beyond business: the heart of the client/pet sitter relationship

Sometimes "professional" and "pet" are a dichotomy in my mind. I am a "professional pet sitter," but what does that mean in terms of relating to my clients? The day-in and day-out of pet sitting is mostly mushy-gushy. I love my clients' pets nearly as much as they do (most of them–wink, wink), so it sometimes just seems like a free-for-all love fest. But the professional aspect is also important. So, as a professional pet sitter, I get to play both sides simultaneously. Sometimes being a professional means I need to make sure to send a confirmation in a timely manner or be sure to give an injection in just the right way to a diabetic cat. Other times, it means rolling around on the floor wrestling a puppy or sitting quietly with a senior pooch in declining health. It's all part of my profession, and I love the variety it brings.

Beyond Business: the Heart of the Client/Pet Sitter Relationship. wellmindedpets.com

Beyond Business: the Heart of the Client/Pet Sitter Relationship. wellmindedpets.com

Though I'm all about the pets, and they are my top priority, I make sure I take care of their parents, my human clients. Often, I only see them once, at the initial consultation. In fact, I have ten-year-old relationships with clients I've only been physically in the presence of one time, ten years ago. And yet, they are valuable, solid relationships. We communicate via email, text, and phone, and we relate well. Some relationships are stronger and tighter than others, but they are all special to me. I consider the fact that I can be genuine and true with the humans involved a big part of being a pet professional. 

Most of my clients understand the bond I share with their pets. Occasionally, one won't, and they'll be some meanie who doesn't pay their bill or treats me like a servant. Though I'm giving myself a high-five for dumping that variety, it breaks my heart because by breaking up with a human, I'm breaking up with their pets, whom I've inevitably bonded with. Thankfully, I can count on one hand how many of those I've had.

As you may know, a few months ago, one of my longest-standing pooch clients passed away. It was a big deal for my whole family. Not only did I have a close bond with this dog, my kids (jr. pet sitters) did, too. The family kept me posted during their dog's final days, which meant so very much to me. 

It meant the world to me that a new client read about our loss and took the time and effort to purchase special books for us.

It meant the world to me that a new client read about our loss and took the time and effort to purchase special books for us.

I wrote about the experience, and a couple of days later, one of my brand-newish regular clients told me she read about our loss and gave her condolences. And then she went above and beyond. She gave my jr. pet sitters and I four lovely books about losing a pet. Like, she actually went to the store with us in mind and purchased these amazing stories for us to share together. In the infancy of our relationship, this blew me away. I fought back the tears and thanked her, but didn't know what else to say. She felt a close enough bond to us to extend herself personally and provide us with an intimate gesture that will be forever remembered. 

Though my professional pet sitting business exists so that I can make money for my family, it is so much more than that. It is something I am passionate about. I am passionate about the pets in my care. I treat all of them as if they were my own. I often say that being a pet sitter saves me from having a zoo of my own. If I didn't have clients who shared their pets with me, I'd bring home every stray anything, and you'd see me on that show where they out crazy people who hoard animals. Being a pet sitter is kind-of like having pet adoption birth control. I get my fix elsewhere. 

Monetary tips are great. I'll take them with appreciation. But what's even more valuable to me are the texts and calls and email messages saying "Thanks for taking such great care of Fido. We don't know what we'd do without you," or "Wow. Bonkers seemed so calm and secure when we got home. You're a miracle worker," or "We're home, now, and really appreciate how comfortable we feel with you being in our home and taking care of our crew." My favorite? "Are you available again next weekend?"

It's a business. But it's personal. The two are not mutually exclusive. It's one, big, happy emotional mess-of-a-job, and I can't imagine doing anything else.

Do you have a special pet sitter or other professional that you've bonded with on a personal level?  

a pet sitter's schedule

For the first time in I-can't-remember-how-long, it's a Saturday, and I have no pet sitting visits scheduled. This is almost unheard of, except during the rare times I let my clients know I'm taking time off for travel and am unavailable. So with this unexpected day off, what am I doing? I'm panicking every five minutes that I'm forgetting to see an animal. I'm checking and rechecking my calendar. I'm reviewing email, text, and Facebook Messenger correspondence I've had with clients over the past few weeks to make extra sure I really do have the day off. And I do! I really do!

