Top 5 Finalist for 2021 Pet Sitter of the Year

Top 5 Finalist 2021 Pet Sitter of the Year

I have been named a Top Five Finalist for the 2021 Pet Sitter of the Year Award!

I am honoured and delighted to have been included amongst the Top 5 Finalists. Many thanks to all of my clients for their continued support and encouragement, to four years of excellence in professional pet sitting, and to Pet Sitters International for encouraging professionalism and continuing education. This isn’t it – I will never stop pursuing continuing education opportunities and learning!

The announcement can be found here:


From the announcement made by Pet Sitters International:

First awarded by PSI in 1995, the Pet Sitter of the Year designation recognizes true excellence in the professional pet-sitting field. PSI evaluates nominees on stringent criteria including client and professional references, commitment to quality care and professionalism, contributions to clients and the industry-at-large, and commitment to continuing education.

“PSI’s Pet Sitter of the Year is the best of the best, serving as an example to the industry and the pet-owning public,” said Patti Moran, PSI founder and CEO. “The 2021 finalists are shining examples of the qualities it takes to succeed in this booming industry—professionalism, pet-care knowledge, business savvy and a strong work ethic.”

The five finalists move on to the next phase of the judging process, where a panel of judges will review and score the finalists’ submissions and supporting materials, including their references and finalist videos. The new Pet Sitter of the Year will be announced by January 2021.

The winner, along with the other four finalists, will also be recognized during PSI’s 2021 Pet Sitter World Educational Conference.

For more information about PSI and pet sitting as a profession, or to locate a PSI pet sitter in your area, visit PSI’s website at

pet first aid certificate

Pet First Aid & CPR renewed

pet first aid certificate

Pro Pet Hero: Online Cat and Dog First Aid Course

I am pleased to announce completing the Pro Pet Hero: Online Cat and Dog First Aid Certification. This certificate is valid for two years.

Having last completed pet first aid and CPR training in 2018 (twice – I wanted to make sure the information “stuck”), I had intended to renew my pet first aid training at the 2020 Pet Sitters World Educational Conference and Expo in St. Louis, MO, USA this year. That conference has since been canceled due to the pandemic, so I opted for an online course.

Kindly note that pet first aid is in no way a replacement for veterinary care. It’s more like pre-vet care, which will help you to identify common issues and transport the pet safely to the veterinarian where they can receive payment.

Clients often tell me that they would rather we “wait and see” instead of allowing me to act immediately by taking ill or injured pets to the veterinarian while the owner is away. This is simply not a realistic plan of action. It’s often difficult to get in touch with clients immediately, many of whom are traveling in different time zones and spending their days wrapped up in meetings and fun vacation activities, meaning that a pet might be left to suffer all day without treatment simply because I am supposed to wait to hear back from the client with instructions before taking the pet to the veterinarian. Or, since I am only seeing the pet once or twice per day, the pet could become seriously worse during the “wait and see” period. Meaning that I have the horrible duty of  watching the animal in my care suffer without being permitted to get them medical attention.

Clients must authorize me to bring their pets in my care to the veterinarian when necessary. This is one of the issues that is discussed during the registration.

I understand that pet medical bills can be a significant expense, which is often the primary reason behind pet owner hesitation to bring their sick pets to a veterinarian for treatment. As a highly trained and experienced professional pet sitter (that’s Certified Professional Pet Sitter, trained in pet first aid and CPR, thank you), my clients must trust me to be able to use my knowledge and experience to act accordingly in the best interests of their pets. I don’t get kickbacks from veterinarians, nor do I suggest seeking medical care lightly. It’s important to have a clear plan in place so that there is no confusion or hesitation in the event of an emergency.

From the website:

This course teaches first aid techniques to address the most common emergencies that can occur with small and large dogs as well as cats. This course will train you to notice abnormalities and detect early warning signs in pets. You will also learn essential pre-vet care and life saving techniques for those times when immediate action can make all the difference. The course is developed and taught by Doctor of Veterinary Medicine Bobbi Conner, a specialist in small animal emergency & critical care.

