Wednesday, December 30, 2009

My New Year's Resolution: technology & expansion

Time to get organized. After 15 years of pet sitting, I still have a 3 ring binder with handwritten pages for each client's information. My accounting method is a single folder labeled "expenses." My cell phone is capable of way more than I know how to use; it's time to at least learn to text. In fact my phone is not working well, so maybe it is time for an iPhone or Blackberry.

I am not a tech novice. I build websites, I use the Adobe Creative Suite in my graphics business. I know how to use Microsoft Office, including Excel. For the next few posts I will report on the various options I am looking at and the decisions I make.

Here are the areas I am exploring (Writing this for you is helping me organize my thoughts):

• Managing Client Information: I need contact, vet, daily care and emergency info all at my fingertips. Do I create separate databases for contact and care info or can I combine them into one? Is Excel a good choice? I can do a sheet for each client in one file. I can do mail merge and other functions. Or should I try a software program like ACT! or Microsoft Outlook? Outlook didn't come with my home version of Office, so I would have to buy it. I use a Mac, so is Outlook even available?

One friend told me that using ACT! for what I need is like using the space shuttle to drive to work: overkill. I'll have to decide if he's right.

Accounting: Should I get Quickbooks or use Quicken? Is Excel enough to do what I need? What do I need? I want to be able to look over each client's history in terms of income and scheduling. I want to keep my tax records organized throughout the year instead of waiting until January to even file my receipts.

The phone: I'm not a big fan of cell phones. They are a necessity but not something I like to spend a bunch of time dealing with. As long as I need a new phone, I'm thinking an iphone is more likely to make my phone a partner in the business rather than an evil thing that only rings when I am driving. So I need to figure out what a phone can do for me, and at what cost?

Which brings up another issue: do I need to set up my car so I can talk hands-free? Or can most calls wait?

Scheduling: Will iCal on the Mac do what I need? Or Google Calendar? Free is a magic word here; these services cost me nothing. Do I need to allow my customers to schedule on-line, or just email me with their requests? If I hire independent contractors, do they need access to the calendar?

Payment: I currently accept cash, checks, PayPal and Visa or Mastercard. Do I need secure online payment processing? Beyond PayPal, I don't think it is necessary at this time. Ah...one decision made.

Expanding my pet sitting business: And now you know where all this planning is heading. My goal is to hire independent contractors to board dogs in their home under my business name and also provide pet sitting visits. I'd like to expand and offer mid-day walks, which I only offer on an occasional basis at this point.

How do I do that? Do I have employees or independent contractors? Should I incorporate? Should I change the business name? Do I need to put together a formal business plan? What will it cost me to expand? How much money can I expect to make? Should I get a small business loan? Do I want to spend my time running a business instead of (or in addition to) taking care of animals?

Lots of questions. I am starting my quest with an appointment on Monday with a SCORE advisor here in Poway to answer my questions about incorporating and operating a more formalized business. Retired business executives from SCORE offer free advice to start-up businesses. Again, Free is again the magic word. I will take advantage of all the free advice and software I can get before I spend a dime!

Step 2 is an appointment at the Apple store next Friday to get training on some of the free apps that came with my new iMac computer. I may not need to buy anything. Which is just how a smart businessperson should be thinking.

I'll keep you posted.
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© 2009 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Ho Ho OMG it's cold!

At 6 am it was cold, dark and WAY before I like to get up in the morning. But it is Christmas week, and I have dogs to walk! They've been in all night and I need to get them out early. I was feeling pretty sorry for myself until I realized I wasn't alone.

As I drove to my first pet sit, I saw a black German Shepherd mix with his bundled-up owner walking down the main road. Two Vizslas with a young couple frolicked along the edge of the park as I passed. My elderly neighbor with her Belgian Malinois went for their morning walk, something they do every day–not just at Christmas.

As I left my first house, a Lab and his escort trudged up the hill, frosty breath preceding them. The morning light revealed a crystal clear day, and I felt better knowing that all these dogs were enjoying an early morning outing.

I wonder how many of those people were pet sitters?

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© 2009 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved. Above is a painting of a golden retriever by Terry Albert

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

MyDogWalks.com launches service-focused business in NYC

A recent conversation on our San Diego Pet Net discussion list revolved around how hard it must be to walk multiple dogs together. We’ve all seen the photos of dog walkers in New York City being dragged down the street behind a herd of dogs of all shapes and sizes. It's not just hard on the dog walker, but it's stressful and sometimes downright dangerous for the dogs.

At my end of the country it’s unusual to even allow dogs to live in apartments. In New York City, it is the norm. And indoor dogs all need a midday break while their owners are at work. Hence an opportunity ...

Ada Nieves, “New York Pet Social Queen,” and Jill Richardson, a New Jersey veterinarian, feel there is a need for a more customer service-oriented dog walking business in their area, and they have just launched MyDogWalks.com. Both women are experienced pet professionals. Nieves is the founder of the New York City Chihuahua Meetup group (now with over 800 members), renowned pet fashion designer, gourmet treat baker and successful pawty planner. Richardson is an accomplished writer and veterinarian and writes the "Ask the Vet" column for Fido Friendly magazine. Both have columns on examiner.com, and Nieves has a show, "Vida Doggies" on Pet Life Radio online.

Private Dog Walks

MyDogWalks hopes to carve out its own niche, where dog-lovers like themselves cater to the needs of pet owners. This is what makes their business different: they envision professional, polished and uniformed walkers giving private dog walks, unlike the massive groups you often see in the city. By providing a service that they would want to use, MyDogWalks wants clients to RAVE to their families and friends about how truly special their service is.

