Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Thursday, October 25, 2012

• On My Way to Barkworld

I'm at the airport on my way to BarkWorld. If you're not in the pet industry, "BarkWorld" may be a strange name for a conference, until you know that a high percentage of attendees have four legs.

BarkWorld is a social media conference for the pet industry. As a pet sitter, I blog and microblog (on Facebook and Twitter) so it's a prime opportunity to meet other pet bloggers, learn about trends and new products in the industry, and how to use technology to communicate more effectively. I have a private meeting with the BarkWorld IT peeps and a list of questions as long as my arm.

BarkWorld is also a ton of fun. The conference kicks off with a HOWL-O-Ween Charity Pawty, which I expect to be an overload of cuteness. And at last I'll get to meet German Shepherd Buster, mom Amy, and dad Rod of GoPetFriendly, a web site for traveling with dogs and cats. Buster's brother, Ty, is as shy as his Shar Pei wrinkles are deep, and will probably spend the conference snoozing in the RV. I'll also get to catch up with pals I've met on a Monday night Twitter party, #petchat.
@PepperPom, one of my roomies

BarkWorld also does good. Petco is giving $1, up to $5,000, for every Tweet and/or blog that references Be the Change 4 Animals (#btc4a) from October 22 to October 27. Shelter animals will be the beneficiaries. You don't have to be at BarkWorld to contribute to this worthy cause—just Tweet Be the Change 4 Animals to @Petco.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Wordless Wednesday: October 17, 2012

Lilly, Lost and Found
As I perused Lost & Found Dogs - DC Metro on Facebook, I saw Lilly, found in Falls Church, Virginia, where I live. I posted her on my Facebook page. When a friend got an email from the AKC about a lost beagle in Falls Church, she remembered the picture on my site. "Could it be the same dog?" she asked. I called the AKC. The AKC called the owners. Yes! From the description, owners confirmed it was Lilly.

I've been trying to help Rachel, another lost dog find her way home since May. It's discouraging. Lack of success for Rachel probably explains my utter jubilation for Lilly. The lesson? Don't quit. Share lost pet photos, even if you think it won't help. You could be responsible for a miracle, and that feels grrrrrreat!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

• Wordless Wednesday: October 10, 2012

Rachel has been lost since May 2012. Please help Bring Home Rachel.
This week I'm breaking the rules for Wordless Wednesday for Rachel. Rachel is lost. She got loose when she was in the hands of a pet professional—one of the people you trust to give the highest level of care to your pets. Rachel wasn't wearing her collar or tags but she has a microchip registered with HomeAgain. She was sighted in the City of Fairfax, Virginia, by neighbors and tracked by a scent dog, and for a while dozens of people hung flyers, handed out business cards, and offered prayers and suggestions on Rachel's Facebook page.

That was in May and June. Now it's October and Rachel hasn't been sighted for four months. A lost pet expert we're working with said it best: "She's not made of fairy dust. She didn't disappear. She's out there somewhere."

Rachel was lost on May 23, 2012, in Fairfax, Virginia, just west of Fairfax Circle. (Fairfax is in Northern Virginia.) Rachel is an Australian Shepherd-Border Collie mix approximately 9 years old. At the time she went missing she weighed 46 pounds. She has a short, smooth, blue merle coat with black patches on the body and brown on her face and ears. Her eyes are brown and her tail is long, straight, and bushy.

Please go to Rachel's Facebook page. 'Like' it. Share it. Wherever you are—help Bring Home Rachel.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

• Photos from BlogPaws

Norman the Scooter Dog
Flying home from BlogPaws (I have Internet on the plane!!), I'm cocooned in the warmth of three days with like-minded people. Officially, BlogPaws is described as a social media conference for pet bloggers, but it's equal part love fest. And did I mention the pets?

My lord, the pets.

A shimmering white pit bull named Zoey. A teensy, soft-haired white dog with shoe-button eyes whose name I forgot. Tango the Fire Safety Dog. Tillman, the Bulldog built like a linebacker on steroids, who skateboarded into our hearts. And shaggy Norman, the first Briard I'd seen up close and personal, the only scootering dog I know.

God bless Sheraton for letting us overrun their nice Salt Lake City hotel. I shared a room with a Pomeranian, Pepper, a.k.a. @PepperPom. She is the bark-tender for many Twitter pawties, so I can honestly say that I slept with the bark-tender!

More later, but for now, check out my photographs.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

• Bound for BlogPaws

Say what? is the response of most people when I tell them about BlogPaws. It's a pet blogging and social media conference, I tell them. They try not to look blank.

Basically, it's a place where people who are over-the-moon crazy about pets—theirs and everyone else's—promote a cause or a business, dispense information, or act silly (picture a miniature poodle in hair ribbons and a tutu, with everyone thinking that's perfectly normal). It's one of the few places I can talk about how much I love Maggie, my hamster, and nobody looks at me funny.

