Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Wanted: Assistant Dog Walker

For the past two or so years I have been looking to hire help. First I had to pay hundreds of dollars to Legal Zoom so they would correctly fill out the piece of paper that says I'm not flying solo anymore. That took a while (mostly on the government's end), and should have been when I started looking for The One. Little did I know ...

Due to a tight budget, I mostly advertised on Craigslist, with flyers, on social media, at the local unemployment office, and guest wrote a local blog post. All of these turned up people who couldn't read my detailed manifesto on what I was looking for:
"I don't have my own reliable transportation, but I would love to be a pet sitter."
"My schedule isn't flexible, but I sure could use the money right now."
"I don't have a resume but I am interested in the job."

Finally, I picked a couple of the candidates who met the minimum requirements and invited them to interview. Every interviewee asked to reschedule. Every. Single. One. I turned them all down and added a post script to my interview invites: Please be advised that I do not reschedule interviews as, should you be hired, you cannot reschedule a pet sit.

It was the height of the summer rush and I really needed someone. I had been looking for months. Against my better judgement, I hired someone who had rescheduled our first interview. She was friendly, experienced, and a go-getter. Unfortunately, she was too much of a go-getter in all areas of her life. She worked full time, had two active kids, and just plain too much on her plate. She frequently turned down work that I offered her. On the days she did work, she often came at the wrong time due to one of her kid's sports commitments. One time, she didn't leave a note after her  pet sit and I chose to believe her when she said she forgot to write the note, but actually did the job.

The next job I needed her help with was a cat who got insulin shots every 12 hours. My pet sits were up in the double digits every day that week so I asked the client, who gave me no notice, if I could utilize my independent contractor. The client responded, "We met, interviewed, and hired you because we felt safe putting the well-being of our elderly cats and the key to our home in your care. If you must use another person while we are out of town, we ask that it at least be someone you trust to do as good of a job as you and to leave our entire household in their hands." Damn. Yes, my contractor said she could do it. But, no, I didn't trust her to give the cat an insulin shot at the right time. I couldn't trust her at all, so I stopped giving her work altogether.

Back to the drawing board ... in another post. This one is getting long. Everyone have a happy holiday! Be thankful for your gifts, and trust your intuition when it tells you to send one back!

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Podcast Review: Vegan Warrior Princesses Attack

I spend a lot of time in my car driving to and from clients. A recovered NPR addict, I realize that spending all day listening to the same bad news over and over again may not be the healthiest choice for me. Hence, the need for informative and entertaining podcasts.

I asked my fellow animal rights activists for podcast recommendations but they all seemed to be too raw-foods-based with fake hosts who only scratched the surface of their topics and interviews. Searching on my own, I found Vegan Warrior Princesses Attack (VWPA).

First, I loved the title! Then scrolling through their episodes I saw that every single one had an "explicit" warning. Hostesses Callie and Nichole clearly are my people! With a very down-to-earth and accessible level of conversation, they dive head first into sticky issues including veganism as it relates to abortion, body image issues, and speciesism. Sometimes I listen and go "yeah!" to no one in particular in my car. Other times I think "hmmm ... I'm not so sure about that," which is perfectly ok because they are the first to tell you they are just voicing their opinions and encourage polite feedback. My favorite part of the show is that they open with the latest vegan news from multiple sources. This keeps me up to date and informed, so when I'm chatting with other vegans I always have something new to contribute to the conversation.

I have been vegan cumulatively for two years. There was a decade or so backslide in which I pendulumed from vegetarian to vegan due to social pressures, mismanaged anger, and quite frankly immaturity. However, I feel strongly that had supportive resources such as VWPA been around over a decade ago, perhaps having voices like Callie's and Nichole's in my ear would have kept me on the right track. Their honesty and willingness to unpack lifestyle conundrums truly is a service to new and seasoned vegans alike. Although not all of their conversations apply to me, I look forward to listening to VWPA grow with more interviews, panel discussions, and listener call-ins. This is definitely the next big up-and-coming podcast out there.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

A Knotty Thanksgiving

It's a vegan pet sitter's favorite time of year: Thanksgiving!