In visiting with Jill and Ada about their new venture, many issues came up that I had never thought about. Although we provide the same services, it is a different type of business in a major city. Large apartment complexes have a doorman that keeps the keys so you can just pick them up from him on each visit. You can also limit the geographical area you work in by serving just a few major apartment complexes. This will save you a lot of time that would otherwise be spent commuting.

Safety and convenience are primary concerns for MyDogWalks.com. By providing private walks, the dog gets individual attention and is much less stressed at the end of his outing. Clients can also schedule and pay for walks online, a real advantage for busy New Yorkers.

MyDogWalks.com’s main service is daily walks but they also cater to their clients’ pet sitting needs. They are members of NAPPS.

LINKS: Ada Nieves Examiner column

Jill Richardson’s Examiner column

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© 2009 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Pet sitters gear up for the next big storm




Californians are total weather wusses. We panic at the threat of rain. As I say this I have sandbagged my driveway and dug a ditch alongside the house to route overflow water away from my patio and garage. Last weekend I was under water, and with 12 visiting dogs, I didn't appreciate having a wet patio, wet garage, and wet laundry room. All of the guest dogs had to be in the house... soggy wet dogs...


So as pet sitters gear up around the country for heavy schedules and heavier weather, take a few minutes to be prepared:
• Check your tires.
• Carry chains and sand (or kitty litter) if you are in a snow area.
• Carry clients' emergency phone numbers in your car.
• Be sure someone knows your schedule in case you get stuck somewhere.
• Carry an extra blanket in the car, maybe even a space blanket, some candles and matches to keep you warm if you get stranded.
• Get a neighbor's phone number in case you can't get to your client's home. I once had my husband go with me and cut apart a fallen tree so we could get to a house to get a client's cats. If you can't get in, maybe a neighbor can. Suggest your client give them an extra key.
• Buy a heavy duty spotlight.

Remember the Girl Scout motto: Be Prepared. I will add "Be safe, not sorry."
Photos: My dogs Tank, Sherman and Emma, Shorty (a foster dog) play in the snow in Seattle. My Collie Emma, with snow on her nose.

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© 2009 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved. 

Sunday, November 29, 2009

A rainbow over a soggy weekend of pet sitting


Take a deep breath... you have worked your butt off all week, and today is the LAST DAY of the Thanksgiving rush. I am exhausted, and I bet you are too. 7 am visits to dogs who were in overnight, late night visits for dogs who will be in overnight, and more.

For me, "more" meant the unwelcome surprise of a pouring rainstorm all day yesterday. This is California, and we don't do rain well at all here! I'm sure many of you braved wind, rain, snow, ice and more to get to your visits. I took my muck boots along and slogged through mud to feed three horses at two different homes.

This morning I had to laugh. One of my clients' teenagers was home, even though I was coming to feed, and he put the horse's blanket on backwards last night. Good intentions, and even backwards it helped keep her dry. I will post the proper way to blanket a horse in one of my future posts. I fixed it, and she munched merrily on her hay the entire time.

I did have a nice sight to greet me as I came out my client's front door for a soggy dog walk yesterday afternoon. Wrigley the Kerry Blue and Burbank the Wheaton live on the edge of a canyon, and a beautiful rainbow followed me all the way to their house. When I arrived, the rainbow literally ended on the ground across from their house. You can see it in the photo,crossing in front of the hillside.

I wish I had found a pot of gold at the end. Then again, maybe my "gold" is these happy dogs romping at my feet. I can't help but smile, even when I am cold, wet and tired.

© 2009 Terry Albert. All rights reserved.


Saturday, November 21, 2009

A tiny pet sitting client: how do you care for a baby box turtle or a hermit crab?

Box turtle

I must say I’ve had some interesting clients. This week I cared for a newborn box turtle. Gregory, as the neighbor kids have named him, is about the size of a quarter. His owners found him wandering around in their outdoor box turtle enclosure, obviously very recently hatched. They brought him indoors so a bird or other predator won’t eat him.

Gregory gets one little tiny waxworm every day, set on a rosebush leaf. The worm is barely ¼ inch long. Each day when I arrived, I put a little water in a bowl and set Gregory in to soak and drink. I was careful not to make it too deep, because box turtles cannot swim. Just enough to get him wet.

He is currently living in a dishpan with some dirt in the bottom that his owners keep moist for him. He also has a few little hiding spaces, and a little Flintstones house/cave that is heated from the top for when he wants to get warm. Reptiles cannot regulate their body temperature, so they rely on the warmth around them. If they get too cold in the winter, they will hibernate. Gregory has plenty of room to move around so he can get away from the heat when he needs to.

Hermit Crab

Recently departed form this earth, Eugene the Hermit Crab was another of my tiny clients. I regret that his family never took a photo of him, or I would immortalize him here. Eugene also shared his home with April the daughter, and Maggie and Summer, their dogs. The dogs were the primary reason for my pet sitting visits, but Eugene needed care too.

Eventuallly, Maggie and Summer started coming to my house when their owners traveled, so Eugene came along too. He had a place of honor in his little plastic terrarium with sand and plastic palm trees, and a few shells for him to move into as he grew bigger.

Hermit crabs need a moist, warm habitat, and fresh water to soak in. They don’t swim either, and will drown if it is too deep. I would give him a couple tidbits of crab food and a tiny bit of lettuce.

One day I came in from an errand, and Eugene’s terrarium was on the floor- sand and palm trees everywhere, and NO EUGENE. I panicked and started frantically looking under the table, wondering if one of the dogs ate him. I got lucky, or at least Eugene did. He had fallen behind the baby gate that was propped against the wall, and was wedged between the wall and the gate. Safe and alive.

