My epic weekend at Cat Camp NYC 2019

Jackson Galaxy’s Cat Camp NYC sounded like an excellent educational conference for me, as I knew nothing about trap-neuter-return or orphaned kitten care, I’ve followed some of the speakers on social media, and had watched many of Jackson Galaxy’s tv shows on Animal Planet. I have literally tens of thousands of pictures of cats from pet visits on my computer. So I signed up, waited and waited, and finally drove 600+ kilometres last weekend to get there.

I’m originally from New Jersey, and often went up to New York City to see museums and shows when I was growing up. I didn’t have time for any of that on this visit, though I did briefly walk around Central Park and visited Trader Joe’s. I settled my family with more family, and then went off to the cat fair.

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Sights of New York City. The Trader Joe’s shopping basket was on the second day, when I learned that I needed to stay hydrated and well-fed to get me through the day. On my first trip there, I came back with mostly chocolate…

I spent the first day of the two-day conference in back to back sessions. I was amongst the first to line up and get funneled into the Metropolitan Pavilion in Chelsea, and almost skipped lunch so I wouldn’t miss anything. It was intense and I learned so much. I even got certified in trap-neuter-return in NYC, which means I am eligible to borrow humane traps from the NYC ASPCA.

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Taken from the CatCampNYC instagram. I had arrived an hour early, and stopped by Trader Joe’s for souvenir items (like a one pound bar of Belgian milk chocolate). I later used that bag to help carry the informational booklets, vendor prizes, and Litter Genie that I won.

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Many great sessions. Everyone was really passionate, well-spoken, and knowledgeable about their topic and field. As was pointed out, most of the participants have “day jobs,” and do their work with community cats during their off hours. Many of the vendors and some of the speakers were New Yorkers.

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I got to play around with this trap, which can be borrowed from the ASPCA to trap, sterilize, and return community cats back outside. Douglas, the stuffed cat, was an excellent model.

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From the Kitten Lady’s Instagram. There I am, by the column, dutifully uploading pictures and posting onto Instagram as it was happening.

 

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We got these cute buttons, like camp merit badges, after some of the sessions, which were great conversation starters on the NYC subway and also when I returned to Montreal. Sadly, I’ve already lost one or two… (I’m an active mom!)

Had I known how much wonderful cat stuff would be for sale at the expo, I would have budgeted accordingly! I could hear my wallet crying every time I took it out (USD to CAD exchange rate and all, too!). I met a number of people who attended solely for the expo. The vendors said some people took pictures of all of the booths, went away to decide what they wanted, then came back to purchase. There were lots of handmade cat greeting cards. One took custom orders; you send her a picture of your cat, and she would draw custom greeting cards featuring them right there at her table. There were witty and/or cute cat t-shirts, cat toys, whisker jewelry, cat bow ties (I got two for Olaf), signed Jackson Galaxy Convertible Cat Backpack Carriers from Your Cat Backpack, Toasty Cat cat beds, cat caves made out of wool, cat books, cat accessories. I kept passing by the Meowtropolitan Trading table, which had many adorable Neko Atsume accessories; I nearly walked away with a Pepper keychain, but I restricted my purchases to practical items. Like socks with cats on them and a t-shirt from the Kitten Lady table styled after the Morton salt canister (you’d have to be American to get it – Morton salt has an iconic label of a girl with an umbrella on it), but with pouring kittens. And a t-shirt of a “badass cat,” which I selected because of its Mom tattoo. The vendor told me that image came in smoking and non-smoking, due to customer request. I was able to get two signed copies of Hello! My Name is Bunny , about a rescued cat who lives in NYC and makes friends with other animals in his building. A signed copy of Andrew Marttila’s photo book, Cats on Catnip.

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I also bought a copy of Jackson Galaxy’s latest book, Total Cat Mojo. I asked the vendor about signed copies, and he counseled me to “hunt down Jackson Galaxy – who, by the way, is 6’3” – and force him to sign it for me. “He’s a softie,” he assured me. Yeah. Like that was going to happen.

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The expo at opening on the first day. It became packed with people. The Jackson Galaxy cat backpacks on the right looked well-made and some were even signed! I asked the vendor what to do if the cat has an accident in one, and she said you can even hose it down if necessary.

 

The second day was not as tightly packed with sessions for me, so I was able to spend more time in the expo section and chat with some of the vendors. One, for a pet dental supplement, had lived in Outremont, and we bonded over a mutual affection for Bilboquet ice cream. I tested some of the toys at the Petco table. I stopped by an animal trainer’s table, who was friends with a pet sitter I had met at last year’s Pet Sitters World conference in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. It’s amazing how small the world is, and the Power of Connection (the theme from that conference). She gave me a few tips on clicker training cats.