I'm sure you remember last year's rant about going easy on your sitter for the holidays. This year my sentiment is a little calmer, as I have set better boundaries and finally hired someone who is worth her weight in gold. She's taking two pet sits off my plate on tofurky day (pun intended). It may not sound like much, but her help is literally the only thing that is making my Thanksgiving dinner possible.

I still don't get to spend time with my family, as I was booked for an overnight months ago and I have the usual breakfast, midday, and dinner visits thrown into the mix. With a little positivity and creativity, though, I can make the most of this.

My overnight client is also vegan, so I'm allowed to have "our people" over since they obviously will be kind to her animals. Bumping up my other client's dinner visit to 5 instead of 6 pm, I can be at my overnight with dinner ready by 7 pm. The guest list includes my boyfriend, my friend whose girlfriend's  father doesn't approve of him, and another friend who is getting a "Wevorce" rather than a divorce. Quite the Mary Tyler Moore party, vegan style, and I'm really looking forward to it! We'll have two kinds of plant-based roasts, roasted corn, mashed potatoes, stuffing, green bean casserole, and of course pumpkin pie.

It sucks that I can't see my family or even eat dinner at my own house. And yet, it's so friggin cool that I   have space in which to invite my people and celebrate the blessings of abundance, friendship, love, and compassion.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Noodle Dream

My sincere apologies for my prolonged absence from blogging. I know my loyal fan (thanks, Mom!) was missing it. It was a long summer with no help (more to come on my hiring dilemmas) and quite frankly the blog wasn't taking off. I missed sharing my pearls of pseudo wisdom with my mom so hopefully I'm back to writing, at least while it's cold outside.

You know how in Kung Fu Panda, Po has a dream about his calling? It's about Kung Fu but he lies and tells his dad he had the Noodle Dream. If you don't know what I'm talking about, go watch this movie right now! I'll wait ... 

Or just watch this clip:

So the noodle dream, right? Dog walkers have a similar dream. The Dog Walking Dream: except it's pretty much an anxiety dream.

It goes something like this: You have a packed schedule and there's no way you're getting to everyone anywhere close to on time today. You're so late that you have to hustle to get the walks done before the clients get home from work to bust you, and you even fudge the times on your notes to make it look like you were there earlier. And then you get that slimy, ice cold feeling in the pit of your stomach. You forgot someone. It could be a client you have in real life, though mostly I have this dream with a completely fictional client, perhaps to save myself from the psychological scarring of thinking I actually missed a real one.

Some non dog walking folks think that this dream is absolutely hilarious, not unlike the Noodle Dream. But to dog walkers, this sh!t is really disturbing. Forgetting a client is like the worst thing you could ever do aside from intentionally harming them.

I hate this anxiety dream. What purpose does it serve, dear readers? Perhaps it is just a reminder that what we do might not be up there with doctors and child welfare workers in making the world a better place. But for a dog and the dog's family, that visit can mean the whole world.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Knotty Baby Sitter

My most recent overnight was for one of those gray area client/friend people, bordering on treating me like a family member. I would never choose to be a member of their family, but they gave me a birthday gift so they were starting to grow on me when ...

"Oh by the way our son is staying home for this trip. But please still stay the night."

Their son is in high school or community college, something like that, but not old enough to drink. Good to know. He also doesn't speak. A text message informed me after they had already left, he isn't allowed to have friends over.

The first night was perfectly quiet. He stayed in the basement (fine by me) and caught the bus for school in the morning -- aha! He's in high school!

Then Friday night rolled around. I was wiped out and decided to go to bed early. At 9 pm I headed up to the master bedroom with my entourage of dogs and cats plus a book to read. It was a lovely night so the windows were open to allow me to hear the crickets chirping, soft wind blowing, two car doors slamming -- wait! And a "tee hee hee" high pitched giggle.

For the love of ... Sigh. I closed my book. I looked at the cat who looked back at me unapologetically.

