I was quoted in this POPSUGAR article by Elisa Cinelli, “How do I stop my hamster from escaping the cage?”
For a great example of an ideal hamster cage, see my video about DIY bin cages on YouTube.
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: https://www.petsit.com/2021-pet-sitter-of-the-year-finalists
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 http://www.petsit.com/.
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.
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.
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: https://journeyspet.com/pet-quality-of-life-scale-calculator/ ), 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 http://www.barncatbuddies.org in Virginia. This conference really had the nicest, most supportive people.
Firstly, I want to mention that I strongly discourage giving pets as gifts, unless the recipient has made it very clear for a long time that they want that pet, and has shown that they are both knowledgeable and capable of properly caring for them. Getting a pet is not like getting a toy or a video game. That pet is a living creature, totally dependent on the owner for it’s health and well-being. A pet is a commitment.
A major issue with getting pets for the sake of the children, is that the parent must be prepared to supervise pet care and, if necessary, take over all care for the animal if the child is unable or unwilling to properly look after it. Let’s face it – children are minors, and they are dependent on adults for food, shelter, love, and money. They can also be flighty and have quickly changing interests. They might desperately beg for a hedgehog, and then a few weeks later, you find they haven’t been feeding it, giving it fresh water, or cleaning the cage. Will the child be able to interact with the pet appropriately, so that neither gets injured? Will the child have the initiative to research proper care and handling for their pet? Will the child understand that the pet will suffer if they aren’t fed and given fresh water every day? Will the child be able to monitor supplies and remind the adult to buy more when needed? Will the child be able to recognize when something isn’t right with the pet’s health, and take the appropriate course of action? Will they be able to take the pet to the veterinarian for medical treatment? No one wants to see the online help forum posts that start with “my pet is sick/injured/dying and my parents won’t take it to the vet.”
We’ve all seen those sad Kijiji ads that appear around now, a month or so after Christmas, that start off with “Rehoming pet and all supplies. The kids aren’t taking care of it.” No one wants to see those ads. Though, if you are looking to get a pet, now is a good time to find one, with all supplies, online. Another good time for getting a rehomed pet with all supplies is right before moving day on July 1st.
I have also had the pleasure of caring for several children’s pets, where the child was a little expert on the animal, giving me specific, detailed instructions on care down to the exact temperature at which to keep the cage. One even left a little mommy’s “I love you” note in her pet’s lunch box.
I am often asked by my mommy friends what is the best pet for a child. Maybe the parents have never had pets themselves, so they don’t know what having a pet entails. They want a low-maintenance, cuddly, “easy” pet, that won’t be too expensive.
I generally recommend getting a cat. Here’s my take on several small pets I’ve encountered.
I recommend a cat because, well, I’m a cat sitter and I think that when done properly, cats make great family pets. They are big enough that you can’t forget about them, they let you know when they need food, they are assertive about getting attention, they are trainable, and they are affectionate. They are awake when the household is awake. Their care is relatively easy and straightforward. They are a common pet, and it is easy to get supplies, information, and to find appropriate veterinarian care for them.
Some cats are not appropriate for children. I have several cat clients who cannot be touched, or they will scratch or bite. Children can be injured especially if they try to have a staring contest with the cat, or try to handle the cat when the cat wants to be left alone. A cat can become overly stimulated during play time, and a child must know when to stop to let the cat calm down or the cat might start biting or scratching. It is very important to remember to wash your hands well after handling any cat waste. Is the child going to be able to clean up cat vomit and litter box accidents? Will the child be able to brush the cat well enough so that the fur doesn’t mat? Approximate lifespan 12-15 years or longer.
Hamsters make an economical option, both financially and in terms of space. A child could even fund the entire hamster’s care, including saving for a possible exotic veterinarian visit, by carefully saving their allowance, gift monies, and by doing small odd jobs. Even a very large DIY hamster cage (Ikea Detolf!!!) takes up fairly little space, and is inexpensive. When I was a struggling young college graduate, barely supporting myself with four jobs, I was still able to afford keeping a hamster and taking him to the veterinarian as needed.