After Jackson Galaxy’s final keynote talk, in which he empowered us to get out there and do something, I knew the conference was closing down. Vendors were packing up and leaving, people were clearing out. Then I spotted him, Jackson, making the rounds of the vendors, stopping to chat and take pictures with them if requested. He spent several moments at each table, giving each vendor his full attention. This was my chance to approach him to sign my copy of his book, which I had brought back with me that day, just in case. (In hindsight, I should have asked co-author Mikel Delgado to sign it, too, as I had attended her session on lessening stress in shelter cats.)

I spent several minutes furtively stalking his progress, and becoming increasingly stressed because I just wasn’t sure if I could make myself approach him. I tried giving myself a pep talk. I had driven 360 miles to attend this conference. I was missing out on showing my daughter New York City for the first time for this conference. I couldn’t tell my daughter that I was so close and yet didn’t even try to get my book signed. I was a fan of his. He seemed like a nice, approachable guy and only had a couple people as an entourage. A picture with Jackson Galaxy would be fantastic for my business’s social media posts, and I while I was having a great time, I was here for business purposes. I could get my book signed. But still I had trouble mustering the courage to get anywhere near him. I’m a shy, reserved introvert. It’s a major effort for me to talk with anyone. The more I want to talk to someone, the harder it becomes. It’s almost like having an invisible force field between me and others. I become increasingly mute, anxious, and desperate to leave. I had already drained all of my social chutzpah during the past few days, talking with other attendees, vendors, and just by being around so many people at once and engaging with random people at every turn. The problem was more that he was a stranger, rather than that he was a famous person and I was a fangirl. Ok, maybe a little of that, too.

Finally, a very nice couple I had been bumping into all weekend at session after session took me figuratively by the hand and helped me do what I need to do. I blurted out to them that I wanted to get my book signed and maybe snap a selfie, but I was too shy and I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to ask for it. The no-nonsense woman marched right over to where Jackson Galaxy was chatting with a vendor, and I just couldn’t let her put herself out there and do all the work for me, even though I was so touched by her immediate show of support. I followed her over there, and was able to find my voice and ask his handler permission. And then I was chatting with the Cat Daddy himself! He signed my book, he told me the Montreal Cat Expo in April (which I hadn’t been able to get tickets to) had been his first time in Montreal. He was just as nice, gracious, and “real” as you’d think he would be. He took a picture with me!!!!

This was the proudest moment of the conference for me. This was something I could use as a teaching moment for myself, and a moment for which my daughter could be proud of her mom. I could share this story proudly and excitedly. I did it! My wingman counseled me that she, too, used to be shy, but that you don’t want to have regrets. You have to at least try. She was right, of course. I am realizing this more with age. I am so grateful for her kindness and support. And then the couple simply exited, as I was doing, and left. From their matching shirts, I believe they are from www.barncatbuddies.org in Virginia. This conference really had the nicest, most supportive people.

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My moment with the Cat Daddy himself, Jackson Galaxy! Impressed at how he was able to speak normally with me at the end of a long weekend. Grateful, pleased, and oh so proud of myself for even asking for the opportunity. Thanks, Jackson! And thank you, Barn Cat Buddies! A proud, perfect end to a great conference.

 

Ethel’s litter box issues

I see a lot of litter box set ups, and have scooped my fair share of litters. Sometimes I find cats I watch are not great a using the litter box. I offer suggestions I hope will be helpful, but I’m not an animal behaviourist. Generally, ideas I’ve suggested include switching to a low-sided litter box, so an elderly cat can more easily get in and out of the box. Take off the litter box cover. Or if there are two litter boxes next to each other, separating them, as those two side-by-side litter boxes are considered one litter box to the cats, and it is recommended to have one litter box per cat plus one (so, for two cats, that would mean 3 litter boxes). Or talking about trying a different litter, as there is a wide variety to choose from.

I’m facing my own litter box issues, as one of my cats is approaching 19. She was my  first cat, and I picked her up from an animal shelter as a mature, dignified little lady of 5-years, fourteen years ago. Ethel was originally with her litter mate, Lucy (that’s right – they were Lucy and Ethel). When I went to look at cats, the volunteer tried to get me to consider both cats, but I was living in a small studio apartment right out of college that officially did not allow pets. I was working four different jobs and didn’t think I could manage financially supporting two cats, or that I had enough space for one cat, let alone two. The pair had been at the shelter for about five months already, and they wanted to adopt them out together. Ethel was very calm when I visited with her, but I had no cat experience at all at that point. I didn’t know what I was looking for, and it wasn’t urgent to me to get a cat. So I left. A little while later, I got a call. Lucy had been adopted by herself, and quiet little Ethel was still at the shelter, crying for her. So I drove to the shelter and brought Ethel home.