I got Cat and Dog First Aid and CPR certified at

Fire safety for pets: keeping the cat carrier within reach

cat carrier
Olaf in the cat carrier, after being evacuated due to fire

At midnight last night, I was startled by pounding on my front door. A few moments earlier, I had heard thumping on the back fire escape of the building, and figured some kids (hooligans… those darn young’ins) were having some fun and chasing eachother down the fire escape and knocking on random people’s doors. As it turns out, it was one of my neighbours, shouting to get out because the roof was on fire. I could see, feel, and smell the red sparks and ash burning up above my head.

Having lived in Montreal for years, this was hardly my first fire or fire drill. And even back in my school days, I seemed to live in the dorms that had had almost biweekly fire alarms, usually at night, probably by students illicitly smoking too close to the fire alarms. Anyway, I knew just what to do. So I quickly got up my sleeping daughter, had my husband take her outside, and then went to get the cat carrier from the storage room for my cat, Olaf. I’m sorry to say that in the heat of the moment, I did not even think to get Mister Rogers, my hamster. But I will next time!

Anyway, as I was  going into the storage room to fetch the cat carrier, a big plastic hard-sided carrier sitting right there in plain sight, I went right past it and dug around for the soft-sided carrier that actually had never been used before and had been given to me by a former client who had moved away. I don’t know why I did that, I was just going going going, and knew I had to find a carrier for Olaf. I stared at the soft black carrier in my hand for a moment, unthinking, before my brain caught up with my body and screamed that this carrier was too small for my long, lanky Olaf, and to use the much larger carrier that was sitting right there that I’ve always used. The one that still had tape on it from the vet’s that said Ethel. I put down the soft-sided carrier. Grabbed the carrier, grabbed the cat who was scooting under the bed (got ‘im! haha.), got peed on as I crammed him into the cat carrier (sorry, Force Free training, this time I was getting him in there as quickly as possible, whatever it took), closed all the doors on my way to the front door, grabbed my jean jacket and handbag, and brought us both outside where my family, neighbours, and a ton of firefighters were there to greet us. All of this was done quickly, efficiently, and well under a minute.


No one was hurt, everyone got out quickly, even the older neighbours who had been in isolation for months. The fire, a small fire of unknown origin, was quickly extinguished by the well-organized firefighters, and after they had carefully inspected the area, rolled up their hoses, and removed the emergency caution tape, we were allowed to go back inside. Thanks, first responders! Montreal firefighters rock!

The first thing I did, after getting my daughter a drink of water, was clean up the pee from the floor, myself, the cat, and the cat carrier. I didn’t want anyone to step in it and I certainly wanted to eradicate the smell and not let it set. I keep a spray bottle of equal parts vinegar and water, which works very well at neutralizing urine odours in laundry, and is pet-safe. I used it on the floor, the cat carrier, the bath tub, and the laundry. Olaf had peed on the brand-new skirt I had quarantine-splurged on from the Gap and I wanted to wash the heck out of it right away to prevent the odour from setting. I wiped Olaf down with damp towels, but he was too worked up to bathe, and I didn’t think it was really necessary. He was able to clean himself after I got him started. Then I gave him a treat and started writing this blog post, since I’m too worked up to sleep despite it being 1:30am. Ahem, now 3am.

Cat carriers – getting your cat from Point A to Point B

Location location location

The reason why I am sharing this exciting moment, is because of the cat carrier. When I meet with a new client, I always ask where the pet carrier is, just in case the pet needs medical attention or there’s another emergency and I need to evacuate the pet. Living in small urban apartments, owners will often keep their cat carriers in their storage locker. In the basement. Down several flights of stairs. Wedged behind many suitcases and only accessible with a ladder. A few clients didn’t have a cat carrier.

If I had kept my cat carrier so far away from my living space, I wouldn’t have been able to get to it in a timely manner to evacuate with Olaf safely. I couldn’t just carry him outside in my arms. Despite being an indoor-only cat, he’s like any cat in a high-adrenaline situation – he would have clawed me in a panic, then ran and hid somewhere. Or gotten hit by a car. Or gotten taken in by well-meaning Samaritans despite being microchipped because he’s so handsome and friendly. I could have lost him as soon as I took him outside without a carrier.

Many cat behaviourists and also Fear Free recommend keeping your cat carrier out and in the open for your cat, to help familiarize them with the carrier and remove any negative associations of cat carrier = veterinarian = bad things. To combat this, some owners create a comfy nest for their cats in their carriers, feed them treats in their carriers, and integrate them seamlessly into their living room decor. Especially a couple weeks before a trip to the veterinarian, or a trip, it’s a good idea to bring out the cat carrier and feeding them lots of treats inside of it so they’ll associate good things with it. It then becomes easier to coax them inside the carrier so that the trip to the veterinarian is less stressful.

