Friday, December 31, 2010

My pet sitting goal for 2011: Just Do It!

Kiva and Guiness relax at Judy's
As I thought about the new year for this post, I remembered something a SCORE counselor said to me early last year. I was hemming and hawing about adding independent contractors, afraid to get started.

His comment: “Just do it. Add one person, and get going. The rest will follow.”

Now I look back and realize he was right. He even knew someone who might be a good match, and my helper Judy has turned out to be the perfect person to add to my business. She has been a lifesaver to my (our) clients and me.

This weekend I will have nine dogs staying at my house and four visits a day. She has two more dogs at her house. At this point I have a couple of tentative new people lined up to help out.

During the busy season I certainly need more help, but the rest of the year, I like being a small one-woman show. I’ve decided to keep it small and let it grow only if the perfect people, like Judy, show up. Not an aggressive business plan I know, but I’ve decided I like it that way.

I realized that to make more money, I can always start doing more pet sitting visits again. I had cut back to focus on boarding. Now I’d like to keep the boarding where it is and add visits to add to my income. My plan a year ago was to quit doing visits. This year I revised that plan, because visits are at least 30% of my business, and I don’t want to lose that.

To compensate for the hassle of late night and early morning pet sitting visits, I have shrunk my service area a little. I no longer add new clients in Rancho Bernardo, which is at least an 8-mile drive each way. I’m keeping my current clients (because they are such nice people) but not adding new ones that involve that much driving late at night.

So that’s my business plan for the coming year. Have you thought about where you want your business to grow?
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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The weather outside is stormy

Star and Ari share a Christmas kiss
Happy Holidays everybody! If you're like me, you are dealing with a lot of wet dogs this week. One of my clients asked me to wipe their paws when I let the dogs in every night. We've had so much rain that they were soaked from head to toe. When all three, giant schnauzer, mini schnauzer, and shih tzu crash through the door at once and immediately start shaking off the rain, you've got a huge mess on your hands. Then the schnauzer starts rubbing along the wall. UGH!

Optimists that they are, my clients left me two bath towels. I brought more from home. Their new hardwood floors are now covered with drying paw prints. And they'd already scheduled a carpet cleaning for the white dining room carpet. Wise move.

Warm and cozy at my house: Lily, Desi, Blaze, Izzy, Bonnie
We settled on letting the dogs stay in during the day with the back door open to the yard so they could get out if they needed to. The shih tzu, age 12, just shouldn't have to sit out there and get soaked to the skin. For that matter, none of them should have to. The wind was so bad their makeshift shelter (umbrellas and tarps) didn't keep them dry.

One of my other clients said to me once, "But they love the rain!" No dog house, no shelter, and he didn't want them in his pristine garage. I hated him. Malamute or not, they deserved better. I brought over a dog house of my own, and the dogs used it for the rest of their lives.

So stay as dry as possible, carry chains if there's snow; heck, carry a chain saw. My husband used to go with me sometimes on winter pet sits in Seattle. He had to cut through a fallen tree, fix a broken heater (poor kitties- it was only 19 degrees in the house), and tow me out of a ditch once when I ventured out on my own.

Happy Holidays! :)
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© 2010 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

What if you forget a pet sitting visit?

Nate and Roup destroy a dog bed

One of the discussion groups I am on recently featured a question from a distraught pet sitter. She missed a visit, and felt TERRIBLE about it. How could she ever make it up to the owner, and how could they ever trust her again?

Her excuses weren’t extraordinary. She had a cold, was tired, had a busy day, and just plain forgot to go let the dog out. She was pretty hard on herself, and the rest of us were sympathetic.

Why? Because many of us have done the exact same thing. We are human, and humans sometimes make mistakes. So how should you handle it when you screw up?

Admit it and apologize. Tell the clients, and make no elaborate excuses. Unless you were in the hospital, anything else you say isn’t going to impress them much.  Eat crow and be humble. Don't lie.

Don’t charge them. Either give them a free day or the entire assignment at no charge, depending on how much trouble your mistake caused. Did the dog mess on the carpet? It is your responsibility to pay for cleaning. Did the cat have to go to the vet because of missed meds? Pay for the vet visit. Accept responsibility and do what you can to salvage the situation.

 Let go of it. Either they forgive you or they don’t. If they never book you again, there’s not much you can do about it.

One thing I learned from the time I forgot a visit, similar to the time I locked myself out. You’ll pay more attention and won’t let it happen again anytime soon. 

