Sunday, March 28, 2010

Pet sitter safety with horses

The most recent issue of Pet Sitter's World, published by PSI, focused on horse care. I was a little disappointed when I read the articles, because they didn’t really focus on what pet sitters need to know. General horse care information is helpful, but I decided I would write a couple of posts of my own. This first one covers safety around horses.

If you have never spent time with horses, your first impression will be that they are HUGE. Although I used to own quarter horses, I have small Icelandics now, so everyone else’s horses still seem big to me. Yes, they are big and powerful animals that can hurt you if you don’t know what you are doing. So you need to learn how to safely handle them.

Wear solid shoes. This is not the place to wear flip flops. If a horse steps on your foot, even if you are wearing tennis shoes, it will hurt like hell, and you could end up with several broken bones. If the horse has shoes on, he’ll do even worse damage. So don't even think about wearing sandals.

How to approach a horse. Make sure he knows you are there. Approach from the side, and talk to him. If you startle him, he will run first and ask questions later. You don’t want to be in his path. His eyes are on the sides of his head, so he can’t see you well if you approach straight on.

Watch his ears. They move independently and if an ear turns towards you, he is aware of you and paying attention. You can always get a clue as to what a horse is paying attention to by watching the ears.

Handling a horse. Horses love to smell your breath. Take a few moments to get acquainted; stand by his nose and let him sniff your breath while he checks you over. Stroke his chest. If you reach for his head, a hand-shy horse may jerk away and accidentally slam his head into you. You’ll be left with no teeth.

As you walk around a horse, in his stall or out in the pasture, keep your hand firmly on his body so he knows where you are even if he can’t see you. Continue to talk, so he knows it is you and not the boogie man back there.

Don’t stand directly behind a horse. He can’t see you. You can do anything you need to do at his side.  Don’t crawl under his belly or under his neck. Keep your body where you can move away quickly if the horse spooks.

The horse owner. When you go to the home for your first consultation, be honest with the owner. Let them know if you do or don’t have any horse experience. Plan in advance to spend some time with the owner and the horse.

Blanketing, feeding, putting on a fly mask. If you are to blanket the horse at night, have the owner show you how she does it. Then you try it. There are lots of straps that wrap under the belly and through the legs.

Have her feed the horse, to see how he reacts when food is coming. Is he aggressive? What does she do about it? Does she allow you to hand-feed the horse a treat? Some horses are too pushy and it isn't safe.

In the summer, many horses wear a fly mask. Some wear them 24/7, others will have them removed at night. The mask is made of fine mesh that the horse can see through. Some masks have earpieces that also protect the horse’s ears from flies. Lots of people try to put fly masks on upside down, so don’t be embarrassed to ask the owner for a demonstration!

Will the horse be in the stall when you clean? Have the owner show you. If she can pick manure around his feet without him kicking or getting irritated, that’s a good sign.

Haltering and leading a horse safely. If you are to turn out the horse in an arena, have her show you how she puts on the halter, leads the horse, and how he reacts to all of it. He may get pretty worked up when he realizes he’s going out to play. Can you handle him?

Be careful how you carry a lead rope. Do NOT wrap it around your arm so he can’t pull it away from you. Carry the rope so you can drop it quickly if you have to. See the photos here for a clearer explanation.

Tying a horse. Tie high. You don’t want the rope down low where he can step over it and get tangled. Let him hold his head comfortably, not too high, not too low.

Calm an excited horse. A worried or excited horse will dance around and throw his head up in the air. The worst thing you can do is try to make him stand still. His next trick will be to explode and take off. Let him move a little, maybe in a tight circle around you. Face him toward something that scares him, but don’t make him get closer until he calms down. Watch his ears so you can identify the source of his discomfort.

The “flight or fight” response is deeply ingrained in a horse’s brain. He will react quickly, and if he can’t get away from something that scares him, he’ll strike out and fight. Let him work out his nerves by moving his feet until he calms down. Walk him away from the scary thing.

Have the owner show you how to work a quick-release snap on the lead rope. It’s better to let him get away than be injured. I’ll talk about how to catch a loose horse in my next post.

Is horse care right for you? If you decide all this is too much for you, say so. There are many calm, sweet horses that are easy to handle, and I hope you get to pet sit those! There are also flighty, spirited, “hot” horses that even the owner can barely deal with. You might want to pass on those assignments, unless you are just throwing hay in the stall. I’ve had horses for almost 20 years, and I’d still rather not care for a hard-to-handle horse.

