Thursday, October 27, 2011

Tips for dog walkers

My friend Judy laughed when I asked her to pose for photos that show how to hold a leash. “How simple is that? Who needs a photo?” Well, maybe nobody, but just in case…

Back when I was learning to train dogs professionally, I quickly realized that many dogs are stronger than me, that they see things to chase before I do, and that they can easily rip a leash right out of my hand in an instant. So I figured out how to better hang on and lessen the risk of a nasty accident.

First, stick your hand through the loop at the end of the leash. I want to add here that leather leashes are much softer and don’t burn your hands when a dog pulls.

Grasp the leash itself with your hand while it is still through the loop. Poor Tyson wants to know why he's on a leash if we don't get to go anywhere...

Now you have a good grip on the situation. The only risk is being pulled off your feet if the dog suddenly takes off. I recommend you pay careful attention if your canine client is likely to pull this stunt. You probably need more help than a good hold on the leash will provide.

No pull harnesses
My recent trip to the Association of Pet Dog Trainers annual conference here in San Diego introduced me to a multitude of so-called “no-pull” harnesses for dogs. I can see where these products would be handy for a pet sitter. After all, we are not being paid to train the client’s dogs.

Some of my clients provide a no-pull harness for their wannabe sled dogs. I’ve learned that every harness is different, and it takes a puzzle master to put most of them on correctly. Most still allow the dog to pull, he just doesn’t crush his trachea during the process.

If you’re going to be walking a dog every day, it is worth taking the time to teach the dog to walk properly on a leash, even if the owner hasn’t mastered this skill. It’s not easy to teach, and some dogs pull all their lives.

Next time…
It ain’t easy, but we’ll talk about how to teach a dog this vital skill.

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© 2011 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Dog Daycare rules: To spay or not to spay?

I have wrestled with a decision for months. Most dog daycares and in-home boarding businesses do not allow unaltered dogs (meaning all dogs must be spayed or neutered). I have been lax with this requirement and now it has gotten me in trouble.

I’m not really into proclaiming myself the Pet Police. It’s a free country and I don’t think anyone should be forced to alter their pet. That being said, these dogs are not easy to have around in a group play setting. I have gradually weakened and allowed dogs under a year old come in even if they aren’t altered.

I should qualify my remarks and point out that these are my own observations, not proven scientific fact. Unneutered males are generally very active and pushy, jumping on all the dogs and humping everyone in sight while peeing on everything else. They don’t start fights; they are just agitated. Many of them pester and mount spayed females. Then the females turn around and get pretty nasty.

Unspayed females seem to be less tolerant of other dogs, especially other females.  

Nightmare scenario
This week one of my female canine clients showed up in heat. Worse, a ten-month-old intact puggle was coming to stay. I was mad at myself for getting into this mess, not at the customers. Determined dogs will jump gates and mate through a chain link fence. I had to put solid barriers between them. I decided to let the girl stay in my back bedroom and the puggle could cool his jets in the garage, where he loves napping in an open crate with his spayed female roommate. Then I can just switch out every few hours, letting one of them loose with the group.

Nightmare gone wrong
Great idea. But in the morning commotion of letting everyone out and fixing meals, I put Mr Puggle in the garage and forgot to close the dog door. About five minutes later, I walk out the back door with bowls of dog food, and the little girl races by with him hot on her heels. You can imagine what I said…

I have no idea if anything happened, but we’ll know for sure in a few weeks. I’m hoping that, since he was still pursuing her frantically, she hadn’t accepted his overtures. She’s never been bred.

I am totally disgusted with myself. Confessing to her owner was hard; I’m beating myself up for letting it happen. I can only say that if I dodge a bullet on this incident – or I guess I should say SHE dodges a bullet – that I will never let it happen again.

And now I understand why dog daycare owners make these rules…

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© 2011 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The september pet sitting business slump

Kiva and Guiness needed a vacation too!
The kids are back in school, Labor Day is over, and everyone is settling into their fall routine. As a result, the pet sitting business usually slows down dramatically in September. As you see, I haven’t posted for a few weeks, and that is because I decided to take a vacation. I plan at least a week off every September. This year I traveled for one week and had a very slow week when I got home, with only two clients. This weekend (the 23-25th of Sept) it all starts back up again. Which is fine. I’m ready to make some money.

Couples with no kids often choose September to travel, so I usually have a few clients this month, often taking long trips.

January and February are also slow months. Some dedicated skiers keep me working, and the Martin Luther King and President’s Day holidays always fill up, but overall, it’s a nice break. I usually watch lots of movies.

