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.