Ethel has since slowed down considerably. She used to like sleeping on the bed with me (and thus waking me up in the morning), but doesn’t anymore due to arthritis. I hoped she could use the tall wooden Ikea step stool that I had gotten for our toddler, but she doesn’t like it. She spends about 23.5 hours per day curled up on her heated pet pillow, under my daughter’s chalkboard. She used to lie pressed against the baseboard heater, but then one day I noticed a burn on her side, and her fur still has yet to grow back there. Fortunately, she prefers the heated pillow.

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Olaf is modeling the new litter box tray

A month or two ago, Ethel started to go right over the side of the litter box. So I got a new litter box that was a little bigger and had lower sides so she could get in an out more easily. I put a spare small mattress protector underneath it, and an old towel, both of which seemed to be constantly in the wash. I was trying to avoid using puppy training pads to line the floor, for environmental and financial reasons. But I don’t think the mattress protector and towel are a good option anymore, as cat urine can be difficult to remove from cloth, despite rinsing in vinegar to neutralize odour, and it’s happening too frequently to keep up. As a mom and a professional pet sitter, I already do quite a lot of laundry already.

She still continued to go over the litter box sides about 25% of the time. I tried something I read about regarding litter boxes for elderly cats, and got her a large plastic restaurant-style serving tray. You can’t get much lower-sided than that for a litter box. And it’s quite large, to give her room to turn around. I smoothed out a layer of litter, and observed.

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The restaurant-style tray. Floor underneath lined with puppy training pads.

Sadly, it’s not working. She’s still going right at the edges, or just over. And the litter isn’t absorbing the odour as well, since it’s a shallower layer. And I’m starting to use the puppy training pads to line the area to protect the hardwood floor.

I need to look at other options. The clumping wood shaving litter I use, Feline Fresh, is already one of the softest litters on the market. I might try getting a large plastic tote bin and cutting out an entrance on one side. So it’s low-sided entrance, but the litter will all be contained and the high sides might discourage going outside of the box. I haven’t caught her using the litter box as she’s using it in a while; it’s been suggested that I set up a motion-activated camera to observe how she’s using the litter box.

Suggestions would be appreciated! I’ll keep you posted on how it goes. She’s always been very good at using the litter box, and it seems to be a physical issue that’s causing her to go just outside.

Video: guinea pig vegetables and cage comparison

In honour of Adopt a Guinea Pig Month, here’s a somewhat meandering video showing an example of vegetables I feed guinea pigs in my care, and a comparison of two common cages for Guinea pigs. Boarders must come with all supplies and equipment, and can come with up to 5 days of vegetables to offset the daily vegetable fee.

Choosing a child’s pet

Firstly, I want to mention that I strongly discourage giving pets as gifts, unless the recipient has made it very clear for a long time that they want that pet, and has shown that they are both knowledgeable and capable of properly caring for them. Getting a pet is not like getting a toy or a video game. That pet is a living creature, totally dependent on the owner for it’s health and well-being. A pet is a commitment.

A major issue with getting pets for the sake of the children, is that the parent must be prepared to supervise pet care and, if necessary, take over all care for the animal if the child is unable or unwilling to properly look after it. Let’s face it – children are minors, and they are dependent on adults for food, shelter, love, and money. They can also be flighty and have quickly changing interests. They might desperately beg for a hedgehog, and then a few weeks later, you find they haven’t been feeding it, giving it fresh water, or cleaning the cage. Will the child be able to interact with the pet appropriately, so that neither gets injured? Will the child have the initiative to research proper care and handling for their pet? Will the child understand that the pet will suffer if they aren’t fed and given fresh water every day? Will the child be able to monitor supplies and remind the adult to buy more when needed? Will the child be able to recognize when something isn’t right with the pet’s health, and take the appropriate course of action? Will they be able to take the pet to the veterinarian for medical treatment? No one wants to see the online help forum posts that start with “my pet is sick/injured/dying and my parents won’t take it to the vet.”

We’ve all seen those sad Kijiji ads that appear around now, a month or so after Christmas, that start off with “Rehoming pet and all supplies. The kids aren’t taking care of it.” No one wants to see those ads. Though, if you are looking to get a pet, now is a good time to find one, with all supplies, online. Another good time for getting a rehomed pet with all supplies is right before moving day on July 1st.

I have also had the pleasure of caring for several children’s pets, where the child was a little expert on the animal, giving me specific, detailed instructions on care down to the exact temperature at which to keep the cage. One even left a little mommy’s “I love you” note in her pet’s lunch box.

So.

I am often asked by my mommy friends what is the best pet for a child. Maybe the parents have never had pets themselves, so they don’t know what having a pet entails. They want a low-maintenance, cuddly, “easy” pet, that won’t be too expensive.

