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.

2018-11-05 18.14.24

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.

2018-10-30 17.36.14

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.

2018-11-05 18.14.16

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.

2018-11-02 09.25.24

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!

2018-09-05 20.02.04

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.

2018-09-10 07.31.24

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!

Ways to keep your pet cool during a heat wave

It’s July 2018 and Montreal is suffering through a 35°C heat wave.

We are all miserable.

Most Montreal buildings are old and lack air conditioning. We’re all dripping in sweat and irritable. As we eat an indecent amount of ice cream, drink gallons of cold beverages, and take many a cold shower, here are a few ideas on how to help keep your cats and small furry animals comfortable during the hot summer days.

Our pets can’t sweat or take cold showers, or say “gee, I’m feeling too hot right now, I need help!” It’s up to us to make sure they stay healthy and comfortable when it’s really hot outside and inside. Here’s a link to some information about heat stroke in cats:

https://www.preventivevet.com/cats/what-you-should-know-about-heat-stroke-in-cats

And here are some tips on keeping your animal cool, especially if you do not have air conditioning:

  1. Ice water. When it’s hot inside a client’s home, I add ice to their cat’s water to help cool them down. The ice is usually all melted before the end of the cat visit. At home, I like freezing a sizable block of ice and adding it to the water bowl (my cats use a square casserole dish). A large block of ice will melt slower than a bunch of smaller ice cubes. Cats sometimes like to lick the ice or play with it. Here’s a video of cats licking giant balls of ice: https://youtu.be/iMhk6JNB1IA
  2. Shaving a cat might not make them cooler. Some people believe that shaving a cat will help them stay cooler in the summer, while others believe that fur is a natural insulator, and that shaving a cat will actually make them hotter in the summer.  Here are a few links regarding not shaving in the summer: https://www.thecatmamablog.com/single-post/2017/09/26/Should-I-Shave-My-Cat-What-You-Need-to-Know-Before-You-Do; https://www.catster.com/lifestyle/is-shaving-your-cat-okay; https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/general-pet-care/hot-weather-safety-tips
  3. Electric fans. Humans like them, and cats like them, too.
  4. Freeze a bottle of water and leave it out for the cat to lounge next to. Guinea pigs and rabbits sometimes like licking the condensation off the cold bottle, too. For smaller animals, you can chill a ceramic tile in the fridge for them to lounge on.
  5. Freeze cat-safe canned tuna (no added salt) into ice cubes, so they can lick the cold treat to help cool off.
  6. Pet cooling mat. Be careful of gel mats, as pets might accidentally ingest the gel.
  7. Keep the cage/habitat away from direct sunlight and windows. Make sure their cages are well-ventilated.
  8. Close curtains/drapes/blinds to keep inside temperatures cooler.

 

And, of course, fresh, cold water for all!

A typical cat visit

A lot of my new clients, particularly if they’ve never before hired a professional pet sitter, want to know what happens during a cat visit, what is included. They wonder what makes my rates higher than the kid next door who does pet sitting for neighbours on their summer break, or that other person they found on Kijiji. They wonder why I have such excellent online reviews, what makes my clients so happy about my service. Well, here’s what I do!

I drive to nearly all of my pet visits, even if they are within walking distance of my home. This is because I’m often coming from or going to another cat visit. If I’ve been given a parking spot in a garage, permission to park in the driveway, or a guaranteed parking spot in front of the client’s home, this means that I will have more time with the cat than if I had to park blocks away. I’m often told “there’s always parking off-street,” but let me tell you… this is not always the case! Whether paid or unpaid parking, there have been times when I’ve driven around and around the same small area for AN HOUR looking for parking (Little Italy, Griffintown, and Downtown have been the most parking-unfriendly so far. Even parts of the Plateau and Mile End are problematic, as it’s mostly residential parking via permits. I have gotten many, many expensive parking tickets, despite my best efforts to find appropriate parking).

Clients should have made other arrangements to have snow removed from their driveways/stairways/ entrance-ways. It is not safe for me to walk through snow and/or ice up and down stairs while carrying my big heavy bags. I offer snow removal of stairs and entrance-ways (NOT driveways) as one of my extra services, but I strongly encourage clients to make other arrangements, as I charge based on the time is takes me to do it. I would surely develop blisters on my hands and a bad back from shoveling snow at all of my cat visits each day!