What do you do during slow periods?
Since our quiet times are somewhat predictable, we can plan ahead to take advantage of the break. I used to panic and consider getting a second job., worried about how I would pay the bills. Now I have learned to set aside a little extra during the busy season to get me through slow times. I’ve also learned that business always picks back up again, so I can enjoy my time off.

Besides taking a vacation, this is a great time to take steps to build your business and get ready for the busy holidays to come:
  • Call regular clients and ask if they are planning holiday trips. They may not know the exact dates, but you can pencil them in and get an idea of how many openings you’ll have for new clients. Now is also a great time to thank your existing customers for their business.
  • Network with other pet sitters. Call, visit, or get together for lunch. Compare notes, exchange ideas and refresh your perspective.
  • Give your website a check up. Is it getting stale? Are the photos current? Is it optimized for search engines? Do a Google search for pet sitters in your area and see who comes up. Does your site show up on the first page of results?
  • Visit other pet businesses in your town. Groomers, kennels, training centers and pet supply stores will be more likely to refer people if they’ve met you and like you. Even your competitors like to have someone to refer clients to when they are full.
  • If you board dogs, now is the time to catch up on repairs and maintenance, especially before the weather gets cold.
  • Get the car tuned up, the tires checked and other maintenance items so you won't have a breakdown at the height of the holidays.
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© 2011 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Flee, Fleas...please!

Flea outbreak!
Several weeks ago, golden retriever Indy arrived for his stay at my house, and within a day he was covered with fleas. I can’t think of anything much worse than fleas infesting every dog (and cat). With seven visiting dogs, my four dogs and three cats, it could take months to get rid of these pests! I hadn’t seen a single flea in over a year here. My vet tells me it has been a really bad year for fleas in Southern California.

Indy had been treated with Frontline, but it just wasn’t working anymore. Another owner, of Oliver the terrier, reported the same problem. It appears that some dogs (or their fleas, actually) are building up a resistance to the miracle flea treatments that appeared on the market less than 20 years ago.

I remember the days. I had to wash down my countertops every night because the cats had been up there during the day, and there were disgusting flea eggs and dirt all over. I had to bathe and dip the dogs and cats every week, powder them, spray them, and put flea collars on them. Nothing really worked.

Then Fleabusters was invented. A fantastic product that was brushed into your carpet, it dried out the larvae and eggs while killing live fleas. Shortly after that, Advantage and Frontline were developed. Then monthly pills like Program and Sentinel, became available.

Our pets were finally free of these awful pests. I hope it lasts, and scientists will continue to develop new formulas.

My fellow pet writers recommended Capstar, an oral medication that starts killing fleas within an hour. I had never heard of it. I dosed everyone, vacuumed, washed dog beds and cleaned. I haven’t seen evidence of fleas in three weeks now.

The good news is you can give Capstar to animals that have been treated with Frontline or Advantage, and as often as every day. It is available over-the-counter at pet supply retail stores.

Please don’t take my word for it. I am not a veterinarian. Talk to your vet, as I did, and make sure Capstar is safe for your animals.

I informed each owner, so they could keep an eye on their dogs and stop any outbreaks as soon as they occur. I will be keeping this product on hand in case future flea-infested pets arrive to stay at my house.
Sammy, before
Sammy, after
Capstar for cats
Good news, Capstar works on cats too. Christine Davis, of Lighthearted Press, tells about Sammy, a feral cat she adopted. Sammy was covered with sores, and had lost big patches of fur because of fleas. She started him on regular doses of Capstar, and his fur is starting to grow in and he is feeling much better.

This is what she said:
From the moment I started him on the Capstar (12 days ago) he never had another bloody sore. The existing patches have all closed up, and what you see in this picture is the last few places where fur is starting to grow back.

I can see where this product will be a big help to rescues and shelters, stopping infestations before they get started.

Not a paid announcement 
I’m really not trying to do a commercial here! But I do like to pass along info about products that make pet owners’, pet sitters’, dog daycare owners’, and rescuers’ lives easier! 

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© 2011 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

AKA, DBA…who cares? You should.

Indy and Luke play with
a rope while Portia supervises

In order to put my business name on my checks, my bank required that I run a DBA (Doing Business As) notice in the local paper. In order to run the DBA, the paper required I get a business license from the city. Because I have two businesses, Tiger Mountain Graphics and Poway Pet Care, I had to go through this rigamarole twice. 

On my tax return, I file two Schedule Cs each year, one for each business. So I figured I had my business house in order when I recently applied to refinance my home. If you are self-employed, as most pet sitters are, you know exactly where this post is going. 

Just because I think I’m organized, and just because I think I make enough money to pay my house payment, doesn’t mean the banks agree with me. I’m sure the underwriters see “petsitter” and “artist” on my application, and roll their eyes. And sure enough, my application was refused because I don’t make enough money. My house payment was going to go DOWN $400 a month, but no matter, I couldn’t afford it. Just ask them. They certainly didn’t believe me. 

