Thursday, October 27, 2011

Tips for dog walkers

My friend Judy laughed when I asked her to pose for photos that show how to hold a leash. “How simple is that? Who needs a photo?” Well, maybe nobody, but just in case…

Back when I was learning to train dogs professionally, I quickly realized that many dogs are stronger than me, that they see things to chase before I do, and that they can easily rip a leash right out of my hand in an instant. So I figured out how to better hang on and lessen the risk of a nasty accident.

First, stick your hand through the loop at the end of the leash. I want to add here that leather leashes are much softer and don’t burn your hands when a dog pulls.

Grasp the leash itself with your hand while it is still through the loop. Poor Tyson wants to know why he's on a leash if we don't get to go anywhere...

Now you have a good grip on the situation. The only risk is being pulled off your feet if the dog suddenly takes off. I recommend you pay careful attention if your canine client is likely to pull this stunt. You probably need more help than a good hold on the leash will provide.

No pull harnesses
My recent trip to the Association of Pet Dog Trainers annual conference here in San Diego introduced me to a multitude of so-called “no-pull” harnesses for dogs. I can see where these products would be handy for a pet sitter. After all, we are not being paid to train the client’s dogs.

Some of my clients provide a no-pull harness for their wannabe sled dogs. I’ve learned that every harness is different, and it takes a puzzle master to put most of them on correctly. Most still allow the dog to pull, he just doesn’t crush his trachea during the process.

If you’re going to be walking a dog every day, it is worth taking the time to teach the dog to walk properly on a leash, even if the owner hasn’t mastered this skill. It’s not easy to teach, and some dogs pull all their lives.

Next time…
It ain’t easy, but we’ll talk about how to teach a dog this vital skill.

Bookmark and Share
© 2011 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Dog Daycare rules: To spay or not to spay?

I have wrestled with a decision for months. Most dog daycares and in-home boarding businesses do not allow unaltered dogs (meaning all dogs must be spayed or neutered). I have been lax with this requirement and now it has gotten me in trouble.

I’m not really into proclaiming myself the Pet Police. It’s a free country and I don’t think anyone should be forced to alter their pet. That being said, these dogs are not easy to have around in a group play setting. I have gradually weakened and allowed dogs under a year old come in even if they aren’t altered.

I should qualify my remarks and point out that these are my own observations, not proven scientific fact. Unneutered males are generally very active and pushy, jumping on all the dogs and humping everyone in sight while peeing on everything else. They don’t start fights; they are just agitated. Many of them pester and mount spayed females. Then the females turn around and get pretty nasty.

Unspayed females seem to be less tolerant of other dogs, especially other females.  

Nightmare scenario
This week one of my female canine clients showed up in heat. Worse, a ten-month-old intact puggle was coming to stay. I was mad at myself for getting into this mess, not at the customers. Determined dogs will jump gates and mate through a chain link fence. I had to put solid barriers between them. I decided to let the girl stay in my back bedroom and the puggle could cool his jets in the garage, where he loves napping in an open crate with his spayed female roommate. Then I can just switch out every few hours, letting one of them loose with the group.

Nightmare gone wrong
Great idea. But in the morning commotion of letting everyone out and fixing meals, I put Mr Puggle in the garage and forgot to close the dog door. About five minutes later, I walk out the back door with bowls of dog food, and the little girl races by with him hot on her heels. You can imagine what I said…

I have no idea if anything happened, but we’ll know for sure in a few weeks. I’m hoping that, since he was still pursuing her frantically, she hadn’t accepted his overtures. She’s never been bred.

I am totally disgusted with myself. Confessing to her owner was hard; I’m beating myself up for letting it happen. I can only say that if I dodge a bullet on this incident – or I guess I should say SHE dodges a bullet – that I will never let it happen again.

And now I understand why dog daycare owners make these rules…

Bookmark and Share
© 2011 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The september pet sitting business slump

Kiva and Guiness needed a vacation too!
The kids are back in school, Labor Day is over, and everyone is settling into their fall routine. As a result, the pet sitting business usually slows down dramatically in September. As you see, I haven’t posted for a few weeks, and that is because I decided to take a vacation. I plan at least a week off every September. This year I traveled for one week and had a very slow week when I got home, with only two clients. This weekend (the 23-25th of Sept) it all starts back up again. Which is fine. I’m ready to make some money.

Couples with no kids often choose September to travel, so I usually have a few clients this month, often taking long trips.

January and February are also slow months. Some dedicated skiers keep me working, and the Martin Luther King and President’s Day holidays always fill up, but overall, it’s a nice break. I usually watch lots of movies.

What do you do during slow periods?
Since our quiet times are somewhat predictable, we can plan ahead to take advantage of the break. I used to panic and consider getting a second job., worried about how I would pay the bills. Now I have learned to set aside a little extra during the busy season to get me through slow times. I’ve also learned that business always picks back up again, so I can enjoy my time off.