I collect mail. I carefully enter the home, ensuring the cat doesn’t make a dash for freedom. I remove my shoes and coat. If the cat is super friendly, I spend a few moments greeting them before going about my chores. Or I try find hiding cats, to make sure they are ok. I take pictures throughout the visit, so the client can see how their pets are doing. I love taking pet pictures.

I try to be as efficient as possible, so I can get all the chores done quickly and effectively and maximize my time with the cats.

Usually, I start off washing the food and water bowls and food areas and putting out fresh food and water. I clean water fountains at least every other day, or every day as-needed. This means I unplug them, take them completely apart, wash with soapy water, rinse well, and put them back together again with fresh water. I check the state of the filter – water fountain carbon filters need to be replaced every 1-4 weeks. I rinse cans and ready them for recycling.

I do a quick walk-through of the home to check for vomit or litter box accidents, and spot clean them according to the client’s instructions. Some cats have fun with toilet paper and paper towels, which also need to be tidied.

I scoop litter boxes and sweep around the litter box areas. I track what’s in the litter box – yes, I count the pee clumps and the poops as I scoop. This is an important way of determining if something is wrong with the cat’s health. For example, if I see that a litter box has been walked around in, but hasn’t been used in 24-hours, it might suggest that the cat is trying to pee, but can’t.  A cat that has trouble peeing – in pain, takes a long time to pee, can’t pee – needs close monitoring and urgent medical attention for potential urinary tract blockage or infection. This is one of the many reasons why I must visit at least once per day. If I walk in to an overflowing litter box, or only see the cat every other day, I might not be able to notice a problem and won’t be able to act quickly.

I can include a litter box wash (empty old litter, clean with vinegar or whatever product the client wants, refill with new litter) with each 7 days of pet sitting, but can wash them more frequently for an extra fee. If I have to wash out the litter box on the first day of the pet siting reservation, the litter box wash fee will be applied.

If instructed to do so, I water plants and alternate lights and drapes to make it seem like someone is home.

With the time remaining, and depending on cat temperament and the client’s wishes, I brush the cat, trim claws, play with the cat, and snuggle and pet the cat. I can use the client’s tools and toys, or my own (I carefully clean and disinfect my grooming tools with a special cat-safe disinfectant after each client, and I don’t share toys between clients. Once your cat has played with it, it’s theirs). If the cat is shy and hiding, I sit close to the cat and softly talk or sing to them.

Some clients have their hearts set on my basic visit, which is 20-30 minutes, expecting me to spent most of the time sitting on the couch, petting their cat. I have a couple clients with simple set-ups that exist like that, but generally, a 20-30 minute visit does not give me time to interact with the cat at all. There are set-ups where, on the first day I realize that it is actually a 45-60 minute job. Most pet owners do not do all of the chores – feeding, refreshing water, scooping litter box, water plants, etc. – at the same time in one chunk of time, so it can be difficult to estimate how long it takes to complete them all while taking pictures and notes. Maybe you’ll feed them in the morning as you put together your own breakfast, then take care of the water later when you think about it, and only scoop the litter box if you smell something funny. Maybe you have an extensive urban jungle that takes 15 minutes or more to water. Perhaps your cats are mischievous hooligans, with a new mess to clean every day. And yes, time spent going outside to collect the mail or take out the trash is included in my time.

Clients sometimes generously suggest I relax on the sofa and watch a movie with their cat. I’m happy to do this for your cat… if paid accordingly for my time. Currently, I charge per 15 minutes beyond a 60-minute visit. As a full-time self-employed solo pet sitter, a working mom with a family to come home to, and a shy introvert, I don’t have any interest in spending unpaid time in your home, even if you have the fluffiest, most awesome cats ever. I’d rather finish my workday, so I can get back to my home, my sanctum sanctorum.