I scooped up the sand , shells and other hermit crab furniture, and reassembled his little home. And carefully placed it on the top of the highest bookcase. It had never occurred to me that the dogs would think he smelled like food, but hermits do have a slightly fishy smell.

I had one more moment of terror with Eugene, when he decided it was time to molt. When he came out of his shell and started to shed his skin I about had a heart attack. NOW what had I done to him??? He survived without my interference. Whew.

Eugene lived several more years. The photo here is a hermit crab currently residing at the Petco store in Poway, CA. They have a nice care sheet you can pick up in the store. Here are some other resources for information on hermit crab care.

http://www.petco.com/caresheets/invertebrates/HermitCrab.pdf

http://hermit-crabs.com

http://www.hermit-crab-care.com

©2009 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Another Pet Sitting Blog you will enjoy

I am part of several national pet sitting discussion groups on the Internet, and have discovered a nice blog and newsletter that will help my fellow pet sitters. Valerie Pegg of Best Fit Pet Services sends out a monthly newsletter full of great advice for pet sitters and pet owners. Her blog also offers lots of great information, so I offer it to you:

Thanks Valerie for this great resource! You can subscribe to her newsletter from her website also.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

GoD and DoG



This is one of the sweetest videos I've ever watched. It is so gentle and loving. I just had to share it with everyone I know. Whether or not you are a religious person, this is a very touching song. I hope you enjoy it.

By Wendy Francisco ©2009 Crack O' Noon Music ASCAP Download "God and DoG" wmv file at http://www.GoDandDoG.org. T-Shirts, Mugs and Gifts are there, too.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Are you a morning person?

Are you temperamentally suited to be a pet sitter? Here’s something to think about.

I am not a morning person
I remember in college, lying in bed on a cold dark winter morning, swearing I would someday have a job where I could sleep until at least 7 am. Getting up when it was still dark left me tired and grouchy all day. It didn’t help that those were the party-hardy years, when I’d sleep until 11 am on a Saturday morning, when Grandma Johnson pounded me out of bed so I could eat lunch.


Being Midwesterners, Grandma and Grandpa always had their big meal of the day at noon, and I’d stagger to the dining room table for a huge steak dinner as soon as I woke up. We’d listen to Paul Harvey tell us The Rest of the Story on the radio while we ate. “Page two,” he would intone, and to the rustle of paper he’d begin one of his homespun stories while I choked down a giant t-bone. In my family, it wasn’t polite to leave food on your plate. As I finished I would add my steak bone to the “boneyard” where everyone’s leftover bones piled up and were eventually fed to the dogs. Then I’d go take a nap.

Grown-up life hasn’t made getting up any easier, and sleeping until 11 is a thing of the past. I’m still grateful if I can sleep until 7 am. As soon as it is light, the horses start fussing and the dogs start barking at them. Many mornings I stagger out to feed them at 5:30 or 6 am in the dark, and stumble beck to bed for another hour.

Pet sitter’s hours
This morning was the first time in awhile that I had to get up and do a pet sit at the crack of dawn, literally. With the time change last night, it was 6 am when I let Wrigley and Burbank out for their morning constitutional. We went for a long walk around the neighborhood; after their breakfast and before I put them in for the day.

It was a beautiful clear fall morning, and in the shadows of the hills by their house it was only 50 degrees. There is a nice trail through their neighborhood and I loved the light and the brisk air. We met a few walkers and no dogs. Their owners warned me that there are coyotes out every morning. We saw lots of droppings, but no coyotes. Last night’s trick-or-treaters probably had them cowering in their dens. The wilted yard decorations even looked scary in daylight. I decided against going back into the trails outside the tract. I’ve ridden my horse back in there and it gets pretty rugged.

It made me wonder why I don’t get up and out early every morning. It’s a great time to walk or ride. Once I’m out, I’m fine, it’s the getting up that hurts!

I cherish the mornings when I have no pet sits. Many dogs spend the night indoors, and I have to be there bright and early to let them out. I figure more than 12 hours indoors is too much to ask of even the most perfectly housetrained dog.

Now with the holidays approaching, I will have many early morning dog walking assignments and so will you. If you're not a morning person, find a way to reward yourself for your efforts to get up and at 'em. I usually treat myself to a soy latte on my way out on my rounds.

…and a nap every afternoon.


Photos above: Sherman the Vizsla knows the value of a good nap. Chester the Lab looks like I feel in the mornings.
© 2009 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

'Tis almost the season for pet sitters!


Halloween marks the beginning of the holiday season. The stores are already full of Christmas decorations; Thanksgiving is right around the corner. The weather has cooled (thank goodness!) and days are shorter.

Pet sitters are gearing up for their busiest months: November and December. Many of you are already filling up with holiday bookings. What steps should you take right now to make the holidays easier on YOU?

Contact clients: Find out who is planning to book you for the holidays and hasn’t yet. Warn them you will fill up and want to get your regular clients scheduled first before you take on new ones. Even if they can’t give you the exact days, they will have a good idea of when they will be traveling.

Figure out how many visits you can do in a day, and don’t over-schedule yourself. Leave time for you to enjoy the holidays with your family too. I have decided that 13 visits is the max I can do, and even that makes for a long day.

Fix your car: Change the oil, check the tires, set up your hands-free cell phone. Update your maps and first aid kit, your car kit and supplies.

Food: Stock up on groceries before the busiest week. Cook some items, such as stew or chili, ahead so you’ll have something you can warm up when you don’t feel like cooking.

Beware of the fast food curse! If you don’t have anything good to eat at home or to carry with you, you will spend a fortune on burgers and fries, and gain weight as an added insult.