I headed downstairs to find there were two young ladies over. I kid you not, their names were Kelly and Kellie. You've got to admit, this kid's got game.

I asked to speak to him upstairs in as calm of a tone as I could muster. "Why?" the little brat retorted.

"Because you're not supposed to have friends over."

"It's cool."

Uh huh. There was no sign of alcohol or drugs, and the girls seemed nice enough. "Ok, look. It's 9 pm now. I'll be back down to check on you guys at 10."

I spent the next hour brainstorming who I could call for back up. I did a facebook search of friends nearby. Nothing productive came out of this. Worst case, the neighbors across the street were cops and I could knock on their door. I decided to use my strengths: make it as socially awkward as possible. I went back down at 10 as promised. Peeked over their shoulders to watch the Eminem video on YouTube. Inquired about curfews, do parents know, and recounted stories of what we used to tell our parents when we were breaking the rules in high school. Luckily, the nice Kelly had a curfew of 11 pm. I said, "Great! So I'll be back down at 11 and you guys will be gone."

They said yes and unfortunately for the little brat, he decided to take it a step further and say that he had no idea why I was bothering them when he is allowed to have friends over.

Oh really?

The next day I called his 'rents. "Everything's fine," I said. "Oh say your son had a question. He wanted to know if he's allowed to have friends over."

"No. No. NO!!" they responded.

"Ok that's what I thought," I said sweetly. "I don't want to get him in trouble, but he seems to need a memory refresher. I'm glad he asked first."

They called him and got to the bottom of his mischief, or so they think. They reminded him that he is not allowed to have friends over and -- here's a new one -- he could only leave the house for school. Woops! He had gone out and they got that little morsel out of him.

So, Adventures in Baby Sitting has a happy ending. He only got in a fraction of the trouble he would have had his parents known the whole story. And he's never allowed to stay home with the pet sitter again.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Naughty Dog Walkers

I can sometimes give clients a hard time in this blog, so it's time we turned the tables. I often get new clients who are extremely wary of trying my services because their last sitter (or two!) was so awful. Here's a sample of some of the stories I've heard:

"She used our shower. She wasn't hired for overnights, just walking the dog. I guess we have a really nice shower."

"He stayed for over an hour past the pet sit to nap on our couch. Do you think he's homeless or something?"

"We came home from our trip and our dog was no where to be found. No note. After an hour of panic, our sitter brought him back. Apparently she didn't want to come all the way back to feed him dinner so she just took him. Not sure where."

"She went through our bedroom dresser drawers."

"She never showed up."

"She would come by with her boyfriend for 15 minutes and then leave."

We all make mistakes, and stories like these remind me to always try to do better. They also help me to be understanding when a new client seems paranoid and doesn't take my repuation, references, and years of experience at face value. Now, please excuse me while I use a client's hot tub and nap in their bedroom!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

DIY Pill Sachets for Cats

The cat didn't want her pill ...
until I tried this trick!
I wish I had invented Greenies Pill Pockets. If so, I would be on a beach right now sipping an umbrella drink, well deserved by the genius who invented them.

If you're not familiar, Pill Pockets are smushy treats with a hole in the middle, in which you insert you pet's medication. Then you smush the treat around the pill and -- voila! -- the pill is now a cookie.

There's a couple of drawbacks to the Pill Pocket, however. They run upwards of $7. Presumably, you just spent your life savings at the vet figuring out what your pet's illness was and then purchasing the appropriate medication. So $7 is starting to look a little steep. Plus, my cats don't even like the Pill Pockets plain, let alone when they have a pill inside! The nice people at Petco are very understanding and will give you your money back.

Let me show you a little trick that my client taught me, that cats like and that saves you $5.

Behold! Whisker Lickins! Potato chips for cats! And they will run you about $1.25 per bag.

As you can see, a Whisker Lickin can accommodate a cat pill, or you can try two treats for a larger pill.

Smush it in, that's a technical pet sitting term ...

Which one has the pill? I'm not telling!

Nom nom nom! 