Disaster planning

It’s important to consider what to do in the event of a fire or similar situation. I have a clear plan of action and priorities. Child, cat, (hamster – next time, Mister Rogers!), shoes, coat if cold, handbag/keys. Closing the doors was a practical bonus. Meet in safe place outside. I’ve done this enough times in my life that it takes no thought, it just happens within seconds. This is one of the reasons why I ask so many questions during registration with new clients, so that if something unexpected should happen, we have all the necessary information and planning already agreed upon, and I can immediately act without having to wonder what to do during a stressful, emotional situation.

When I had two cats, I tried both using two separate carriers, as well as just cramming them both into one big carrier. Both got the job done, though when we lived up several flights of stairs, it was easier for me to carry only one carrier with 22 lbs of cat inside.

Is it washable?

When I got my first cat, Ethel, many years ago, I got a soft-sided carrier because it seemed like it would be more comfortable for her. It was small, easy to carry like a gym bag, and had mesh on all the sides so you could easily see inside. I still remember being offended when a pushy vet tech told me that my carefully purchased cat carrier was not secure enough and that a cat could easily escape it if they really wanted to by ripping open the mesh or pulling apart the zippers. I’m not saying that she was wrong, or than she wasn’t well-meaning, but I used that carrier for many years, until the plastic ribbing separated.

While Ethel never tried to escape the soft-sided carrier, she often peed in the carrier and it was impractical in that it was difficult to clean. There was a fuzzy covering for the cardboard bottom that could be washed in the washing machine, but it wasn’t waterproof, and that cardboard bottom could get soaked in urine and other bodily fluids of a scared cat. The soft shell only survived a couple washes in a front-loading washing machine before wearing out.

I saw some beautiful soft-sided backpack-style cat carriers at last year’s Cat Camp NYC, but the sales representative was a bit stumped when I had asked about cleaning. She had suggested maybe hosing it off outside. But most of my clients are apartment dwellers, so that option of blasting it with a forceful stream of water outside is not really available to us.


I usually put cats into cat carriers using the front door. It’s useful to also have a carrier that comes apart from the top, too, as that can be easier at the vet’s office, as the top can be removed without dragging out the cat. Having a carrier that’s easy to take apart and put back together makes it easier to clean.


A hard-sided cat carrier is durable and easy to clean and won’t retain odours as much as a soft-sided carrier. It will last longer than a soft-sided carrier. It’s easy to store, because you won’t be tempted to fold it all up and wreck it because you think it’s more flexible than it is. It can get scratched and knocked around a little (hopefully when empty). A cat won’t be able to rip through it with their claws and teeth. A dog will have more trouble getting to the cat in a hard case. (While waiting to go back inside last night, Olaf was well-sniffed by a neighbour’s dog, but was well-secured in the hard plastic carrier). Pet owners often buy soft-sided carriers because they are pretty, but the nylon shells can fade with wear, making them less pretty. You can usually find used hard pet carriers inexpensively via online marketplaces.

I guess you can see in which way I lean with regards to soft vs. hard cat carriers. I’m not judging – a soft-sided carrier works, but won’t last as long as a hard-sided carrier, and is harder to clean. I’d rather have a soft carrier than no carrier.

In Conclusion

  1. Make sure you have a disaster/fire safety plan for your pets.
  2. Keep your pet carrier within easy reach just in case there’s a fire and you need to put your pets into it.
  3. Practice getting your pet into the pet carrier.
cleaning the cat carrier
Taking apart and cleaning the cat carrier with vinegar

Stay safe, everyone!

Fear Free Certified Professional

When Montreal schools were ordered to close in response to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, and we were urged to practice social distancing and basically sequester ourselves in our homes in order to flatten the curve of the disease’s spread, I got a bit stressed out and well, made the bad decision to head over to Costco to get milk (needless to say, 3.5 hours later, I emerged from Costco without milk). As everyone’s travel plans were canceled, my schedule suddenly cleared and I had no furry clients to visit and pamper. I coped by hyper-focusing on doing something I’d been meaning to do for years: Fear Free certification.