Besides taking a vacation, this is a great time to take steps to build your business and get ready for the busy holidays to come:
  • Call regular clients and ask if they are planning holiday trips. They may not know the exact dates, but you can pencil them in and get an idea of how many openings you’ll have for new clients. Now is also a great time to thank your existing customers for their business.
  • Network with other pet sitters. Call, visit, or get together for lunch. Compare notes, exchange ideas and refresh your perspective.
  • Give your website a check up. Is it getting stale? Are the photos current? Is it optimized for search engines? Do a Google search for pet sitters in your area and see who comes up. Does your site show up on the first page of results?
  • Visit other pet businesses in your town. Groomers, kennels, training centers and pet supply stores will be more likely to refer people if they’ve met you and like you. Even your competitors like to have someone to refer clients to when they are full.
  • If you board dogs, now is the time to catch up on repairs and maintenance, especially before the weather gets cold.
  • Get the car tuned up, the tires checked and other maintenance items so you won't have a breakdown at the height of the holidays.
Bookmark and Share
© 2011 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Flee, Fleas...please!

Flea outbreak!
Several weeks ago, golden retriever Indy arrived for his stay at my house, and within a day he was covered with fleas. I can’t think of anything much worse than fleas infesting every dog (and cat). With seven visiting dogs, my four dogs and three cats, it could take months to get rid of these pests! I hadn’t seen a single flea in over a year here. My vet tells me it has been a really bad year for fleas in Southern California.

Indy had been treated with Frontline, but it just wasn’t working anymore. Another owner, of Oliver the terrier, reported the same problem. It appears that some dogs (or their fleas, actually) are building up a resistance to the miracle flea treatments that appeared on the market less than 20 years ago.

I remember the days. I had to wash down my countertops every night because the cats had been up there during the day, and there were disgusting flea eggs and dirt all over. I had to bathe and dip the dogs and cats every week, powder them, spray them, and put flea collars on them. Nothing really worked.

Then Fleabusters was invented. A fantastic product that was brushed into your carpet, it dried out the larvae and eggs while killing live fleas. Shortly after that, Advantage and Frontline were developed. Then monthly pills like Program and Sentinel, became available.

Our pets were finally free of these awful pests. I hope it lasts, and scientists will continue to develop new formulas.

My fellow pet writers recommended Capstar, an oral medication that starts killing fleas within an hour. I had never heard of it. I dosed everyone, vacuumed, washed dog beds and cleaned. I haven’t seen evidence of fleas in three weeks now.

The good news is you can give Capstar to animals that have been treated with Frontline or Advantage, and as often as every day. It is available over-the-counter at pet supply retail stores.

Please don’t take my word for it. I am not a veterinarian. Talk to your vet, as I did, and make sure Capstar is safe for your animals.

I informed each owner, so they could keep an eye on their dogs and stop any outbreaks as soon as they occur. I will be keeping this product on hand in case future flea-infested pets arrive to stay at my house.
Sammy, before
Sammy, after
Capstar for cats
Good news, Capstar works on cats too. Christine Davis, of Lighthearted Press, tells about Sammy, a feral cat she adopted. Sammy was covered with sores, and had lost big patches of fur because of fleas. She started him on regular doses of Capstar, and his fur is starting to grow in and he is feeling much better.

This is what she said:
From the moment I started him on the Capstar (12 days ago) he never had another bloody sore. The existing patches have all closed up, and what you see in this picture is the last few places where fur is starting to grow back.

I can see where this product will be a big help to rescues and shelters, stopping infestations before they get started.

Not a paid announcement 
I’m really not trying to do a commercial here! But I do like to pass along info about products that make pet owners’, pet sitters’, dog daycare owners’, and rescuers’ lives easier! 

Bookmark and Share
© 2011 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

AKA, DBA…who cares? You should.

Indy and Luke play with
a rope while Portia supervises

In order to put my business name on my checks, my bank required that I run a DBA (Doing Business As) notice in the local paper. In order to run the DBA, the paper required I get a business license from the city. Because I have two businesses, Tiger Mountain Graphics and Poway Pet Care, I had to go through this rigamarole twice. 

On my tax return, I file two Schedule Cs each year, one for each business. So I figured I had my business house in order when I recently applied to refinance my home. If you are self-employed, as most pet sitters are, you know exactly where this post is going. 

Just because I think I’m organized, and just because I think I make enough money to pay my house payment, doesn’t mean the banks agree with me. I’m sure the underwriters see “petsitter” and “artist” on my application, and roll their eyes. And sure enough, my application was refused because I don’t make enough money. My house payment was going to go DOWN $400 a month, but no matter, I couldn’t afford it. Just ask them. They certainly didn’t believe me. 

I protested, and the bank gave it another look-see. I have never provided so much documentation in my life. And some of the confusion was of my own doing. 

At some point, I have called my art business Pet Portraits. That name doesn’t encompass everything I do, since I also do graphic design, web site design, and writing. So I have used Tiger Mountain Graphics since about 1992. 

Somewhere deep in my credit report, a business has me on file as Pet Portraits. I don’t even have any business credit accounts, but I do purchase items like framing and art supplies through wholesale outlets. What’s this, asks the bank? How do I explain it? How do I prove it is my business if I’ve never used that name on a tax return or my business license? 