That's it! All done will pill time. No scratches and one very happy kitty. Feel better soon!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Knotty Car Accident

I was finishing up a pet sit at 9:45 pm, writing my note and getting ready to call it a night when I heard it. The otherworldly bell of the apocalypse, I decided this was not my problem, and that my problem was, in fact, getting home and into bed as I had to be back at this house first thing in the morning.

I locked up and stepped outside to find the source of the noise: a pickup truck pulling a trailer of about 3 or 4 cars, couldn't negotiate a sharp turn and ended up trying to take my car (or at least the rear bumper) with it.

I just kind of stood there, awestruck. There were two men, one driving and one directing with the flashing. The director told me, "Oh it's too late he's already hit your car."

"Oh." I said.

The driver came out and they argued a bit over whose fault it was, the driver or the director. I stopped them and suggested we just exchange insurance information. The director made a phone call to his supervisor, who asked to speak to me. Being a car transport company, he offered for me to bring my car to one of their locations to be fixed and not go through insurance because that would raise their deductible. Much to his dismay, I wasn't born yesterday. After a lot of back and forth, I finally got the driver to produce an insurance card.

As we were wrapping up, the director asked me if I lived at that address offering to come and check on me (?). I said no, and just said that I live on the other side of town. "Oh," he said, "Then maybe next time I'm in town we can get a couple of glassess of ..."

"No!" I said. Really? Really! He laughed and I got Old Reliable out of the way and homeward bound so they could try and move the truck without hitting anything else.

In the light of day, here's what the damage was:

Now, the insurance company still has not claimed liability as they have been unable to reach the driver for a statement. But they did send an estimator out to see Old Reliable, right smack in the middle of my midday walks at 11:30 am (they gave me no say in when this would be). I tried to explain that my job has me at a different location every half hour. They ignored that, showed up 15 minutes late, thereby making me a half hour late for the rest of the day.

But, hey, I'm really excited to pick out some new bumper stickers! Drive carefully, dear readers.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Knotty Plant Killer

I suck at watering plants. I know, it's not hard. You just put water on the dry part. But somehow this challenges me. So much so, that I have put a line in my service contract saying I am not responsible for what happens to plants while in my care. Here's what happened ...

It was mid September and a client called me up to check on her cats and her plants for a week. She even toyed with the idea of having me come over to see how she watered the plants. Well that's just about the last thing I want to do with my spare time, free of charge, so I told her I could handle it. The only caveat was that my out-of-state grandpa was reaching the end of his life and I needed her to have a backup person in case I had to skip town to be with family. No worries, she provided me with a backup friend and prayers for my grandpa.

All went fine during the pet sits. I was able to come every time as scheduled, spending 30 wonderful minutes snuggling her cats and listening to the sound of the rain falling outside. "It's raining," I thought, "no need to water the outside plants."

Except they were hanging baskets. And partially covered by the deck.

By the time I checked on them at the end of the week, they looked a lot more brown then I had remembered. Panicked, I quickly drowned them in as much water as possible. To no avail. I reasoned that it was mid September, and plants have a tendency to die around this time of year anyway. And my daily notes clearly stated that I thought the rain had taken care of it. Woops. At least the cats were fine.

Relaxing at home that Sunday evening, all the bells and whistles on my cell phone started going off. The client was pissed. She wanted to make sure "nothing tragic had happened" to my grandpa. I took the bait and said no, knowing she couldn't possibly be insinuating he should have died this week. Well apparently she was, because only that would explain why her plants were brown and crispy and dead. I apologized profusely for my oversight and explained that I thought the rain had been ample for the plants. She went on and on about how upset she was because hundreds of dollars of plants were now dead.

I'm going to take a break here to ask: Who the hell buys hundreds of dollars worth of plants?!

I offered her a full refund. She refused, and asked only that I reimburse her for the tip she left. This made me feel lower than scum, so I sent her tip back with a note that the remainder was sent to the local Humane Society in honor of her cats (not her, the cats.)