I protested, and the bank gave it another look-see. I have never provided so much documentation in my life. And some of the confusion was of my own doing. 

At some point, I have called my art business Pet Portraits. That name doesn’t encompass everything I do, since I also do graphic design, web site design, and writing. So I have used Tiger Mountain Graphics since about 1992. 

Somewhere deep in my credit report, a business has me on file as Pet Portraits. I don’t even have any business credit accounts, but I do purchase items like framing and art supplies through wholesale outlets. What’s this, asks the bank? How do I explain it? How do I prove it is my business if I’ve never used that name on a tax return or my business license? 

They asked me to have my tax accountant send them a letter verifying the business. If you are self-employed, you really need an accountant, by the way. Finally, I convinced them by showing them my re-sellers permit from the State of California, which says “Pet Portraits/Tiger Mountain Graphics.” 

Yay! At last! PROOF! Since it was issued in 1997, I had to show that I’m still in business, so my tax accountant still had to write the letter, even though they have copies of my tax returns for several years. 

Also Known As. I have gone by the nickname Terry for almost 40 years. But my given name is Teresa. That also required some explaining. 

The Lesson of the story…
If you offer and assortment of services under your business name, like pet taxi, boarding, grooming, etc., be sure you use the same business name for everything. If you rename or alter the business, be sure you have your tax returns, licensing, and other paperwork all in agreement. It’s hard enough to get a bank loan when you are self-employed, much less when your business (like mine) is an assortment of businesses all rolled into one. 

Keep legal documents simple and consistent. You’ll save yourself a lot of grief down the road. 

And yes, the refinance was approved. 
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© 2011 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Two great pet products

Over the years I have tried an assortment of pet care products, and many of them lie unused in a cupboard out in the garage. I have found two items that I’d like to share with you. I like them so much I’ve given them to many of my pet sitting clients. Both are inexpensive and practical.

Litter Lifter
Years ago, I would complain to my husband that none of the litter scoops were heavy duty enough for cleaning multi-cat litter boxes. Since he worked for Petco, he started brining home samples for me to try. Inspired, he fashioned a metal prototype, which I found to be so heavy I was going to end up with carpal tunnel syndrome. On the other side of the problem, many of the plastic scoops were flimsy and the tines broke easily. 

The Litter Lifter is the answer to my prayers. It is large and made of heavy-duty plastic, with peaked tines that allow the sand to flow through easily. It’s not heavy, but it deals with even the biggest clumps. When I have a client who needs it, I usually “gift” one to them while they are on vacation. They’ve all loved it.

I found the Litter Lifter at a pet expo and bought a dozen for my clients. Now I’m happy to report it is available at Petco. Price: $5.50

The Tangle Wrangler

This item is a horse supply, and you will probably have to order it online or go to a tack and feed store. I love this brush because the rows of plastic tines fan out as you brush through the dog’s coat (or the horse’s mane). 

I use the Tangle Wrangler on Golden retrievers, Aussies, Cavalier Spaniels and other dogs with long silky coats. It also removes a lot of undercoat on my shelties. My only complaint is the tines start to break after a few months of use. Then again, mine looks like it was chewed on, so that may be the problem! Price: About $5.95.

I don't get paid for plugging these products. I just like them.

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© 2011 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

How I almost killed myself while cleaning the cat box

I have huge litter boxes for my cats. The sides are high, and they rarely miss the box when peeing. I keep the cat boxes in the unused shower, the one with broken tiles and a leaking drain pan. This handy setup is one of the benefits of living in a 60-year-old house.

My cat Whisper © Terry Albert
This morning when I went to sweep up some litter they had tracked on the shower floor, I realized it was wet. I carried the litter box outside, and saw that the underside was wet, and it smelled awful. I washed the box and left it outside to air-dry while I went in to clean up the shower.

The shower clearly could use disinfecting, so I grabbed the cleaner-with-bleach and headed down the hall with a roll of paper towels. I couldn’t rinse out the shower because of the leaks, so I needed to clean up the mess and wipe it out.

As soon as the cleaning spray hit the shower floor, I knew I was in trouble. The fumes of the bleach cleaner mixed with the ammonia in the urine and IMMEDIATELY created an extremely toxic chloramine gas. My nose, eyes and throat burned. My lungs felt like I’d swallowed a torch. I dropped everything and ran from the room.

Now, a couple hours later, my chest still hurts, and I realize how much danger I was in. If I hadn’t left the room, I would have quickly lost consciousness, and could have even died.