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© 2010 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, December 3, 2010

The week after the pet-sitting rush

Mac, Labrador retriever by Terry Albert

So are you sitting back and counting all that lovely money? Taking long naps? Me too. But this week is so quiet I immediately worry that I’m not going to make enough money in December to pay the bills.

This back and forth feast-or-famine cycle is the norm in pet sitting. It is sure hard on the nerves. Over the years I have learned that the business WILL come, and to take it easy and enjoy a few days off while I can get them.

“Days off” is relative, since I have three dogs staying here. But three is a lot less than nine, so it seems quiet. This is the week to get my car washed, my hair cut, the house cleaned, the corrals spiffed up, and do some Christmas shopping. This is the week I spend time with my horses, who were virtually ignored last week. And this week I paint, since I have three pictures to get done before Christmas (see the first one, above). So it’s not like I’m bored.

The Thanksgiving rush enabled me to pay my property taxes without going into savings this year, which is a blessing. I usually count on the holiday income to get me through January and February, which are always slow.

So don’t go on a spending spree; the rush will be over in another month and you have to pay the rent all year round. 

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© 2010 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The table is set for Thanksgiving dinner

As you see, even though I am not cooking a Thanksgiving feast, I am preparing a large meal for some of my friends! Everyone gets a little piece of sweet potato in their dish tonight.

Willa, Tally, Beau, Desi, Casey, Lucee, Portia, Ginger, Bonnie, Lily, Tux, Sammie, Pepper
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© 2010 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Pet sitters prepare for the holiday rush

Oliver's feet never touch the floor
I thought I would look back to a post I wrote two years ago in anticipation of the holidays. Are you ready for your big week?

I was reminded of this when the time changed a few weeks ago. The first time I took out the flashlight to use it, the batteries were dead. This weekend, I realized I don't have an umbrella in the car. And the air pressure light for my tires is flashing. Tomorrow I will catch up on these chores before I hit the rest of my busy pet sitting week!

Riley models the new pillow
This morning I hit a couple of estate sales while out on my rounds (I do love weekend pet sits- garage sales are my bonus for getting up early). I got two giant faux fur pillows with removable washable covers for $5. Perfect for dog beds!

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© 2010 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Best wishes for a busy Thanksgiving!

As you can see above, my calendar for next week is a tad full. And that's good news! 9 visits a day plus 7 dogs staying here. My family get together is Saturday afternoon, so I will spend Thanksgiving evening with friends here in Poway. 

For the next week just about all I will do is petsit, feed dogs and sleep. The laundry is done, the groceries are in the frig. I'll clean house the FOLLOWING week!

I am very thankful that over the past seven years I have been able to build my business enough to remain self employed and able to pay the bills. There were many times I wondered if I would be able to make it, and I finally feel secure and happy. 

I am so lucky to have such wonderful clients. They are really nice people that I enjoy doing business with, and I count them as friends as well as customers. You can tell I am doing what I love, and I hope you are too! 

Thank you for reading and supporting me in my journey!
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© 2010 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Petsitting- a 24/7 job and then some

The view of the pool
“Honey,” she said as she passed her husband the phone, “It’s the cat lady…”

What a great name for a business, I mused: The Cat Lady. Except most people would call me the dog lady instead. On this day I was the cat lady, and I was visiting a new client to arrange care for their cat, Sweetie, over Thanksgiving.

Pet sitters can make a lot of money this time of year, but it is a lot of work too. Every morning this week I have been out before 7 am, letting two dogs out for a run and feeding them breakfast. Their owner invited me to make myself at home, and I did. I enjoyed my coffee and the hilltop view of the pool and the city while Lily and Whitty ran laps around the yard.

Lily and Whitty and the view
Each evening at dinnertime I am back, feeding them and giving them another run. A neighbor comes over before bedtime to let them out, or I would be back at 9 or 10 pm for one last outing.

Whenever I have dogs that need to be let out, I am out early and late every day, and sometimes a third visit in between. Then I do all my once-a-day kitty visits and come home and relax awhile before the afternoon rounds.

When I was married, this was a harder schedule to keep. I used to do my late-night visits after my husband went to bed at 9 pm. Sometimes I had to be out at dinnertime. I’m sure having kids would make it even harder to schedule pet sitting and still have a family life.  

