Tuesday, March 31, 2009


One of my fellow pet sitters, Anita Gunton, tells this story:

I have been doing overnights all this week. Last night, I had an avocado with dinner. I set the avocado pit on the counter. This morning, I woke up, started coffee and noticed one of the dachshunds had the avocado pit in her mouth. She was chomping and crunching on it. I tried to get her to give it to me. She thought it was a game and ran around the house with it in her mouth. I kept telling her to give it to me and then pried her mouth open and pulled it out. I thought it seemed a bit "mushy," but figured she had just been chewing on it for awhile. Imagine my dismay (and horror!) when I realized it was a rat's HEAD! I am still grossed out!!
Love the story Anita- I've had a few of those experiences. I pulled a stick out of the culvert behind my house because I thought it was blocking the water. Imagine my horror when I held it up and discovered it had teeth and feet and I was holding onto the tail of a very dead possum.

Last week, I was enjoying a perfectly glorious evening on the patio, and strolled into the house with my glass of wine to find a dead rat laying on the dog bed-- and the cat on one side and the dachsund on the other, sniffing carefully...

Not all rat stories are gross, however. There used to be a tiny mouse in my barn that sat on the edge of the feeder and watched my horse, Spice, eat her breakfast every morning. He was so little and cute I didn't have the heart to chase him off. 

In my early years as a horse owner, I wasn't used to living among wild creatures. A total city girl, I moved to Issaquah, WA, and got my first horse. I bought a box of sugar cubes for treats, and put it in the tack room. The next day, all the sugar cubes were gone. 

I went to put my boots on to go for a ride, and there were sugar cubes in toes of each boot! I put them back in the box (very naive), and the next day the sugar was gone again. This time, a row of sugar cubes sat atop the saddle, underneath the saddle pad I had tossed on top of it. 

Later, I went up to the loft of the barn to throw hay down to the horses. I moved a bale and between the two bales was a row of about 50 sugar cubes, neatly lined up and stored for future use. 

Of course rats are not the best houseguests. They carry hantavirus, which humans can get from inhaling fumes from rat feces. And if your dog eats a poisoned rat, the dog could get sick and die too. When we lived in Issaquah, we ended up having an extermination company come in and clean out our basement, as rats had torn up the insulation and made nests, and there was waste everywhere. 

Here's some info on hantavirus: Any rodents are dangerous, although only deermice are known to carry the hantavirus.  Just to be safe, don't sweep any dusty places that may have mice, wet it down with 10% bleach and let it sit 20 minutes. Wear a mask and gloves, and shovel it into a double bag, and trash it. For more info, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has a web site:


Here in San Diego I recently had a rat problem. Sitting at my computer one evening, I turned off the television and realized there was a scratching noise above my head. Undoubtedly rats in the attic. Later, in bed, I watched my cats sit under the air conditioning vent, looking up and listening to the rats. I put poison in the attic, and they are gone now. But I worried about the pets finding the dying rats before I did.

Photo: Our barn in Issaquah. I miss it!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Licensed, Bonded and Insured - a must for pet sitters?

Pet sitting buzzwords: Licensed, bonded and insured. Customers are conditioned to asking for these three things, and therefore pet sitters often think they need to include these words in every ad and on their business cards. So what do they mean?

A license refers to a business license. That’s all. Customers often mistake the term “licensed” to mean that a pet sitter is professionally certified and has a certain level of expertise. Not so. Contractors and hairdressers take tests to get professionally licensed. There is no regulatory agency “licensing” pet sitters. You can get training from PSI or other organizations, but there is no official nationwide licensing agency.

Requirements and fees vary from city to city, so I can’t tell you what is required for a business license. Check with your local city offices. Usually you just fill out some papers and pay a fee. You may also need to run a DBA (Doing Business As) statement in the local paper.

Bonding refers to a security (dishonesty) bond. You pay a fee and can tell your clients you are bonded, but you or your employees have to be convicted of a crime for them to get any money. A bond does offer your clients some peace of mind, especially if you have employees. Bonding for pet sitters has gone out of favor, though PSI (Pet Sitters Intl.) still offers it through Business Insurers of the Carolinas. You must be a PSI member to purchase through them.   

A liability insurance policy covers damage to property and injury to pets or people while the home and animals are in your care (referred to officially as “care, custody and control”). This is the most important item a professional pet sitter needs to have. If you lose keys, if the dog bites someone while you are walking him, if you knock over the expensive vase in the entry hall – these are the kinds of incidents that are covered. PSI and Petsitters LLC both offer policies structured especially for pet sitters. Your clients may ask to see a copy of your policy.