A search on the Internet confirmed my suspicions. Here’s what I found on
  • If you find someone who you think has mixed bleach and ammonia, chances are he or she will be unconscious. If you can, remove the person to fresh air, preferably outdoors. Call 911 for emergency assistance.
  • Thoroughly ventilate the area before returning to dispose of the liquid. Seek specific instructions from Poison Control so that you don't hurt yourself. You're most likely to make this mistake in a bathroom or kitchen, so leave and seek assistance, return later to open a window, allow time for the fumes to dissipate, and then go back to clean up. Dilute the chemical mixture with plenty of water. Wear gloves, just as you would for either bleach or ammonia.
Just to be sure, I called poison control 800-222-1222. They told me as long as I was breathing okay, to just drink something cold or eat some ice cream to soothe my throat. If I had trouble breathing, I would need to go to the hospital for oxygen and supportive care.

I knew not to mix household cleaners, but didn’t stop to think about the ammonia in urine. There’s no reason to create chemical weapons in your home and release them on yourself. Good God, it’s hard to imagine such a silly thing could kill me. 

Note: Another toxic mixture is bleach and vinegar, which releases chlorine gas.
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© 2011 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Accepting credit cards on the go

I am also an artist, and I just read an interesting article directed at artists who accept credit cards while they are at art shows. This device, called the Squareup, attaches to your cell phone so that you can process payments anywhere, anytime.

This device might also be a helpful item for pet sitters, so I am passing the information along to you.

Here's the article about the Squareup.

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© 2011 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Pet sitter personal safety tips and helpful products

It’s 8 pm and I am walking a dog in an unfamiliar neighborhood. It occurs to me that if I get hit by a car or have a heart attack, no one will know who I am or where I belong. The subject came up recently on one of the Internet pet sitter lists I subscribe to, PPSU. Some interesting and helpful suggestions came up, and I’d like to pass them along to you.

If you aren’t carrying business cards, do you have some other form of ID on you? sells attractive ID bracelets, the human equivalent of dog tags. Originally developed for bikers and joggers, their products are perfect for pet sitters too. RoadID also offers small pouches that attach to your shoe, perfect to carry a key.

Another handy item for nighttime walks is the Firefly® security light. They offer clip-on or wrist strap styles, which can be seen by motorists for up to a mile away.

ICE stands for “In Case of Emergency. “ Everyone should program an ICE number into his or her cell phone. Mine says ICE Dan, which has my brother’s number. He doesn’t live nearby, so I also have another ICE number, of a friend in my local area that could step in and take care of my home and animals if I’m out of commission.

Your Car
While you’re in the client’s house or out walking a dog, where is your purse? Sitting on the front seat of the car? Bring it in with you and lock the house while you walk. I am fortunate that I work in pretty safe neighborhoods, but even the nicest area can be a target for criminals, especially at night.

Carry all your stuff while pet sitting
Cargo vests, pants, fanny packs
Some of us carry a load of stuff when we are on the job:  keys, poop bags, treats, flashlight, cell phone, business cards, leashes, pepper spray– and on and on. Where to put it all? A cargo vest, or fishing vest, has multiple pockets so you can keep things organized and easy to get to. Fanny packs are helpful, but not as convenient if they only have one compartment. I know I hate digging through keys and other paraphernalia while trying to find a poop pickup bag. And the dog I’m walking is usually anxious to continue his walk, merrily wrapping the leash around my legs while I struggle. I always wear jeans or cargo pants (same benefit– multiple pockets).  

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© 2011 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Help your pets keep their cool in summer heat

This is an excellent post worth sharing.

Every pet sitter should be able to recognize the signs of heatstroke, and know what to do about it. In these hot summer months, be prepared!

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© 2011 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

When strangers show up during your pet sitting visit

Play date

I pulled up to the front driveway at 8 am on Saturday morning. A row of trucks awaited me out in the street. Contractors huddled around cars, waiting for something… or someone.


The client’s home is newly built, and there is detail work to be finished inside. These guys were here to install the baseboards. The client wasn’t expecting them.

The men had opened the door and gone in, setting off the alarm. “Don’t worry,” one of them told me, “It turned off.” Not likely, I thought. I went in and disarmed it, since they didn’t have the code.

And then we waited for the police, while I walked the dog.

Be prepared

When discussing the visit schedule with your clients, ask them if anyone might be entering the home. It is frightening to walk in on someone. And you need to know if the intruder is authorized to be there.

I get surprised all the time, and I hate it. Last week I got a call from a friend of a client’s. She told me she was going over to take the dog for a few hours. I was so glad she told me, as I would have panicked if I’d arrived and the dog was gone. I checked with the owner, and all was well.

I’ve walked in on teenagers the morning after a big party, a grandma washing vegetables in the kitchen sink, and clients who arrived home early. You can’t always know everything in advance, but it will help your peace of mind if you have at least asked.