Get a phone number of a local backup person to call if you need help, no matter how sweet and easy going your new equine client is.
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© 2010 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Dogs that mark with urine in the house

Hi Terry,
I have a pet sitting problem that maybe you have encountered. I am boarding in my home and they ALL want to "mark" all over my house! All the owners say they NEVER do that but yet they all do! Do you have ANY suggestions? Thanks - I'm at my wit’s end.

Lynne Batlan Levine
Little Monsters Pet Sitting
New York

Dear Lynne,

I've had this problem!

The first thing I do is take new arrivals STRAIGHT OUTSIDE on leash; no pausing to chat with the owner–we chat outside. Then all the dogs can mark and get acquainted or re-acquainted to their heart's content. I've even had females pee when they first come in- Excitement? Marking? Who knows? They don’t come inside until they have gone potty.

Then I supervise. I have blocked off the hallway to the bedrooms and back of the house. They have to stay in the open living room/office/kitchen area with me. I use baby gates and ex pens to block access. There is a dog door or I leave the door open with a hanging screen so they can go in and out. If I leave, they are in crates or outside if I don’t trust them.

I have a couple of dog guests who are going to mark no matter what. They can't come inside unless they are on my lap or in a crate. A wire crate in the main room near me works fine- we all watch TV together, etc. and they are part of the action without "privileges."

Most dogs (all but the terrible twosome) figure it out after I yell at them once while I catch them in the act. If you find it later, there’s no point in discipline. Some dogs need to be reminded every time they come over. I never hit or chase, but I will shout “NO!” and escort them outside to finish their business.

I separate the gang for feeding, and take them out immediately after meals. One of my guest dogs pees in her bowl to mark it after every meal (see photo above). I have never seen another dog do this! She’ll even go pee in another dog’s bowl (that belongs to the dog she lives with). She eats her meals outside!

I have washable slipcovers, washable dog beds, ceramic tile floors and no rugs. I clean after an incident (notice I didn’t say “accident”) and then rinse down with Nature’s Miracle or some other enzymatic odor remover that I let air dry.

I have never tried this, but you might want to invest in doggie diapers for your markers.

Hope this helps! Good luck with your new pet sitting business!

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© 2010 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

How safe are cageless dog boarding facilities?

Since I operate a "cageless boarding facility" out of my home, I found the article listed above to be of interest. This is a service many pet sitters are adding to their businesses. I was happy to see the recommendations in this article, and my home fulfills the requirements listed. If you are considering offering boarding from your home, this is a good article to get you started.

Safety is the premium concern. This is not the perfect solution for every dog. Some dogs prefer not to live in a social environment, some are too aggressive, have a high prey drive, or just play too rough. A fence-jumper is probably better off in a kennel where he can't escape.

Some dogs can't be left at home alone for more than a day- they start getting bored and anxious. Then they start digging, barking, fence-jumping and chewing. These dogs aren't good candidates for pet-sitting visits because they spend too much time alone. They are perfect dogs for home boarding.

A well-socialized dog may find in-home boarding to be much less stressful than a kennel. I've had no problems with kennel cough or other contagious diseases here (I do require updated vaccines).

Once a dog has stayed here, he settles in quickly the next time and enjoys his visit. A diligent operator can run a successful home dog boarding business.

Here are some other posts I have written about this subject:

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© 2010 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Pet sitter safety

I’ve thought a lot about personal safety lately, especially since Chelsea King, a young girl in our town, was attacked and murdered while jogging on the local trails. Most pet sitters are women, and we are at risk by the nature of the work that we do.

We go alone to consultations and pet sitting visits, entering unknown homes owned by unknown people. And often we make visits late at night. 99.9% of the time that isn’t going to be a problem, but it pays to be aware of our surroundings and take steps to keep safe.

• Carry a flashlight–a big one. Cute little keychain lights are nice, but a big light covers a larger area, and you can also use it as a weapon if you need to.

• Leave your schedule somewhere at home so your movements can be tracked. If you disappear you want someone to come looking for you, and to know where to look.

