Sunday, June 27, 2010

Pet sitter mystery: finding the cat

This week I covered a pet sit for a fellow pet sitter, Nancy, who dared to go on vacation in the summertime. The four kitties in my care were an easy assignment except for one little detail. CJ was missing!

Nancy told me that Marcelle used to be very aloof, but he spent the entire week stomping around on my lap, my shoulder, my head and any other place he could think of to get near me. Napping and purring on my lap were his favorite things, so we watched the Home Shopping Channel together (more on that later…). Meanwhile, Squeaky and Daisy looked out the front door.

By the third day I was getting worried. What if CJ had gotten out? I couldn’t imagine how that would happen, but I couldn’t find him either. The house was small and full of stuff. There wasn’t room to hide under the bed or in a closet. I made sure he hadn’t gotten closed in the garage or the daughter’s bedroom.

One day as I was leaving, a neighbor’s tabby was playing in their front yard. What if this was CJ? I’d only see him on the meet and greet visit, I couldn’t remember what he looked like, except my notes said he had a crooked, striped tail. The cat ignored my calls, so I prayed this wasn’t him.

A few days later, as I drove in the driveway, I saw a striped tail disappearing out of the front window. By the time I got in the house, he was nowhere to be seen. Was this the missing CJ? Squeaky followed me on my litterbox cleaning route, meowing and playing and asking to be petted. “Where the hell is your buddy?,” I asked him.

I finally called Nancy. I didn’t want to call the client, since there wasn’t much she could do from Hawaii, and I didn’t want to raise false alarms. “Oh, he’s there,” said Nancy, “It took him almost a year to come out when I started taking care of him.” I was relieved, but still worried.

I always do a head count when I visit cats. Sometimes I am just counting lumps under the bedspread, or poking around a hole in the bottom of a mattress, but I want to be sure I see everyone at least once!

When the client got home, she said the first cat she saw was CJ, slinking off to the back bedroom, undoubtedly afraid I was arriving again… whew.

TV shows for kitties
I mentioned the Home Shopping Channel. I never watch it at home, but when I am pet sitting and want to leave the TV on, I can be comfortable there will be no gunshots, violence, fireworks or other scary sounds to scare the animals.

I learned this from a bulldog owner. The sounds of the TV drown out outside noises that might make the pets anxious, and also make the place feel more like home even though the owners are gone. 

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© 2010 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Judy's first visitors

Fannie and Luke enjoyed their vacation at Judy's house this week! They were her first guests and all went well. They are shown here relaxing with Ellie May the bloodhound, who is Judy's dog. 

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© 2010 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Poway pet Care is expanding

School is out this week, and I suddenly find myself fully booked, and then some. I’ve been planning to get some help, and have played around with the idea for the past six months. Finally, the deed is done and I have my first new helper on board!

I had a counseling session with SCORE (Senior Corps of Retired Executives) and while I was discussing my plans, one suggestion stood out. “Just do it. Add one person and get up and running, and gradually you will add more and it will get easier and easier. The first step is the hardest.”

No kidding. I stalled and stalled until I was desperate. In grave danger of burnout, I realized I couldn’t keep doing it all alone. Rob, the counselor, once owned a dog daycare. I was really fortunate to be able to talk to someone who knew the business. The bonus of using SCORE is that their counseling is 100% free. Can’t argue with that!

The plan:
So, in a continuing effort to better serve my clients and provide superior care for their pets, I will be adding additional caregivers (as independent contractors) to my business. These caregivers will be available to board one or two dogs at a time in their homes, providing a quieter environment for dogs that prefer it, and providing backup when I am fully booked.

I will still be boarding dogs in my home too, but now my clients will have a choice of where they would like their dog to stay. I will continue to handle all scheduling, payments, and will keep in regular contact with both clients and caregivers. Dog owners will meet with their chosen caregiver in the caregiver’s home to be sure the arrangement will work for both parties.

The caregiving team will grow slowly but surely. I will be very choosy about who cares for my client’s dogs. I have modeled my business after Pet Vacations, in Seattle. Lynda has been in business almost 20 years, and she has been a tremendous help to me.

Meet my first caregiver:
Judy Maraventano lives here in Poway and has worked for a doggie day care in Carlsbad. She used to work for Rob’s business in Carlsbad, so she comes highly recommended, and also will be filling in here at the house for me occasionally when I have to be away for a few hours. She shares her home with three sweet older dogs, Kiva, Giselle and Ellie May (great name for a bloodhound). 

As time goes by and I add more caregivers, there will be fewer dogs at my house at a time, which gives my guest dogs more attention, especially during the busy season. I won’t fall apart when it gets busy, and I will have time to enjoy the job I love so much.

An outtake-- Ellie May wasn't sure she wanted her picture taken!

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© 2010 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Be ready for heatstroke in dogs

I am a volunteer reserve park ranger for the City of Poway. Yesterday morning, I was riding on patrol with another ranger and we met some women walking their dogs down in the canyon below Lake Poway. They were resting in the shade before heading back to their cars, about 1 1/2 miles away. 

We chatted for a few minutes. They admired the horses, we admired the dogs. They were carrying water, and all seemed well. They headed out, and a few minutes later, we followed behind them. 

As we rode into Blue Sky Reserve, we could see them hiking up ahead. Blue Sky is a beautiful riparian habitat, with lots of shade from gorgeous old oak tress. But it is recovering from the fire of 2007, and there are areas with bright, hot sun. Although it is not that hot yet this summer, it was about 75 degrees at 11 am. 

We watched one of the dogs lie down in the middle of the trail. His owner gave him a little yank on the leash and he got up and trotted along, only to lie down again about 10 steps later. She repeated the jerk, and he got up and tried to follow. He quit almost immediately.

I couldn't stand it any longer. I trotted up behind her and said, "I am worried about your dog." Her pet was panting and exhausted, trying gamely to please her by keeping up. He was a Lhasa Apso type, with a long shaggy coat. 

I explained the dangers of heat stroke, even in warm, not hot , weather, and I had her pour water over his paws to help cool him. She promised to give him a few minutes rest in the shade until he stopped panting, and then if he still had trouble keeping up, she would carry him the rest of the way to the car.  

I see countless dogs on the trails in the heat, and always stop the owner to be sure they have water. That's not enough. They need to know what to do for their dog. I agonized about this little dog all day yesterday, hoping he was okay. 

What to do if a dog shows signs of heatstroke
Pet sitters who do midday walks should be extra careful in the summer. The first symptom of heatstroke is elevated body temperature. Since you are not going to be carrying a thermometer in your pocket, here are some symptoms to look out for:
  • Excessive panting
  • Bright red gums or gums that are too white
  • Pounding fast pulse
  • Excessive salivation
  • The dog stops and lies down, reluctant to continue
Be proactive in treating heatstroke
It can't hurt to cool off the dog if you are unsure about his condition. 
  • Let him rest in the shade.
  • Wet his paws, head abdomen and chest to cool down his body temperature. Use a wet towel if you have one, or even your shirt (Don't be shy, this is an emergency). Cool water from a garden hose is fine. 
  • Take the dog to the vet- even if he appears to recover. Some of the consequences of heatstroke, for example kidney failure, may not show up for days. 
Heatstroke is a life-threatening emergency. Don't let it happen to your dog or a dog in your care.

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© 2010 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.