One time I got a call from a client’s security alarm company. The guy explained he didn’t think the alarm was functioning properly. Could I meet him at the house and go through the alarm test with him?

No. I couldn’t contact the clients because they were out of the country. I wasn’t comfortable letting a strange man in the house and working there alone with him. So I said no. When the client returned, they understood completely.

The contractors

In the example at the beginning of this post, I spoke with the police and gave them my ID. I called the client and got authorization for the contractors to work in the home. I moved the cat and dog to a room where they wouldn’t be able to escape. It all worked out, but if I hadn’t shown up just then, what would have happened? The contractors didn’t have the client’s phone number.

Be safe, not sorry

Listen to your gut. If the stranger in the house makes you uncomfortable, don’t go in. I strongly recommend you read the book “The Gift of Fear” by Gavin de Becker.
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© 2011 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The busy summer season is upon us!

Are you ready for the summer rush? School is out, and family vacations are already in full swing. I can tell when school is over because my schedule is crammed that first week every summer.

So how do you prepare? Here's some of the things I do:

  • Update my website. Make sure it is accurate, maybe add some fresh information or photos. I just raised my price for visits.
  • Give my car a checkup: air in the tires, oil change. I realized my registration tags had expired, and the new ones never arrived. Off to the DMV to get them replaced.
  • Check my pet sitting supplies in the car. I discovered this week I didn't have a leash for big dogs, just a little thin one. That won't work when walking a pit bull. I also added some poop pick-up bags.
  • Update my iPod Touch with current client info. I use Bento, and love this program for all my pet sitting client files. I input them on my Mac, and then sync the program with my iPod. It is very handy to have phone numbers at my fingertips while out on the road. 
  • Buy new tennis shoes. Slip-on mules just don't work for long walks; I walk right out of them. So I bought some new walking tennies as a treat to start the summer. 
  • Check my supply of business cards. I had to reorder. I like to give two to each customer: one for home, one for their wallet. It has my home phone number, cell, email and website so they can check in with me whenever they want to see how their pets are doing or have a schedule change. I also like to leave a card on the counter at the house in case someone comes in while the client is away. They know I've been there, and can contact me if there is a problem. One time I had to go over and shut off the burglar alarm for a housekeeper. 
  • Take a break. I am taking it easy for a few days, taking advantage of a lull in business. Where I used to panic, I now am grateful for a slow day. I know that within two weeks, my schedule is COMPLETELY full.
  • If you are looking for new clients, now is a great time to remind vets and kennels that you are available. Network with other pet sitters too. As your competition fills up, they'll  refer clients to you.
My business card
I'm sure you can add some of your own tips. If you've heard the saying "shoot while the ducks are flying," now is the time. No point in shooting in the off season. Now is time to take aim and be ready to work.

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© 2011 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Situation desperate. Cat needs a new home

Wally needs a new home
I hope you will go over to my other blog and read about Wally the cat who needs a home. Pet sitters are a compassionate bunch, and have a wide reach with their clients and contacts. Please help me spread the word.

Many pet sitters are also rescuers (I fostered dogs for about 15 years). In these tough economic times, more and more pets are losing their homes. This is our opportunity to help people and pets that have fallen on hard times. Not every pet that is given up is the result of an irresponsible owner.

Here's Wally's story
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© 2011 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Remembering Hannah

September 17, 1996- April 16, 2011

For over ten years, I have cared for Jody’s pets, and Hannah has always been part of the family. She was one of my first California pet sitting clients, and I learned a lot from my visits to Hannah’s home. Hannah was the one consistent thing I encountered on every visit, while at times chaos swirled around her. (More on that in a second)

Hannah has passed away, and Jody is heartbroken. So am I. I remember our long walks around the neighborhood, inspecting gardens and gathering clippings from friendly neighbors. Hannah was always wary of me at first, but once I brought out the leash, she was ready to go. Our last few months, our walks were only to the mailbox and back. That was enough for our dear old girl.

I watched as Jody’s two kids grew up, Jody’s trials as a single mom, her working through nursing school, and most recently, as she fell in love and married. Jody commented that Hannah always watched over her. I told her maybe Hannah felt it was okay to go, now that Jody has Rick to care for her.

The adventures
Over the years, I cared for snakes, rats, fish and bunnies in Hannah and Jody’s household. I have pages of notes about their care.

Lesson #1: I remember putting a towel over the rat cage to keep them warm. The next morning, the towel was inside the cage and shredded to bits.

Lesson #2: Jody’s first cat was a white kitty named Molly with diabetes. I quickly learned that Molly turned into Cujo when she saw the needle coming. I learned to give her the insulin injection while she was eating. Quick and decisive, before she had the opportunity to turn and bite or scratch me. Ultimately, I wore a heavy jacket and garden gloves while I gave Molly her shot!