Hamsters, like a lot of pocket pets, might not be appropriate for all households. They are diurnal, which means that they are primarily active at night, but wake periodically during the day to eat and exercise. You can acclimate the hamster to being awake when you are awake, but you also have to be tolerant of hearing the hamster run miles and miles on their wheel at night (the silent wheels help a lot, but still make some noise). They are small and fragile, and can be easily hurt by children who aren’t aware of their own strength or don’t know how gently to play with them. Small children might stick their fingers into the hamster cage, and the hamster, startled awake or smelling food on the children’s hands, might bite. Children – and yes, adults – might be holding a hamster, get bitten, and fling the hamster in the air, which may cause a serious if not fatal injury to the hamster. They have poor eyesight, and can bite hard if the hands holding them smell like food. They are genius escape artists, and might escape their cage. Yes, their cage needs to be cleaned, they often pee on their wheel, and hamsters produce quite pungent urine, so the cage will have an odor. While they look like fun, I advise against buying tube-based cages, as they are cumbersome to clean and do not allow for sufficient open floor space for the hamster to run around. Hamsters live about 2 years or longer.
Rabbits are generally thought of as a good children’s pet. They can be cuddly, and can be fairly small, or quite large. They can be trained to use a litter box. However, in an urban environment like most of Montreal, house rabbits are quite costly and high maintenance. They need a large enclosure, roughly 12 square feet, or be allowed to free-roam like a cat or dog. They can cause a lot of property damage by chewing cables and furniture, and need annual veterinarian check ups. They need their claws trimmed and regular brushing. Daily, or even multiple times throughout the day, their litter box area needs to be scooped and tidied. Hay and fur everywhere. Fresh vegetables. If not properly socialized, they can bite. They can make noise by thumping their back paws when angry, which might make neighbours angry. Most rabbits are not lap pets, and they prefer to sit beside you rather than on you, and don’t like being chased and picked up, which a child might not understand. They must be monitored carefully for intake and outtake, as even a 12-hour stop to their constant eating and pooping cycle can mean a fatal blockage that requires an emergency veterinarian visit. New pet owners might be shocked to learn that pet rabbits can live 8-12 years.
I love guinea pigs, and think they make good children’s pets. Like rabbits, their upkeep in an urban environment can be expensive, as they need about a cup of a variety of fresh vegetables every day, in addition to hay and pellets and maybe vitamin C supplements. Recommended cage size starts at about 8 square feet. They are eating machines, and constantly demand food. Oh, and they only sleep for about 4 hours per day, so they are often active, making noise, and doing something. They can be high maintenance, and it is strongly recommended to get more than one guinea pig, as they are social and herd animals. They are a demanding, very interactive pet. In general, they are not precise about using a litter box, and their enclosures must be tidied every day or twice per day. Hay everywhere. They are not a quiet pet, which you’d have to love in order to love them. They make a variety of noises, particularly when they hear the fridge or any bag opening that might possibly be food for them. They should be handle carefully so that their backs are not too strained. They can be affectionate, enjoying head rubs, but are very much a prey animal, so will often run away squealing in fear even when they know you well and like you. Depending on the cage set up, they might need periodic baths to clean poop off of feet and bodily fluids out of fur. They can live roughly 5-7 years or longer.
Children might enjoy having a tiny pet like a mouse. They are social, and it is advisable to get more than one. They can be affectionate, and their care is inexpensive, and they eat little. They are good at not falling out of tiny hands due to their prehensile tails. One downside is their short lifespan, which is only 1-2 years. They are perhaps the shortest lived pet I am aware of.
I don’t think a hedgehog makes a good child’s pet, simply because they are nocturnal. Unlike hamsters, who will awaken during the day to eat, drink, and exercise before going back to bed until the evening, hedgehogs are only active at night, or in the very early hours of the morning. So expect to hear the wheel turning at night. When I board hedgehogs, I usually only see them awake around 4am.
Otherwise, hedgehogs make good pets, and the child could certainly interact with a parent’s hedgehog, but if the pet were meant to be primarily in the child’s care, I wouldn’t recommend hedgehogs. They can be expensive to set up, even when adopted from a shelter. They are not rodents, instead possessing quite a full mouth of little sharp teeth and they might bite. They make some sounds which might seem scary if you aren’t used to them, like huffing. Some also do a unique ritual called “anointing” after encountering a new smell, in which they spread foamy saliva all over their quills. They can be tamed, but may not be overly affectionate. Often when you are holding them, you have to move them from hand to hand to keep them off-balance enough not to bite you. You can pet their backs if you pet them in the direction of the quills, and their bells are warm and furry. They are insectivores, and can be fed high quality cat food, with various worms for treats. They like to hide and to be warm, so it’s common to put a small piece of fleece in their cage for them to nestle into, and to warm the cage with a heat lamp or heating pad. Their wheel needs to be cleaned daily, and sometimes their feet also need to be cleaned, as they poop as they run. Average lifespan 4-6 years, maybe longer.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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: