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.

1 comment:

Teri Wilson, Romancing the pet lover's soul said...

Aw. Poor Bella. Good to hear she's doing OK now. And thanks for including a photo of the Facebook dynamo Harper.