Tails from the heart

Al Fresco Tails helps pet parents care for their four-legged family members.


Married couple Cay Piasecka and Heather Mangione moved to the Island in 2019, and are the happy owners of Al Fresco Tails, a dog-walking and pet-sitting company. According to their website, the idea for Al Fresco Tails sprang from a simple but profound question: Why should humans have all the fun when it comes to dining al fresco? For Piasecka and Mangione, al fresco is a lifestyle embodying freedom, freshness, and the joy of being in nature.

With a degree in library science, Al Fresco founder Cay Piasecka found herself working in the 9-to-5 world of nonprofits during the early part of her career. In 2014, she began gigging as a pet sitter on the side. Piasecka was a foster mom to oodles of fluffy kittens, a trail guide for packs of joyful dogs, and moonlighted as a wildlife caregiver at the Wildlife Clinic of Rhode Island.

While lending her talents to Paws N Claws, a pet-care outfit in Rhode Island, Piasecka received the nudge she needed to launch her own venture. “I learned so much from my mentor, Amber McNulty of Paws N Claws,” she said. “She’s amazing. It wasn’t until I met her that I realized someone could actually make a living at this.”

“When I met Cay, she told me right from the start that she cared for dogs, and had started a pet-sitting company,” Mangione said. “She had an accountant, insurance, a social media presence, and a website.”

“My first website was a train wreck,” Piasecka laughed. “We’ve come a long way. We worked with SCORE” (Service Corps of Retired Executives). According to scorefoundation.org, SCORE offers mentoring and educational services to small businesses. “Every week during COVID, we’d meet with our mentor on Zoom. He was great. They were such a big help to us.”

It’s been said that married folks should think long and hard about working together, but Piasecka and Mangione seem to have settled nicely into both partnership roles. “We try to keep business separate from home. It continues to overlap, but we do try,” Mangione laughed.

“We learned to have clear and defined roles,” Piasecka added. “Don’t go in the other’s sandbox.“ Alongside caring for pets, Mangione and Piasecka wear a variety of hats. Mangione’s roles include social media content creation, publicity, community connections, special events, wedding-day pet concierge packages, and pet photography. Piasecka covers administrative and accounting, client onboarding and scheduling, website and digital marketing, and social media graphics.

Mangione and Piasecka are certified as Fear-Free Pet Sitters, ensuring every pet feels safe and stress-free under their care. Piasecka is also a certified family dog mediator (FDM), bringing a whole new level of expertise to the table. According to familydogmediation.com, FDM is a revolutionary concept and course developed by applied ethologist and certified dog behavior consultant Kim Brophey. FDM equips dog professionals with tools to understand dogs on their terms, and embrace the multifaceted components of a dog’s behavior, including learning, environment, genetics, and self (L.E.G.S.).

“Cay recognizes that dogs are individuals, navigating a world largely shaped by human influence,” Mangione said. “Understanding that dogs are essentially captive animals adjusting to domestic life, Cay is adept at deciphering the root causes behind their behavior. By grasping the ‘why,’ she can offer tailored support, ensuring dogs feel secure, empowered, and nurtured.”

Working with animals can be fun and fulfilling, but it isn’t always a walk in the park. People rely on Piasecka and Mangione, who are not only the owners of Al Fresco, but the only employees. “As a family-owned and -operated business, it’s just the two of us. We’ve consciously opted not to expand our team, as it allows us to maintain a personalized, professional, and reliable service that reflects our values and commitment to our clients and their pets,” Piasecka explained.

Piasecka and Mangione work in all kinds of weather and at all hours. “We don’t adhere to set days or times for work. Our commitment to pet care spans Monday through Sunday, 365 days a year,” Mangione said. “Sometimes our days can stretch into evenings, or even overnight if we’re providing in-home care. We take pride in being a dependable service for our clients, always ready to meet their needs whenever they arise.”

The special bond between humans and their pets is powerful, and that connection can be felt by pet caretakers as well, especially if they’ve been caring for an animal for years. “Ivy Rose, who we’ve been walking twice a week for four years, is a character,” Piasecka said. “She is the undisputed doggie mayor of Oak Bluffs. When we first met her, her human gave us her route and said, ‘Don’t forget to stop at the gas station, where she always gets a Milkbone.’”

“Ivy knows where to find food,” Mangione laughed. “Head to the gingerbread houses, where she’s practically a celebrity, and residents line up to give her treats. And get this: She’s an eco-warrior, too, picking up plastic bottles along the way like it’s her side hustle.”

Being able to work with a love bug like Ivy sounds amazing, but it can be hard on everyone when a beloved pet passes. “We’ve been with one family so long that their first pet passed, and now they have another one,” Piasecka said. “It’s incredible the impact these animals have on their people’s lives, and on our lives.”

Dogs and cats are Mangione’s and Piasecka’s primary clientele. “We’ve taken care of other animals in addition to dogs and cats in the home,” Piasecka said. “But we don’t offer specialty visits. Like for bearded dragons or farm animals. We refer clients to people who are knowledgeable working with those animals, so they get the best care.”

Mangione and Piasecka don’t just play a mean game of feather-toy with cats, or simply walk dogs. They also act as dog escorts at weddings. “Our wedding pet concierge service is about to hit the three-year mark,” Piasecka said. “People want their pets in photos, and to be with them on their special day, so we offer ready-to-go wedding packages. Not only do we pamper the pups throughout the festivities, but we also ensure they get some well-deserved downtime.”

When asked if they have anything new in the works, Mangione and Piasecka shared that they have a few ideas floating around. “We’re toying with the idea of creating a canine lending library,” Piasecka said. “Swapping out dog-walking gear can feel like navigating a labyrinth, so we turn that maze into a stroll in the park. We’re all about enlightening pet parents on the benefits of harnesses and TinyHorse gear for those epic group dog walks, because multi-dog wrangling is practically an Olympic sport.”

“We’re also cooking up something special for our neighborhood crew: neighborhood pack walks. It’s a chance for our local dogs to bond and socialize,” Mangione said.

It lifts the heart to talk to those who love what they do, and it doesn’t sound as though Mangione and Piasecka are losing interest in their calling. “We’re in a full-blown love affair with every aspect of what we’re doing,” Piasecka said. “Hanging out with our furry friends and stumbling on wild turkeys during our escapades is an absolute blast.”

“Being on Martha’s Vineyard is like adding an extra sprinkle of fairy dust to an already magical experience, too,” Mangione added. “We count our lucky stars to call this enchanting Island home and workplace, where every corner is a picturesque paradise waiting to be explored with our canine companions.”

To learn more about Al Fresco Tails, visit the website, alfrescotails.com and check out their social media pages, instagram.com/alfrescotailsmv and facebook.com/alfrescotailsmv, call 508-205-9015, or email alfrescotails@gmail.com.