I have a very narrow focus of attention when I’m at a cat visit – the cat. Clients sometimes leave me informative notes throughout their home (“this is the internet password,” “here’s some catnip”), but I might not see them unless they are placed somewhere obvious, like on the counter or with the cat food (a quick text or email is better for such notes, or to point me where to look for the notes). When I do my walk-through of your home, I’m specifically looking for cat messes, not post-its, which, unless they have my name in big, bold letters, I will assume are for someone else. I’m not going to go through your drawers and cupboards unless I need something like a fork for the cat food, or if I can’t find the paper towels. I don’t want to invade my clients’ privacy, it’s stressful for me to go through clients’ things when I’m not sure where things I need are, and it takes away time I could use for other things, like taking care of your cat. For the most part, I know where all the supplies I need are, as we go over all of that during the free consultation.

Before I leave, I send a report of what happened during the visit to the client, with pictures. I send reports via email, text, or WhatsApp. For premium visits and upwards, if I am given WiFi access, I also send a brief video if requested.

As I am packing up to leave, I change my socks. When I do this at the free consultation, in front of clients who are meeting me for the first time, I often get flustered at being so nerdy, but I do it, anyway. Good hygeine and cleanliness is important to me, both for myself and for the well-being of my clients. I do my best to ensure that I am respectful of my client’s property and that I am not introducing outside dirt into the home. You’d be amazed at what the bottoms of my socks look like at the end of each cat visit, even in the most immaculate homes.

The visit timer stops once I exit the home, or once the visit tasks are complete, including taking trash to outside bins.

Water fountains

I’ve written about water source options for cats before, but thought I’d revisit the topic, focusing on water fountains.

We know that people need to drink lots of water in the summer. We don’t want to get dehydrated. The same goes for cats. Cats have a low thirst-drive, and they should have easy access to fresh, clean water at all times. I’ve even seen videos of people setting out giant ice balls for their cats to lick to help cool off – it’s on my to-do list for my own cats!

At every cat visit, even if it is twice in one day, I empty water bowls, wash them with soap, and replace with clean, fresh, cold water. I generally let water fountains go every other day before washing with soap, but if they are dirty – particularly if I see anything inside the water, like kitty litter or dust – I will also wash them at every visit.

It’s better to wash out the water bowl than to keep refilling it with water without washing it. If you’ve ever noticed a slimey or reddish film coating the sides of the water dish, you’ve seen the bacterial biofilm that can live in those water bowls. Also mineral deposits from hard water that are hard to scrub out. Don’t make your cats drink slimey water! It could discourage them from drinking and lead to health problems like urinary tract blockages.

I’m becoming increasingly familiar with various water fountain models. But they’re all similar to clean, even the big elaborate ones and the small cute ones. They all need to be unplugged, taken apart, and washed with soapy water every few days to clean off bacteria, dirt, and contaminates. Even the ones with filters.

I think a lot of pet owners assume that an electric water fountain cleans itself, or that it doesn’t need cleaning. But that motor is only recirculating the same water, and any contaminants introduced to that water remains trapped in there, sloshing around. A cat’s water fountain with a filter is not like a Brita water pitcher, though both help make water taste better by running it through charcoal filters. We don’t need to clean a Brita pitcher every couples of days simply because we don’t drink directly from it – our saliva never touches it, and we keep the pitcher on the counter or in the fridge, where it won’t accumulate the amount of saliva, dirt, dust, and fur that a cat’s water fountain will on the floor. Some cats like to paw at their water, which also introduces kitty litter into it. So yes, those nice big electric water fountains still need to be cleaned every couple of days.

If I have enough time at a cat visit, I sometimes even use q-tips dipped in dish soap and a child’s tooth brush (which I carry for this purpose and disinfect after each use) to get all the corners and crevices of the fountain totally clean. It’s a good feeling when you get all the yucky stuff out and the fountain looks squeaky clean!

Filters in fountains also need to be replaced regularly, roughly every 1-4 weeks, depending on usage. If it feels slimey or looks greyish/brownish/reddish, it needs to be replaced. When you look at an old filter next to a new filter, you’ll understand what a clean, working filter is supposed to look like. A client recently asked me which way the filter is supposed to face, and I contacted PetSafe, which makes many of the water fountains I encounter, to find out. I’m always curious and I love learning new things and helping clients. For models that take the rectangular filters, the white side of the filter is to face the incoming water, and the black part faces the water going out. So water flows in through the white and out through the black.