I hope this clarifies things for both pet sitters and clients!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Play Time with the dogs

Watching dog dynamics
The other day the weather was so gorgeous that I just sat out on the patio and watched the dogs play. Indy– a 9-month-old golden, Molly– a black and tan Rottweiler mix, and Sally– a border collie mix went through quite a dominance ritual as they played.

There's a lot to be learned about behavior from just watching dogs. Who's the dominant one? Who is the most submissive? The answers fell right about where I expected them. Indy, though big, is the youngest, and he was happy-go-lucky and landed in the middle of the pack order when all was said and done. 

But Sally and Molly spent a lot of time maneuvering around each other. Molly decided to dig a hole in the shade and lay down. As soon as she started digging, the other two came over. Indy joyously joined in and they played and dug. When Sally showed up, Molly respectfully stepped aside and let Sally have the spot. Satisifed that Molly was sufficiently submissive, Sally walked across the yard and went back to sniffing with Sugar, a blind Aussie that stayed out of the negotiations. Indy romped all over and went back to digging as soon as Sally left. 

Molly trotted back and began digging again, started circling, and laid down. Here comes Sally, who stood over Molly just looking at her. Her stare intimidated Molly, who got up and walked over to a distant bush and watched Sally settle into the spot. After a minute, Sally was satisfied, and left again. 

Molly came back. The routine was repeated several times. Finally Sally ignored Molly, and Molly circled a few times and settled into her freshly dug hole. My doxie Desi trotted over and sat next to her. She didn't even think of leaving when he arrived. Desi was not the top dog on this day. 

I guess Sally decided she'd made her point, or maybe Molly had won by getting the hole in the end. What do you think? 

The photos here show Indy and Molly digging, Molly and Desi, and Sugar and Sally resting by the corral. 

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Do the right thing

"Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest" - Mark Twain

No matter how hard you try, something will go wrong someday. An accident will happen, or you will make a bad decision. How do you handle it? The best thing to do is just take a deep breath and do the right thing. As much as I pride myself on taking exceptional care of the animals I pet sit, sometimes that is just not enough. Worse, even if you think you did the right thing, the client may not agree with you. Then what? 

Eat crow, apologize, and make it right. You may have heard of Rule No. 1 in the retail business: "The customer is always right." And Rule No. 2:  "If the customer is wrong, go back and read Rule No 1."  

I had an experience with this recently, and I am still agonizing over it. Two dogs, age 12 and 14, got into a short tiff, which I broke up. I think Oscar took exception to Angel walking too close to his bed. I checked them both over briefly and saw no blood, so I assumed it was a typical noisy dog scuffle that makes a lot of noise but no injuries.

I was wrong. The next evening, Angel was laying on her bed, and from where I sat, I could see that there was a cut under her chin between the neck folds. So I looked at it, and it was a pretty ragged tear, scabbed over. I had missed it. I knew it could get infected, but she felt fine, and it looked okay. I washed it off. I had some leftover antibiotics and gave her some. 

Here it was, Saturday night at 8 pm, the owners were returning the next morning, and I didn't think it was an emergency. So I didn't run her to the vet. If I had seen it right after the incident, I would have, because I knew she'd need antibiotics. When the owner arrived the next morning, I showed him the cut and gave him the pills. I offered to pay the vet bill if they took her to the vet. 

That night, the wife called and was pretty upset, for two reasons. One: How had I let this happen to her dog? Two: Why didn't I take her to the vet?  

Issue Number 1: There was no way to predict the bite, and I think things like this are just going to happen between dogs occasionally. I was right there and broke it up within seconds. I had no reason to expect the other dog to go after Angel for any reason. They had lived together peacefully for two days. That doesn't make it acceptable.

The owners have a point – how can they trust their old dog to be safe at my house? I can't guarantee it, but I can certainly do everything in my power to prevent another incident. For sure, Oscar won't be returning. Dogs that can't get along just can't stay here. If something happens, I separate them for the remainder of their visit, which I did this time. 

Issue Number 2: I just screwed up. I didn't see the injury. It should have had stitches, but by the time I saw it, it was too late to stitch. I should have gone to the vet, even though it wasn't a life and death emergency, and returned their dog to them with no issues they needed to deal with. I probably shouldn't have given her the antibiotics I had on hand, either. The vet bill was $200, and I will pay it. 

Will they be back? I don't know. But I learned a hard lesson.

Mistakes happen. Learn from mine. You can only do your best. Think like the customer who loves this animal, and take the best possible care of the pet and the people.