FF Corporate Logo

Fear Free is a new initiative sweeping veterinary medicine designed to ease the stress, fear, and anxiety so many pets experience while at the veterinarian. There are currently no specific programs for pet sitters, so I completed the modules designed for veterinary staff, which had a lot of useful information and ideas that are applicable to professional pet sitting and pet ownership.

Pet Sitters World 2019 with Dr Marty Becker Fear Free

Dr. Marty Becker posed for a picture with me after his session on Fear Free at the 2019 Pet Sitters World Educational Conference and Expo in Winston-Salem, NC, USA.

Developed by “America’s Veterinarian,” Dr. Marty Becker, the Fear FreeSM initiative aims to “take the ‘pet’ out of ‘petrified’” and get pets back for veterinary visits by promoting considerate approach and gentle control techniques used in calming environments. Utilization of Fear Free methods and protocols leads to reduction or removal of anxiety triggers, which creates an experience that is rewarding and safer for all involved including pets, their owners, and veterinary health care teams. Learn more at

To become certified, veterinarians and veterinary staff are required to complete a comprehensive, 8-part educational course and exam. They also have to take continuing education to remain certified.

fear free certificate 202003171024_1

Saying Goodbye to Ethel

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Ethel, many moons ago

My lovely, sweet, wonderful cat Ethel was put to sleep on Monday. She was 19-years old.

I thought I’d share what happened in this blog post, but just be advised that I might be graphic in details, so if you’re squeamish, stop now. And it’s a long post.


Saturday morning

I see a lot of elderly, sick cats as a professional pet sitter, and I thought I would know what to look for when monitoring my own pets. But Ethel still looked very good to my eye. Her coat was still full and soft, she still came over for pets, she still went in the general vicinity of the litter box, she loved food.

On Saturday morning, I noticed that there was bloody urine on one of several puppy training pads that I used to line the area surrounding the litter box. She’d go inside the box about 50% of the time by this point, the other times right in front of the box. I had tried offering her an extremely low-sided litter box, which was actually a large restaurant-style serving tray with sides about 1/4 inch high, but the results were the same, I went back to using the low-sided litter box. I currently use a very soft wood shaving clumping litter, which can be gentler on sensitive older paws. Anyway, I also saw bloody pee and blood clots trailing around the kitchen, living area, and leaking out of her in drips. She was crying, and then I was crying. I knew it was her time and her little body was failing. My first thought was that I didn’t want her to suffer. It was my priority that she be as comfortable as possible.

I cried as I carefully combed her shedding fur, and gave her subcutaneous fluids in a rather futile effort to help her (she was supposed to be getting subcutaneous fluids twice a week to help with her kidney failure). I realized that she had probably started leaking bloody pee the day before, but when I had seen a drop or two on the floor, I had actually mistaken them for my own mess, as I have a medical issue that involves regular dressing changes. But I’m pretty sure it was her, since I’m very careful about that sort of thing.

It was about 8:30am by this point, and the veterinarian who had been following her didn’t open until 9am. I waited, then called as soon as I could get through to the office. But unfortunately, they said they were fully booked for emergency visits that day, and referred me to two other veterinarians. I then tried another local veterinarian office – one benefit of being a professional pet sitter is that I have a short list of veterinarians that my clients really like – and got an appointment for 11:30am.


Three more hours. I think, after seeing a lot of movies and tv shows, we think people can just run into a vet’s office with an animal in our arms and get seen right away, but unfortunately, that’s not usually the case. I try to make sure that my clients are aware of this, as well, because I might not always be able to get their pets to their usual vet in the event of an emergency, if their appointment schedule is full. So it is a good idea to be aware of several reputable veterinarians in your area, in case you need urgent care. Or you can go to a 24-hour emergency veterinarian, but for some that might mean a long drive, along with a wait, depending on the number of patients that day.