Don’t let this discourage you from getting a nice water fountain for Fluffy. I like water fountains. If I had a conveniently located outlet and the floor space, I might get one for my cats. Cats like them, they’re usually too big and heavy to knock over, they are pleasant to listen to, and help provide moisture during the dry winters. While they need to be cleaned regularly, it might save you a day or two in between cleanings, whereas a simple bowl of water needs to be cleaned once or twice per day. There are many models of water fountains available, and some are quite beautiful and charming.

Rachel Reisner's certified in Pet CPR and First Aid

Certified… in Pet CPR and First Aid!

 

April is the American Red Cross Pet First Aid Awareness month.

Using that segue, I’m pleased to announce that I have just completed Pet Health Academy’s Pet CPR and First Aid Certification Course. I am now trained in pet first aid and CPR. The certificate is valid for 2 years.

Even so, I have also registered to take Denise Fleck‘s Pet First Aid, CPR & CPCR course at the Pet Sitters World Conference and Expo I will attend in September. It will be a good refresher (as she says, practice makes PURRfect), with hands-on models.

A number of years ago, I took a 2-day (human) first aid and CPR course, and frankly, despite the intensity of the course, I recall very little of it aside from learning to yell: “someone call 911! You, get the defibrillator!” and doing rapid chest compressions on a mannequin that left me sweaty and exhausted after 30 seconds. This experience has taught me that it’s important to keep such knowledge and skills current, and also to retake courses like these every so often, as trends and techniques are updated and improved.

Pet CPR and first aid is not a substitute for veterinary care. However, as Cara Armour, founder of Pet Health Academy, points out, you cannot call 911 for a pet emergency and have paramedics respond to your door. Pet CPR and first aid training can help a person stay calm and be proactive in a pet emergency situation.

 

Giving me keys to your home

Keys, glorious keys. As I provide in-home cat visits, I carry a huge, heavy key ring of client keys. The weight of the keys is not just physical; it’s the weight of trust that my clients have in me to allow me access to their pets and their homes while they are away. I take this trust and responsibility very seriously.

 

Process

I normally receive client keys at the free consultation meeting, along with a non-refundable deposit that is credited back to the client’s upcoming pet sitting balance.

I can also return at a later date to collect keys, if the client hadn’t gotten copies made yet, or wants to go over their cat’s routine again, however as I charge new clients for each additional pre-service visit, normally clients give me keys at the free consultation. Currently, I don’t charge for key return and subsequent key pick ups or key returns, or for picking up new keys if a current client’s locks are changed or if a current client moves within my service area.

 

Key issues I avoid

Some apartment buildings restrict the number of keys each tenant can have, so it’s not always possible to have a spare set of keys. Aside from that, it is a good idea for clients to have a spare set of keys to give me, and even just to have around for themselves. It is stressful coordinating  if I have the client’s only set of keys. I never want the client to be locked out of their own home! Maybe the client is running late, or I am running late (traffic, unpredictability of animals, etc.), and it’s always tricky coordinating the exchange and someone is left waiting for the other person.

I’m sometimes asked to pick up and return keys at concierge desks or from a friend/neighbour, but I’ve just had bad luck with this arrangement. Either the front desk is unmanned for a long time – shift change? lunch? just… no one? – or the building office is only open one or two days per week for a couple of hours. This wastes my time and creates stress because I’m never sure if I’ll actually get the keys so I can get to the cat, or be able to return the keys to the appropriate person.

Some clients ask me to leave their keys under the front mat, in the mail box, or on the kitchen table/counter. No, I do not do this.

A) Someone could see me put your keys under the mat or in the mail box, and once I leave, retrieve them and enter your home.

B) Once I hide them and leave, who do you think has accountability for those keys? I followed your instructions… but if you cannot find the keys, how would you feel and what would you do about it?

C) If I leave your keys inside your home and lock the door behind me, should you be delayed for whatever reason (weather, canceled/missed flights, illness, last-minute change of plans) and need me to return the next day, I won’t be able to get in to care for your cat.

Therefore, I must deliver keys in person.

