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:

© 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
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, courtesy of