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!

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