In retrospect, I should have gotten my insurance company on the horn. But it's such a shock to have a disappointed client, let alone a meltdown based on plant life, that I wasn't thinking straight.

Plant watering is a very common part of pet sitting. And no matter how good your company is, unsatisfied customers come with the territory every now and then. It's unavoidable, but I can be honest with my flaws and fully inform my clients in advance from now on.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The dog did whaaaat?

Sometimes, you need to drop a client. It's no fun, but let me give you an example of when it's time.

I used to watch two large, hyper Portuguese Water Dogs (think Bo Obama times two in a town house). In fact, let's call these dogs Bo and Obama. The family didn't take them out for much exercise, and my 3X a day pet sits when the family traveled were pretty much their only energy outlet. I knew this because oftentimes there would be a couple of trips spaced a week or two apart and their leashes and harnesses would be left exactly where and how I stored them. Not cool.

Let's also take a sidebar here to discuss what 3X a day visits mean. Most people book their pet sits around meal times: breakfast, lunch, dinner and/or bedtime. While a 3x or more a day client can be a money maker, it's pretty exhausting. I have to be up and at their house by the time their dogs are used to getting up first thing in the morning. I squeeze their midday in with my other noontime clients (there are a lot, and they don't stop needing me because someone else went out of town). And then I come as late as I can in the evening because, really, no dog should have to hold it more than 12 hours. This can go on for days or even weeks, depending on the trip. I turn down social plans due to being booked at meal times. Brunch anyone? Can't go out for drinks, Bo and Obama need to be tucked in by a sober pet sitter.

I was on another week-long adventure with Bo and Obama, who are so crazy I walked them separately for safety. One night I noticed thunder clouds rolling in. Bo was terrified of thunderstorms so I decided not to walk them and to just use our alloted time in the back yard. That worked out fine until the next door neighbors let their yippy dog out, causing a commotion on both sides of the fence. I quickly herded Bo and Obama back inside, fed them dinner and went home.

After a long day I was finally laying down to bed when my phone rang. It was Bo and Obama's mom. Apparently the next door neighbors called and reported that Obama bit their dog through the fence. 

Say whaaaaat?

I explained that there had been a kerfuffle, in which both households played a part. She said that the neighbors rushed their dog to the emergency vet, and that they would inspect the fence when they got home from vacation to find the hole through which their dog must have bit the neighbor's dog.

Mortified, I felt like crap. How on earth could Obama bite another dog and without my noticing? Was I really that tired from the 3X a days? I immediately documented everything that happened in an email to the owner of the pet sitting company. I bent down as low as I could get, hugged my knees, and prepared to kiss my butt goodbye. Surely he would not be pleased, but at least he knew the dogs in question. In fact, he offloaded them to me because he didn't want to deal with them anymore!

The next morning, he responded. He said that the neighbor's story did not pass the sniff test. The dog was probably dim witted and ran head first into the fence. It is not possible to bite through a fence. It is, however, quite possible that the neighbor saw our handy "bonded and insured" car magnet advertisements and thought they might make a quick buck. I was instructed not to apologize and to go about business as usual.

He was right. The neighbor never resurfaced and upon inspection of the fence, I couldn't find a single hole.

Bo and Obama continued to be a handful. I continued to be exhausted by them an their lackadaisical owners. I felt like the scum of the earth, but I left them a note with their key explaining that the dogs were just too much for me to handle and I wouldn't be back. It sucked, but I'm glad I did it.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

In Memory of Mrs. N

It was bound to happen, one of my little old lady clients passed.

From the day I started walking her dog, I knew Mrs. N meant business. She wanted her dog walked precisely at 4 pm, not 3:30, not 4:30. 4 pm! She was home but physically unable to walk her dog so there was no way to fudge it. When I was a half hour late due to a flat tire, she repeatedly called my phone and hung up until I answered and explained myself. From then on I was rarely late. If I was a little behind, she would ask "Is this your new thing? Running 5 minutes late? Is our time 4:05 now?"