They asked me to have my tax accountant send them a letter verifying the business. If you are self-employed, you really need an accountant, by the way. Finally, I convinced them by showing them my re-sellers permit from the State of California, which says “Pet Portraits/Tiger Mountain Graphics.” 

Yay! At last! PROOF! Since it was issued in 1997, I had to show that I’m still in business, so my tax accountant still had to write the letter, even though they have copies of my tax returns for several years. 

Also Known As. I have gone by the nickname Terry for almost 40 years. But my given name is Teresa. That also required some explaining. 

The Lesson of the story…
If you offer and assortment of services under your business name, like pet taxi, boarding, grooming, etc., be sure you use the same business name for everything. If you rename or alter the business, be sure you have your tax returns, licensing, and other paperwork all in agreement. It’s hard enough to get a bank loan when you are self-employed, much less when your business (like mine) is an assortment of businesses all rolled into one. 

Keep legal documents simple and consistent. You’ll save yourself a lot of grief down the road. 

And yes, the refinance was approved. 
Bookmark and Share

© 2011 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Two great pet products

Over the years I have tried an assortment of pet care products, and many of them lie unused in a cupboard out in the garage. I have found two items that I’d like to share with you. I like them so much I’ve given them to many of my pet sitting clients. Both are inexpensive and practical.

Litter Lifter
Years ago, I would complain to my husband that none of the litter scoops were heavy duty enough for cleaning multi-cat litter boxes. Since he worked for Petco, he started brining home samples for me to try. Inspired, he fashioned a metal prototype, which I found to be so heavy I was going to end up with carpal tunnel syndrome. On the other side of the problem, many of the plastic scoops were flimsy and the tines broke easily. 

The Litter Lifter is the answer to my prayers. It is large and made of heavy-duty plastic, with peaked tines that allow the sand to flow through easily. It’s not heavy, but it deals with even the biggest clumps. When I have a client who needs it, I usually “gift” one to them while they are on vacation. They’ve all loved it.

I found the Litter Lifter at a pet expo and bought a dozen for my clients. Now I’m happy to report it is available at Petco. Price: $5.50

The Tangle Wrangler

This item is a horse supply, and you will probably have to order it online or go to a tack and feed store. I love this brush because the rows of plastic tines fan out as you brush through the dog’s coat (or the horse’s mane). 

I use the Tangle Wrangler on Golden retrievers, Aussies, Cavalier Spaniels and other dogs with long silky coats. It also removes a lot of undercoat on my shelties. My only complaint is the tines start to break after a few months of use. Then again, mine looks like it was chewed on, so that may be the problem! Price: About $5.95.

I don't get paid for plugging these products. I just like them.

Bookmark and Share
© 2011 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

How I almost killed myself while cleaning the cat box

I have huge litter boxes for my cats. The sides are high, and they rarely miss the box when peeing. I keep the cat boxes in the unused shower, the one with broken tiles and a leaking drain pan. This handy setup is one of the benefits of living in a 60-year-old house.

My cat Whisper © Terry Albert
This morning when I went to sweep up some litter they had tracked on the shower floor, I realized it was wet. I carried the litter box outside, and saw that the underside was wet, and it smelled awful. I washed the box and left it outside to air-dry while I went in to clean up the shower.

The shower clearly could use disinfecting, so I grabbed the cleaner-with-bleach and headed down the hall with a roll of paper towels. I couldn’t rinse out the shower because of the leaks, so I needed to clean up the mess and wipe it out.

As soon as the cleaning spray hit the shower floor, I knew I was in trouble. The fumes of the bleach cleaner mixed with the ammonia in the urine and IMMEDIATELY created an extremely toxic chloramine gas. My nose, eyes and throat burned. My lungs felt like I’d swallowed a torch. I dropped everything and ran from the room.

Now, a couple hours later, my chest still hurts, and I realize how much danger I was in. If I hadn’t left the room, I would have quickly lost consciousness, and could have even died.

A search on the Internet confirmed my suspicions. Here’s what I found on
  • If you find someone who you think has mixed bleach and ammonia, chances are he or she will be unconscious. If you can, remove the person to fresh air, preferably outdoors. Call 911 for emergency assistance.
  • Thoroughly ventilate the area before returning to dispose of the liquid. Seek specific instructions from Poison Control so that you don't hurt yourself. You're most likely to make this mistake in a bathroom or kitchen, so leave and seek assistance, return later to open a window, allow time for the fumes to dissipate, and then go back to clean up. Dilute the chemical mixture with plenty of water. Wear gloves, just as you would for either bleach or ammonia.
Just to be sure, I called poison control 800-222-1222. They told me as long as I was breathing okay, to just drink something cold or eat some ice cream to soothe my throat. If I had trouble breathing, I would need to go to the hospital for oxygen and supportive care.

I knew not to mix household cleaners, but didn’t stop to think about the ammonia in urine. There’s no reason to create chemical weapons in your home and release them on yourself. Good God, it’s hard to imagine such a silly thing could kill me. 

Note: Another toxic mixture is bleach and vinegar, which releases chlorine gas.
Bookmark and Share
© 2011 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.