I'm writing this blog not because I have anything special to say, but because I'm on a plane, and I think it's so damn cool to be on a plane with Internet. You won't hear me say this often, but God bless technology.

Next post: Something more meaningful and useful.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

• Animal Disaster Preparedness

My hamster's regular & traveling cages
On August 23, 2011, as I worked on my computer at home, I felt my high rise sway. I heard what I thought was wind rushing by my windows. Then, as if the building had two feet, one "foot" stepped down an inch. Thunk. Terrified, I packed my computer and my hamster, Maggie.

California people can start laughing now, because it was "just" an earthquake, and only 5.8, at that. Centered in Mineral, Virginia, it was more than 85 miles from my home. But my terror was real.

Luckily, it was easy to evacuate Maggie. I keep a traveling hamster cage filled with bedding and seeds on a shelf beneath his main cage (yes, Maggie's a boy). I grabbed a piece of watermelon from the fridge to keep him hydrated and a small bowl for water, in case we were gone more than a few hours. The traveling cage worked for a short evacuation, but I hadn't prepared an evacuation kit in case we need to be away overnight.

All pets owners (including me!) should have an evacuation plan and evacuation kit. The goal is to keep your pet safe in a disaster. You think it won't happen to your family. You think you'll have time to prepare. But you don't know.

After the earthquake with friends
Information in the links below overlaps; some sites are exhaustive, some are basic. Use what suits your style or pet.

•  Use the Pet ID Form to record information on each of your pets; add microchip number.
• The Emergency Planning Guide for Pet Owners is a 19-page all-inclusive guide that addresses all scenarios.
Preparing Your Pets for Emergencies covers crucial steps for preparation.
Red Cross Dog: Disaster Preparedness explains how to keep pets, horses, and livestock safe in natural disasters.
• Making Sure Your Dog is Evacuated if You're Not Home

If you hire a pet sitter, make sure he or she has a copy of your evacuation plan and knows the location of your emergency kit.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

• Happy Fur-Mother's Day

Yesterday I spent the day switching up my closet for the upcoming season. I've gained a few pounds since last summer and expected some outfits to be a little tight. As I pulled on shorts, zipped skirts, and wiggled into shirts, the news was worse. Everything was tight, as in, "Can-I-wear-this-without-embarrassment?" tight.

I was in my hamster's room (which doubles as my bedroom), and I kept staring at the entrance to his hut. Maggie (who, despite his name, is a boy) had blocked it with bedding, which means either that he is cold or objects to light I've let into the room. As I tossed clothes that would never fit into a giveaway pile, I looked forward to night, when he would wake.

Maggie never asks if I've put on a few pounds. He doesn't look askance as I try—as it turned out yesterday, unsuccessfully, yesterday—to zip my navy shorts. He doesn't talk about studies that show the correlation between a woman's extra pounds and diminished salary.

When he sees me, Maggie comes to the side of his cage. He's probably looking for food, but I think it's also because he loves me. When we hang out in the area I set up for him, he sniffs my feet, scampers over my arms, and tickles me with his whiskers. Maggie was shy at first, and it's taken a while to get to this point. He was born in August 2010, so he's an older boy. Hamsters only live two to three years, which makes our good times now more poignant.

Animals don't judge. The only thing they care about is what's inside a person. Earning and keeping Maggie's trust was the most important component to our relationship. The same is true of the animals I pet sit. I practice patience and kindness, and try to make sure my actions always fall within the comfort level of the animal.

And fun. I love to watch animals have fun. So Maggie won't be bored, I regularly add new boxes or other objects to crawl through, around, or over. Last night I delighted in seeing my baby boy clamber over mountains of clothes from the giveaway pile. I'd turned my misery into fun for him, and Maggie was healthy and happy—the best fur-Mother's Day gift of all.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

• What I Wish I Knew Before BlogPaws

I register at BlogPaws / Photo B Smith
I'm so excited about BlogPaws 2012! BlogPaws is a pet blogging and social media conference. Are you coming? Last year was my first time, and afterward, there were a few things I wish I'd done differently.

• I wish I had researched presenters and sessions. Sure, on the schedule I circled what I thought I should do, but sometimes I went to a session and found it wasn't a good fit for me. This year I'm taking advantage of background information from BlogPaws, such as interviews with BlogPaws 2012 speakers. You can get information about the conference at the sites below:
BlogPaws 2012 Conference
BlogPaws Community
—BlogPaws Twitter
—BlogPaws Facebook

Contents of my "swag bag"
• I wish I had known how much great stuff BlogPaws gives you. To start, there's a "swag bag." In addition, exhibitors/sponsors ply you with pet foods, toys, clothes, calendars, books—you name it. I'm taking my biggest suitcase to Salt Lake City, with only one-third allocated for clothes . . . because I love the stuff!