I put Ethel into the cat carrier, lined with a puppy pad, and set about cleaning up. I keep a spray bottle of equal parts vinegar and water, and sprayed down probably half the floor of the condo to make sure I got all of the pee. I did a lot of laundry that day. I sobbed the whole time. Then since I figured it would be her last meal, I gave her the “good stuff” – the regular, high end wet food that she hadn’t been permitted to eat for seven months. She’d been on an expensive hypoallergenic diet – the more expensive duck version, since the chicken version hadn’t agreed with her stomach – to help manage her kidney disease and irritable bowel syndrome. It had worked well, but she was not enthusiastic about it, and always wanted what my other cat was eating. So I popped open a fresh can of the good stuff and gave her a bowl. She loved it. I carefully emptied, washed, and dried her microchip feeder, since I figured it would no longer be needed. It had been intended to let her free feed food, grazing lightly throughout the day and night, while preventing my other cat from gorging on her hypoallergenic food.

I sat and pet her. She was quiet in the carrier, and seemed fine with being inside of it, even though I kept the door open.

I shared my pain with some pet sitter colleagues, and a couple gave me a glimmer of hope, suggesting that it might just be a urinary tract infection (UTI), or stones, that could be dissolved with special food and antibiotics. I thought about it, and thought maybe Ethel just had a UTI, and some medicine might clear it up. Maybe I had been sobbing and overreacting for nothing, and wasn’t giving her a chance. Mabye it wasn’t her time. I have had cat clients who lived into their twenties. She was only nineteen (in human years, that’s roughly the equivalent of 92 human years).

My 5-year old came with me to the vet. I thought it was important that she understand what was happening to Ethel. She’s experienced a couple of our hamsters dying, but each time we had just awakened to a dead hamster. When she was about three, she had hysterically repeated “Bunny is dead! Bunny is dead!” for days, even weeks when she’d seen our dead hamster, Bunny. In this case, she was older and there would be more of a process, we might possibly be euthanizing Ethel. I explained to her that Ethel was very sick and very old, and that it was important for her to be comfortable and not in any pain. She’s read a lot of books and seen videos about viruses and bacteria (there’s a pathologist in our family who encourages this interest), and so she understood about antibiotics. She thought maybe Ethel just had a virus, and taking some medicine might make her feel better.

She also did what she had done when Fred, our hamster, had died over a month ago. She immediately started planning for a new cat, saying she was going to think of a new name for “Ethel” – meaning, a name for the new cat. But, as I had done when Fred had died, I told her firmly that we wouldn’t be getting a new cat any time soon. I have in the past gotten a new hamster as early as the day after a hamster has died, but I knew in this case that I was not planning on replacing Ethel anytime soon, if at all. Ethel was friendly to people, but had never been social with our other cat, Olaf, and I don’t think Olaf is the sort of social cat who requires another cat for companionship. Also, I knew that I wouldn’t be emotionally ready to get another cat for a long time. If ever.

I was apologetic when we got to the vet’s office, as I shared how some of my colleagues had the idea that Ethel might just have a UTI. The vet tech and vet were very kind, and agreed that it was possible. They kept her at the office for another couple of hours to try to get a urine sample, but Ethel was totally empty, which means they couldn’t get a decent ultrasound or x-ray, either, so we were given antibiotics and painkiller to try for the rest of the weekend, just in case, and an appointment to drop off Ethel for a urinalysis on Monday to see if it was helping.

Ethel came home, and I put her back on the hypoallergenic food. She missed dinner, though, which is very unusual for her. Her head came up, she knew it was dinner time, but then it went back down again so she could keep sleeping, which she did about 99% of the time. And she never made it back to the litter box, instead peeing a few feet away in the kitchen. And on a bag of corn, which I promptly threw out.

Quality of Life

I carefully watched her, but the painkiller and antibiotic weren’t improving her condition.

I wrestled with myself. I worried I was being selfish in wanting to euthanize her, as I worried I wasn’t being devoted enough to constantly clean up the urine. Maybe she just needed a diaper. I had often been concerned about the expense of her special food, medication for the kidney failure, and subcutaneous fluids. I gave her a green lipped mussel supplement to help with the arthritis. The heated pad I had gotten her to help keep her comfortable got too hot, and I had been thinking of what sort of heating pad I should get to replace it. She went through quite a few puppy pads. I felt shame that I might be leaning towards euthanasia in a bid to avoid these expenses.