Laundry: This sounds silly, but it really does help: make sure you have at least a week’s worth of clean underwear and clothes so you don’t have to spend your free time doing laundry. This is one week when you will want to simplify your life and eliminate chores.

Christmas Cards and gifts: If you give holiday gifts to your clients or send cards, it’s not too early to get organized and start addressing envelopes or ordering items. You’ll be too tired and busy when December arrives.

Update your files: Are your records in good order? Are there software glitches that need attention? Piles of receipts all over your desk? Get organized NOW. Invest your time in straightening out any clutter or issues so you can find things and your systems will work when you are in a hurry.

Calendar: Order and set up next year’s booking calendar. Christmas pet sits will overlap into January. I already have a booking for February.

Marketing: If you aren’t fully booked yet, visit kennels in your area. This is the time of year when they are filling up (way before the holidays) and they will appreciate being able to refer their clients to you. Take cards, brochures, and even cookies, and get to know the staff.  They are not just competition, they can also be your friends. There are several kennels I trust and refer clients to when I am full, and they return the favor.

Another great source for clients is other pet sitters. Network with the people in your area so you can refer clients to each other. Get to know others in your business. You feel more confident when you are referring to someone you know.

Web site: Give your web site a tune-up. Make sure it is search engine friendly, you have a holiday message on there (“Still accepting bookings for Thanksgiving & Christmas! Schedule Now!”), and that all of your links work. Freshen it up with holiday graphics or new photos.

Advertising: If you are going to run ads in local papers or buy adwords on the Internet, figure out your budget and get everything scheduled now. Have your display ads built and ready to submit. You’ll make mistakes if you wait until the last minute.

Happy pet sitting! May your holidays be profitable and pleasant!

As you see, I had so many cute photos of Desi, my wirehaired Dachshund, modeling his Christmas outfit that I just had to use them all!


©2009 Terry Albert. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Pet safety tips for Halloween


While we're out there having fun, our pets are terrified by the sights and sounds of Halloween. This is a great night to keep your dogs and cats indoors and confined. Don't let them rush the door every time the doorbell rings. They'll be greeted by scary costumes and noisy kids, and may bolt out the door and get lost...and ultimately injured.

Danielle Chonody, who writes a pet sitting blog, posted some tips for keeping your pets safe at Halloween:

http://workingwithpets.com/pet-safety/keep-your-pets-safe-this-halloween/

© 2009 Terry Albert. All rights reserved.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

In-home dog boarding; is it for you?


Pet sitters often add in-home dog boarding to their services. There are many benefits to your clients: their dog is not in a kennel, the pet is supervised 24/7, less stress for the dog, the caregiver knows dog better and can more easily provide for special needs. 


You, as a pet sitter, can customize the services you offer. For example, you can limit boarding to small dogs or take only as many as you are comfortable with. I have offered boarding in my home for over 10 years now, and my business in this area has grown dramatically.


Warning: This is a 24/7 job, and hard to do if you have a family.


I can have up to 8 dogs staying with me, and usually squeeze in one or two more during the holidays. I live on a half acre, so I have room, and the neighbors are not so close that they mind. I do have to monitor barking very closely, since one nuisance barker could put me out of business.


The dogs hang out in the house or outside as they choose. My floors are ceramic tile so I can clean up and disinfect. I use washable slipcovers over the couch and recliner, and my “rugs” are actually dog beds! I keep the back part of the house blocked off so the cats can have their own safe area, and I have a place to escape occasionally!


My requirements for bringing a dog into my household:


The dog has to get along with other dogs of all sizes, be current on shots and flea control, be well behaved–if not necessarily obedience trained—and at least under minimal control. No fence jumpers. If they are not crate trained, they get crate trained at my house if needed. I don’t take pit bulls, and rarely accept a Jack Russell terrier (now called Parson Russell), since both breeds are often dog-aggressive and don’t do well here.



Each dog and owner comes for a get-acquainted visit. A dog with very high prey drive or aggression issues can’t stay here. I’ve turned down a German Shepherd and a Border Terrier (I’ve had many other shepherds, Rottweilers, etc. with no problem). I had one Pharoah Hound mix that was pretty wild, but I kept boarding him until he went over my fence. Then it just wasn’t safe for him here any more. Some dogs are just better off in a kennel.


Introducing the new dog to my dogs and other guest dogs:


I let the new dog cruise the yard and get used to the smells for about 5 minutes, then let the other dogs out one at a time. Sometimes I will put the new dog in a dog run (that’s the only time) so they can sniff and get acquainted through the fence. The dog run is just for these types of situations. Visiting dogs are loose together in my house and yard at all times, and indoors at night. Crated if necessary.


Preventing problems:


If a dog is going have issues, it is usually over food, jumping on a dog that doesn’t want to play, or crowding to get out the door first. These are just pack issues, and usually settled within seconds with no lasting disagreements. I separate everyone for feeding, just to be sure.


How I handle dogs that don't get along:


I separate them and the aggressor can’t come back. It hasn’t been much of an issue. More often than not, a problem happens because someone plays too rough, rather than actual fighting. I am able to separate off a section of the yard and rotate the problem dogs so they each get time in the house. Sometimes just putting one in a crate in the house is enough. He still gets to be with everyone but the pack dynamic settles down.


Safety issues:


I have hawks, owls, coyotes, and other predators in the area, so small dogs are never outside unsupervised.


When I have a very small dog, I do worry about their safety with the big guys, even if it is just rough play, so they are separated unless I am right there, actively supervising. I crate (or use an ex pen) the little ones at night if there are big dogs here. I have crates all over the place for timeouts when play gets too rough. I also can block off rooms with baby gates so everyone can be “loose” but separated if need be. The little guys are often piled on my lap in the evening while the big dogs are spread all over the floor and couch!


