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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