Lee's Summit Journal

Lee’s Summit entrepreneur and her crew a hit with furry clients

Before a recent walk around a Lee’s Summit neighborhood, Jeanna Ruehter spent some one-on-one time with Tia and Chief, brother and sister Blue Merle Collies owned by Kim and Rick Vemmer. Ruehter is a Lee’s Summit-based entrepreneur and founder of Latchkey Pets, a daytime dog walking and vacation pet sitting service that completes more than 800 pet visits a month across the Kansas City area.
Before a recent walk around a Lee’s Summit neighborhood, Jeanna Ruehter spent some one-on-one time with Tia and Chief, brother and sister Blue Merle Collies owned by Kim and Rick Vemmer. Ruehter is a Lee’s Summit-based entrepreneur and founder of Latchkey Pets, a daytime dog walking and vacation pet sitting service that completes more than 800 pet visits a month across the Kansas City area. Special to the Journal

You won’t hear anxious dogs barking at the door when visitors from Latchkey Pets arrive.

Every member of Latchkey’s staff has good “doggie karma” — not to mention a gentle touch with cats and many other critters, from rabbits to ferrets.

The business, founded in 2012 by Lee’s Summit entrepreneur Jeanna Ruehter, offers dog walking and vacation pet sitting.

When Ruehter started Latchkey, she was the sole pet walker and sitter. Today, she heads a team of 60 employees and manages an expanding business.

Ruehter spent 10 years in the social work field before starting Latchkey Pets. As a social worker and counselor, she focused on assisting children with special needs and their families. Though she found the work rewarding and fulfilling, she left her position in 2010 to stay at home with her young children.

In order to supplement the family income, while also remaining flexible for her children’s schedules, Ruehter decided she would take on some occasional pet sitting.

“As a social worker, I supported children and families,” she said. “Today I support families by taking care of their animals.”

It didn’t take long for the word to spread, and demand for her pet sitting services grew rapidly.

“I sync well with pets and understand dogs,” Ruehter said. “I like the challenge of what many people perceive to be difficult animals. Dogs with behavioral issues are my favorite. I look for the signs and work with them, and they get comfortable with me pretty quickly.”

As her client base increased, Ruehter began developing the concept for a pet care business.

“I started to read books about starting a business and becoming an entrepreneur,” she said.

By early 2014, the search began into starting a new business and hiring employees.

“On the weekends, I was working from five in the morning until 11 at night,” Ruehter said. “One freezing Saturday in February, I had 18 visits. I just knew I had to hire someone else.”

Today, Ruehter’s pet-loving team includes nine managers and dozens of sitters and walkers who visit more than 800 animals a month.

Ruehter says her business has expanded organically in the past four years, primarily as a result of referral and repeat business.

“The referrals come because of our level of service,” Ruehter said. “The system we have works because all of my team members recognize that we’re a team. We work together and support each other, and my clients love that. They sense and feel our team unity.”

Customer Stephanie Fischer, of Lee’s Summit, appreciates Latchkey Pets’ commitment to service and teamwork.

“Jeanna has cared for our fur babies since she opened her business and was the only sitter,” Fischer said. “Over those years, we’ve had to say goodbye to two and have welcomed two new dogs.

“Senior dogs and puppies are not the easiest to care for but, whether it was hand-feeding our oldies, or stopping by the house every three hours for our crazy puppy, Jeanna and her team have always taken the extra time for them.”

Melanie Kain, who has worked on the Latchkey team since 2014, recognizes Ruehter’s commitment to both her clients and her employees.

“Jeanna is kind and compassionate, and puts her clients and employees first,” said Kain, who lives in Lee’s Summit.

“I work for Latchkey Pets because I love animals, and I really like the vision Jeanna has for her company.”

Ruehter is planning to take her vision even further by franchising her business.

“I’m working with a mentor from Velocity Lee’s Summit who has a similar business model to mine,” she said. “We’re designing a franchise package and business plan for Latchkey’s next five to 10 years. Trying to keep up with the growth is a challenge, but it’s been amazing and I believe in dreaming big.”

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