I ran through the quality of life scale for pets (there’s a calculator here: ), and found that she scored a 12 out of 80. She slept 99% of the time, unless she was eating or using the litter box. She rested on a large towel I folded for her, but peed through it and continued laying in it. She couldn’t groom herself. She missed meals. Her back left leg started dragging, so she was basically crawling around using her two front paws, and was very wobbly. It seemed like all movement was difficult for her, even just sitting or moving a few feet to the water bowl, either from her arthritis or from further deterioration. Instead of wrapping her tail around herself tightly, it hung out straight. Her urine had cleared of blood with the antibiotic. I put down puppy pads in the kitchen, which she sort of used. I was 99% sure. She was ready to go. I was ready to let her go.

I met with a friend, who saw how upset I was, and took me to tea and helped me talk through all of these things. She helped me realize how much different and worse Ethel’s life was now than it had been a short time ago. I felt more confident after talking it through with her for several hours. It’s good to have that kind of support during these tough times.


On Monday, I dropped off my daughter, warning her that I thought Ethel wasn’t getting better, and that I might be taking her to be put to sleep while she was at school. I didn’t want to surprise her with the news after the fact. She said she’d miss Ethel, but understood. I felt bad for sending her to school on such a low note.

I called the veterinarian’s office as soon as they opened, to change my drop off appointment into a euthanasia appointment. We scheduled it for the afternoon, so that I would be able to pick up my daughter from school and take her with me to say goodbye to Ethel after all.

I tried to make Ethel’s last day a good day. I fed her her favourite food several times that day, whenever she got near her food bowl. I took her outside for a few minutes, as she used to like sitting by the window, but she quickly went back inside. It could have been too cold. She still cuddled up to me, despite walking very shakily, and I pet her and cried until my eyeballs were totally empty.

When it was time to go, I put an old towel down in her carrier, then put a puppy pad on top. We picked up my daughter as early as possible, and went over to the vet’s office. The vet – a different vet from the one we had seen on Saturday, did her best to make sure I made an informed decision, first mentioning that some of the symptoms I mentioned could have been caused by the painkiller. I had to close my eyes to keep enough composure in order to speak. I hated that little sliver of hope. But the vet later said to me that the dosage of painkiller that Ethel had been taking was too low to have caused the leg to stop working. It wasn’t the painkiller. She did her best to be neutral, which I appreciated, but also it drove me a little crazy, since I was having trouble coming to terms with it being me alone as the person making the decision to euthanize Ethel. I had made my decision. She wasn’t going to get better, and her quality of life was extremely poor. I knew it was the best decision for her, but to have the responsibility and weight of a life in your hands, and having to make the call to end that life is crushing. And having to explain it to my young child was difficult. I kept wanting to say that we were killing Ethel, but instead used phrases like “putting her to sleep,” “making her comfortable because she’s not going to get better,” and “she’s going to die.” I wanted to educate my child about death and grieving, but in an age-appropriate, sensitive manner.

I had worked with a former vet tech once, who had confessed that the reason she had changed careers had been that she couldn’t handle all of the euthanasia they had to do. To have to hold the animal as you watched and felt the life slipping from their little bodies.

Final Decisions

There are decisions you have to make when you put your pet to sleep. I had euthanized a hamster a number of years ago, and was familiar with some of the questions. As with everything, some decisions would be based upon price.

Do you want to be there with your pet at the very end? I had read an article about a vet talking about how a pet frantically looks for their owner when they are put to sleep, and I knew that I would want to be there for Ethel from start to finish. I have not had to euthanize a client’s pet, but if necessary, I would be willing to be there for them, too.

Do you want the body, or do you want the body to be cremated?

Do you want the remains cremated individually, or group cremation?

Do you want the ashes afterwards? Sometimes you’re offered a special box you can keep them in.

I signed forms. I signed a form authorizing the euthanasia. I signed a form indicating that I wanted Ethel’s remains to be cremated in a group, rather than individually. This meant the vet’s office might hold the remains for up to 30 days before sending them all in a group to the crematorium. I did not want the ashes, or a little box or urn with her ashes. I paid beforehand, so that I could more easily leave afterwards.

While I was settling the bill, they put a catheter in Ethel’s leg. She was pale and a little dehydrated, and also had always had tiny veins that were hard to access. So they put in a catheter to make sure that the sedation and euthanasia would happen quickly.

