Don’t call Adina Silberstein a dog whisperer.
The owner of Queenie’s Pets, a professional dog walking and pet-sitting service that serves Mt. Airy, Germantown, Chestnut Hill and Wyndmoor, takes a different approach than Cesar Millan when it comes to caring for man’s best friend.
“We operate from a positive modality and so everything we do is positive reinforcement based,” Silberstein said. “None of that alpha schmalpha stuff that’s out there.”
No, Silberstein doesn’t see a need for the pack-leader mentality that Dog Whisperer Millan has made famous. Instead, her way of caring for dogs more closely resembles a rewards system, with canines earning treats and affection for good behavior.
An obsession with animals since childhood
Silberstein’s approach stems from her own experience growing up in a Mt. Airy family that raised German Shepherd among a host of other animals.
“Literally almost any household pet you can imagine, we probably had it.” Silberstein said.
She admitted that, as a kid, she “trained” her pet hamsters to climb stairs — an idea that ended up being detrimental — and built “mansions” for her hermit crabs, which deserved living quarters above and beyond the traditional glass jar with holes punched in the lid.
Her dedication to her pets was a way to indulge her passion for animals, which struck early on.
“I was obsessed from Day One,” she said.
Neighbors near the Mt. Airy corner of Nippon and Bryan streets, where Silberstein grew up, came to know her as an animal enthusiast. They often asked her to pet sit, a job which stuck with her through the years.
It helped her pay for college in Washington D.C., and she would continue to care for her neighbors’ pets when she came home to Philadelphia on holidays and vacations.
After graduation and working for Teach for America in New Orleans, Silberstein eventually returned to Mt. Airy.
Return of the pet sitter
“I came back and all these people who I had pet sat for in high school and college said, ‘You’re back. Great!” she recalled during a recent pet “play date.”
They asked her to resume her pet-sitting duties. What had up until that point always been a side job began to take over much of her time.
Silberstein was working full-time as a server at the now defunct Cresheim Cottage Café, but the demand became so great that she was having trouble fitting dog walking in around her restaurant shifts.
“One day, in 2005, a friend said, you know you can just be a dog walker,” explained Silberstein, who initially resisted, thinking that it wasn’t a viable career. “But then he dared me and I had to take the dare.”
Within four months, Silberstein grew from 23 to 60 clients.
Queenie’s Pets became official in 2006, bearing a nickname given to her by housemates who found her to be a bit of a bossy boots or a tireless manager, depending on who you asked.
Lasting client relationships
It turns out that Silberstein’s friend was right that day in 2005.
Today, Queenie’s Pets has a staff of seven. She estimated that her total number of active clients ranges between 170 and 220.
Queenie’s provides dog-walking services, but also specializes in at-home pet care for a range of animals including cats, ferrets, rabbits, turtles, fish and parrots.
Silberstein is committed to providing engaging experiences for the pets in her care. She and her staff conduct an extensive intake process for each new client. That allows them to build solid and lasting relationships with both pets and owners.
One such relationship took Silberstein to Paris this year when a client of five years moved to France and insisted on maintaining Queenie’s services while abroad.
The client flew Silberstein across an ocean to walk Alfredo, a big, white pit bull, in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower for two weeks. She never imagined that dog walking would take her so far.
“What I did imagine was feeling in community with people,” she said. “I imagined being here in the coffee shop and seeing my clients and schmoozing with them and being in McMenamin’s and sharing a beer with them.”
A notion of community has indeed become the foundation of Silberstein’s business.
She acknowledged that her profession leads her to work in the private, intimate space of people’s homes. She’s entrusted with keys, alarms codes and the lives of beloved pets.
She said she takes that standing as a member of the community seriously and would never betray people who’ve not only entrusted her with so much, but have actively contributed to the success of her business.
“The power of word-of-mouth in a community that you love can create,” she said, “and it created my dream.”