I love what I do, but it sure is nice to have an unscheduled day every once in a while. I slept in to the glorious hour of 6:30 a.m., which feels like a sin. Yes, 6:30 is sleeping WAY in. My husband even congratulated me and gave me a hug and a high-five. What time do I normally wake up? Well, let me tell you about my typical schedule.

A Pet Sitter's Schedule

A Pet Sitter's Schedule

the morning

As a professional pet sitter, the time I wake up depends on how many visits I'm scheduled to make in the morning. Typically, my alarm is set for 4:30 a.m., which allows me to freshen up, get dressed, and pour myself a cup of Joe (essential) before my first visit. 

How do I decide who to see first?

I prioritize based on the circumstances of all of the pets in my care at a particular time and their humans' wishes regarding their schedule. I don't guarantee a specific time. In the morning, I see pets between the hours of 5:00 and 8:00 a.m., unless some other time is specified and agreed upon. When deciding whom to see when, I consider the type of pets and their bathroom needs, first. Dogs without doggie doors come first, followed by dogs with doggie doors, and then cats and other pets who have means to go potty without being let out. If I have any unusual or exotic pets such as horses or chickens, they are considered, as well. I also think about geography. I try to make my visits in a somewhat organized fashion rather than bounce back-and-forth around town like a ping-pong ball.

the afternoon

My afternoons are typically booked with dogs and other animals that need to be seen three times a day, as well as mid-day potty breaks and dog walks for working families. In the summer, I am busier with vacation visits, but have very few mid-day dog walks, as I do not walk dogs when temps are higher than 100° for the safety of the animal. All pet sitting visits include a daily walk, if desired, so, during the summer, I fit those into the early morning visits, which are the only times the weather permits. In Phoenix, summer highs are 110°+. In the fall, however, when the weather is gorgeous and everyone wants to be me, my mid-day dog walks pick up.

Afternoon visit times aren't typically as critical as morning visit times, but some of the same principles apply. If I'm giving a potty break–say–for a family who works long hours, I take their schedule into consideration and try to visit the pets about mid-way through their time of absence. I typically make afternoon visits between the hours of 11 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. 

the evening

I use the same principles for evening visits as I do for morning visits: priority one are dogs who need to relieve themselves. In the evening, however, I typically make those visits last. Why, you ask? Because they have to make it through the night. I try to make the overnight wait as short as possible for these guys because it's typically the longest stretch of time they will be left alone. When deciding whom-to-see-when in the evenings, I take the next day's schedule into consideration. My evening visits are typically made between 5:00 and 8:00 p.m. 

in-between visits

As you probably know, I have two kids at home (one away at college), ages eight and six. My husband has a demanding job that requires him to be out of the home a lot and sometimes work atypical hours, plus, sometimes he travels. Thankfully, he's usually home on the weekends, my busiest times. 

During the week, I try to be back from morning visits in time to get the kids ready for school, but if my hubby is traveling, the kids get up early and come with. They are my Junior Pet Sitters, and they know the drill. They aren't always thrilled about it, but they do what it takes and are usually rewarded with an ice cream or extra allowance for a particularly demanding schedule. After morning visits, I get the kids off to school, hit the gym, and then do administrative tasks and work on this blog you are reading right here.

I then make my afternoon visits, and if there's time before picking the human rugrats up from school, I get some more blog work done. After school, we'll grab a snack and do homework, and then the Junior Pet Sitters are off with me again to do evening jobs so that we can be home and reunited with Daddy for dinner as often as his schedule allows. 

what about holidays and my own vacations?

Being a pet sitter is a 365-day-a-year job, and major holidays are some of my busiest times. Winter holidays such as Christmas and New Years are pretty hectic, but we make it work. On Christmas morning, I've been known to start my pet sitting visits around 3:00 a.m. so that I can be home when my kids wake up to see what goodies Santa brought. And, yes, I have to be careful about champagne consumption on NYE. I really don't want a massive hangover when visiting pets on the first morning of the new year. 