My own dogs:


My four, 3 shelties and a doxie, are so used to all the dogs coming and going it doesn’t faze them much. Lily and Bonnie just want to be petted by all the visitors. Desi the doxie tells every new dog that he’s in charge, and within a few minutes they are playing happily together. He’s a typical dachshund. Tux, my black sheltie, loves everyone.


My biggest dilemma:


How do I get everyone to settle down and be quiet when someone is arriving or leaving? I haven’t mastered this yet, since the mix of dogs is always changing. I try to anticipate arrivals and put at least some of the dogs in crates or outside. Other than that, well… I’ll let you know when I figure it out!


Read my previous post about in-home boarding


Photos: Sammie and Pepper lounge next to my desk. The big dogs play outside: Xuan Yuan, Himura, Bo and Chester.  


© 2009 Terry Albert. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Pet Sitters Tool Kit: What do you carry in your car?

  • poop bags
  • litter scoop
  • ant traps (non-toxic)
  • leashes, collars
  • sunscreen, hat
  • first aid kit
  • fanny pack
  • towels
  • paper towels
  • flashlight
  • pillowcase
  • can opener, scissors
  • phone number of emergency vet
  • hand sanitizer
  • maps/GPS or cell phone with maps application
  • trash bags           
As I wrote up this list I kept thinking of more stuff to add to my car kit. So I went out to the car to see what I had. Biggest thing I forgot to list: TOYS! Cats love laser pointers or fishing pole toys and I use them often.


You’re probably wondering why there is a pillowcase on the list. If you can’t find a cat carrier and have to evacuate or take Kitty to the vet, a pillowcase may be your only recourse. Same for birds and snakes if you can’t use their cages.


It's nice to have your own supplies sometimes. It’s funny how everyone keeps things in places I would never think to look. I have searched an entire house looking for a can opener. Just because I keep it in the drawer next to my kitchen sink doesn’t mean anyone else does. And one family didn’t have a wastebasket in the kitchen. I finally found it in the garage, where the dog couldn’t get to it. Meanwhile I had started my own trash collection bag under the sink.



I also keep a pet first aid book in my car, notecards, pens, return address labels, at least 50 business cards, a list of all my clients’ phone numbers (home and cell), and a pile of rags for whatever emergency might come up.


Why would you need to carry extra leashes and collars? I have often been unhappy with the collar on a dog I have to walk, and find myself more comfortable using one of mine that I know he or she can’t back out of (I use martingale collars sold by Premier). Leashes break or get misplaced. Owners go off and leave the leash locked in the car.


I have also had my own ID tags made up that I can add to a dog’s collar if I am worrying about him getting out. The tag says “Call my pet sitter” with my phone number. If I’m really worried, I take the dog home with me.


So what’s in your car kit? 


Above, Bella enjoys an indestructible toy.


© 2009 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Rabbit care for pet sitters

http://www.rabbithutchesadvice.com
I found this interesting link about rabbit keeping and care. It is a website from the UK. I hope you will find it a helpful resource! 


I owned rabbits before I ever had my first dog. Thumper and Snowball were outdoor bunnies, and lived in cages in our back yard. They had three litters over the years we had them. I was in elementary school, and my dad did most of the actual care and cleaning. The cages were set up on bricks, and he would use cut down cardboard soda cases to catch the waste. They slid neatly under the cages, and came out soggy and not-so-neatly when it was time to change them. 



Thumper was a Dutch, and Snowball was a Californian. We bought them from a breeder in Bellflower, CA who raised them to sell for food. He mentored me and patiently answered all my rabbit-raising questions over the years. I even got a Rabbit-Raisers Girl Scout Badge. 


Back then bunnies weren't considered good housepets. It wasn't until I was in college and my boyfriend's parents had a rabbit that came indoors that it even occurred to me to bring one inside. By that time, I was pet-less, as college kids often are, due to my mobile lifestyle. (I confess, I victimized my roommates with an occasional kitten- but they didn't last long, usually going to live with my own mom and dad). 


Pet sitting a rabbit
When it comes to pet sitting for rabbits, my duties have always been for outdoor bunnies. Alfalfa pellets, carrots and plenty of water are the basic requirements. Some clients buy timothy hay for their bunnies to munch on. 


Rabbits are not safe running loose in the yard. One client lost her bunnies when a neighbor dog came over the fence and killed them. Cats will also kill rabbits, and of course coyotes and other wildlife can get them. So a cage or hutch is the safest place.


Be sure you have a bunny vet's phone number. Hopefully your client will provide one. Dog and cat vets don't always treat rabbits too. 


I'm sure you've heard the phrase, "breeding like rabbits." Like most rodents, which they are, they are prolific breeders. Shelters and rescue groups now routinely spay and neuter their homeless pet rabbits. Speaking of rescue, all those cute baby Easter bunnies grow up and there are never enough homes for them. Turning unwanted rabbits loose to fend for themselves may seem natural, but it is a death sentence. They haven't got a clue to surviving in the wild.


Rabbits that aren't handled regularly can really hurt you when they kick, so socialization is important. You are better off leaving the bunny in his cage while the owner is traveling. Catching one can be a real adventure. 


© 2009 Terry Albert. Photo from rabbithutchesadvice.com, courtesy of http://www.sxc.hu/gallery/oOlemon

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Dear Tabby,

I desperately need your help. My humans have gone off and left me in the care of a complete stranger. I am beside myself; this is totally unacceptable to someone in my position. What the hairball is going on?!! How can I undo this Catastrophe?