• This year, unlike last year, I'll note sponsors that will be at BlogPaws beforehand. For example, as a pet sitter, I want to know the latest tools for finding lost pets, so I'll be sure to talk to Found Animals. I'll chat with all sponsors/exhibitors and get their cards because when I make a contact at a company, it's as good as gold. Contacts can tell me about upcoming giveaways, specials, events—all useful for my presence on Twitter and Facebook.

Flat Pet Workshop / Photo B Smith 
• I wish I had known how friendly BogPaws people are. We've all been to events where the "inner circle" wants to keep the circle closed. BlogPaws isn't like that. People were happy! Everyone was curious about everyone else. It was easy to greet the many pets and start conversations with their owners. (If you're shy, as I am, see tips for how an introvert can enjoy BlogPaws.)

• I wish I knew they took the hot breakfast away early. Sure, yummy hot food was available for a respectable 90 minutes. But I'm a late riser and a buffet grazer: I get two or three small plates. The first morning plate #1 lasted through the a.m. speaker. But at the break, when I was ready for plate #2—no bacon! (I speak, of course, tongue-in-bacon-less-cheek. At mealtimes and breaks, tables groaned with an embarrassment of riches. At other times BlogPaws provided coffee, sodas, and snacks. You will not go hungry—and now you know the Bacon Secret.)

"Flat Maggie," my hamster, and moi / Photo B Smith
• I wish I'd known BlogPaws had a professional photographer. I get to know people from their online photos, so I include photos of myself in social media—and Brad Smith said we could use his photos! Brad was cute as a bug, sweet to boot, and took great photos of BlogPaws 2011, including flattering ones of me in my turquoise Emmy the Pet Sitter T-shirt. Because I'm vain and "somewhat not svelte," this year I'll probably wear black.

One thing I got right was that I wore comfortable shoes. Between the pricey sneakers and Thor-Lo socks, my feet were reasonably not sore. The other good news is that I brought enough business cards. Unfortunately, I customized them and have several hundred "We met at BlogPaws 2011" left over.

Now it's your turn! Do you have advice for BlogPaws newbies? Funny stories? I'd love to hear from you. And I can't wait to meet you!

Friday, May 4, 2012

• Spring Dangers for Pets

Every new season brings warnings for pets. This is the spring version.

When I started pet sitting, I didn't pay too much attention to most "seasonal" warnings.  I assumed pet owners knew about dangers for pets (chocolate, antifreeze, rat poison) and planned accordingly. But you, as a pet sitter, may run into situations that could cause pets harm.

• When I walked terrier Shelly and beagle Lily in April, the girls were drawn to fertilizer like a moth to a flame. Since I have no way of knowing who may or may not be practicing pet-safe gardening, I steered them away from fertilizer and mulch.

• On a walk, it's important I don't get distracted and let dogs eat plants (some plants are toxic to dogs and cats), snack on a compost pile, or eat slug and snail bait.

• After a walk, I check dogs to make sure no prickly plants, such as foxtails, adhere to its fur.

• Always ask a client if you may take a dog to a dog park. If your client approves, read these tips on behavior at the dog park.

• If a pet sneezes, let the owner know. Dogs and cats, like people, are susceptible to allergies.

• Has your furry charge been a bit of a couch potato over the winter? Don't let a dog that's out of shape exercise too much.

Monday, April 30, 2012

• April Rodent Recipe Challenge

Maggie bypasses once . . . 
I'm going to squeak under the wire for the April Rodent Recipe Challenge. It's 11:10 p.m. on April 30, the recipe is made, and Maggie will eat (or not) in the next 50 minutes.

April's ingredient is carrot. I "made"—I use the term loosely, as it took under two minutes to mash together two ingredients—carrot hummus: two garbanzo beans (all I had) and a smidgen of cut-up carrot strips. Mush together with your fingers. It needs oil to look like real hummus, but I don't think hamsters are supposed to eat oil.

. . . and disappears into the tube.
Ordinarily I would place food for dipping—cauliflower, carrots, broccoli—beside it, but I wanted to see if Maggie would eat the hummus. Therefore, it is naked.

I dropped it on the rug when I was turning on the light. Carpet fibers: yum! But Maggie often chews carpet trying to tunnel somewhere; I doubt he'll mind. (Yes, Maggie is a boy.)

Was it because I was so nervous about time that he didn't eat? C'mon, eat it, I was thinking. I moved the plate here and there. C'mon, sweetie, eat!

Maggie didn't bite.

• "Z" is for Zim the Hamster

My shy boy Zim was several hamsters ago. He was, arguably, the least memorable of my hams. He didn't crawl vertically on surfaces the way Rufus did. He was too scared to play "get in the shirt," like Doodlebug. As he declined, I didn't keep a daily diary, as I did for Juliet.

When he died, I wrote an online memorial for him at Pet-Memories, which is free. As I wrote, I felt he was still with me, as though I was doing something for him. I would light a virtual candle for Zim and read other memorials on the site. And despite the fact that I, with guilt, think of Zim as least memorable, I haven't done an online memorial for another hamster.

