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Sit. Stay. New command: Work

Food, toys, grooming, boarding, that chewed-up remote control. Face it, pets are a liability. • Sure, we tell them "I love you," but when we find a pair of chewed-up Christian Louboutins under the bed, we're tempted to mutter those other three words: "Get a job.' • Three local pet owners are putting their pets to work. Here's how they do it and how you can, too. — Dalia Colón

18 'kids' and counting

The brains: Vickie Howle, 45, of Riverview.

The talent: 10 dogs and eight birds, mostly rescue animals.

The gig: Howle used to train circus animals, which is how she began collecting and training abandoned pets. Nearly all of her animals have performed at the Florida State Fair, Weeki Wachee, libraries, nursing homes and flea markets. Howle's friend, who owns Spirit of the Moon Animal Talent in Gibsonton, encouraged her to get her pets on TV, including Animal Planet's Pet Star. Her birds can talk, rollerskate, do gymnastics, play basketball and more, and her dogs have modeled clothes in magazines. Howle's 12-year-old mutt, Longboat, appeared in a reenactment on truTV's Forensic Files, filmed in Orlando in March. And Marty, a mixed-breed Howle rescued from a highway in Mississippi, was in a Weather Channel commercial filmed in Clearwater. "He rode around in the back of a convertible with some good-looking models," Howle says. She calls her businesses Caribbean Canines and Paradise Parrots. She also has a pet-sitting company called Sit Vickie Sit.

The overhead: In addition to the astronomical food and vet bills, Howle invested in custom props and a digital camera so she could send photos to talent scouts searching for a particular look. She also pays for licensing and liability insurance.

The pay: Animal talent can make $100 to $5,000 per gig, although Howle says she's never made this much. Sometimes her animals perform strictly for tips. Howle also notes that when a pet appears on TV, the owner gets a flat rate but no residuals. She spends some of her earnings on low-fat hot dogs and liver treats for the pooches, almonds and sunflower seeds for the birds.

Horse for hire

The brains: Kelly Rutland, 26, of Palm Harbor.

The talent: Tango (show name: Fancy That), a 14-year-old female German warmblood.

The gig: Rutland started taking horseback riding lessons when she was 9. She's now assistant trainer at Windward Farms in Tarpon Springs. Capitalizing on her experience and that fact that Tango is her horse, Rutland started leasing Tango and giving riding lessons. She boards Tango at a farm in Riverview and leases her to a family whose daughter also pays Rutland for riding lessons.

The overhead: Rutland bought Tango 12 years ago for $6,500. A lot of expenses go into keeping a 1,300-pound animal: Boarding fees ($350 to $800 a month), horseshoes ($85 to $150 every six to eight weeks), dentist visits ($100 to $150 once or twice a year), plus vet care two or three times a year, food and equipment.

The pay: Tango's "renters" cover the cost of her boarding and upkeep, so the rest is gravy. Rutland charges $45 an hour for private lessons and $35 an hour for group lessons. She gives riding lessons to three girls, and with Tango's expenses already covered, Rutland makes $400 to $500 profit every month. With her earnings, Rutland treats Tango to organic feed, acupuncture, chiropractic adjustments and massages. "If they're not in top shape, they're not happy," Rutland says. She also wins prize money at horse shows.

Doggie demonstrator

The brains: Bonnie Von Dohre, 29, of Brooksville.

The talent: Woody, a 2-year-old Australian shepherd.

The gig: Von Dohre is a consultant for Shure Pets, a direct-sales business for pet products. She sells the products at in-home parties and farmer's markets. "I use (Woody) to demonstrate the products, but then also he's the one that draws everybody in," says Von Dohre, who works full-time as an EMT at MacDill Air Force Base. Look for them at the Brooksville Farmer's Market on Saturday.

The overhead: Von Dohre paid $99 for her start-up kit, which included catalogs, order forms and products to demonstrate. She also pays $50 a year for her own Web site and $15 to $50 a day for a booth at fairs. She also spends time driving to festivals and in-home parties. During summer, she holds about four parties a week.

The pay: Von Dohre makes 25 percent commission on sales. Working part-time comes to a few hundred dollars a month in profit. She knows some full-time consultants who make $800 to $1,200 monthly. She rewards Woody with cheese and peanut butter.

Sit. Stay. New command: Work 05/07/09 [Last modified: Thursday, May 7, 2009 6:23pm]
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