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.