A number of my clients offer to drop off and pick up their keys at my home, thinking this will be easier for me. It’s not. I appreciate the thoughtful consideration, though! I am not, as I think some clients think, sitting on my couch all day watching Netflix with my cats. My business is full-time, seven days per week, and I do not have time to wait at home when I have a full day of cat visits to do. Places to go, cats to see! Also, I cannot disrupt my family by welcoming visitors early in the morning when we’re getting ready for the day or late in the evening when we’re trying to have family time or get ready for bed.  This is why I offer complimentary key pick up and drop off.

 

Leave your keys with me

Logistically, it is more convenient to leave keys on file with me, and I encourage all of my clients to do this if they plan on using my service again. It’s great for:

  • last-minute/emergency/unexpected travel
  • if you ever get locked out
  • saves time and trouble of continuously scheduling key pick ups and drop offs.

My operating hours are 6:30am-7:30am and 10am-3:30pm daily, which may be difficult to coordinate a good meeting time for some people (working professionals tend to meet me at the 6:30am or 7am or on the weekend). I understand, though, when some clients prefer to have their keys returned after each pet sit. My client’s comfort and safety is very important to me.

The keys

My favourite keys are the vanity keys. Not only do they bring a smile to my face (my favourite has Elvis emblazoned on it), but they are easy to locate on my massive key ring when I’m trying to unlock an outside door in Montreal’s frosty -25 degree Celsius winter weather. My keys are all carefully labeled with no address information, however I am very grateful for those extra few seconds saved by a flashy, gaudy vanity key.

My second favourite keys are the big, heavy Medeco keys, as I have never had problems unlocking and locking those locks. A lot of buildings have old locks with thin keys that are probably copies of copies of copies. I once broke one of those thin keys in my own apartment door years ago – it had to be pried out with needle-nose pliers, and I needed to get yet another thin copy made which also didn’t work very well. One reason I insist on testing keys once I receive them is that a lot of older locks are tricky to unlock and lock. Some have to be jiggled a bit, some you pull the door in as you twist. There could be multiple locks on the door, but the client only wants me to use specific ones. When I am entrusted with caring for a cat, and with aiding in the security of the home, it is essential that I am able to unlock the door to get in and to lock the door once I leave.

No key chains

I use my own key rings and labels. I prefer to leave the client’s own key chains with the client, as I don’t want a precious, sentimental souvenir or gift to get damaged and potentially broken or lost as I carry it around. Plastic easily breaks, metal and other materials can get scratched and scuffed and some key chain charms are large and heavy.

Key security

I am protective of my client keys, and never leave them unattended. Where I go, they go. At my daughter’s gymnastics class, I’ve got a huge key ring stuffed in my pants pocket, as I do not leave them in gym lockers. I don’t leave them unattended in the car, either. Should my car get stolen or broken into, or my bag stolen out of a gym locker, my client keys will be safe with me.

Certified Professional Pet Sitter (CPPS)

CPPS-Certified-Professional-Pet-Sitter-logo
PSI Member Logo-PPPS Tagline2
I am so pleased to announce that I have just passed Pet Sitters International’s CPPS-Certified Professional Pet Sitter® Exam recognizing me as a Certified Professional Pet Sitter (CPPS).

 

The 125-question, 3-hour exam includes such topics as: dog/cat/bird pet care; health, sanitation and safety; and business operations. I am delighted to have this acknowledgement of my dedication to ongoing education and high standards of pet care professionalism.

 

The CPPS designation is only available to PSI members who have:
(1) successfully passed the PSI Certification Program final exam with a score of 76 percent or above,
(2) agreed to adhere to PSI’s Recommended Quality Standards, as noted in the PSI member and renewal applications,
(3) agreed to adhere to the Member Code of Conduct and Ethics, as noted in the PSI member and renewal applications, and
(4) committed to obtaining a minimum of thirty (30) continuing education hours (CEUs) every three years to apply for the certification renewal.
Further information can be found here: https://www.petsit.com/certification

 

At the time of this post, I am one of a few members of Pet Sitters International in Montreal, and the only active Certified Professional Pet Sitter in Montreal.

February is Adopt a Rescued Rabbit Month

2018-02-24 09.00.57

Ok, so February is nearly over. But as we approach Easter, this has been more on my mind. Easter and spring make people think that bringing home a fluffy little bunny is a good idea. Then they find out that pet rabbits are expensive, high-maintenance pets. And then the depressing Kijiji ads to rehome bunnies that the kids aren’t taking care of start popping up a month later. This also happens a month or so after Christmas for all animals.

When I first went to the SPCA a number of years ago to look for what ended up being Olaf, my super fluffy cat, I was amazed that the exotic animal room was wall-to-wall rabbits. They’ve restructured the space now (the last time I was there a few months ago, it seemed like rats and mice had taken over), but after caring for rabbit guests over the past year, I can understand why there would be a room full of them at the shelter.

Rabbits are adorable, and I think people might assume they are kind of like giant hamsters – inexpensive pocket pets that only live for 1-2 years and happily sit around in a little hutch like a stuffed animal until you cuddle them for a couple of minutes each day. In reality, pet rabbits have a lifespan similar to large breed dogs, roughly 8-12 years. Like dogs, they need annual check ups and vaccinations and are usually sterilized. Actually, owning a rabbit is just as if not more expensive and time-consuming as owning a cat, due to their dietary needs and upkeep needs and social demands.

They can be delicate. When I noticed a recent bunny guest hadn’t eaten or pooped in 8 hours (very unusual), I notified the client that if he didn’t do one or both of those things soon I’d be rushing him to the exotic veterinarian to check for a possible blockage. I gently massaged his abdomen for a while and fortunately, he went back to eating and pooping as usual; the client said something similar had happened a few months previously, too. If their fur isn’t properly groomed during shedding season, it can collect in their stomach resulting in death by starvation (they cannot cough up a hairball like a cat; it has to be surgically removed). If they have long fur, it might mat. Their nails need to be trimmed regularly. They might be tiny and fit in the palm of your hand at the pet shop, and then grow into a burly cat-sized beast once reaching adulthood. There will be hay and a healthy coating of fine rabbit fluff on all of your clothes and possessions. Daily fresh vegetables – as someone who doesn’t normally eat lots of leafy greens, my fridge gets overrun with kale, romaine lettuce, herbs, and other vegetables when I board rabbits. Lots of litter – while they can be litter box-trained, they constantly poop and pee, which needs to be scooped throughout the day. Chewable toys. Homes must be painstakingly rabbit-proofed to prevent injury to the animal and property damage.

One of the pet services I offer is boarding in my own home for small caged animals. By far, the  most destructive boarders have been the bunnies. Whenever I think of bunnies, my mind immediately replays the bunny rocker song from Buffy, the Vampire Slayer‘s musical episode, “Once More With Feeling”:

My beautiful bunny guests have happily and efficiently chewed through:

  • a hand vacuum cable,
  • a laptop charger cable (necessitating a rush order via Amazon),
  • two new shirts and new jeans (at different times, but with me in them),
  • books (one rabbit had a particular taste for Dorothy L. Sayers),
  • and gnawing on the edges of wooden doors.

All under my careful, watchful eye during out-of-cage play time. At every instance, I was either holding the rabbit or only 1-2 feet from the rabbit, supervising them like a mother hen. No harm came to the rabbits. It has been a great learning experience for me, and caused me to change my policy of “just hop wherever you want while I watch” to either “be a couch potato on the sofa with me (somehow they don’t seem inclined to jump off the couch, since we have hardwood floors)” or “hop around in the enclosed front area which is virtually rabbit-proof.” No more free access to delicious cables and wires. And when it feels like they might be snuggling into me, I nudge them a little just to make sure they aren’t making holes in my clothes at the same time. Because ::sigh:: this is why I can’t have nice things.

But these caveats aside, when owners go in knowing what to expect, rabbits do make very good pets. They are smart and trainable, affectionate and quiet (as long as they aren’t thumping their displeasure on the floorboards). They like routine. As they can use a litter box, some people choose to keep them cage-free, and let them roam freely in their homes like cats or dogs. They are soft and cuddly and have definite personalities. They’re vegan. But they are definitely a pet you want to research carefully first before committing to ownership, to ensure they are the right pet for you and that you are prepared for all of their needs and quirks and expenses.

Two of my favourite resources online:

https://www.binkybunny.com/

https://rabbit.org/