Last night as I sat watching the Country Music Awards, thinking my workday was done, I got a call. My client was stranded in San Francisco, and they didn’t want their old dog outside all night. Could I go get her? Of course. So off I went. I was tired, but I like the people and the dog a lot, and I wanted to help them out. “Pet care” is also “caring.”

Boarding dogs at my home has eased up some of the running around, but now I never get away from my client dogs. I have to care for all of them–and my own dogs and horses–before I head out on that 7 am visit.

Holidays are even tougher. This is when we make our most money, but we end up sacrificing our holiday with the family. I always give myself a few hours in the evening to have dinner with friends, and my family comes down on another day to celebrate. It’s hard to leave a party and head out to do petsits, but that is what we signed up for, and those pets and their owners are counting on us. You can take time off in January.

Meanwhile, plan a few hours off here and there over the holidays so you don’t burn out, so you can see your family and friends, and so you have some fun!

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© 2010 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Sharing an interesting article from Whole Dog Journal

Read the Whole Dog Journal's take on dog daycare, by Pat Miller:

I am happy she points out that not all dogs are appropriate for group situations. We wish all dogs could get along, but some just get too stimulated, too aggressive or too overwhelmed to be comfortable.

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© 2010 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Small dogs+cute clothes=danger!

Sammie is an adorable toy poodle who stays with me often. Her little dress says "Princess" on the back, and she has an assortment of outfits that she brings along on her vacations here! She has another little dress that says "Fierce!"

Sammie does well with the big dogs, though I never leave her alone with them. I had an interesting experience this week with a couple of Labs that were visiting. First Luke, a happy-go-lucky chocolate Lab, arrived. He just wouldn't leave Sammie alone. He didn't try to hurt her–he was trying to get her to play. He would play-bow and bark endlessly at her, and she'd just turn her back on him or come over to me. He's never done this before, and he was totally ignoring the pug that was staying here, so it wasn't because she's a small dog.

I finally figured it out. He thought Sammie was a stuffed toy. Her outfit had him baffled! I took off her dress and he immediately forgot about her and treated her like a normal dog for the rest of his visit.

When Luke went home, I put Sammie's dress back on her (she's just too cute, I couldn't resist). Then Nate the yellow Lab arrived. Same thing. He was fascinated, wagging his tail and following her around. A huge, tall dog, Nate outweighs her by at least a hundred pounds. Off came the dress, stored away in her suitcase until her owner returns.

There's a good lesson to learn here. A less friendly dog with a high prey drive might attack a cute little dog in an outfit. thinking he can pounce on this squeaky little thing and kill it.

Pet sitters and dog owners, beware.

Meanwhile, everyone has calmed down, and here is a photo of Sammie, Desi and Roup in the foreground, with Bonnie, Lily and Nate carpeting the rest of my living room.
Dog carpeting, literally!

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© 2010 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

SpawZ: Seattle dog daycare and water therapy

A few weeks ago, I wrote about From the Heart Doggie Daycare in Laurel, Maryland. Now I want to switch way to the west coast and introduce SpawZ, a dog daycare and water therapy center in Seattle.

I have known Spawz owner Ann Marie Shields since I lived in the Northwest well over a decade ago. Ann Marie has been in the dog-care business since 1996 when she started the Doggie Bed and Biscuit in Snohomish. It was one of the first upscale, cage-free dog care businesses in the country—where canine guests enjoyed private “bedrooms” with futons and couches, private yards, and a huge pasture for running and playing. Doggie BnB provided what many dog owners want—a safe, homey, loving place for their dog to stay during the day or for extended periods of time.

Why warm-water therapy for dogs?
Armani, a rescued greyhound
In 2002, Ann Marie moved to Seattle and went to work in the human health care industry. But she continued to pet sit for a few long-time clients with older and mellow dogs. And then, in 2005, a couple of events occurred that led her to create SpawZ. First, she had knee-replacement surgery and was at home recovering for 7 months. And second, just a few weeks after her surgery, one of her greyhounds, Armani, broke his foot and ankle in 18 places.
Armani was in a full-leg cast for three months, and when the cast came off he had significant and disabling muscle atrophy. While Ann Marie was going through rigorous physical therapy and a warm-water exercise program that proved to be the keys to the recovery of her knee, Armani was struggling. It was difficult for him to walk on hard surfaces, so he had no way to regain his strength and muscle tone.
“That’s when it struck me that warm-water exercise might help him, too—and it did,” says Ann Marie. “Plus a vet suggested I try massage, so I went back to school and got my license as a Small Animal Massage Practitioner. Thanks to both water exercise and massage, Armani made an amazing recovery, just recently passing away at the age of 12.
SpawZ today
The tough economy has been a challenge for all of us, but SpawZ has been able to survive and thrive by offering multiple services for its clients. Whether a dog wants to lounge in a private room, exercise on the underwater treadmill or in the pool, enjoy a massage, play with other dogs, or cuddle with a staff member, Ann Marie has brought it all together under one roof at SpawZ. She also offers boarding and a number of special swim camp packages for her canine guests.