It was the smallness of his life, the narrow boundaries through which he never escaped, that endeared him to me. My little boy, I would say to him. Mom loves Zim.

Mom loves Zim. Say it fast and it will make sense.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

• "Y" is for Yellow Snow

You know, as in, "Don't eat the . . . ." Yep, I'm going to talk about number one and number two.

If you're a pet owner, as I am, you know how much attention you pay to your pet's output. How often? How much? Did it look OK? Smell OK?

Pee and poop are two ways we keep tabs on our pets' health. As a pet sitter, I try to be aware when a dog deviates from the norm. The first time a dog has diarrhea I make a mental note. The second time I make written notes. Time, amount, color, consistency—things an owner or vet will want to know.

When do I notify an owner of an irregularity; for example, diarrhea?
• If I'm in daily contact I mention a problem the same day.
• If an owner isn't contacting me regularly, I use my judgment. I don't want to cause worry, but an owner knows its animal best and can judge if its behavior is routine or if something is off. While I'm deciding whether or not to call, I make written notes. Is the animal eating regularly? Did I feed it extra treats or food from my plate? Is it lethargic? Is it drinking the usual amount of water?
• If an owner is unavailable I call the vet at the point I would call the owner.

If clients are going to be gone a week or more, I ask them to tell their vet I'll be caring for their animals. I also ask clients to fill out a veterinary release form before they go away. (Some vets have these on their web site.)

The story wouldn't be complete without me telling you about the time I cared for Arlo (above and right) when he suffered from a urinary tract infection. One morning he yelped when he peed. That wasn't unusual, his owners said that night. The next morning he yelped louder and longer. That afternoon he yowled so long I looked at my watch and counted the seconds. Poor Arlo. I took him to the vet soon afterward.

Arlo and his partner in crime, Darcy, made a heck of a lot of yellow snow during Snowmageddon (February 2010, above). And just so you know, the snow Arlo is licking is white. 

Friday, April 27, 2012

• "X" is for Xeriscape

Riding Vegas near Prescott, Az., in a natural landscape
Is there anyone doing the A to Z Challenge who didn't have to look in the dictionary for a word beginning with the letter "x"?

Xeriscaping and pet sitting. How in the heck can I make that connection?

I pet sit in Northern Virginia and plan to move to the Southwest, which, for the most part, is dry, dry, dry. So "lawns" are Xeriscaped, a method of landscaping used to conserve water in arid or semi-arid climates.

For the past 40 years I've done no landscaping, as I've lived in apartments. You could write a book on what I don't know about Xeriscaping. But what I've seen, I liked. I won't need to mow. It shouldn't need much water.

When I move to the Southwest, I want to get a dog. I'll need to teach it to stay away from cacti and rattlesnakes. And I'm thinking of running a doggy daycare. Would I need to teach all the dogs to stay away from cacti and rattlesnakes, or would their owners? (I know I'd be the one driving them to the vet with a nose full of spines.)

Coco, whom I pet sat in Prescott, Az., in a Xeriscaped yard
I've lived in Virginia all my life. I know a little about the grasses, trees, plants, and flowers that grow here, and how rain and bugs and insecticides affect them. I have a felt sense of what kind of upkeep a yard might need.

As for Xeriscaping? I'm clueless. Maybe it's like pet sitting. Eight years ago, when a friend asked me to keep her dog company when she and her husband went on vacation, I had no clue that live-in pet sitting would become my occupation. I had little idea of what the profession entailed. With each job and each bout of continuing education, I learn. I can learn Xeriscaping.

Southwestern folks, clue me in! What else besides open blue skies and great salsa awaits me and my dog and horse? Scorpions? Lower vet bills? Chupacabras?

Thursday, April 26, 2012

• "W" is for Walkin' the Dog

As a pet sitter, I walk dogs, but it's not as easy as it used to be 'cause of a new man in my life: Mr. Arthur-itis. He's set up shop in my knees. It's a family affliction—many of my aunts and uncles sport titanium knees—exacerbated by my extra weight.

Stairs are the worst. I can walk up and down stairs, but after a day or two I'm in a lot of pain. So. I'm a live-in pet sitter who can no longer stay in a home unless it has a bathroom on the first floor.

The good news is that, for the most part, it has little affect on walking dogs. I walk more slowly than I used to, so small dogs are easier. Large dogs that behave on a leash are no problem.

The thing is, I have to tell pet owners. I hate it. People who have arthritis are old. They are grandparents, ready for the old-folks home. People who have arthritis have canes that they wave and yell, "Get out of my way, sonny!"

I have a cane. I bought it when I pulled something in my knee a couple of years ago. It's in the trunk of my car. Thankfully, I can't remember the last time I needed it.

So, if you're thinking of hiring me, I have arthritis in my knees. But it doesn't keep me from getting down on the floor to play with your dog or cat. I can feed your animals, clean their litter box, pick up poop in the yard, throw a tennis ball or Frisbee, and trundle your trash cans out to the curb. As long as your big dog doesn't pull on the leash, I can walk it.