Lesson #3: Learn where the water main shut off is for each house you visit. New Year’s morning, I walk in the door and water is running down the stairs. The popcorn ceiling in the family room is soggy and dripping, with clods of stucco globbing up on the hardwood floor…which was buckled a foot into the air from all the moisture.

A bathroom pipe had broken in the night. Thanks to a helpful neighbor, I found the water shutoff behind a shelving unit in the garage. We called Jody, and the neighbor arranged for flood cleanup before Jody got home that night.

Lesson #4: Don’t blame the dog. Another morning visit. As I came in the front door, the house was in chaos. Cushions off the couch, wet carpet. “Hannah!” I chided her, “what did you do?” Then I spied the beer cans in the corner. Well, she obviously didn’t drink those herself.

Further on, in the family room, a window was broken, the TV screen was shattered. A toilet seat had been torn off and was in the hallway. I called the neighbor to see if they’d seen anything the night before. I started to leave a message saying I was going to call the police. Neighbor picks up and tells me the police came last night, and arrested a bunch of kids. Whew… Hannah looked at me like she was the guilty one. I’m sure the break-in upset her. She looked sorry that she couldn’t stop it.

Out back, there was a patio chair on top of the patio cover. Okay, I thought. There really must be easier ways to get in the house. The culprits were school friends that knew the family would be out of town.

Things calmed substantially as Jody’s kids grew up and went away to college. No more of the son’s snakes and fish tanks, no more high school shenanigans.

And sadly, no more Hannah. I will miss her. But I still get to visit the bunnies and the cats. 

Jody talks about Hannah
Hannah came into my life, our lives, and it has been one of the best decisions I ever made.  She has been my loyal companion for almost 15 years.  She was there by my side every step of the way.  Those who knew her well know of her issue with the vacuum, total knee shaking fear, to her stalking, I had to be in eye sight at all times, to her inability to walk on wood floors and her coping mechanism of walking backwards across them to get to safe ground aka the carpet. 

She never bit, barked inappropriately, or caused any major damage. She loved the kids, and all women.  Although for some reason she was always shy of men.  Except for one, my husband Rick. From the minute he stepped through the door she fell immediately in love.  I knew then that he really was a good man, because if Hannah like him he must really be as good as he seemed.  It became increasingly clear as time went by that she preferred his company to mine. But I didn’t mind. Who could blame her.  She was as love struck as I was. 

And so it goes, that life as a dog owner was as good as it gets. 

I was going to write about the last weeks we had together but I think I will stop here. 

I want people to know that she went quietly to where dogs go.  We held her, and we looked into each others eyes until the end.  We told her how much we loved her and how good she was. And then she was gone.  The doctor said that she was ready.  That in all his experience he knew by watching her that she was ready.  Some people say that some dogs stay longer than they want to because they are worried about their human.  I think Hannah was staying because she was worried about all of us. 

The past couple of days have been sad but I am somewhat relieved that she is comfortable now.  That life is no longer a struggle for her.

The sounds in the house come and go.  A sigh, a bark. I think she is checking in on us.  Watching over us as she always did.  She was a really good dog.
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© 2010 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Pet sitting price increases and the cost of gasoline

A pair of hound mixes (look at those tails and tucked up tummies) Lela and Kona

My gasoline expense this month was $290. Some days I drove over 100 miles and never left Poway. With the huge increase in gas prices, I’m sure you are experiencing similar sticker shock. So what can you do about it?

A few years ago, one pet sitter I know increased her prices temporarily, $2 per visit, to cover the increase in gas prices.  When prices settled down after the summer, she dropped the surcharge.

I have limited my service area. I used to cover Rancho Bernardo, which was 8 miles or more each way. Since I live in the far southeast corner of Poway, CA, I charged $20 per visit. In the Poway city limits, I charge $17. I still cover my existing clients in Rancho Bernardo, but am not accepting new ones. I refer to fellow pet sitters who are closer to that edge of town.

Poway is pretty spread out, and I soon realized that some of my Poway customers are also more than 8 miles away. A good rule of thumb is to limit your service area to a five-mile radius. My problem is that less than 1 mile south of me, there are no more homes, so there is no radius to serve, just sagebrush and coyotes. So I chose “city limits” as my service area.

If you live in the country, you will naturally have to serve a bigger area in order to have enough clientele to make a living. You may also have to care for farm animals.  

Jilly, golden retriever
You can’t charge more than the market will bear. In other words, if all the other pet sitters in your area charge $12 a visit, you’ll price yourself out of the market at $15. Do a price survey at least once a year. Network with other pet sitters; they can be your friends as well as your competition.