Television coverage
Spawz was recently featured on King 5 News, a story that is shown here, above. I asked Ann Marie how she got such great free publicity, and she said it was more luck than anything. She offers something unique, and the reporter at the station had just gotten a new puppy, and wanted to learn more. King 5 does fun segments every morning on the news show, and that is where this story ran.
Publicity like this is worth more than all the paid advertising in the world. SpawZ has been featured several times in the media, and as you can see, the stories make great entertainment and really showcase her facility.
I hope her success gives you some ideas for your doggie business!

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© 2010 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

A miscellaneous post

If you own or care for Labs, something about this photo will make you laugh. That flowerpot has had a hard life! The owner's lucky the tree is still standing, since a Lab would happily dig it up and chew it to sawdust.

These dogs, Nate and Rex, actually didn't do the damage. They are guests at my helper Judy's house this week. We'll have to have a talk with her dogs about that pot. 

Sad news
On a somber note, I lost my rescued mare, Honey, this past week. I wrote about her on my other blog, Everything Pets. I also wrote about the great veterinarian who treated her, and how we sometimes torture (and insult) our vets while trying to do everything possible for our animals.  

A new iPod/iPhone/iPad app for pet sitters and pet owners
This new app is offered by PetTech, and offers portable pet care and first aid information. You can download it for $4.99 from iTunes, which is a great price for so much info. It includes easy to follow step-by-step instructions for CPR, first aid and daily care information. There are separate sections for dogs and cats with specific information for each type of animal. 

This is just one more reason I love my iPod Touch. With the Bento app I have all of my client info at my fingertips, and now I'll have first aid info when I need it too. 

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© 2010 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

New dog daycare business in Laurel Maryland gets great PR coverage

In addition to my work as a pet-sitter, I design websites, and I have a client who just opened July 4th in Laurel, Maryland. From the Heart Doggie Daycare was featured in a wonderful article in a local paper this week. You can't buy advertising this good or this effective. Here's the link:

I asked Maria how she got the reporter to write about her dog day care business:
I saw an article about a new baker in town just two weeks ago. So I called the reporter and said, "Hey, I think I have a good story for you." I wrote a brief note, sent her a link to my webpage, and hoped for the best. This was on a Thursday.  She called me the next Wednesday to set up an appt for last Friday. The photographer was here Monday and the story came out Thursday.
 You are right - it is great advertising.  I had no idea I would get it, but you don't get anything if you don't ask :-)  The worst she could do was say no.  
That's the spirit! I think one thing that helped her is From the Heart has a Halloween open house and party coming up, so the story has an urgency to it.

So what can we learn from Maria?

  • You won't get any press if you don't ask for it. Do some of the reporter's work for him or her. If you have a website, pre-written press releases or photos you can supply, you make their job a lot easier.
  • Special events give reporters a reason to write about your pet sitting business.
  • If you have something newsworthy to say, you are more likely to be interviewed. The article about Maria's business mentions she lost her job when her company downsized, which is timely due to the nation's economic woes of the past two years. 
  • Is there an angle that makes your business different? Maria's daycare and boarding is cage-free and set up like a children's daycare with bright colors and a fun atmosphere. 

Congratulations on the coverage, Maria. I hope it brings you tons of business.

P.S. Blogger is not letting me add images. Sorry!
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© 2010 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The conversation pet sitters need to have with clients

My friends Kim and Jerry left their three Cavalier King Charles Spaniels in my care while they went on a diving trip to the Cayman Islands. One of the dogs, Bella, is 15 years old, and like many Cavaliers, has heart disease.

I asked Kim before she left what I should do if Bella became ill. “Oh, she should be fine. She’s been doing really well lately,” Kim replied. But, with a dog this age, I knew things could go suddenly south at any moment. So I pressed her for instructions.

Kim didn’t want heroics, but she did want me to take Bella to the vet if anything went wrong, and to try and save her.  