Signed, Princess

Dear Princess,

This is a job for Tabby– I will save the day! That stranger, the pet sitter (PS for short), should come equipped with the necessary credentials to keep you in the manner you are accustomed to. It is critical that your routine be disrupted as little as possible, for emotional stress is just not easy to withstand for even the toughest of kitties.

Your humans, sensitive to your delicate constitution, will have left PS with your regular food, and maybe some extra yummy treats and toys to occupy your otherwise idle days. A good human may leave the bed unmade, or at least a pair of used pajamas on the bed so that you may rest in luxury with the soft scent of those you love about you.

If PS is properly trained, your humans have told her where your favorite hiding spots are, so that she can leave some treats, and MAYBE even some catnip for you to enjoy at your leisure, after she is gone.

It is mandatory that PS spends some quality time with you. It will do you no good to hide and sulk behind the washing machine, for she will only tear the house apart looking for you; besides, how can you instruct her in proper cat care if she can’t find you? Since your humans are gone, you must shoulder this burden. You must supervise her to assure that your litter box is spotless, your food bowls clean and full, and the water dish refilled with fresh water. You will not tolerate ants in you dining area, and PS is responsible for disposing of them.

In order to make this daily visit truly a happy hour to remember, start by tripping her as she comes in. A quick dash out the door is not in your best interest, as you might get stuck out in the rain. But give it a good fake-out to get her heartbeat up to a satisfactory rate.

Be a good hostess: plan ahead so she will enjoy her visit. Dig up some plants and knock over a lamp or two so she doesn’t get bored. Nothing is off limits except spraying; you don’t want to get evicted from your palace when the humans finally return.

When your humans come home

Don’t make a fuss over your people when they return. Meet them at the door, but howl, scream, and roll on the ground in agony. They will be consumed with guilt, which is good for at least a week of anchovy treats. Knead a nest in their laps; walk across their heads as they sleep. They missed all this attention while they were gone.

Then ignore them. Turn up your nose at dinner and walk away, proud tail high in the air. They will double their efforts to please you.

It does no good to slobber and fawn over these people. Look where it got the dog. He’s been in a kennel the past two weeks!

Signed,

Tabby

© 2009 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

My favorite clients

I was telling the girls at my vet's office today about how much I enjoy the big goofy Labrador retriever who was bouncing at my feet. 18 months old, 107 pounds, Nate has an ear infection. So I saddled him up and off we went to the doctor. Even a prong collar barely contains his exuberance. And a mere ear infection certainly didn't make him slow down.

I straddled him and sat on his butt while the doctor examined his ears. Nate hasn't had a whole lot of training, but is very agreeable. One thing I learned a long time ago: Labs always keep you laughing. Nate crashes out of his crate in the morning with his bed in his mouth, and promptly drags it all over the yard. All the patio chair pads have to be put away and plastic dog dishes get chewed to bits. His owners have a "Natecam" so they can watch him in his dog run while they are at work.

Later this evening as I relaxed with a (finally) tired dog at my feet, I realized how lucky I am to truly like my canine and feline clients. Then I realized I really like their owners too. It hasn't always been this way. I have always found most pet owners to be very nice people, but over the years some of their pets have been pretty tough to deal with. As I've gotten busier, I have the luxury of being able to say no when a pet is just too much for me to handle. No more aggressive dogs, escape artists, fence jumpers, nasty cats, or dangerous birds. If I can't handle it, I'm not afraid to pass the client on to a new pet sitter who may be a better fit.

The result? I'm happy. I really enjoy my work. I look forward to visiting my pet clients or having them stay in my home. I don't get so burned out that I hate what I'm doing. I get up in the morning and laugh at their antics, enjoy my time out in the yard with them (even cleaning up poop!), and cuddle in my chair with a sweet dog or kitty whenever I feel like it.

So yes, I like Nate, Sadie, Chocolatte, Buttons, Casey, Zack, Taco, Lucky, Emo, Pudley, Albert, Lester and Nilla and all the others. They are all my favorites. I am blessed!

Photos: Nate lounging on the patio chaise, Zack the tuxedo kitty, Lucky the tabby.

©2009 Terry Albert. All rights reserved.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Could you water the plants?


This photo has been going around the Internet, and I had to laugh when I saw it. So would you charge extra for this job?

© 2009 Terry Albert


Sunday, September 6, 2009

Is your business "upscale"?

The pet industry has gone uptown, upscale, first class, top drawer. When you see the deluxe doggie spas and boutiques, the bling outfits for dogs, designer doghouses, and more, it makes one wonder: Is there a market for upscale pet sitters too?

Check out the new test store opened by Petco, Petco Unleashed, in San Diego. Promoted as everything Petco has, plus “a hip attitude, d├ęcor and sense of community,” the store appeals to the upscale customer who wants to experience the latest trends and products. Along with this, of course, comes upscale pricing and increased profits for the business.

A friend of mine lives on Whidbey Island in Washington State. We talked about kennels and pet care services, and I wondered if I could make a living there. She said most of the businesses don’t charge as much as I do here in California, but there is one mobile groomer who caters to the upscale market. She offers a spa day for dogs, including full grooming, massage, and other deluxe services, starting at about $125 for a four hour “experience.” She is always busy.

While up north, I also visited an in-home dog boarding business, Lucky Dog Resort, and I was really impressed by the owner Melissa’s entire setup. Her place is immaculate. The kennels match– there is no jumble of assorted crates, gates, and dog beds– and the dog yard is perfectly groomed and weed-free; the fence is in good repair. The feeding area is neat and the food bowls are clean. Each dog has a labeled bin with its own belongings. There is no doggy smell, no clutter, and the dogs are happy and playing well together. The minute you get out of the car you see flowers, planters, a lovely front door, a cute welcome sign. Everything is freshly painted and spotlessly clean. I know it is a ton of work to keep everything so nice, but she has clients that drive 30 miles from Seattle to board with her, so I think it is worth the effort. Her graphics match the business- colorful, professional, and well organized.