But as long as I'm being completely honest. . . I can't throw a tennis ball or Frisbee very far.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

• "V" is for Videos

This is a still captured from a video.
I fell in love with the Flip Video when I borrowed my friend Brenda's. Naturally, I had to have a Flip of my own. I find the Flip fun when pet sitting. I captured terrier Shelly's surprise when she saw "another dog" in the reflection of a car. When Shelly and Lily's human mom was away during the holidays, we made a Christmas video for her.

Video was useful during a recent pet sit when Samoyed Arlo was doing something strange with his mouth. I wondered if he needed to go to the vet. I filmed Arlo, saved it on Vimeo, and sent Brenda (his human mom) the URL. Brenda had reported the behavior before to Arlo's vet, who had said it was nothing to worry about. It took a load off my mind.

When I pet sit, I post photos and videos on Facebook or Twitter, or send via email. Clients enjoy seeing their pets safe and happy. After a pet sit, I make a longer video or an online blog for the pet owner. There's no extra charge. Frankly, it's a labor of love, and I always want to give pet owners a reason to hire me again.

Unfortunately, my Flip shows signs of old age and they're no longer being manufactured, so I'll have to find other technology. Don't I sound blasé? You have no idea the trauma I go through, making a decision to buy new technology. Brenda had to go with me to Target to buy my Canon A560 camera. Really.

If you're not tired of videos, check out the Potomac Valley Samoyed Club's annual winter walk! Can you guess which one is Arlo?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

• "U" is for Underwear & Other Things Left Behind

I'm a live-in pet sitter. When I come to a client's house, I bring everything I need to stay one or more nights. When I leave, occasionally I forget something.

The underwear in question was a lacy black bra I left at the home of my friend Brenda. "Please, please find it before John does," I begged. "Or Arlo." What would be worse: her husband seeing my bra or her Samoyed, then a puppy, ripping it to bits? Luckily, Brenda found it and brought it to me one day at lunch.

After caring for Maltese BudDee and Maltese-mix CeCee, their mom, Marcia, sent me an email. "Do you own a pair of blue slippers? I found them wrapped up in the sheets." When my feet are cold at night I put on slippers or socks. Inevitably my feet get warm, I nudge off the footwear, and forget it. My next job, I found the slippers wrapped in tissue paper in a jaunty little shopping bag.

A similar mishap befell my earplugs when I spent two weeks with miniature Poodle Coco, in Arizona. (I pet sit for free in the Southwest and other locales.) Coco's mom, Gloria, found my orange plastic earplugs, which I wore when I had a hard time going to sleep, wrapped in the sheets. I told Gloria she didn't need to mail them but she insisted (at a cost of $2.70). God bless her.

I used to find this trait endearing: Silly me! But it can be a pain for my clients. They need to deliver, mail, or find a place for whatever I leave behind. So I try—I really, really try—to take everything home with me.

Despite my best efforts, I don't need to take facial cleanser to my next visit with Shelly and Lily: It sits in Chris's bathroom, where I left it two weeks ago.

Monday, April 23, 2012

• "T" is for Trust

As a pet sitter, I deal in the commodity of trust. Trust is not easy to earn. Trust can be lost in a second.

Clients trust me to show up when I say I will and take care of their pets as they ask me to. They trust me to respect their possessions.

Some pets immediately trust everyone. Some need proof that a human is trustworthy. I can see doubt in their eyes: Will she yell at me? Will she hurt me?

I can't tell you how much I appreciate my clients' and my charges' trust. I work to earn it and I work harder to keep it. But when pets press my buttons, it's not always easy to keep calm.

At one client's, the dog barks when anyone leaves the house. It's a loud, high-pitched, sharp bark that can be heard a house or two away. It's not too bad if you make a quick exit, but my key often sticks in the door, as it did recently. Arf! Arf! Arf! I jiggled the key. He was inside, I was outside, but his bark was piercing. Arf! Arf! Arf! Arf! Muttering, I jockeyed the key from left the right. Arf! Arf! Arf! "Rover*! Hush! I'm still here," I stage-whispered, knocking on the window, despite the fact that I knew it would make things worse. Arf! Arf! Arf! Arf! With sweat dripping down my face, I gritted my teeth, cursed, and took a deep breath. The key didn't budge. Arf! Arf! Arf! "Rover! Shut up!!!"

I regretted the words the second they were out of my mouth. Some dogs would lose their trust of me if I yelled. Rightly so. Lucky for me, Rover isn't one of those dogs. As a highly independent breed, he often ignores his human parents no matter how loud they yell. Arf! Arf! Arf! Arf! Eventually, the key slipped out.

Rover greeted me as effusively as ever—Arf! Arf! Arf!—when I returned. Trust was intact. Still, I felt bad. I told Rover's human dad about my reaction to the incident. "Isn't it annoying when he does that? I'm always, like, 'Shut up, Rover!'" he said, shaking his head.