We were in a small, soothingly-lit private room. We put Ethel on the table, which had a nice fluffy blanket laid down on top of it. Probably half for comfort, but also to help absorb bodily fluids that release after death. I crouched down next to the table, which was about the height of a coffee table, and cradled Ethel’s head in my hands. She was a floor cat, and had never enjoyed being on your lap very much, and I didn’t want her to be uncomfortable in her last moments even though I wanted to hold her close to me. I held and stroked her soft furry head, as she leaned into me, as the veterinarian first sedated her, which instantly put her to sleep. I felt her head relax within seconds. Then she administered the drug to stop her heart, and I held her as she died.

It all only took seconds. Ethel was ready to go. When I had had my hamster euthanized, she continued to twitch for many minutes after her heart stopped; Ethel had immediately gone to sleep and stopped moving. I cried because I was killing her, and because I loved her, and I already missed her. There was still that 1% of me that wondered if I was doing the right thing. I know it was the right thing to do – she was in pain and she wasn’t going to get better. There was no dignity to her life, and when I thought back to even a year ago, she had had more enjoyment and less pain. It was no way to live as she had been living that weekend.

Her head was still warm, maybe from my hand in her fur. Her eyes were still open. Her ears were still perked up. But she was gone. She was at peace. And I sobbed and sobbed. My daughter hugged me. I tried to do the mom thing and explain to her that it’s ok to cry when you’re sad, and that mommy was very sad. She asked permission to touch Ethel, and I said of course. The veterinarian gave us privacy, and told me that when I was ready to leave, and if I didn’t want Ethel to be alone, I could call the front desk and they would send someone to be with Ethel so she wouldn’t be alone. I thought that was a thoughtful gesture.

I let myself cry for a few minutes, holding Ethel and using many tissues. They keep a box in that room, with a waste bin discretely in the corner. I think I used half of it. I don’t think my daughter quite understood. She kept asking if I was still sad, if I was still crying. And I kept saying yes. It was hard to understand that Ethel was gone, but I could see that she was no longer there. She looked like she was sleeping, curled up peacefully into a ball like she always was.

When I thought I had it together enough to leave and drive home without getting into an accident, I used the room’s phone to call the front desk, and they sent a vet tech to come be with Ethel so we could leave. We took the empty pet carrier, and I ugly cried on the sidewalk all the way to the car. I’m still crying now as I write this. It’s grieving. It doesn’t just brush off.

I finished up cleaning pee, including one of daughter’s adorable backpacks that Ethel unfortunately took to laying on during her final days. It took all day, and a lot of vinegar and Oxy-Clean, but at last it passed the smell test and has never looked cleaner. In the next couple of days I’ll take down the elaborate litter box area, which involved plastic sheeting lining the area, puppy pads, and anti-tracking mat, which I had to thoroughly clean. Olaf has always been a tidy cat, he’s only about 8-years old, and he won’t need all of that. I’ll have to deal with the leftover hypoallergenic food, of which I have an unopened bag of dry food and a whole case of wet food. If the veterinarian’s office won’t accept the return, I might donate it to SPCA Montreal. I have dropped off even open bags of cat food to the SPCA for clients, and they have gratefully accepted them. It would hurt a bit not to be able to recoup some of the expense, but I have never had great luck selling items online.

The following day, I considered cancelling a visit from a new friend, but ended up going through with it to give me something to do. After an incredibly busy summer, I was in a brief lull in work, so had the luxury of time to socialize now. I was grateful that I had had the time to care for Ethel during her last moments instead of being busy. I took out my big teapot with the broken lid, made up some tea sandwiches for us to have a little “ladies who lunch” experience, and tried not to cry during the visit. I tried to scrub everything I could, and a lot of the kitchen and bathroom gleamed (the living room was a lost cause, and littered with the usual things in a home with a small child – wooden train tracks, books, and other kid-related and non-kid-related detritus).

My friend very kindly brought me a beautiful little flower arrangement, with a yellow rose in the center because yellow roses mean friendship and lifting up the spirits. I have only received flowers a few times in my life (partly because Olaf likes to eat them), and was touched that she had so carefully thought out such a nice gift. I was glad I went through with the visit, and we talked about cats and other things as we sipped tea and ate sandwiches, with the lovely flowers on the table.

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Beautiful flowers, in honour of a wonderful cat.