It wasn't just me, Mrs. N didn't waste a single breath on niceties or anything that got in the way of her goals with anyone. She proudly told me about how she used to work for Planned Parenthood, before that was a socially acceptable thing to do. Moreover, a pregnant woman with an abusive partner asked Mrs. N how to get an abortion. Back in the day, she wasn't allowed to share that information even at Planned Parenthood. What did she do? "I told her exactly where to get an abortion," Mrs. N recalled, "and I got CANNED!" You go girl.

When I dreaded my hair, she was absolutely beside herself saying "Well it isn't very becoming, is it?" In the beginning stages, dreads never look good, something that I had a hard time conveying to her as she retorted, "Then why do it? I don't understand. Is it religious or something? You mean it will become more becoming?" As the dreads (and my relationship with Mrs. N) matured, one day she announced, "I've changed my mind. I think your hair is kind of cute." Coming from Mrs. N, that meant something!

I'm not going to miss her 15 minute voicemails, semi-constructive criticisms, and insistence on punctuality. However, I'd like to take a bit of her spirit with me, confidently speaking my mind even if it pisses people off. Rest in peace, Mrs. N.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

I've Got Nothin'

My apologies, dear readers. I have nothing prepared for this week's (yesterday's) post. I have a 4x daily pet sit, plus my usual rounds, plus so many overnights that I won't be in my own bed this month. And now I'm coming down with a cold while all my clients are drinking umbrella cocktails on the beach. I know ... wah!

So here's a tip to get you through February ... Salt your friggin walkways. With paw friendly stuff, of course. It's not nice to do this to your dog walker:

Less complaining next time, I promise.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Air Freshener House

No one wants their house to smell like they have pets. I feel that prevention is the key. Never use Tidy Cats litter. I can draw a direct correlation between the use of Tidy Cats and house stank every time. Besides we're boycotting Nestle which makes Tidy Cats. Scoop at least daily. Twice daily if you have three or more cats. Use pet friendly house plants, essential oils, and incense to freshen the air.

Some people think the solution to this is multiple air fresheners. Please don't do this. It makes me smell like sickeningly fake caramel apple for the rest of the day, especially with plug ins. It also diminishes the returns on Feliway plug ins for cats.

The following photos of air fresheners were all taken at the same house. There were at least three more that I missed. Although the client can laugh at themselves for the sheer ridiculousness of it all, please don't be that client ...

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

A Run-in With Dread Rot

Don't freak out! Nothing is more scary than dread rot but a lot of that has to do with how it is presented to us on the internet. We are told in superlatives and hyperbole to never got to bed with wet dreads, always dry them completely, or else all your locks will get dread rot and have to be cut off entirely.

Well ... yes and no. What happens to the person who washes her dreads and lets them dry in the sun of a mid 70's afternoon instead of noontime on a summer day? What happens if one dread falls in her face every time she washes up and she just pushes it back out of the way? Or what if one gets wet in the shower and she doesn't notice?

I found out what happens when I sat down with my head in my hands the other day and smushed a dread up to my nose. It was slightly wet from washing my face without a head band and I smelled it ... the very beginning of dread rot. It smelled slightly mildewy when I held it up to my nose and I frantically checked and rechecked several times to make sure it wasn't all in my head. There's actually a slight chance that I was being schizophrenic but after reading up on the horrors of dread rot, I decided it was better to just cut off the stinky part and see for myself.

I looked at my handiwork and couldn't tell much. The inside of the dread definitely had some kind of residue, but that could have been anything from cat hair to wax. On the plus side, I saw what my locks would look like with blunted ends and verified that they are for the most part mature, or at least this one was. Fortunately, the issue was isolated to one dread.

And that was it. That was my little run-in with dread rot. I nipped it in the bud at the first sign of trouble. I changed some habits like making sure they are tied back when I wash my face and using a shower cap when hose myself off. I was pretty surprised that the world didn't come crashing down and I didn't have to throw a virgin into a volcano to save my locks. Lesson learned. As long as you follow your nose and use common sense, you shouldn't lose your entire head of hair to dread rot.