When did you last increase your prices? If it’s been three or more years, your clients will probably not object. If they love and trust you, they will understand and be happy to pay.

Whatever you charge for visits, provide above–standard service. Go the extra mile. Clean up the yard even if they didn’t ask you to. Wash out the pet’s dishes so they are spotless when the client returns. Make your pet sitting service worth the extra two bucks.

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© 2010 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Pet sitting is fun!

Jilly and Bailey wait for me to come up the stairs

The past three weeks I have cared for a kitty named, aptly, Sweet Pea. She is the kind of client we all dream about when we decide to go into the pet sitting business.

Every day when I arrived, she’d roll around on the Oriental rug in the entry hall, meowing and asking for a scratch. We’d play with her feathers and balls, and I’d brush her for a few minutes. After cleaning her litter box and giving her fresh water and food, we’d head for the kitchen, where she’d get a teaspoon of yogurt. I’d scatter a few treats around the family room, which she would promptly devour. She’d save her yogurt for after I left.

So many cats hide from me. Others don’t like the intrusion of my visits, watching suspiciously as I tend to their needs. Some warm up after a few days, as they get progressively lonelier in their empty house. Every one is different, and I adapt to their unique personalities.

Bailey and Jilly are two golden retrievers I’m also visiting. Bailey runs for his toy box as I arrive, and presents me with a different un-stuffed animal every time I come in the door. The house is now strewn with fluffy carcasses. We hang around outside. I bring my crossword puzzle in the mornings, sitting on the patio while they plop their heads in my lap. We hike to the bottom of the hill out back and struggle back up together. It’s a beautiful setting, and they are beautiful dogs.

Sometimes I get so wrapped up in the stress and responsibility, I forget how nice it is to spend time with the animals, and just enjoy them for who they are. 

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© 2010 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Small dogs

My guests, Izzy and Charlie
So which are easier to pet sit, big or small dogs? I’ve had potential clients ask me if I charge less for small dogs. HAH! Sometimes I think they are twice as much work!

Small dogs are notoriously harder to housetrain. Small dogs seem less likely to eat their food at one sitting, and less likely to comply with my request to PLEASE go-outside-and-go-potty-so-we-can-go-to-bed… It’s the little ones that get into the wastebaskets and dig up the houseplants. I think people are less comfortable boarding a toy dog at a kennel. Big dogs that are destructive…well, the owners know better than to leave those guys home alone.

I have a sweet little Yorkie, Charlie, staying with me right now. He plays an interesting game. He wants to get up in my lap, and won’t jump up, which his owner told me. I have to pick him up and lift him into my lap. Fine. Except he bounces all around asking me to pick him up, and then when I lean down to get him, he moves away, just out of reach.

I wonder if Charlie is used to being picked up and taken somewhere he doesn’t want to go, like outside or in his crate. He certainly doesn’t think getting picked up is a good thing. So we play the game until I corner him. I could just forget it and leave him on the floor, but he keeps asking to get in the chair with me. A friend once described a condition that is diagnosed in kids: “oppositional defiance disorder” (something all teenagers probably have). Well that sounds like Charlie. If I want him in, he stays out. If I want him out, he stays in.

A diligent retraining effort could fix his recall. I should call him to me, offer lots of positive reinforcement and treats, then let him go away with out doing anything to him. Eventually I could touch him and let him go, then hold him for a second and let him go, and ultimately, pick him and let him go, all reinforced with treats and other positive things. He’s not too motivated by food so the treats need to be something fabulous, like cheese bits or peanut butter. 

It’s hard to do when you are the temporary caregiver, but even one week of work would get him off to a good start. Chances are his owners face the same issues with Charlie.

Next time, Charlie. I’m on to ya.
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Izzy, Charlie, Desi, Blaze and Pepper

Friday, April 1, 2011

R.I.P. Casey

Casey with miniature schnauzer Pepper and her owner, Karla
As I look back through my posts on both of my blogs, I see Casey the Giant Schnauzer featured often. Today I write about him again, but this time with some sad news. My big buddy died this week at 9 years old, from a fast growing tumor in his mouth that made it impossible for him to drink and eat.

I only found out on Saturday that he was ill, when his owner Maria emailed me. I planned to go see him this week. By Tuesday it was too late. I can tell I've been pet sitting for a long time. These days it seems a lot of my canine clients are getting old and passing on. It's a fact of life, but it sure is hard to lose them. It's almost like I've lost my own dog.

I like to look back on the good times, and Casey provided many. People reacted dramatically to him. If I took him for a walk, someone would say, “Nice pony you’ve got there.” People wondered what kind of dog he was, because Giants are fairly rare.

