LOVELAND, Colo. — Fort Collins resident Lorry Schmitz is a different sort of taxi driver. For one, her van doesn't have any back seats.
Second, her passengers bark, meow, gargle and chirp.
Schmitz, founder and owner of Safely There Animal Transportation, operates a combined pet taxi and ambulance service.
She drives a bright-blue customized 2010 Ford Transit Connect with her logo and depictions of animals across the sides and back and locked-in kennels, safety equipment and a stretcher inside.
"I help people take care of their animals," Schmitz said.
Schmitz provides emergency transportation to veterinarian clinics and animal hospitals, as well as taxi services to get pets to medical and grooming appointments and day-care facilities. She works with veterinary clinics to relocate pets in critical condition from the clinic to facilities that provide overnight care. Her clients include cats, dogs, small farm animals, exotics, birds, fish and reptiles.
"It's so rewarding, and I get to (be) with animals," Schmitz said.
Schmitz got the business idea more than 20 years ago when her Great Dane had gastric torsion in the middle of the night and she had no way to transport him until it was too late. He died from the condition.
Without the finances to start a business, she worked in various jobs at the University of Colorado and Colorado State University, where she was as an administrative assistant.
Earlier this year, she quit that position, sold some of her assets and, in May, started her business, not wanting to let go of her dream, she said.
That dream includes transporting animals in northern Colorado, the state's mountain communities and southern Wyoming. But for road trips, she will travel anywhere in the United States and Canada.
"I work with people who don't drive anymore," Schmitz said, adding that she has clients who don't like driving in the dark or bad weather or who are busy. "Taking time off for routine stuff isn't always practical."
Schmitz arranges domestic and international airline travel for pets and will escort them as requested, such as for pet owners making an interstate move and breeders and rescue organizations relocating an animal. She has access to the required paperwork for importing and exporting animals through her membership with the Independent Pet and Animal Transportation Association, an international trade association.
"I'm still waiting for someone to ask me to take their pet to Hawaii for a two-week vacation," Schmitz said with a laugh.
Schmitz works with a travel agent to arrange the shortest and safest flight and couriers to move the pet between the owner's home and the airport. She makes sure that any blood work and vaccinations required at the destination are up to date and that the pet is microchipped.
Kathy Hooper, director of Big Sky Rottweiler Rescue in Riverton, Wyo., hired Schmitz in early November to transport four Rottweilers removed from a hoarding situation.
"Lorry is just a very caring person, very responsible," Hooper said. "She was willing to do whatever I needed."
Schmitz said she eventually hopes to transport large livestock and zoo animals, as well as franchise her operation.