all on my own. There is this feeling within me when I’m with dogs. It’s a feeling of all is right with the world, I love everything about them. I love their faces, their fur; I love the smell of them! When we started caring for the dogs at our home we had kennels at first. But I just couldn’t stand it. I couldn’t sleep at night with the dogs alone outside; I had to bring them in and know they were ok.

How does your business reflect your passion?
The dogs we care for become a part of our family. When the guest dogs are here they are all family.

Did you ever, or how often did you think you were wasting your time or that it was a foolish venture? How did you overcome your doubts?
I guess the doubts come from the insecurities of other people, trying to do what the owners think is best, and overcoming that with understanding that our relationship is with the dogs, not entirely with the owners. We have to do what we know is good for the dogs. We take responsibility and even help to guide the owners in better ways to care for their dogs. I’ve had dogs come here and they are too fat! I help the owners understand healthy feeding habits. Or dogs that jump up on people; I show the owners leashes and harnesses that help to control that, they are products they don’t know about and won’t find in the standard pet store.

When it seemed a foolish venture was one Christmas when we had 10 or 12 dogs staying with us! I am a “night” person, not an early morning person. Among this big group of dogs we had 4 pugs, 2 black and 2 white and they are mischievous! One morning they had me up at 5:00am! I was on my sofa and these 4 pugs were all over me, jumping around and I was just laughing and so happy to have them all over me. I realized that this was exactly what I should be doing! If I can be up at 5:00am and be laughing and happy then these dogs are what make my life complete!

Stewart Emery, in his book Success Built to Last, emphasizes having a “disciplined practice” to keep on track; ways to measure how you are accomplishing what you’ve set out to do. Do you have a disciplined practice or two or more; and what is it?
First of all we have a complete interview process of the dog. We have the dog come to our home and we see how he behaves. We use our dog Heidi, a Shepard/Lab mix, to test the guest dog’s ability to co-mingle with others. They have to be neutered and house trained both in “potty” matters and behavior. It comes down to trusting my gut about the dog and sometimes I have to turn away a potential guest/client.

We also have a complete set of paperwork to follow for ourselves and the owners: application, contract and disclosure, veterinarian release form, feeding habits, meds. It is our “Bible” of procedures. For our ongoing success we offer a referral plan to our guests that will give them some free boarding days in exchange for guest referrals.

Who are your female heroes?
The first one to come to mind is Lassie! For her beauty, i
ntelligence and contribution to people. Another would be Mother Teresa. I think about women who have made a difference in my life. My Junior High School Science teacher, Mrs. Boucher; for her passion and how she related to the kids. And a good friend of mine, who I consider the best mom ever!

What’s so great about being 50+ years of age?
Knowing yourself and knowing that your healthy at this time of your life. You don’t have to define yourself by anyone else’s measuring stick.

What does success mean to you?
I am at the point in my life where I don’t have to acquire any more “stuff”. It’s all about helping each other.


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