Former humane society spokeswoman takes over Lucky Paws
For nearly 12 years, Gretchen Fieser was the face of an organization that sought loving homes for unloved animals.
In her new gig as owner of Lucky Paws pet resort in Freedom, the former spokeswoman for the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society is still surrounded by cats and dogs — only these pets have generally escaped the scars of neglect and abuse.
“These are all animals that are well-loved,” Fieser said last week on her sixth day at the sprawling resort outside Cranberry. “These are the have dogs, compared to the have-not dogs I was used to working with at the humane society.”
Fieser, 39, of Brighton Heights quit her job at the North Side shelter at the end of 2013. She bought Lucky Paws from Susan Walker, the founder and former owner, and took over as boss on Jan. 7.
Lucky Paws, celebrated by dog owners throughout the region for its large dog pool, offers dog training and grooming, overnight kennel services for dogs and cats, day care and space to rent for parties and special events.
Fieser would not reveal how much she paid for the business but said she feels confident about the job change, despite its risks.
“I liquefied my 401(k) to do this,” she said with a sheepish smile. “But it was an amazing opportunity, in my mind, to make a bet on myself. It's a fantastic business (with) an established clientele, an amazing staff and great facilities.”
Walker, who opened Lucky Paws in 2006, said she sold her business because she wanted to spend more time with her family. Walker has a 2-year-old son.
“The perception is that we do nothing but play with dogs all day,” Walker said. “It's actually a very demanding job. It's 24-7, 365, and I had a son, and it just got to be too much.”
In an email to her clients announcing the sale, Walker said she was thrilled to find a buyer who shared her love of animals.
“I couldn't believe how lucky I was,” Walker wrote. “I will be able to see my vision carried on by someone who has the same passion for animals and the same commitment to their well-being as I do.”
WTAE TV's Sally Wiggin has known Fieser for years and recently entrusted Lucky Paws to look after her 9-year-old Sable German Shepherd, Noris, while she traveled for work.
“It's in great hands,” Wiggin said. “You can't find anybody who cares more about animals than Gretchen.”
Despite the change, Fieser intends to maintain a close relationship with the humane society. For starters, she said, she and staff will foster kittens and other pets on site when the often-overcrowded shelter needs help.
“It's not something you can do for 12 years and then just walk away,” Fieser said. “I've realized that animal rescue is something that can happen anywhere, not just at an organization like the humane society.”
David Janusek, executive director at the humane society, said he hopes to find Fieser's replacement by early February.
“She meant a lot to us,” Janusek said. “You hate to see her go, but you're also happy because you see someone following her passion. She was very well-respected, and you've got to earn respect. She did.”
Chris Togneri is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5632 or firstname.lastname@example.org.