It scares me that I could lose a dog's trust. As a pet sitter, I want animals in my care to feel secure. And I want to live up to the trust that pet owners place in me. In Rover's case, I was lucky. Next time . . . well, I don't want there to be a next time.

*Names have been changed

Saturday, April 21, 2012

• "S" is for Statistics (Yawn)

In my working days

The last few years I worked in the nonprofit world, there was considerable discussion of "metrics." We measured the reach, impact, and visibility of projects. Sometimes the criteria helped; sometimes it felt like busywork.

As a pet sitter, I manage several online sites, all of which give statistics. If I were so inclined, I could use them to measure the reach, impact, and visibility of my social media presence.

Gag me with a spoon.

That sounds way too much like work. I'd rather post photos of animals or articles or funny cartoons. At the same time, I look at my stats and think, shouldn't I learn something from them?

My Facebook page counts the number of people who Like me, the number who see a post, the number who click on a post, and the number who engage. These stats are delivered in colorful, peppy graphs I can manipulate with the touch of a button, which would make some of the people I used to work with very, very happy.

I check the purple line and balls (number of posts per day) on the timeline, and survey the hills and valleys of the green and blue lines. If a line pops up like a prairie dog it means people liked something. My web site for my pet sitting business and my blog have similar displays and info. Twitter can be heady. I have 285 friends, including one in China! One in Russia! When I Tweet something funny and someone Retweets it, I feel validated. (I know, it's pitiful.)

Ostensibly the purpose of these sites is to attract pet-sitting clients, but I'm not going to pet sit in China or Russia; most people who Like my Facebook page are flesh-and-blood friends.

At work I could scratch my creative itch. (And you thought I didn't like any part of my job!) Now social media feeds my urge to write and take photos, and occasionally get kudos. It's a great way to get and pass along information on the pet industry. Most of all—it's fun. Measure that!

Friday, April 20, 2012

• "R" is for Recall

"Recall" is the fancy term dog trainers use when they ask a dog to come. When I was growing up we called it "come".

When I was growing up no one took their dog to a trainer. If a dog pee-peed in the house you rolled up a newspaper and swatted the dog on the behind (in the South, put the emphasis on the first syllable: be-hind). We had newspapers because there was no Internet. In Fairfax, Virginia, we got two newspapers a day. The Washington Post reported what went on the previous day and overnight; the Washington Star filled you in on what had occurred that day.

When I was growing up some dogs obeyed and some didn't. The bad dogs lived their entire lives in fenced-in yards. These snarling, irritable beings barked incessantly at children. The situation would have been better if we children walked on the other side of the street, but, confident in the knowledge that we were safe, we preferred to antagonize dogs. Owners did nothing but yell at those dogs. Those dogs never went to a trainer.

No one told us our collie, Sheba, had "separation anxiety" or "inappropriate elimination." We just shut her upstairs when we left so she would pee on the linoleum steps and not the living room rug. "That god damned dog!" my mother fumed when Sheba ate a couch cushion. Instead of asking a dog trainer to rid Sheba of her "destructive behavior," we thrust her nose in the flaky foam and swatted her with a newspaper.

When I was growing up, no one bragged about getting a dog at the pound. That's just what you did. Hardware stores sold leashes. Grocery stores and feed supply stores sold dog food. How my parents, especially my father, would have laughed at the idea of socialization classes for puppies or canine hydrotherapy.

It wasn't the good old days: it just was.

I'm glad that today we know better than to stick a dog's nose in urine or to swat it with a newspaper. I'm glad that animal shelters are accountable and that more and more people emphasize the importance of animal rescue. When I worked for a veterinarian, in 1978, we put to sleep an otherwise healthy two-year-old dog because there was no cure for hip dysplasia. Now veterinarians achieve miracles. And dog owners can find advice on the Internet or get help from an animal trainer.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

• "Q" is for Questions from a Pet Owner

If you own pets, you've probably read articles such as Finding the Perfect Pet Sitter. But pet owners have other concerns—and who better than a pet sitter to answer?

Q) Do I need to buy food or drinks for the pet sitter?
A) I bring my own. I don't expect anyone to leave food, but it's nice when they do. Some clients mention specific foods, which means it's OK for me to eat those foods. (e.g., "In the refrigerator are tomatoes from my garden and leftover Chinese food.") Some tell me to help myself to anything.

Q) I'm worried about a pet sitter having access to some of my personal things.
A) As we toured his home, one client waved a hand at the room that served as his office. "You probably won't need anything in there," he said. Translation: He did not want me to go in the office. You can also lock rooms or move valuable or personal items to a safe. In case of emergency, make sure a neighbor has a key to a locked room.

Q) The pet sitter wants to bring his computer and log on using my WiFi password. Will he be able to access my computer files?
A) I couldn't—I don't have the technical know-how! But yes, I think someone can access your files. Have your service provider set up a guest account with a different password than yours.

