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.