How can a pet sitter go upscale?

I have found that many people who live in humble homes are still willing to pay top dollar for exceptional service. Don’t write off a potential customer because of their perceived income level.

Give customers more than they pay for

Wash the cat’s dishes, clean up the spilled kitty litter and surrounding area, clean the lime deposits off the automatic waterer. Bring in the mail, the packages, the paper and the trashcans. Clean up the yard even if they don’t ask you to. Water the plants if they look droopy. Leave a detailed note as to everything you did, including the extras. You might as well get credit for your efforts!

If it’s okay with the owner, bring catnip for the kitties. I used to grow my own and bring it fresh to every client. One time I left a baggy of catnip in the frig, and the client called me to tell me I forgot to take home my marijuana! Oops- should have included that information in the note!

Give holiday gifts

It doesn’t have to be something big. A few biscuits or a small toy wrapped in cute paper with a ribbon is a thoughtful gift. I found a litter scoop I really liked and bought enough to give all of my cat clients–in August, no need to wait until Christmas. Notecards with the pet’s photo on them are easy to print yourself.

Don’t neglect clients that don’t use your service during the holidays. Make an effort to stop by and deliver a thank you. They’ll remember it. At the very least, send Christmas (or holiday) cards.

Cleanliness is next to Godliness

You think they don’t notice your car is full of junk, and hasn’t been washed since the millennium? They do, believe me. Keep the car spotless inside and out.

Same applies to your personal grooming habits. It is tempting to go grubby when you assume no one is home to see you. But if you are out in the car, stop at the store, or see a neighbor, you will be judged by how you look. Shirts with your company name on them will sharpen up your presentation.

Don't neglect the notebook and paperwork you carry. Have everything well organized and in a clean, attractive folder or binder. Have key tags that are neat and professional, not a jumble of worn tape and paper. Water spotted or wrinkled papers look sloppy and unprofessional.

Graphics

Your graphics say who you are. A junky website made from a template that has a lot of overlapping or cheap looking elements says you are definitely low budget. Invest in a designer who will spend a few hours to clean up your site. (Sales pitch here: I offer web site design service!)

Coordinate your graphics. Your business card, web site, invoices, notes, car signs–whatever you have– should all be color-coordinated and instantly recognizable. Classy graphics will indicate an upscale business. Don’t junk everything up with lots of big red type and sales pitches. You don’t want to look like WalMart, you want to look like Neiman Marcus. Keep it simple.

Offer special services

Offer pet transport, like taking the pet to the groomer or vet. Learn massage or TTouch and offer a half-hour session. Obedience training, doggie playgroups, toenail clipping, bathing and brushing are all extra deluxe services you can consider. If you offer boarding in your home, provide pickup and delivery. You can charge extra for some add-on services, and others you can include in your basic “upscale” price.

Give customers added value for their money, and you are well on your way to an upscale image.

© 2009 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Value of a vacation…priceless

I am back! After a hugely busy summer, I chose the week school started here in Poway to escape for 6 days. The beginning of school marks the end of vacation season for most people, so there is always a slow period for pet sitting for a couple of weeks. I had to plan this trip back in April, so I could block out time and not get booked up with pet sitting assignments. It’s hard to imagine, but I actually had a pet sit or boarding dog every day from April through August.

But my “break” wasn’t all vacation. And it certainly wasn’t a vacation from dogs! I stayed with my friend Lynn and her husband and 9 shelties. Then I stayed with Edith and her husband and 5 labs. It was wonderful! I miss my Lab, Tank, so much, and it was fun to get a Lab “fix.” We even went to a Labrador party where there were over 20 labs and their families. And I went for a wonderful horseback ride in the woods, a long walk on a deserted beach covered in driftwood and seashells, rode the ferry and even snuck in a visit to a couple of doggie daycare locations.

Pet sitters work long hard hours and need a break to refresh and regroup. I came home enthused and with new ideas for my business. I enjoyed visiting with other business owners. We talked about how we get customers, how we deal with the animals, compared pricing, chatted about our favorite breeds, and just generally had a good time. Because we are not in the same area, we are not competitors. I had met one of them on our Doggie Daycare Internet discussion group.

Don’t neglect your own well-being. Take advantage of this slow period to have some fun and relax!

Photo- A happy group of Labs enjoying a reunion with their breeder.

©2009 Terry Albert. All rights reserved.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The 3-legged stool: guest post by Molly Gordon

Molly Gordon joins us again this week to continue the conversation about how pet sitters can build their businesses. Molly is offering a self-employment telesummit here. It is coming up September 10-22.

How to build wealth in a small niche business like this that is limited by geography.

My first thought is that there is no such thing as a business limited by geography. And that’s a conversation for another day.

A reliable way to build wealth in any business is to use what I call the Three Legged Stool approach.

The first leg of the stool is delivering service to individuals, i.e., pet sitting.

The second leg of the stool is delivering service to groups. This could look like pet day care or pet parties.

The third leg of the stool is delivering expertise without being physically present. This could look like an e-course, say, The Five Keys to Keeping Your Pet Happy While You’re on Vacation.

Notice, each leg of the stool is about delivering value, not necessarily about selling value. That’s because any one of the legs can contribute to your bottom line by being sold or by being given away.

A simple example of how a give-away can help your bottom line is an e-course. When you offer a free e-course, you train people to open and value your email messages. This builds trust as well as awareness of your products and services, making it more and more likely that the person who signs up for your course will hire you in the future.