Q) I'd like to hire a live-in pet sitter, but the thought of someone sleeping in my bed sort of creeps me out, and I don't have a guest room.
A) I've slept on couches, fold-out couches, and even my own inflatable mattress. If none of those options would work, you can ask sitters to bring their own sheets.

Q) I liked the pet sitter I interviewed, but she's young. I'm worried she may invite friends over for a party.
A) Say directly, "I would rather that you, and only you, are in the house while I'm away. Will that pose a problem?" Ask one of your neighbors to keep an eye on the house or even drop in unexpectedly.

Q) The last time I had a house guest they ordered $50 worth of Pay-Per-View TV. How can I politely ask the pet sitter not to do that?
A) "You understand that not all movies or channels on my TV are free. Some movies can cost of much as they do in the theater. I have more than 100 free channels; I imagine that should be enough."

Q) Do I need to tip the pet sitter?
A) I've seen this question a few times, with answers both pro and con. Personally, I don’t think it’s necessary. What I find far more valuable is if a pet owner writes a testimonial, agrees to act as a reference, or passes my business card along to friends.

Do you have a question? I hope you'll leave a comment!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

• "P" is for Photos

My best shot—Arlo (left) and Darcy
Photos of pets, that is. One way I try to distinguish myself as a pet sitter is by shooting photos and videos of clients' animals.

Sometimes the task is big. I made a daily blog of two shelties for clients who went on a month-long cruise. Although they said the blog was one of the highlights of their cruise, I think they were being very polite.

Sometimes it's a piece of cake. I usually post photos and updates on Facebook or Twitter, which serves two purposes: Clients see that their pets are healthy and happy and, hopefully, the exposure draws new pet sitting business.

Many huzzahs later, I started to think my pictures were hot stuff, so hot that I agreed to photograph two Cavachons to illustrate a book. Boy, was I in over my head.

Oops . . .
I'd read the book and listed shots that would be helpful, but my plan was no match for reality. Bubbly, exuberant, sparkling—however you choose to describe the two dogs, they wiggled and moved nonstop. When they ran on a zip line, all my shots were blurry, even with flash. With no fenced-in area in the yard, the owners quickly cordoned off a space with baby gates. I was nervous and the dog owners, one of whom wrote the book, were nervous and exhausted.

It wasn't the fault of my camera, the Canon PowerShot A560. Yep, I'm one of those people too impatient to read the owner's manual! After the photo shoot I found several features that would have helped. After the shoot.

I have a lot to learn. Oh, wait—could you hold that pose?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

• "O" is for Orange

Orange is the color of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Month—April—sponsored by the ASPCA. If you see people on the street in orange T-shirts, as I did last year, they're probably spreading the word about this initiative. My 2011 post on the subject mentions ways you can take action.

You don't have to look far for examples of animal cruelty. A woman contacted me on Twitter several months ago. Every day she drove by a dog sitting in its yard, but never saw people in the yard. She assumed the dog had food and water, but still, it didn't feel right. Should she do something?

Report it to the local animal welfare agency, I Tweeted. I'm not sure there's anything wrong, she replied; her gut told her the dog was being neglected. Call animal welfare, I wrote. They'll check into it—that's their job.

In a much more serious incident, my stomach sickened when I read a news story about a drunk man who cooked his roommate's hamster in a skillet. I felt overwhelmed with grief, especially since I've owned these gentle rodents for nearly a decade.

It's easy to feel defeated at the scope of animal neglect and cruelty. In recognition of this, Be the Change for Animals highlights one issue a week. Its goal is to "ignite and accelerate the change we can make as individuals at a pace that doesn’t overwhelm."

I hope the woman who Tweeted me took action. I hope she changed that dog's life. That's how it can happen: one small action at a time.


Monday, April 16, 2012

• "N" is for Neatness

If my mother were alive she would tell you I'm messy. She would be right. When I come home I shuck off my coat, kick off my shoes. Where they land, they land. Mornings often find me staring at the previous night's dishes, soaking in the sink. I lose my TV remote under magazines or bills.

But when I pet sit, I try to keep up the house to the homeowner's standards, and most homeowners are neat. I do this for two reasons.

Neighbors occasionally drop by and homeowners can come home early. I think of it a surprise inspection, and I want to pass.

The other reason I clean up while I'm pet sitting is that it clears my mind. When the house is messy I feel scattered. I straighten up room by room, and as I do so, I check off a mental list. Make the bed, hang up my clothes, put my shoes in the closet so the puppy won't chew them.

Alongside my mental cleaning lists, another list always arises: what I can do for the animals. Try a different chew toy so Teddy won't get bored. Instead of our usual noon walk, take Coco downtown to the courthouse for a walk and a picnic. Put fresh water and an ice cube in the water bowls. Sit on the floor and stroke Lily for awhile; she's feeling left out because I've had to pay so much attention to Shelly.

