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Ashley Cook has grown a successful dog walking and pet sitting business from roots in her favorite music genre and culture.




Viva La Pet, Denville, NJ

OWNER: Ashley Cook; WEBSITE:; FOUNDED: 2006; EMPLOYEES: 7 part-time; FACEBOOK: vivalapet; INSTAGRAM: vivalapet

ASHLEY COOK SPENT her teen years in the punk rock scene, going to shows at ABC No Rio, CBGB and The Wetlands in NYC. These events usually had a small cover fee that benefited an activist organization, which would be at the venue to champion its cause. She was particularly drawn to those involved with animal welfare.

“Punk rock opened me up to many political, cultural and environmental issues that the world faces,” Cook shares. It sparked in her a desire to help, particularly animals. “I have worked with many groups, from local rescues to national groups that support education on factory farming and our environment, to more animal welfare-based groups that focus solely on raising awareness.”

While working at a design firm as a young adult in 2003 and feeling like she just didn’t fit, Cook met a dog walker. Something clicked. In that profession, she could express her artistic side while helping animals — with a punk rock flair.

Viva La Pet Mascot Captain

Ashley Cook and Viva La Pet mascot Captain

From Ripped Fliers to Window Clings

Of course Cook didn’t go the cutesy route when she launched her dog-walking and pet-sitting business a year later. She chose the name Viva La Pet, after “Viva La Revolution,” a song by British punk rockers The Adicts. Her paper fliers with bold fonts and a photo of her then heart dog, Zavien, took inspiration from show posters. They had bottom tabs with her phone number that people could rip off and take with them. She began to get calls.

Fast forward to the age of digital media, Cook has embraced technology while maintaining that grassroots marketing edge. These days, those latter efforts involve community outreach.

“Just getting my name out there helps,” she says. “If people know your name and know that you’re an active part of the community, it will eventually turn into business. If it doesn’t turn into daily walking, the majority of our client base, it at least turns into ‘Oh, I was at this event, you should call this person,’” type of referrals.

Events are a favorite way Cook markets Viva La Pet. She hosts a dog Halloween parade with a costume contest and also organizes a dog parade as part of a Lunar New Year celebration.

Cook also uses event participation to educate the community about issues close to her activist heart, such as the harm done by breed-specific legislation and the importance of spaying and neutering.

“Each of our dog parades had a mascot. One year, we invited Rufus, a Bull Terrier and Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show winner, to act as an ambassador to Bully breeds. Another year, our mascot was an adoptable Pit Bull who was pulled from a backyard breeding situation.”

To further boost awareness of Viva La Pet, she puts her art skills to use by designing branded swag, such as “Pet Inside” window clings for people’s homes as well as emergency “I Have Pets” cards for their wallets. To pet-friendly businesses, Cook gives free dog water bowls as well as “Pets Welcome” door stickers, both featuring her logo.

Viva La Pet social media posts stand out thanks to their bold, recognizable design.

Viva La Pet social media posts stand out thanks to their bold, recognizable design.

Standing Out in the Tsunami

These efforts don’t mean Cook ignores digital media and tools. In fact, she embraces them. But again in a way that represents her love of punk rock and the freedom of expression at its core. That can be seen most clearly in the look and feel of the overall Viva La Pet brand aesthetic.

Cook describes it as an “eye-catching, modern, minimal geometric design.” Her simple and memorable logo features the outline of a dog wagging its tail on an orange background.

The graphics she designs for Facebook and Instagram follow this design and feature helpful information that makes them highly shareable. Among the posts are a “Tip of the Day” on topics such as the dangers of xylitol and fun ideas for “Heat Wave Games.”

Cook says, “We try to avoid the in-your-face, constant-selling type of marketing that we see all around us every day. Instead, our marketing is useful.” She also uses this approach in lead generation campaigns, such as cute and funny digital Valentines that potential new clients can get by providing their email address. “As a business, we are part of the information tsunami. So I try really hard to stand out. I want my information to brighten your day or be very useful for you.”

That goal extends to the design and features of her website and app.

“We keep our site simple and to-the-point so potential clients and clients alike can find what they are looking for with ease. We are transparent and make it a point to list our rates, share information on each of our pet carers and let people know exactly who we are,” Cook says.


Powered by the Precise Pet Care program, the Viva La Pet app walks clients through the service agreement, policies and procedures, and it allows them to fill out a profile for their pets, among other functionality such as booking visits. During visits, they are able to be in contact with their dog walker or pet sitter at any time. They are alerted when the team member enters and exits their home, and they receive texts, photos, videos and even a GPS map of the walk.

“Our clients rave about the ability to see where we walked, they love getting photos of their pets in action, and feel peace of mind when they get a prompt as we arrive and leave their homes,” she says.

After 18 years in business, Cook remains content with the punk rock path she has taken.

“I quickly learned that being my own boss means working way more hours than any 9 to 5.

But I also learned that being my own boss means I can stand for what I want and I can run the business my way. Over the years, I’ve implemented my standards, my convictions, and my art and creativity into my business and brand.”

Five More Cool Things About Viva La Pet

1. TEAM SUPPORT: Cook and her seven part-time walkers and sitters all work separately, but support each other through group chats that cheer each other on, offer funny memes, and give weather reports and advice. The team also has a private Facebook group where they share info that should be more than a quick text.

2. INCENTIVES: Team members work on a tiered payment structure with goals they can meet to earn a higher pay rate. So the more walks they do in a week, the more pet sitting assignments they accept, the more holidays they work, the more they get paid for each.


3. FOOD DRIVES: To date, Viva La Pet has donated more than 10,000 pounds of food to animal shelters in Newark, Jersey City and Randolf, NJ.

4. HOLD STILL: Another way Cook combines her artistic talents with her love of animals is the pet portraits she does by commission. Working from photographs, she uses pen and ink and/or watercolor and gouache. Three of her works of art appear in the coffee table book 1000 Dog Portraits. When COVID hit, her art also became a source of income when Viva La Pet had to close temporarily. She posts on Facebook groups and gets people from all over the world commissioning portraits.

5. THE AWARD GOES TO: To recognize the unique personalities of their charges, team members make up fun awards each month. In the case of reactive pup CeCe, she got the Firecracker Award. Cook says, “I wanted to give her a special acknowledgement because I feel like dogs like her don’t really get positively recognized for their quirks, either from trainers or their owners, so I just wanted to let them know that it’s not really that terrible for us. And we’ll celebrate it together.”




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