If you approached Maria’s front door, her security screen door blocked your view into the house. But you would be face to face with a huge, suspicious black dog–one that had no intention of letting you in without Maria’s approval. Maria was a wonderful owner. She was dominant without being rough. She knew that a big guard dog breed needs a firm hand, and she trained and socialized him well. She plans to get another Giant Schnauzer in a few months.

I’ll miss the big galoot.

Here’s a post I wrote featuring Casey: The dominance dance
He often appeared in photos, too: What breed should I get? I think I could post 100 pictures.
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Casey with Cowboy, another big guy who stays here 

With Klondike and Makaso 
Playing with Gracie

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Careers with Dogs

When I was an animal-loving kid, it never crossed my mind that I would have a career with animals. I never went to a dog show or an obedience class until I was an adult, at least 30 years old. I had absolutely no exposure to that world. I vaguely longed to be a veterinarian but knew UC Davis was out of my financial reach. And graduate school? Not a chance.

Kids didn’t get exposed to the possibilities in life back when I was a kid. For my parents, who never went to college, the ultimate achievement was a college degree…and of course I would become a teacher.

Well, I got the degree, and became an artist, something they deemed “impossible.” Teaching was of no interest to me at all. Today I paint pet portraits, board dogs in my home, and pet sit. I’m not rich, but I’m supporting myself. If only…

This book would have opened my eyes to a whole new world way back when. Today, I hope every animal-loving kid gets to read it. Besides describing different animal related careers, Kim interviews people who are actually making a living at it. I was excited as I leafed through it, seeing photos and reading stories about an incredible array of opportunites.

My 15 minutes of fame
I’m proud to say that I am one of the professionals featured in the book, in two chapters. On page 228, Kim retells the story of my first pet portrait, of Mac, my grandpa’s dog, painted when I was in college. The picture hung in their dining room behind his favorite chair for many years. I wish I had a photo of it to compare to what I do today.

On page 327, I talk about my life as a pet sitter, the skills needed, and what a typical day’s work is like. There’s a small photo of me with my cats, Sterling and Whisper. I am so proud to be featured in such a great book!
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© 2010 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Dogs bite

On my questionnaire for pet sitting and dog boarding, I include two questions: 1) Has your dog ever bitten? 2) Has your dog ever been in a dog fight?

On a recent new Siberian Husky’s form, I had written “no” answers to both questions. I found out the hard way that the dog had been in a fight before, and severely bitten her owner. 

The owner was picking up her dog. I put all of the other dogs outside except for one, a dominant Lab who didn’t want to go out, so I just let her stay in. The Siberian and the Lab had gotten along fine all week. But when the Sib’s owner was added into the mix, things subtly changed… so subtly that I didn’t see it coming.

In retrospect, the Sib was annoyed at the Lab, who was pestering the owner for some attention. The Sib was jealous and protective of her owner, and the Lab didn’t read the signals, or ignored them, and all of a sudden it was WWIII at our feet.

In the heat of the moment, I did everything wrong. I dove right in and grabbed collars and pulled. A dog–and I don’t actually know which one–turned around and NAILED me on the inside of my thigh. I have never felt such burning pain. The owner got scraped skin but no puncture wound when her dog bit her hand.

We finally got them apart, and threw the Sib in a crate and the Lab outside, then turned to assess the damage. I had four puncture wounds on my leg, but minimal bleeding. The pain was spectacular. The dogs were uninjured.

I went to the doctor and got antibiotics, because any kind of dog bite ALWAYS gets infected. That visit triggered a report to Animal Control, and the officer showed up on my doorstep the next morning. I was in mortal fear that I would be out of business.

The good news
Both dogs were licensed and I had their shot records, showing they were current on all vaccines. The dogs both had to be quarantined for 10 days in their homes or at my house, since we weren’t sure who the culprit was. The Animal Control officer was very cooperative and understood that a dog will unknowingly bite a person when grabbed from behind while fighting. For all the dog knows, another dog is grabbing his neck, where most dogs attack.

The bad news
The fact that this was a “redirected bite” isn’t much comfort to me, since the dog had no bite inhibition whatsoever. She clearly meant to do some serious damage.

The Siberian’s owner told me after the fact that the dog had gotten in a fight a few months ago and had broken her finger…biting her when she tried to break it up. Since then, I’ve been trying to remain neutral, but I can’t help but think the Sib is the one who bit me, since she has a bite history.

More important, I hope this owner doesn’t delude herself into thinking it won’t happen again. She is an inexperienced dog owner, and I believe the dog is on a disastrous course.

Two weeks later, I have a lump on my thigh the size of half a baseball, and the bruise goes from my crotch to well below my knee, and almost entirely around my leg. The color is finally fading, but the memory hasn’t. 

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