These three legs work together to create remarkable synergy. As you deliver services to individuals, you become aware of common needs that suggest opportunities to deliver services to groups. The problems your clients encounter as pet owners can suggest topics for articles, e-courses, and e-books. The more these three legs inform each other, the richer your understanding of your clients’ needs becomes. In time, you become the go-to person for all manner of pet concerns.

Let’s look at how the three legs of the stool work together to generate more wealth than any one or two of them can alone

In addition to working together to suggest new ways to package and deliver your work, the three legs can work in a very special way to build long term relationships with your just-right clients. The secret to maximizing the trust effect is sequencing.

Sequencing

Sequencing is simply providing products and services in a specific order that makes it comfortable for someone to move from being a stranger to a just-right client.

The early parts of the sequence need to be super low risk. After all, a stranger has no reason to trust you and lots of reasons to be wary. Some extreme low-risk ways to connect with a new prospect include a web site, a brochure or flier, and business cards.

The key to having such low, low risk items work for you is to link them to the next element in the sequence. This could be a clear invitation to sign up for the free e-course used in the earlier example.

Your e-course, in turn, needs to lead seamlessly and without pressure or hype to the next step in the sequence. This could be an invitation to live event where the prospective client gets to meet you. Your live event could be fee-based, though I’m thinking something free and fun might be more appropriate. For example, you could sponsor a high school club’s Dog Wash by paying for their fliers and, perhaps, a banner. At the Dog Wash you can hand out brochures and be available to answer pet-sitting questions. People get a chance to meet you, to support local kids, and to get clean dogs.

Stay in touch with the people who signed up for your e-course with occasional news and tips. (I’m thinking monthly.) This keeps your work in front of the prospective client on a regular basis so that, when they need a pet sitter, they think of you naturally.

Using the three legs in a sequence that goes from least risk to greater commitment is not only a great way to build momentum for your business, it’s fun!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Guest columnist Molly Gordon writes about how pet sitters provide value

Welcome to Molly Gordon of Shaboom, Inc. as my guest columnist this week. Her business, Authentic Promotion, has provided inspiration and ideas for me- I hope she will help you too! I was humbled by the time I got to the fourth paragraph of this post, so read on...

Hey Terry,

What fun to be a visitor to your blog. My husband and I raised Labrador Retrievers when we were first married. We’ve been dogless for a number of years now, but we always have at least one cat, several goldfish, and a passel of wild birds that we regard as family. Oh, and there’s that squirrel that hangs out on the north lawn…

But I digress. It’s easy to get caught up in the pleasure of having pets, and I bet that’s one of the issues pet-sitters face. How do you stand out in the marketplace–and how do you get taken seriously–when everybody loves pets? What makes you special?

Pet-sitting can be a wonderful profession, but the very fact that everybody and her dog (oops) loves pets raises a problem. What kind of credentials do you need to convince people that you are a professional worthy of respect and compensation?

As you noted, anyone can say, “I have loved animals since I was a small child.” After all, how many children don’t love animals? But the problem with this statement isn’t that it lacks professionalism, but that it lacks relevance to the customer.

It’s natural to think that your customers want you to be professional, and, to some extent, it is probably true. Professionalism is the label we give to characteristics like reliability, well-trained, maturity, and even good manners. And among self-employed service providers, professionalism is code for “worth paying.”

But, as thousands of pet-sitters can attest, calling yourself a professional won’t convince anyone to pay you. That’s because people don’t hire professionals, they hire relief. The key to showing up as a professional who is respected and well-paid is to find out exactly what kind of relief your just-right clients want.

How Do You Spell Relief?

The more accurately you understand the kind of pain your just-right clients experience, the more you will stand out as the relief they are looking for. To learn about their pain, listen to their prayers.

¨ The ones they murmur under their breath when they are packing for a family sailing trip and the children are howling because Spike hates to stay at the kennel.

¨ The ones they shout when they discover the cat has pooped in the suitcase in a feline display of indignation over your pending business trip.

¨ The ones they whisper into their pillows when the landlord calls with the news that a neighbor has spotted their pet boa constrictor in the ductwork.

At moments like these, it's not professionalism people want, it's relief. And relief is not spelled “p-e-t s-i-t-t-i-n-g.” It's spelled “q-u-i-e-t” or “n-o p-o-o-p” or “h-a-p-p-y l-a-n-d-l-o-r-d.” The pain you need to notice and relieve to isn't the pain of needing a pet-sitter, it's the pain of what happens when you don’t have a pet-sitter.

Gather Stories

So how do you use this insight to build a stronger blog, brochure, or business card?

Start by keeping a list of what my husband calls “the parade of horrible imaginables.” Jot down every disaster and inconvenience that pet owners experience for lack of competent, reliable, professional pet care. You won’t necessarily use all of these, but it’s a good idea to have a stockpile of situations.

You can make this a fun project for your family, friends, and clients. Who doesn’t have a pet disaster to share? And you don't have to be a Sad Sack; you can approach this with lightness and humor. This isn’t about catering to fear, but about shining a light on the all too common (dare I say “all too human”?) dramas that can accompany owning pets.

Whenever possible, capture the exact words people use to describe their pet disasters and frustrations. As you gather stories, notice the emotions that are connected with them. This is important, because we all make hiring decisions based on emotion. (We use logic to rationalize our decisions after the fact.)

When you know what the problems are, you can talk about relieving them instead of talking about how professional you are. Here’s a sampling of taglines that speak to pain relief instead of professionalism:

Kid-Approved Pet Sitting

The Pet Sitters Landlords Love

No Cat too Finnicky for our Service

Vet-certified Care for Old Family Retainers

I hope this has started some wheels turning for you and your readers. I look forward to dropping by and continuing the conversation.