My family does not typically travel during holidays and times others usually travel. Everyone wants to get out of the Phoenix heat during the summer, so that means we stay put and watch their pets. And holidays? Forget it. We stay home, and I work. 

So when do I get away? Well, we'll (shudder) typically pull the kids out of school for a week in the fall and/or spring, but not during fall and spring break when I'm busy. Our kids' charter school usually has a slightly different schedule than the public schools in the area, so sometimes we get lucky and can travel during their school breaks.

sick days

What's a sick day? 

I work when I'm sick. On the rare occasion that I simply can't (picture the worst), I have relationships with other pet sitters in the area who are willing to help, or my husband pitches in. Visits are made, no matter what. 

This is how my son, Porter, and I worked together back in the day (he is now eight years old).

This is how my son, Porter, and I worked together back in the day (he is now eight years old).

keeping it straight

How do I keep all of these appointments straight? I have three calendars. Yup. Three. I make sure they all match, and I check them throughout the day. I schedule everything into iCal, which pops up on my laptop and my phone. I also have an old-fashioned planner in which I write everything down. Believe it or not, that's my go-to calendar. In addition, I schedule all visits through online pet sitting software, so I can view my visits any time there. The system sends me an email in the middle of the night letting me know my visit schedule for the next day. It may seem like overkill, but all of this means I don't miss visits. My reliability is one of the most important things to my business, so I keep things straight.  

living the life

Though my schedule can be demanding, I wouldn't have it any other way. My days are dictated by the needs of my furry, feathered, and scaly friends. I have flexibility that allows me to do things like go to the gym, schedule doctors appointments, or meet a friend for lunch, which I consider a luxury people with traditional work schedules don't have. 

A day off rarely happens unless I schedule it that way. So I'm going to try to stop freaking out that I'm missing a visit today and relax, enjoy my family, and double-check my calendars only a few more times. Just to make sure. 

Do you have an unconventional schedule? How do you manage your day?

when a pet passes away: a pet sitter perspective

One of the most difficult parts of being a pet sitter is when a client's pet passes away. Over the course of my pet sitting career, I've had to experience this more times than I'd like. Only once has it actually happened in my arms. A handful of times I've let my client know that it might be time when it was too hard for them to let go. But, mostly, the pets I care for pass peacefully with their families. This has happened more than once over the last couple of weeks, and I must say that my heart is breaking. 

When a Pet Passes Away: A Pet Sitter Perspective

When a Pet Passes Away: A Pet Sitter Perspective

I always say that my greatest qualification as a pet sitter is my love of animals. Sure, it takes a lot more than that to be a professional, but if love doesn't motivate one to do a stellar job, I'm not sure what will. You can't learn to love animals. It's just in you or it isn't. 

So each time a pet I've cared for passes, a little bit of my heart goes with him or her. I've spent quality time with these magnificent creatures. We've bonded and shared love. They come to depend on me in their owners' absences, and I depend on them because they deliver the best part of my job. They deliver the joy that makes me love what I do for a living.

Since we're a small family business, my children sometimes come with me on pet sitting visits, so they, too, become bonded with the pets we care for. These past couple of weeks have been really rough on them, too. Though they have now had quite extensive experience in pet loss at such a young age, it still hits them hard every time. 

My clients understand the love we have for their animals, and they usually keep me updated if their pets have a serious health issue, even if we aren't caring for them at the time. The humans who hire us understand and appreciate the bonds we share with their pets. We are so grateful that they take us into consideration. The fact that they are dealing with difficult decisions and sadness but still take the time to keep us in the loop is amazing.

A couple of weeks ago, I received a text from my client, Liz.* She let me know that their mixed shepherd, Clayton, had taken a turn for the worse. Over the past several months, I'd been taking care of Clayton as the family traveled, giving him supplements, medication, and special food, and keeping an eye on his overall health as he battled an insulinoma (cancer of the pancreas). I helped care for him after surgery, and the family and I were in regular communication about his condition, even when they weren't traveling. 

Clayton, circa 2007, at the Maricopa Mutt March, a community event I co-founded.