A crisis
Something did go very, very wrong. On Saturday at 3 pm, I was relaxing in my recliner with a book, and I suddenly heard thumping in the kitchen. Bella was having a seizure under the kitchen table and kicking the wall. I called my vet’s office, praying he was still in. His vet tech, Terri, called him at home and he agreed to meet me at the hospital.

45 minutes later, Bella had not stopped seizing. By this time I had called Kim’s cell phone, in desperate hope I’d be able to reach her. My vet, Dr. Singh, of the Animal Medical Hospital, told me this was going to be expensive, and Bella would have to go on to the emergency vet to be monitored overnight. Did I want to proceed?

Yes I did. I was sure that was what Kim would want. I admit that if Bella had been my dog I would have thrown in the towel and let her go. But she wasn’t mine, and until I talked to Kim, I wasn’t going to take matters into my own hands.

An injection of phenobarbitol finally stopped the seizure, and as Bella dozed, Dr Singh did blood work and took an x-ray. All was normal. He called the emergency clinic and told them exactly what to do and NOT to do, which I am sure helped me save a lot of money.

Then Kim called. Thank God. She talked to Dr Singh, and agreed with the treatment plan, so off we went to the ER. Bella recovered fully and came home to my house the next day, and was fine the rest of the week. Amazing.

Talk to your pet sitting clients
Now that Bella’s gone home and I’ve had a chance to think, I realize how important it is to have a discussion with your clients, especially if they are going to be out of the country and hard to reach.

Haper, Bella's best buddy
How much are they willing to spend in a medical emergency, like bloat? If a dog is injured at my house, I figure it’s my fault and my insurance will have to cover it. But, a health emergency is not my financial responsibility, and I need to make decisions about spending the client’s money.

At what point is it okay to euthanize the pet? Most people don’t want to discuss it. They are horrified at the thought. I am too.

Get it in writing. Your care contract should have a clause giving you permission to seek veterinary treatment, and the client should fill in an amount they are willing to spend. We all hate to think that we’re not willing to spend $1,000 on our dog, but the cold hard truth is not everyone can afford to do that. It’s not your decision, it’s theirs, and don’t judge them for it.

Keep in touch
In this day of cell phones and email, it is easier to stay connected with your clients, even when they are out of the country. In an emergency, the first rule is to try to contact them. Have them give you a local contact number of someone who has the authority to make decisions if they are unreachable.

Front the money?
I paid the emergency animal hospital with my credit card, and the client reimbursed me. My vet was willing to wait for payment until Kim returned. Several pet sitters have said to me that they don’t have the resources to pay a $1,500 vet bill. Tell your clients that you can’t advance the money. They may leave a credit card on file with the vet’s office for unexpected expenses.

The emergency animal hospital would not accept a number from someone else’s credit card. The owner of the card had to be present. I understand their reasoning. In a crisis, some people will do whatever they can to get the care for the animal, even something illegal.

You also run the danger of the clients not agreeing with your decisions, and leaving you stuck paying the full amount, or a portion of it. Talk to your insurance company to see what is covered in this circumstance.  

It’s a lot to think about. Plan in advance, so when you are faced with an emergency (and you will be at some point) you are prepared and know what to do. I was a nervous wreck through the entire crisis, trembling so hard I could barely dial the phone. That’s not the time to try and think straight.

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© 2010 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Pet sitter and dog daycare web sites

In addition to pet sitting, I also build web sites for small businesses, including pet sitters. Yes, even for my competition. There is plenty of business for everyone these days, and I love coming up with new ways to help other pet sitters get established.

Your website is your Number One marketing tool. I don’t advertise at all; all of my business is from my website or referrals. A website is the place you get to explain your services, the areas you cover, and introduce yourself. If a potential client likes what they read, then you get the call or email, and you’re in business.

Sue's Critter Care pet sitting
With that in mind, here are some of my tips for a professional-looking web site:
Short and to the point. Don’t start with a lot of rambling text about how you have loved animals since you were a kid. Everyone says that. Say that at the end or on the “About me” page. Start on page one with the basics: area covered, services.

Make links easy to find. Don’t bury them in cute graphics or somewhere where the client can’t find them. Make it screaming obvious that THIS IS A LINK. People expect links on the left side or across the top. Don’t make them think.

If you use graphic links, add text links at the bottom of the page so the search engines will index them. Search engines don’t read graphics, though they do read alt tags (hidden description of images).

Use your name and a photo. Let people get to know you. It is worth having a professional photo done. This is a personal service business.

Annie's Critter Care
Phone number and email address easy to find, and on every page. This is critical. You want them to contact you, don’t you? Make it idiot-proof. I put large phone numbers on every page at the top somewhere. It is worth repeating the number in several places. Include the area code. 

• Be sure your web developer has added a title and key words, and they are both very carefully worded in “consumer language,” using words a customer is likely to use when searching for your service.

Make all of your pages potential "entry" pages. My pet sitting page is just one of many on my site. Although it is not my main page, it consistently comes up on the first page in Google searches. People enter my site at the pet sitting webpage if that is the service they are looking for.

Accuracy. Nothing is worse than spelling errors, pages that won’t load and links that don’t work. Project a professional image. Your web site is YOU.

From the Heart Doggie Daycare
A web site is not going to show up in the search engines the day after you go live with it, so be patient. It takes several weeks, even a month, for them to find you and add you to the list.

Read a post I wrote last year about how to optimize your website for search engines.

Here are some sites I’ve designed:
Sue’s Critter Care:
Annie’s Critter Care:
From the Heart Doggie Daycare:
SpawZ doggie daycare:
This client built her own site from a template and had me help her refine it and get everything working correctly.
And my own site:

Tails Wag 4 Us pet sitter, dog walker
SpawZ Doggie Daycare
Poway Pet Care

© 2010 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

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Sunday, September 5, 2010

Evaluating personal safety risk while pet sitting

Maybe I’ve been watching too many crime shows, but I had a creepy experience last week, and scared myself out of helping my client with a problem. I sit here now and say “it was probably nothing,” but at the time, I trusted my gut and said no.

My clients had just moved into their new house, rebuilt after the 2007 fires. They’d only been there a week when they left for a three-week tour of Africa. The security company had my phone number, and I got a call one day.

The guy told me that the signals weren’t transmitting properly from the house, and he was afraid they wouldn’t get the alarm signal if someone broke in. I told him the system was arming and disarming fine, and I had just left there.

He wanted to meet me at the house, come inside and test the system. I didn’t feel good about that. At all. Meet a strange man, in a big empty house, alone, and no one knows I’m there with him? Not.

I looked up the company’s phone number, and sure enough, that was the number he had called from. He was probably legitimate; after all, he had my number and knew all about the house. Still…

On my next visit I ran into the builder, who was there doing some repairs with the garage door company. New construction always needs some tweaking, and the house was bustling with activity. I should have had Mr. Security Man meet me here now, I thought. I chatted with the builder, Scott, and he said the system seemed to be working fine, and he wouldn’t worry about it. 

Still paranoid, I asked my retired FBI agent-friend what he thought. Probably fine to meet the guy, he said. I was tempted to ask him to go with me.

In the end, I decided no, I wasn’t going to do it. It was only three more days before the client was due to return. I figured I’d risk a break-in before I’d risk my personal safety.

When they returned, I told the client about it. “No,” was her immediate reaction, “I’m glad you didn’t let him in. He came out and tested the alarms before we left.”

It was probably nothing; I probably would have been fine. Still…

When your gut instinct talks: listen.
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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

No-pull harnesses from a pet sitter’s perspective

Melvin and Buddy greeted me at the door, ecstatic to have company after 12 long hours alone. After I fed them, refreshed their water and gave Buddy his nightly thyroid pill, it was walk time. They went nuts as soon as I reached for the leashes.

Because they pull so hard, their owners recommended I walk them separately, once around the block for each dog. Melvin is also aggressive to dogs they meet, which makes him even harder to keep under control.

The owners supplied retractable flexi leads and a no-pull harness for each dog. The retractable leash was the first problem. Dogs that pull, pull even harder on one of these leashes and quickly drag themselves out to the end of the thin line. I worry it will break, and if they suddenly lunge at another dog, it’s hard to hold onto the awkward case that stores the line.

The two no-pull harnesses were a piece of work. Both were red and black, but different models, so they are put on each dog differently. I felt like I was trying to un-knit a sweater, just untangling the straps and the leash line, much less figuring out how to put it on the dog. Then I get to the second one, and it’s different, so I go through the same exercise over again. I am uncoordinated, and had to relearn the harnesses every night (I often go through similar gyrations with garden hoses and extension cords). Meanwhile both dogs are leaping in my lap and rolling on the floor, anxious to go, and begging to be first.

One night I decided to just put Melvin, a cattle dog mix, on a chain collar and a regular leash, which were both hanging by the door. By the time we got back I felt like my arm was going to come out of my shoulder socket, and we didn’t even meet any other dogs. Another night, I finally got both boys dressed, and decided to try them together. They really weren’t too bad, though I’d say they were still pulling pretty hard. Buddy, the Beagle, plows along, nose to the ground, oblivious that there is a person hanging on for dear life behind him.

I think no-pull harnesses work better when attached to a four or six foot leash. And they don’t alleviate the need for training, that’s for sure. Sled dogs wear harnesses–but they are supposed to pull. 

Artwork above: Beagle by Terry Albert.

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© 2010 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Pet sitters: customer service and the phone

The best way to keep your customers is by providing good service, and the lifeline to your clients is the telephone. I have many customers I never see after the initial consultation visit. So we communicate by telephone.

There are times when I want to blow the thing up. When someone calls at 10 pm, I want to run screaming into the hills. But after they leave that message, the onus is on me to return their call first thing in the morning (at a reasonable hour). I have never set “hours” with my clients, because most of them are very thoughtful. Those late night calls are usually someone new who wants me to sit their pets tomorrow. No can do.

BUT, if the client’s flight was cancelled, they may need you to make another visit. Call them back to reassure them you got the message and will take care of it.

The way to build a good relationship is to return calls promptly. I am guilty of getting busy and then find myself sitting there at 9:30 at night with a pile of messages I haven’t answered. Bad dog.

If you can’t accommodate someone, they need to know so they can make other arrangements. If you have some contacts, be sure to recommend another pet sitter in the area whom you trust. Yes, you may lose the client, but if they were happy with you, they will usually come back. And either way, you’ll get some positive word of mouth for being helpful.

Follow up after pet sits with a phone call. People usually call or email to let you know they are home. If not, call them. Let them know you care that they got home okay and everything was satisfactory.  

In this era of text messaging and email, communication with our clients is easier, but less personal. I don’t text people unless I know they use text messaging. If they don’t have a texting plan, receiving my messages gets expensive.

If you are on a pet sit and have a question, clients usually appreciate a call. I rarely use the client’s phone; I always have my cell in hand. They are reassured that you are at the house and everything is okay. They feel like they’ve checked up on you, even though you were the one that called. Now they have an idea what time you make your visits.

Although sometimes the phone can be a pest, it is also a vital tool in your pet sitter’s toolbox. Return calls promptly and keep in touch with your customers by phone. Hearing your voice adds a personal touch to your communication.

Photo above: One of my clients, Rylee, a goldendoodle, learns to surf.

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© 2010 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Busy season!

It will be over soon, and I will wonder what I’ve been complaining about. I did nine visits yesterday, and have 7 today. Wow… I realize that for some of you that is not even a full day. Because I also board dogs at home, it is enough for me!

I’m up at 6, and feed the four horses first, because that quiets the dogs down. Then I feed the dogs. Eight guests this weekend, plus my four. Then I get dressed, feed the cats, scoop litter boxes, then let all the dogs back out together when they are done eating.

By 7 or 7:30am  I am off to do pet sits. Two homes with dogs (and bunnies) that have been in all night get to go out first, then I do cats and bird visits after that.

Home by 9 am, because an owner is picking up his dog. Back out to do another cat visit I didn’t have time for.

10-2: Play with dogs, referee dogs, sit with dogs, try to write a little on my book that is due to publisher Sept 1.

2 pm: new client brings her two dogs for a consultation.

4 pm: another dog goes home.

5 pm: the full feeding routine begins again.

6-7:30 pm: clean corrals and mess with horses before it gets dark. Training new Shetland pony.

8 pm: Pet sit visit 7 miles west of my house: cockatoo (Nilla), eclectus parrot (Betty) and a mealy Amazon parrot named Albert who always says “Hi Albert” when I come in (my last name, though I don’t think that’s what he means!).

8:45 pm: Pet sit 2 miles east of my house; walk two dogs and bring in for the night.

9:15 Home, glass of whine (that is not a typo!) and let the dogs out for last potty break of the night.

10 pm: Fall into bed; curl up with cats. Instantly asleep. School starts the last week of August and things will get quiet.

Photos: Sherlock the Shetland and Ari the Icelandic get acquainted over breakfast.
Cooper and Porter, both Labs, wrestle in the yard.
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© 2010 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.