If I hadn't experienced this phenomenon only yesterday, I might think this is a lame post. I have no clue why my mind works this way. What I do know is that the animals benefit. That's what counts. What are your challenges, as a pet sitter? Do you struggle with being neat? I'd love it if you would comment.

Now, where is that remote?

Saturday, April 14, 2012

• "M" is for Mrs. Emma

I am in love with Mrs. Emma, who is a bit of a You Tube star. Her family devised a winning formula to showcase their curvaceous, blonde beauty. Each video begins with Mrs. Emma's squeaky, yet husky, voice:


Mrs. Emma is European, so there's a smidgen of an accent. Then her catchy theme song follows. "Da - da da dan - da da dan - da da da da dan da . . ." The videos are amateur, but this lady is more in tune than most of the Real Housewives.

If you don't believe me, check her out for yourself—she's so cute. Mrs. Emma can even swim! After a workout she usually takes a nap. What—you don't think Mrs. Emma is really singing? See for yourself. She's no Milli Vanilli.

And now, as this post closes, a smooth jazz riff carries us into the sunset. Auf wiedersehen, Mrs. Emma.

Friday, April 13, 2012

• "L" is for Love Isn't Enough

Just so you know? If you want to be a pet sitter, love isn't enough.

"I'm sure you're a great pet sitter, Emmy. You love animals so much." I smile when people say this, but don't usually tell them what I'm thinking: Pet sitting takes a whole lot more than love.

Please, some of you are thinking. It's not rocket science. No, thank goodness, it's not. But if you're thinking of pet sitting, you should know a few things.

• Do you know what to do if an animal is injured or gets sick? You are that animal's 911. Do you know animal first aid? Own a first aid book and kit? Do you know the route to the homeowner's vet? Do you know the emergency vet (because pets never get sick during business hours)? Did the homeowner sign a veterinary release form? Did you talk to the homeowner about how to handle a vet bill?

• If an animal goes missing under your care, you should be prepared. If you see the missing animal, do you know how to get it to come to you? Is the pet microchipped? Wearing its tags? Do you know how to make effective signs and flyers? Do you know who to notify?

• If there's a natural or other type of disaster, do you have an evacuation plan? Have you bookmarked a web site that explains the steps you should follow?

• Do you have a list of foods, household items, and local plants and flowers that are toxic to pets? Do you take any medications that animals can get hold of? Are they toxic to pets?

• A good percentage of the job of pet sitting is the relationship with the pet's owner. After all, the pets aren't the ones who pay you! Are you professional? Do you have good judgment? A pet owner is going to give you the key to their house—access to all their possessions—and entrust you with the care of a beloved (four-legged) member of their family. Are you trustworthy?

And, of course, love.

Will you love the animals that throw up or have diarrhea on the rug? Will you love the puppy that barks at 4:00 a.m. because he wants to chase the squirrel in the yard? Will you love the Rhodesian Ridgeback when she hogs the entire bed and growls—really growls—when you try to get in? Will you love the cat that escapes out the back door at bed time, when you're exhausted? When you finally catch her, will you love her when she thanks you with her claws?

At the time, all of these situations sucked. Looking back, yeah, I can say honestly that I loved those animals afterwards. I guess that's why I'm a pet sitter.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

• "K" is for Kindness

My father
When my father lived in a home for the elderly, one of the men, a former colonel, relentlessly taunted another man. Long-ago accomplishments omnipresent in his mind, the colonel berated the poor fellow for being uneducated, blue collar, and shorter in stature.

Sick of the bullying, I spoke firmly to the colonel one day. "Anyone can apply themselves in school or rise in the workplace, but the true test of a man is his ability to be kind." (Yeah, I climb on a soapbox when I'm angry.)

You guessed it: Instead of recognizing my wisdom, the colonel completely ignored me.

Despite my self-righteous anger, I think I was right. It takes wisdom, compassion, and—at times—restraint, to be consistently kind. One of my favorite fictional characters is Atticus Finch, the father in To Kill a Mockingbird. From his children to the mentally challenged neighbor to the Black community, Finch treated everyone with unfailing kindness and respect.

Me and Honey
As a pet sitter, kindness and patience are two of the most important attributes I can bring. The first thing I do during any pet sit is sit quietly with the animals. Some are nervous, but if they allow it, I stroke them. In a soft voice I explain that I'll be staying with them for a few days. Everything will go on as usual. I won't let anything bad happen to them. Their "mom and dad" will come back soon.

Note that I say that kindness and patience are the two of the most important attributes I can bring. Kindness is my natural inclination. But after several days in someone else's home, I can have moments of frustration. I can't find a can opener. I run out of clean underwear. A dog scratches me with long nails. The cat wants in, the cat wants out. In. Out.

It's more important than ever—then—to be kind. Animals have a reason for everything they do. Everything. I'm not a trainer, so I can be clueless about why an animal behaves as it does, and it's not my responsibility to change its behavior. My responsibility is to be kind.

Isn't it funny that it all comes down to the Golden Rule? Treat others as you would like to be treated. With kindness.