• If you arrive at a home for the first time and are not comfortable, listen to your inner voice. Leave. Is the client located in a bad neighborhood? Make it clear you won’t do visits after dark. Decide if you want to go there at all. If you're afraid to walk the dog, that's a good indicator. Sometimes we do things we shouldn't because we want to please people. 

• A sign on your car is good advertising. It also advertises that your client isn’t home. As soon as you leave a burglar can break in. If you come at the same times every day, your movements are easier to track, and someone could lie in wait for you.

• If you arrive at a home and it looks like someone has broken in, call the police. Don’t explore until you are sure no one is inside. I have encountered break-ins and vandalism at homes, and it is terrifying. Call the animals to come out to you; don’t go in after them.

• Ask the owners if someone else is expected to enter the home while they are gone. I’ve been surprised by housekeepers and relatives. You want to be comfortable that anyone who comes in is authorized. I’ve arrived and seen signs someone has been in the home since I was last there, and it is unnerving. Call the owners and tell them if something doesn’t seem right.

• Remember to lock the doors when you leave!

• Leave a light on so the interior of the house will be lighted when you return at night. Watch for shadows moving within as you approach the house. 

In my other blog, Everything Pets, I recently wrote about safety on the trails. If you are walking a dog, you are less likely to be attacked, if only because dogs are too much trouble for an attacker to deal with. Big black dogs get a bad rap, but sometimes they are the perfect deterrent.

On the other hand, dogs are a perfect icebreaker, and strangers will approach you on the street to pet your dog or visit. Be wary, and don’t assume everyone who approaches you is a new-found friend. Attackers don’t wear signs. They look and act totally normal until they grab you. It’s a shame we can’t openly trust everyone we meet, but it is the sad truth.

I found this excellent list of safety tips on the Phoenix Police Dept. web site:

And a complete list of personal safety articles:

With all that has happened, I realize I am vulnerable. I thought I lived in a safe area and had nothing to worry about. I was naïve, and the murder of Chelsea King proved it. I plan to take a self-defense class and improve my physical fitness to better protect myself. You might want to do the same thing so you can be a safe pet sitter.

Photo above: Roxy and Otto are wonderful, sweet dogs, but they are naturally protective. Most strangers will not bother you when you are walking a Doberman Pinscher. 

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© 2010 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Pet sitters are targeted by scams

You’d think everyone has heard of the Nigerian scammers who want to buy something from you and send you an outrageous amount of money. You merely have to cash the check and return the difference. They usually start their email with “I am most unfortunate to have disturbed your precious time today…” or some other awkwardly worded sentence.

If the perpetrator is not dying of an incurable disease and needs to get money to his American relatives, then he wants to buy your product at twice its value. As an artist, I know how flattering it sounds that someone wants to buy my art and export it to Nigeria. Wow…

Now pet sitters are being targeted. The scammer writes that he/she is coming to America and needs a pet sitter for her dogs, and of course money is no object. Here is the warning email I received today.
I just got off the phone with one of my clients and heard the most horrifying story that I thought you should know about. I also think this is so important to spread the word so hopefully no one falls victim to his scheme.
My client is a very new pet sitter, which is why I think this scammer is preying on her. Communication from the very beginning came from a email address (which I have since googled, and it's linked to a site about how to make money in Nigeria). He was claiming to be a doctor, would be in her town for 3 weeks doing seminars and was staying at a hotel with his 2 dogs and needed 2 visits a day. He wrote "money was no object." She continued to correspond with him via email, trying to arrange the scheduling and he never asked to speak to her by phone. He sent her pictures of his dogs, etc. (some exotic breed that I've never heard of) As you can imagine, this was all very exciting for a new pet sitter and a great first job to land.
Then she received a very long and descriptive email from him that he had mailed her a check for $1800 (far and above their agreed upon rate) and that she was to deposit it into her ATM (only) and send him a copy of the ATM deposit slip "for his records". Then she was to Western Union $1300 to a pet supply store so the dogs would have supplies available during their stay. The email was extremely descriptive of exact steps that she needed to take to deliver the Western Union, and if she didn't send the $1300 his dogs couldn't be cared for as he intended. He hoped that she understood his "plight".
Unfortunately, she did not immediately see the red flags and was very caught up this new wonderful first new job that she landed - and it's exactly what this predator set out to do.
You get the idea. Now tell your fellow pet sitters, and don’t get sucked in!

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© 2010 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved. Photo above: Goldie and Lily play tug of war.