Clayton, circa 2007, at the Maricopa Mutt March, a community event I co-founded.

Clayton and his family will always hold a special place in my heart. They became clients of mine when Clayton was just a puppy, soon after I moved to Arizona and opened my pet sitting business ten years ago. Their family gave me a sweet little Dalmatian stuffed animal for my son, Porter, when I was pregnant with him...something he still cherishes. After a couple of years, they moved out of my service area, then we moved a couple of times, then they moved again, and just a few months ago, I got an email from Liz..."remember us?" They were back in my service area, and I was reunited with Clayton. To say that these people and this dog are special to me would be an understatement. 

A couple of weeks ago, when Liz let me know that Clayton had taken a turn for the worse and that the veterinarian was running some tests over the weekend, it didn't sound good, but we hoped for the best.

Come Monday morning, I received a text from Liz letting me know that the cancer had spread to Clayton's bones and had made them so brittle that they could break at the slightest pressure. If that happened, the bones could not heal, and he would be in a great deal of pain. There was nothing more to do. There was really only one choice to make. Liz let me know that the vet would come to their home that evening at 7:00 PM. 

Campbell took the news about Clayton particularly hard. Our dog, N.A.S.H.A., tried to comfort her.

Campbell took the news about Clayton particularly hard. Our dog, N.A.S.H.A., tried to comfort her.

I thought about Clayton and his family all day and watched the clock. I broke the news to my children, and they were devastated. We'd spent a lot of time with Clayton over this past summer, and they had really bonded with him, too. As the clock struck 7:00 PM, we stopped what we were doing, had a group hug and a moment of silence for Clayton. 

About an hour later, I received a text from Damon, Liz's husband, letting me know that Clayton had passed peacefully.

Over the next few days, I exchanged quite personal text messages with Liz and Damon. They sent me a picture of Clayton enjoying the back yard just a few hours before he passed. Their family was struggling, and so was ours. I tried my best to support them. After all, it was their dog. Even so, they somehow understood our deep loss, as well, and considered our feelings. They even offered for my children to choose one of Clayton's toys as a keepsake, as her children had. This was truly a remarkable relationship. 

A couple of days ago, a card came in the mail. It was addressed to the "Junior Pet Sitters." 

The thoughtful message to my Junior Pet Sitters.

The thoughtful message to my Junior Pet Sitters.

The kids smiled and got a little teary, as did I. Included inside was a gift card for them to get some ice cream. That made them smile, and–I think–made us all feel like there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Times are sad, but we can always find joy. And what better joy than ice cream, right? I plan to take the kids for ice cream this week and use it as a time to remember all of the things we loved about Clayton. 

I couldn't be more thankful to have these people, and to have had this dog, in our lives. Bonds like this go beyond the "business" of pet sitting. 

I am looking forward to the day when the Ashcraft family brings a new dog into their lives. They are remarkable pet parents, and I have confidence that our partnership in pet care is far from over. It may take some time, but we'll be here when they are ready. 

R.I.P., Clayton. You will always have a piece of our hearts.

Junior Pet Sitter Porter enjoying cuddles from Clayton.

Junior Pet Sitter Porter enjoying cuddles from Clayton.

Clayton and I liked to cuddle.

Clayton and I liked to cuddle.

The many moods of a morning walk with Clayton.

The many moods of a morning walk with Clayton.

Clayton enjoys a good brushing from Junior Pet Sitter Campbell.

Clayton enjoys a good brushing from Junior Pet Sitter Campbell.

Smooshing in for a selfie.

Smooshing in for a selfie.

*All names are typically changed in the interest of client anonymity, but I have been given special permission from my clients, in this case, to use their real names. I wanted to honor them properly.

the importance of a consultation with your new pet sitter

I have been a full-time professional pet sitter for over ten years, and, in that time, I've met with a wide variety of pet parents. Some will write me a detailed novel about every intricacy involved in the care of their animals, and others have a "just do your thing," attitude. I appreciate and accommodate each of my clients so that they are comfortable, but one thing holds true for all of them: I require a consultation for all new clients. 

The importance of a consultation with your new pet sitter. 

The importance of a consultation with your new pet sitter. 

