My blog has just been named one of Feedspot’s Top 50 Pet Sitting Blogs. I’m #23! Yay!
And yes, I do have a Facebook page.
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:
And, of course, fresh, cold water for all!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
Little Bear Animalerie has nice, high end cat and dog supplies. It’s a well-presented, clean store. I can’t speak for the dog supplies, but the cat food, litter, and grooming supply variety is good. There are freezers for raw food in the back, and tables of toys and food bowls in the front. I like the layout of the store, which seems well-thought-out. Every space is used, but it doesn’t seem cluttered and the products all look in good condition. Size is typical of an independent pet supply store in Montreal. It’s easy to navigate. And there’s usually several friendly employees willing to help.
I stopped by recently to drop off business cards and can lids, and while my business cards were accepted, the can lids were not. The store does not approve of plastic can covers for environmental purposes, and while I was offering a bag of them for free, they still declined. I can understand that. When I was ordering can lids for a trade show this past year, the minimum quantity for ordering silicone can lids with my business information on them was something like 20,000… and I decided that that was a bit beyond my budget. So I settled for plastic can lids. Which are dishwasher safe, and more environmentally conscious than using disposable plastic wrap, plastic bags, or foil. But yes, still plastic.
Aside from not being too close to me geographically, the main downside of this store is finding parking on the busy Sainte-Catherine Street West street; I sometimes drive around and around and then give up without finding a space. But those using public transport or their own two feet or cycling won’t have that problem.
Cats love to play with string, but I find string and ribbon get easily tangled and athletic cats will sometimes jump up and attack the hand holding the string. So the solution is to use a wand toy – string on a stick! They come with feathers, mice, bells, ribbons, etc.. I find that wand toys with bells on them don’t work well for me as a pet sitter, as many of my cat clients are shy at first, and the jingling noise scares them. I also prefer lightweight wand toys, rather than the ones with heavy balls or stuffed animals hanging from them. Sometimes the cat and I misjudge a pass, and they end up getting bopped with the toys. Cats love feathers, but they do not last long and can get messy.
The one I most often use and frequently find when visiting my cat clients, is a simple long soft ribbon attached to a plastic stick. It’s sometimes called a dancer or teaser or charmer. You can wave it up, down, side to side, around, and make designs in the air to tease your cat friend into pouncing on it. You can exercise the cat without getting out of breath yourself. The wand toy is simple, effective, and generally inexpensive and durable. You can easily make one yourself, though they are not expensive and can be found at any pet store.
The great thing about wand teasers is that the cat is not targeting your body during play. A common mistake new cat owners do is to tease their young cats with their hands, and let their cats play rough with them because they think it’s adorable that their tiny fluffy kitten is attacking their fingers. When the cute kitten grows into a strong, mature cat and continues to play roughly, the owner no longer finds it cute. Letting your cat use their teeth and claws on you during play, or letting the play or petting session go on too long when the cat becomes overstimulated and becomes too rough, teaches your cat that you are a toy and that you want them to play with you like a kicker toy or scratching post. It’s confusing to them if sometimes it’s ok to grab, bite, kick, and scratch you, but sometimes it’s not ok. It’s best to be consistent and clear: you are not the toy. If a cat starts to play too roughly, I stop play or petting, say a firm “no,” and give them time to calm down by not touching them for a while. They will learn that it is not acceptable to play too roughly with me, and if the teeth or claws come out, I will stop playing or petting them.
A wand toy allows you to keep a safe distance from your mighty hunter’s sharp teeth and claws, and gives you control over the play session. They’ll be focused on the toy, and not on your hand. While laser pointers are also great, and I carry one with me, I prefer a wand toy because the cat is able to “win” with it. A wand toy is a physical thing they can attack, grab, chew, and “get,” whereas with a laser pointer, the cat can never win, unless you end the chase on a treat or toy. The lack of a “victory” at the end of laser play could lead to increased aggression; after all, everyone loves a happy ending! A wand toy never runs out of batteries, and sometimes cats will play with them on their own. Another great thing about wand toys is that they are small enough to put away easily, and also large enough to find easily.