I generally recommend getting a cat. Here’s my take on several small pets I’ve encountered.

Cat

I recommend a cat because, well, I’m a cat sitter and I think that when done properly, cats make great family pets. They are big enough that you can’t forget about them, they let you know when they need food, they are assertive about getting attention, they are trainable, and they are affectionate. They are awake when the household is awake. Their care is relatively easy and straightforward. They are a common pet, and it is easy to get supplies, information, and to find appropriate veterinarian care for them.

Some cats are not appropriate for children. I have several cat clients who cannot be touched, or they will scratch or bite. Children can be injured especially if they try to have a staring contest with the cat, or try to handle the cat when the cat wants to be left alone. A cat can become overly stimulated during play time, and a child must know when to stop to let the cat calm down or the cat might start biting or scratching. It is very important to remember to wash your hands well after handling any cat waste. Is the child going to be able to clean up cat vomit and litter box accidents? Will the child be able to brush the cat well enough so that the fur doesn’t mat? Approximate lifespan 12-15 years or longer.

Hamster

Hamsters make an economical option, both financially and in terms of space. A child could even fund the entire hamster’s care, including saving for a possible exotic veterinarian visit, by carefully saving their allowance, gift monies, and by doing small odd jobs. Even a very large DIY hamster cage (Ikea Detolf!!!) takes up fairly little space, and is inexpensive. When I was a struggling young college graduate, barely supporting myself with four jobs, I was still able to afford keeping a hamster and taking him to the veterinarian as needed.

Hamsters, like a lot of pocket pets, might not be appropriate for all households. They are diurnal, which means that they are primarily active at night, but wake periodically during the day to eat and exercise. You can acclimate the hamster to being awake when you are awake, but you also have to be tolerant of hearing the hamster run miles and miles on their wheel at night (the silent wheels help a lot, but still make some noise). They are small and fragile, and can be easily hurt by children who aren’t aware of their own strength or don’t know how gently to play with them. Small children might stick their fingers into the hamster cage, and the hamster, startled awake or smelling food on the children’s hands, might bite. Children – and yes, adults – might be holding a hamster, get bitten, and fling the hamster in the air, which may cause a serious if not fatal injury to the hamster. They have poor eyesight, and can bite hard if the hands holding them smell like food. They are genius escape artists, and might escape their cage. Yes, their cage needs to be cleaned, they often pee on their wheel, and hamsters produce quite pungent urine, so the cage will have an odor. While they look like fun, I advise against buying tube-based cages, as they are cumbersome to clean and do not allow for sufficient open floor space for the hamster to run around. Hamsters live about 2 years or longer.

Rabbit

Rabbits are generally thought of as a good children’s pet. They can be cuddly, and can be fairly small, or quite large. They can be trained to use a litter box. However, in an urban environment like most of Montreal, house rabbits are quite costly and high maintenance. They need a large enclosure, roughly 12 square feet, or be allowed to free-roam like a cat or dog. They can cause a lot of property damage by chewing cables and furniture, and need annual veterinarian check ups. They need their claws trimmed and regular brushing. Daily, or even multiple times throughout the day, their litter box area needs to be scooped and tidied. Hay and fur everywhere. Fresh vegetables. If not properly socialized, they can bite. They can make noise by thumping their back paws when angry, which might make neighbours angry. Most rabbits are not lap pets, and they prefer to sit beside you rather than on you, and don’t like being chased and picked up, which a child might not understand. They must be monitored carefully for intake and outtake, as even a 12-hour stop to their constant eating and pooping cycle can mean a fatal blockage that requires an emergency veterinarian visit. New pet owners might be shocked to learn that pet rabbits can live 8-12 years.

Guinea Pig

I love guinea pigs, and think they make good children’s pets. Like rabbits, their upkeep in an urban environment can be expensive, as they need about a cup of a variety of fresh vegetables every day, in addition to hay and pellets and maybe vitamin C supplements. Recommended cage size starts at about 8 square feet. They are eating machines, and constantly demand food. Oh, and they only sleep for about 4 hours per day, so they are often active, making noise, and doing something. They can be high maintenance, and it is strongly recommended to get more than one guinea pig, as they are social and herd animals. They are a demanding, very interactive pet. In general, they are not precise about using a litter box, and their enclosures must be tidied every day or twice per day. Hay everywhere. They are not a quiet pet, which you’d have to love in order to love them. They make a variety of noises, particularly when they hear the fridge or any bag opening that might possibly be food for them. They should be handle carefully so that their backs are not too strained. They can be affectionate, enjoying head rubs, but are very much a prey animal, so will often run away squealing in fear even when they know you well and like you. Depending on the cage set up, they might need periodic baths to clean poop off of feet and bodily fluids out of fur. They can live roughly 5-7 years or longer.