I recently earned the business of a new client that I wasn't so sure about at first. The pet parent initially contacted me via text and let me know that she didn't think a consult would be necessary...that I should just show up for the first visit. I politely explained that I require a consultation for all new clients, and she agreed to meet with me. 

During our meeting, I very much enjoyed my conversation with her and immediately fell in love with her pooch. About halfway through our consult, she said "wow, this is really impressive. I've never had a pet sitter ask all of these questions before." Perhaps that's why I'm the third pet sitter she's tried in recent months. I hope to be the last. So far so good! 

topics i cover during the initial consultation

 All those questions...what do I ask about during the initial consultation?

• about the humans: contact information, travel itinerary, emergency contacts, etc.

• all about each pet: health history, medications, personality, behavior, exercise, routine, diet, likes and dislikes, etc.

• vet information and permission to seek care: I ask for the established/preferred vet and ask my clients to sign a release granting me permission to seek veterinary care for their animals while they travel.

• about the home: security, others with access, where cleaning supplies are (for pet accidents), where are pet supplies located, do plants need to be watered, lights rotated, window dressings open/closed?

• the grand tour: I ask that my clients show me around the areas of the home where the pet(s) will have access, and inform them of my policy to do a sweep of that area (I never open closed doors).

• photography/social media release: I ask (and have the client sign a release) if I may take pictures of the pets during my visit and use them in my blog and social media. (For security purposes, I never post any identifying information about the pet or the client.)

• terms and conditions: I ask that my clients review and sign terms and conditions, which protects both of parties, legally.

beyond all the questions

Aside from all of the detailed information I request, the consultation, which usually lasts about 45-60 minutes, is a great opportunity for the family to get to know me, and for me to get to know them. Why is this important?

• I want them to feel comfortable with me. Though this is a business, I am entering their home and caring for their beloved furry family members, which is quite personal. The initial consultation is a great way to start building trust with a new client.

• Before I accept a new client, I want to be sure that I am comfortable in their home and with their pets, as well as with the requirements of the job. 

• I can see where things are and what needs to be done and have the opportunity to take notes and ask additional questions based on the client's needs and environment.

• If I have any concerns or questions, they can be addressed before they are traveling and have limited ability to help me.

• The animals get to meet me before I care for them in their humans' absence. It's important to build trust with the pets as well as the humans.

• I get a signature on all forms, protecting both parties.

• I receive a key in a secure way (no leaving it under the mat).

after the initial consultation

After the initial consultation, sometimes I never see the humans again. We keep in close communication via phone, text, and email, and I ask that they update me on any changes with their pets or their home. When they adopt a new pet, I typically ask to drop by and meet the new addition (unless it's a fish or something...fish don't really care who feeds them).

I find that establishing a connection in person is beneficial for both parties. Though I have a professional relationship with my clients, we also have a personal tie due to the intimate nature of my work. Plus, my clients love to see their pets grace my Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram feeds while they are away.  

An initial consultation is important for both the pet parents and the pet sitter. Do you have a pet sitter? Did he or she require an initial consultation?

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8 photos of #happiness

Dog Mom Days, one of my favorite blogs, was kind enough to invite me to participate in spreading some joy around this joint! Sometimes I'm guilty of letting the hamsters in my brain take over, so it's kind-of nice to just think about happy and choose some photos that make me feel that way. I hope they make you feel that way, too. 

Pass on the happiness!

Pass on the happiness!

A special thanks to Ariel's Little Corner of the Internet for starting this rainbow-of--fun shin-dig! What a spectacularly fabulous happy idea!

my 8 photos of happiness

Though my own animals make me very, very happy, I've chosen a few photos that best represent the happiness my life as a pet sitter brings. 

This lovely lady, posing so politely with my Jr. Pet Sitters (aka, my fabulous littles), makes me appreciate that my children sometimes sacrifice play time and endure days-long pet sitting adventures with me. My children know compassion for animals, have a tiny bit of work ethic, respect my clients' homes and furry family members, and are great helpers when it comes to play time and cuddles. I love them so, and this photo exemplifies their respect and caring for animals and for me. It makes me happy.