Remembering Ethel

Ethel was a great cat. She was my first cat, and she taught me so much. I adopted her as a single young woman working four jobs and living in a studio apartment that didn’t allow pets. Fortunately, the building administration tolerated cats. She was 5-years old, was the first cat I looked at at the shelter, and had been there for at least five months when I came to look at cats. She was part of a pair – her litter mate’s name was Lucy, a dominant, longhaired tuxedo cat (Ethel was a submissive grey and white shorthair). The volunteers wanted to adopt them out together, and I didn’t think I could support or house two cats, so I left. A couple weeks after my visit, I got a call from them that Lucy had been adopted, and Ethel was crying for her. I went over, and brought Ethel home.  I kept her in the bathroom for the first few days. When I let her out, she cautiously explored, then peed on my bed because she didn’t know where the litter box was. So started my education on cats and how to clean cat messes (an enzyme cleaner helped to finally remove the pee smell from the mattress).

She was my first cat, and I remember being afraid to trim her nails. The how-to videos always made it seem so easy, but I worried she’d bite or scratch me. This is one of the reasons why I regularly post nail trimming videos on facebook. I understand that it can be awkward to trim your pet’s nails the first few times, and that it takes practice.

As with many cats who spent a lot of time in a shelter, she initially had no control over her appetite. If you filled her food bowl, she would empty it. If you put twice as much food in the bowl, she would empty it. I had to carefully measure her food, to fix the resulting paunch that developed. In her final years, she was able to graze lightly without gorging. With the exception of the hypoallergenic food – I suspect because it only comes in two flavours and one gave her diarrhea – she was not a picky eater and would eat anything you put in front of her.

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She liked belly rubs

Ethel was extraordinary in several ways. She had six toes on each of her paws, and during her younger years, had been able to catch and hold a ball in her paw. She could also speak words, at least during her first year with me. She loved waking me up at increasingly early hours, softly yet clearly saying “cat food” over and over into my ear at 4:30am. She stopped saying cat food when I refused to feed her at 4:30am. Instead, she resorted to various methods of waking me up, including flopping down next to me on the bed, and “running” in place on my face with her paws. When I would finally get up, she’d meow and excitedly run back and forth to the food dish as if to lead me there. Y’know, in case I forgot where it was or got lost. She continued to meow at me loudly and lead me to the food dishes every morning up until a couple weeks ago. I guess that should have been another sign that she wasn’t herself.

Ethel was a scaredy cat. Usually gentle, if a loud noise scared her while you were holding her, she’d leave deep bloody claw marks on you as she leapt to the floor. I thought of her colouring as akin to a Great White Shark – grey on the top and white on the bottom. But she was not a predator; she was very much prey. I used to have to schedule her vet appointments carefully, as the timid, mild-mannered cat would scream bloody murder loud and wide once put into the cat carrier.

As with many cats, Ethel had two names. Her official, formal name – Ethel – and the name she actually responded to, which was Kitty. Unfortunately, Olaf also responds to Kitty, so when we added him to the family a number of years ago, it became harder to call just her, as they’d both come.

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Ethel and Olaf

She liked to sleep on the bed, either next to me or by the foot of the bed, but as her arthritis progressed she stopped doing it. I tried lifting her onto the bed, and positioning a step stool by the edge, but it didn’t work for her. She liked to look outside the window, and when we lived in an apartment with a small balcony, she liked sitting on it, enjoying the fresh air. This summer, she parked herself right at the door all of the time, so you had to apologize to her every time you left and came back inside.

Ethel had a secret handshake. The best way to pet her was to use both hands to stroke her sides until she started purring, then let her sniff you hand. She’d rub her head against you, which meant that you could then pet her head and cheeks. But if you tried to pet her head first, she’d run away. She liked being brushed, but would run away first so you had to catch her, then she’d start to enjoy it as you progressed. During shedding season twice a year, she shed enough fur to mold into several new cats.

Ethel was sweet and affectionate, and very much a dignified lady. She hate traveling to the veterinarian’s office, but once she was there, she enjoyed the attention and adoration she received from the staff.

She moved with me through two states in the US, across the border, and through several apartments in Montreal. She was my companion for fourteen years. She was with me before I got married, then after I got married, and also after becoming a mother. She cuddled me when I was sick, and kept me warm at night. She greeted me when I got home at the end of the day, and helped send me off in the morning. Even as she was dying, she still rubbed against me and wanted to cuddle. She was amazing, my Ethel. She was such a great cat.

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5-year old Ethel, looking out at the world.

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.


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 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.


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.