Mouse

Children might enjoy having a tiny pet like a mouse. They are social, and it is advisable to get more than one. They can be affectionate, and their care is inexpensive, and they eat little. They are good at not falling out of tiny hands due to their prehensile tails. One downside is their short lifespan, which is only 1-2 years. They are perhaps the shortest lived pet I am aware of.

Hedgehog

I don’t think a hedgehog makes a good child’s pet, simply because they are nocturnal. Unlike hamsters, who will awaken during the day to eat, drink, and exercise before going back to bed until the evening, hedgehogs are only active at night, or in the very early hours of the morning. So expect to hear the wheel turning at night. When I board hedgehogs, I usually only see them awake around 4am.

Otherwise, hedgehogs make good pets, and the child could certainly interact with a parent’s hedgehog, but if the pet were meant to be primarily in the child’s care, I wouldn’t recommend hedgehogs. They can be expensive to set up, even when adopted from a shelter. They are not rodents, instead possessing quite a full mouth of little sharp teeth and they might bite. They make some sounds which might seem scary if you aren’t used to them, like huffing. Some also do a unique ritual called “anointing” after encountering a new smell, in which they spread foamy saliva all over their quills. They can be tamed, but may not be overly affectionate. Often when you are holding them, you have to move them from hand to hand to keep them off-balance enough not to bite you. You can pet their backs if you pet them in the direction of the quills, and their bells are warm and furry. They are insectivores, and can be fed high quality cat food, with various worms for treats. They like to hide and to be warm, so it’s common to put a small piece of fleece in their cage for them to nestle into, and to warm the cage with a heat lamp or heating pad. Their wheel needs to be cleaned daily, and sometimes their feet also need to be cleaned, as they poop as they run.  Average lifespan 4-6 years, maybe longer.

Video: Grooming tool kit for pet visits and boarders

I’m exploring posting videos about my pet care services and about pet care for animals that I care for. Here’s my first YouTube video, which goes over what is inside my grooming tool kit, some recommendations for grooming tools for cat, rabbit, and guinea pig owners, and a short grooming demo with one of my Guinea pig boarders, the charming Noisette.

Proper grooming is important for all pets, and so I include it for all of my clients if there is time. I can use my tools, which I clean and disinfect after each client, or the client’s own tools. I discuss such tools as the Furminator, deshedding rakes, HairBuster, slicker brushes, nail trimmers, styptic powder, etc.

I don’t consider myself to be a professional groomer. It’s on my to-do list to further explore formal cat grooming education, to further enrich my pet care skill set, but I just don’t have the funding for it yet. I do offer limited grooming services for my clients, which basically include brushing fur and trimming nails. I can visit regularly, or just during shedding season, or just as a once-off. It’s actually a great way to get to know me in person as a pet sitter, when you are choosing who to hire to care for your animals. That way, you will see how I behave with your animals, and what sort of care they will receive when you are away.

I do not cut fur, and if your cat is heavily matted, I encourage you to take them to a certified master cat groomer rather than attempt to cut out the matted fur yourself. Cat skin is very thin, and attempting to cut out mats can result in an emergency trip to a veterinarian.

This is only the second video I’ve every posted (check out my Facebook page to see my first Facebook live… which ended up being filmed sideways!).

Comments are strongly encouraged! I’d also love to hear what you want to see in future videos or blog posts.

New logo and winter holidays

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I am thrilled to unleash the logo I’ve been working on getting for nearly a year. Looking forward to passing out my sleek new business cards – after the winter holiday craziness is over!

 

The winter holidays, which for me is roughly December through mid-January, is the busiest time of the year. Many people go away and return at the same time. I start receiving reservation requests for this time period in August. It is never too early to make a Christmas-New Year pet sitting reservation.

I am fully booked, and due to high volume, will respond to messages slower.

I am really hoping it won’t be as bitterly cold and miserable weather-wise as it was last year, when there were a couple weeks of -25°C weather and snow as far as the eye could see. I also no longer have the luxury of an indoor parking spot, and have already had one of those mornings where your neighbours swoop in to help you chip out the ice under your spinning tires while your child is watching from inside the slowly heating car. Montrealers are awesome – everyone knows how it is, and the spontaneous generosity of spirit always astounds me.

“It’s my fault,” I said, as we hacked away at the ice, realizing I should have cleared the slush from the tires the previous day before it froze into solid ice overnight.

“It’s winter,” my neighbour corrected. Yes. It. Is. One of my ice scrapers has already been obliterated.

Generally, I survive pet sitting in winter by always keeping 2 things with me in the car: an insulated water bottle to prevent my water from freezing while I make my pet visit rounds, and a big Stanley vacuum bottle of hot sweetened milky tea that I sip from in between each stop. I don’t drive long enough in between stops to warm up the car at all, and my feet and hands are always cold. That thermos is amazing at keeping liquids hot all day, and holds the equivalent of three large mugs of tea. Maybe I’ll do hot chocolate one day to mix it up. If you put in a cinnamon stick, the continuous heat of the vacuum bottle will infuse the hot chocolate with a warm, rich spicy flavour to help beat out the chill.

Microchip Pet Feeder: 2+ cats with different diets

Feeding your cats different diets can be challenging. Maybe only one cat gets kitten food. Or one cat gets medication mixed into their food. Or they eat different amounts. Or one cat will eat all of the food. Or you have dogs or other pets or children who try to get into the cat food.

A great part of being a professional cat sitter is that I get to see how all of my clients set up their pets’ things, and how they solve problems. I’m always impressed with the ingenuity. People are so creative and inventive! If cats are fed different foods, there are a few common approaches:

  1. Feed them in separate rooms. Often one cat gets banished to eat in the bathroom, and unhappily meows until they are let out again. Sometimes one or both of the cats refuse to eat when separated, so you are all held hostage until both finish their food.
  2. Feed them in different areas. The idea is that if you put enough space between the cats, you can catch and correct one if they meander over to the other cat’s food. Either on opposite sides of a room, or one cat eats on the counter or shelf and one cat eats on the floor. This also requires attention and time from the person, and doesn’t work if one or both want to graze throughout the day.
  3. Just watch them like a hawk and correct them every time they try to eat the other’s food. Most cats are great at only eating from their special dish, but every cat eats at different speeds and then moves onto their friend’s food next. Or they congenially switch bowls for a taste of the other’s when you don’t want them to.

But thankfully, there’s another solution, and that is the microchip pet feeder.

I have two very different cats who now have different diets. Ethel, my elderly 18-year old sweetheart, started a hypoallergenic diet last month.

Ethel loves to eat, and has always wolfed down her food, even though most of her teeth were extracted years ago. But a few months ago she started losing weight, amongst her other health issues, and then didn’t seem to like the hypoallergenic food as much as her old food. Instead of finishing her food within seconds, she would daintily graze throughout the day and night. It took her all day to finish her portion of dry food and 30 minutes or so to finish her wet food. Meanwhile, Olaf, a robust 8-year old cat, has no problem inhaling his food and then going to inhale whatever other food is around, too. Not only is the hypoallergenic food not appropriate for him, but it is also one of the most – if not the most – expensive cat food there is. More expensive than raw food, than boutique cat foods like Orijen and Acana, or Wellness. So if he doesn’t have to eat it, I don’t want to feed it to him.

I started feeding Ethel small portions on demand to encourage her to gain weight. This annoyed Olaf, who didn’t understand why Ethel got so much food all the time when he only got fed twice a day. Both were shelter cats, and they do not self-regulate their food portions. If you put out twice as much food for them, they will cheerfully eat it all right away… then probably vomit it back up, or gain undesirable weight. This added work annoyed me, because while I love my cats, I have a business to run and family to take care of and I can’t tie myself down to feeding one of two cats 8 tiny portions of food every day when she cries for more. I have clients who do this, as there are some who believe cats should eat many mouse-sized portions of food each day instead of one or two big portions. But these clients work from home and enjoy bonding with their cats in this way, whereas I am often out doing my cat sitting rounds. It just doesn’t fit my lifestyle.

I first saw ads for the Surefeed Microchip Pet Feeder in my Facebook feed. It seemed like one of those gimmicky, impractical, silly gadgets people with too much money on their hands get. It looked too small for a cat to comfortably use, and I thought it would surely break down quickly and end up in a corner somewhere. It’s plastic. And what if you buy it and your cat doesn’t like it? But the idea started to grow on me, and I started checking out buying one online. Alas, it did not go on sale for Amazon Prime Day. But I did encounter it in a client’s home, which helped me decide how it would work for me.

The Surefeed Microchip Pet Feeder can be programmed with your cat’s microchip, or with RFID tags that are included in the packaging. A microchip is a small device that is implanted into your pet to help identify them if they are lost. Shelters and veterinarian’s offices can scan the microchip, and retrieve the owner’s contact information to help reunite pet and owner. I strongly recommend all cat owners to microchip their pets and to keep their contact info current. It is relatively inexpensive to do it, and if your cat ever escapes or goes missing, you’ll have a greater chance of getting them back.

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Left button opens/closes the cover. Middle button programs the microchip reader. Right button is for training.

To program this feeder, you don’t even need the microchip ID numbers, which was a HUGE relief. All you have to do is press a button, encourage your cat to hover close to the feeder so it can learn the cat’s microchip, and that’s it! The flap covering the food bowl will only open for this one cat’s chip, and will close after they have moved away.

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trying to break into the microchip feeder

The feeder has a cover flap that opens and closes. This can help keep wet food moist during the day, and possibly help keep out flies. It can keep out other pets who might want to eat the food. The feeder comes with two bowls, one of which is divided so you can put wet food one one side and dry on the other. Or two different foods in either one.

In my research, I learned that there is a rear cover for the microchip feeder, which is sold separately. Without the rear cover, another cat can sneak food by poking their head through the other side of the feeder while it is open. The rear cover prevents this. One of my clients constructs elaborate cardboard and book obstacle courses and blinders for their feeders to try to solve this problem. I read a review that said they keep their feeder in a cardboard box with a hole in the top to make it even more inaccessible to other cats.

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Surefeed Microchip Pet Feeder with Rear Cover

The feeder was available on amazon.ca, but the rear cover was not. I emailed and then called the Surefeed office in the USA to order one. I tried ordering the feeder and rear cover on wholesale to reduce costs, but unfortunately, they said they weren’t accepting applications from Canada at this time. Aw, shucks. They have excellent, friendly customer service. When 11 days had rolled by and I hadn’t yet received my rear cover (I had been told it only takes a few days to receive), they immediately sent me another one free of charge. Of course, I ended up receiving the rear cover later than day, and now will have a second, which they told me to keep. Which means I might have to buy a second microchip feeder to go with it. I only bought one due to the expense, but two would be fine, as well, so Ethel doesn’t try snacking on Olaf’s food, too.

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The rear cover makes it harder for other pets to sneak food. Ethel can eat in peace while Olaf looks on.

I think the feeder works well. The product is easy to assemble and operate. It comes in attractive packaging. It looks sturdy enough and well-made and comes with a 3-year warranty. My 4-year old can operate it. There is a training feature to help your cat adapt to the cover opening and closing, but timid Ethel immediately worked the feeder and had no trouble using it right away without a learning curve. There is a quiet noise when the cover opens and closes, but it doesn’t seem to bother her. She loves being able to nibble food throughout the day and night whenever she wants. She is less demanding in the morning. Instead of her urgent “wake up now! I’m starving here! wake up! wake up! wake up!” voice, she sounds more like “soooooo, when can I expect you to wake up? I kind of want to get a move on my day here.” She’s gained about a pound already, which is great.

The feeder is a good size for cats. Ethel is averaged sized and about 8.5-lbs underweight, and Olaf is a lanky 13 lbs. The height is fine. I prefer using a wide, shallow dish for cat food to prevent whisker fatigue – cats have to suck in their sensitive whiskers to eat from narrow or deep bowls and this can be a problem particularly for older cats – but I guess if the dish were too wide then other cats could more easily steal food from them. The bowl can fit up to 2 5.5 oz. cans of wet food.

The feeder is not a guarantee that your cats won’t still eat each other’s food. Olaf can still push Ethel aside, and if he is quick and close enough the feeder will remain open as a safety feature, which allows him to eat as much as he likes even if Ethel moves away.

The food cover is not airtight, but it will help to keep wet food moist longer. You cannot fit an ice pack inside to keep wet or raw food cool.

I don’t like that the feeder is meant to be hand washed. While I hand wash everything when I am pet sitting, at the beginning and end of the day as a cat owner and busy working mom, I strongly prefer items I can throw into the dishwasher. A little-known reality of being a pet sitter (particularly one with eczema like myself) is that during the colder months your hands really dry out, morphing into raw, split, scaly things due to winter dryness, frequent hand washing, and frequent bare-handed dish washing (after scooping litter boxes, washing all the food and water dishes, cleaning up after pets, etc.). I use several different products to try to combat this and relieve the painful splits (O’Keefe’s Working Hands is great!), and when they get really bad I have to resort to wearing disposable nitrile gloves until my skin heals. I really try to strategize the number of times my hands get into contact with soap or detergent during any given day. So it’s annoying when I have to wash even more dishes by hand when I get home. The feeder itself needs to be wiped down periodically, too, though it is easy enough as everything comes off and goes back on without issue.

Cost breakdown

This feeder is not at all cheap. The Surefeed Microchip Pet Feeder is $179.99 + tax from amazon.ca, which comes to $206.94 total for Quebeckers. The rear cover for the Surefeed Microchip Pet Feeder is not available from amazon.ca, and must be ordered directly from Surefeed in the USA, at a cost of $10 USD + $20 USD shipping. With the current exchange rate of $1.31 CAD to $1 USD, this comes to $39.36 CAD. So together, the feeder and rear cover ended up being $246.30 CAD. Keep in mind, it requires 4 C batteries, which is roughly $7, which, from reading past reviews, will probably last about 6 months. This is by far the most expensive item I have purchased for my pets. I really hope it works out, and so far, it is working quite well. I have suggested this feeder to clients in the past.