This lovely lady, posing so politely with my Jr. Pet Sitters (aka, my fabulous littles), makes me appreciate that my children sometimes sacrifice play time and endure days-long pet sitting adventures with me. My children know compassion for animals, have a tiny bit of work ethic, respect my clients' homes and furry family members, and are great helpers when it comes to play time and cuddles. I love them so, and this photo exemplifies their respect and caring for animals and for me. It makes me happy.

When I started my official super-really-real (as opposed to the neighborhood kid coming over) pet sitting business ten years ago, this dude was one of my first clients. Several cities later for both of us, we were reunited a few months ago (when this pic was taken), and though he's struggling with some health issues that make me sad, Being back together with my bud makes me happy. 

When I started my official super-really-real (as opposed to the neighborhood kid coming over) pet sitting business ten years ago, this dude was one of my first clients. Several cities later for both of us, we were reunited a few months ago (when this pic was taken), and though he's struggling with some health issues that make me sad, Being back together with my bud makes me happy. 

This one puts a spring in my step! How can this one not make anyone happy? What made me  especially  happy was taking a pretty rockin' pic of a black dog...SO hard to achieve!

This one puts a spring in my step! How can this one not make anyone happy? What made me especially happy was taking a pretty rockin' pic of a black dog...SO hard to achieve!

Not the greatest pic, but this really speaks to the love I have for my clients' pets. For me, it's never been about dropping food and heading out. We share moments and we bond, and this captures that happiness I have when I'm hanging out with my best friends.

Not the greatest pic, but this really speaks to the love I have for my clients' pets. For me, it's never been about dropping food and heading out. We share moments and we bond, and this captures that happiness I have when I'm hanging out with my best friends.

This was an early morning game of fetch with some special pooches. Their family was one of my first clients. None of these dogs was in the family when I first started caring for their pets. We've been through passings and happy times, and a lot together. This captures the personalities of these three, how we play together, and how fun they are, which makes me happy. 

This was an early morning game of fetch with some special pooches. Their family was one of my first clients. None of these dogs was in the family when I first started caring for their pets. We've been through passings and happy times, and a lot together. This captures the personalities of these three, how we play together, and how fun they are, which makes me happy. 

This pic I took just a couple of days ago. It's gotten a bit of attention because no one (on the ENTIRE planet, it seems) has ever seen a Husky in a desert environment. It makes me happy to let people know that we love (and take good care of) Huskies in the desert (this was an early morning walk, but temps were approaching 90 degrees). This guy is a brand new client of mine, and he's had some challenges in the past, so it makes me happy to let him shine.

This pic I took just a couple of days ago. It's gotten a bit of attention because no one (on the ENTIRE planet, it seems) has ever seen a Husky in a desert environment. It makes me happy to let people know that we love (and take good care of) Huskies in the desert (this was an early morning walk, but temps were approaching 90 degrees). This guy is a brand new client of mine, and he's had some challenges in the past, so it makes me happy to let him shine.

This one's a bit goofy, but that's me and one of my favorite chickens. Most of my clients are dogs and cats, but I have several "alternative pets," and she's one of my faves. She gives me shit sometimes, but she also lets me pick her up and cuddle her. Bonding with animals who are a bit of a challenge is so rewarding. We're solid. Happy!

This one's a bit goofy, but that's me and one of my favorite chickens. Most of my clients are dogs and cats, but I have several "alternative pets," and she's one of my faves. She gives me shit sometimes, but she also lets me pick her up and cuddle her. Bonding with animals who are a bit of a challenge is so rewarding. We're solid. Happy!

One of my clients. Need I explain? Perhaps one of my favorite funny pics I've ever taken. This. Guy. Rocks.

One of my clients. Need I explain? Perhaps one of my favorite funny pics I've ever taken. This. Guy. Rocks.

Thanks for checking out our happy!

I'd love to tag some others, so here are the rules:

1. Thank the person that tagged you.

2. A shout-out to the originator of the fun, Ariel's Little Corner of the Internet.

3. Post 8 photos that make you happy.

4. Brief description of each picture.

5. Tag up to 10 more people.

tag, you're it!

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