As Tori Saylor walks around her property east of Park City, three dogs stick to her heels. “For me, animals have always been my connection to the world,” she says. We enter a fenced compound and another 30 or so dogs of all sizes race to her, jumping with excitement.
At 31, Tori has found her calling. She owns Fetch, a dog-sitting, boarding, and grooming business located on her parents’ 50-acre compound. Each morning three drivers head to Park City and, like school buses, make the rounds picking up dogs from owners who will be away all day. “It’s a better situation for the dog and the owner,” Tori says. “It’s important for dogs to be happy, get exercise, and keep their brains busy.” Tori; her mom, PJ; brother, Tony; and a hired groomer play with the dogs all day and then return them home just before the owners return in the evening.
“I always knew there was something different about me,” Tori says, thinking back on her years growing up in Virginia. “I always wanted them to look at my brain.” At 19, answers to her shyness, anxiety, and panic attacks came with a diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism. Patients can be as smart as anyone but struggle with basic social skills. “I still don’t know how to make friends,” she says. “People say ‘just put yourself out there,’ and for me that’s kind of numbing.”
When she’s over stimulated, Tori will excuse herself, find a place to breathe deeply, and calm down. She’ll take a few dogs along to snuggle with. “Dogs are just like people,” she says. “Some dogs need to take a time-out like me and just breathe and calm down.”
“Without dogs, Tori is in a shell,” her mom, PJ, says. “If it weren’t for dogs, Tori would be pretty lonely. Dogs give her a way to connect with people.”
Tori has learned to cope with her disability and has become a national speaker to groups about living with Asperger’s. Dogs have shown her the way to a full life. “Fetch is my life—my future.” As she surveys the compound filled with joyfully barking dogs, Tori smiles. “For the first time in several years,” she says, “I see myself having a future.”