Alas, I have no affiliation at all with Surefeed (though I am absolutely open to sponsors and collaborators). I wrote this blog post because I thought it would be helpful for some of my clients and other cat owners.

I’d love to hear your solutions for feeding cats who have different diets!

A hurricane crashed my first pet sitters conference!

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A few days ago, I returned home to Montreal after attending the 2018 Pet Sitters World Educational Conference & Expo in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, USA. The conference was set for September 8-12, but ended up shutting down on September 10th due to a mandatory evacuation order. Hurricane Florence was roaring its way to the Carolinas, and heading straight for us.

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The ubiquitous “excuse me, could you please take my picture?” pic with closed eyes.

I was vibrating with excitement at attending my first conference. It was a whole bunch of firsts. My first business trip. My first conference. My first time in South Carolina. My first time going on a trip by myself after becoming a mother. My first time being ordered to evacuate. My first time being in the path of a Class 4 hurricane.

Conference badge for 2018 Pet Sitters World

My ribbons were awesome!

Before the chaos of the storm, the conference went very well. I did not sleep as well in my quiet hotel room as I had thought I would, being used to being around an active 4-year old (human) and cats walking all over me. I had never attended a professional conference before, and was worried about being able to interact with the other attendees in such a prolonged, intense setting. To my great relief, I had no problem taking full advantage of this professional opportunity. I made connections, exchanged ideas, shared knowledge, learned, and made friends. There was an instant sense of camaraderie amongst the attendees, and a good sense of humour. We all knew where each other was coming from. The strong sense of community and of a shared purpose was put to good use a few days later as we all fled the state. People who had only just met carpooled together across the country and helped each other to get back home to safety. One woman offered to drive me to Atlanta, Georgia to try to catch an earlier flight there, and another offered to room with me when she saw how tense I was getting. I saw repeated demonstrations of humanity, compassion, altruism, and ingenuity. I am honoured to be a part of such a wonderful network of people. It is only fitting that the theme of this year’s conference was “The Power of Connection.”

While I had taken a pet first aid course online earlier this year, I decided to take another in-person course in pet first aid and CPCR (cardiopulmonary-cerebral resuscitation), taught by the wonderful Denise Fleck, the Pet Safety Crusader . First aid skills are easy to forget, as they are only needed in an emergency situation. Even though my initial first aid training was valid for two years, I decided it would be beneficial if I took the in-person course to help reinforce the information. Pet first aid courses are not regulated, so the information covered in each course can vary widely. In the 5-hour session, I learned things like how to bandage and immobilize foreign objects for transport to the veterinarian’s office, and how to perform CPCR on a cat or dog. We were given stuffed animals and a packet of gauze and bandages for practice. Attendees were given an advanced copy of her upcoming book, The Pet Safety Bible. To my delight, Ms. Fleck gave another session the following day on cat first aid basics. I’ve found that most pet first aid courses focus heavily on dogs, so it was nice to have a session that focused just on cats. She also offers an online pet first aid course for pocket pets, which I will add to my “to do” list, as I offer services for small caged animals like rabbits, guinea pigs, and hamsters in addition to cats.

I attended two full days of sessions before the hotel shut down the conference Monday afternoon. We went from lightheartedly joking about the storm reports, to being abruptly ordered to evacuate. Perhaps I was over-caffeinated from the many cups of coffee I drank to try to stay warm in the heavily air-conditioned hall, but it suddenly seemed like Impending Doom.

I had no experience with hurricanes. Like everyone else, I scrambled to get an earlier flight to return home, but the earliest I could get was Wednesday afternoon. The hurricane was expected to land anytime between Wednesday night to Friday. On Monday, I skipped dinner and went straight for a huge ice cream sundae with lots of whipped cream (I’m a stress eater). Tuesday morning, I checked out and took the earliest airport shuttle I could, in the hopes I could get on standby for a flight that day. During the drive there, I saw men playing rounds of golf, and determined people waving flags on the highway in remembrance for the 9/11 attacks in 2001. Once at the airport I was told the standby list was already too long, so I hunkered down on a cold, hard tile shelf by the window to wait the 27 hours until my Wednesday afternoon flight departed. It was a very, very boring and uneventful wait. The shops and restaurants all closed at noon that day, so I ate vending machine candy for the rest of my time there. The skies were still blue and clear when I finally flew out to New Jersey to meet up with my family.

Fortunately, PSI was able to wrangle most of the presenters into turning their canceled sessions into webinars, so I’ll be able to access the information online soon. This has been a great learning experience for me. I am looking forward to next year’s conference, which will be PSI’s 25th conference. The location changes from year to year, but I will be sure to have multiple exit strategies next time!