Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Medusa With Locs Halloween Costume

Happy belated Halloween! Although I had a cold, I actually got Saturday night off to celebrate in costume with my boyfriend. He thought Medusa would be the perfect costume with my dreads and we decided to give it a try. First, he ordered a 24 pack of toy snakes from Amazon.com  We liked these because they came in multiple colors.

I purchased a cute flowy black dress from Goodwill, false eyelashes, and black stockings, coming in just shy of $15. Not bad.

Once I got dressed, I did a nice pale makeup face with no blush, a smokey eye with my false eye lashes, and got out some old body glitter for an extra touch. Who says Medusa has to be unattractive?

But finally, the part you are all waiting for, the hair. My boyfriend read online that one could simply hot glue gun the toy snakes to pipe cleaners or twist ties to tie into your dreads. Ummm ... no. The hot glue didn't hold and pipe cleaners would have been too bulky.

I still had my tiny rubber bands from when I first made my dreads and had to band them in place so I knew there were separate pseudo locs up there! I used all 24 snakes throughout my hair. For each snake, I selected a dread and used one rubber band to secure the tail higher up to my head and one rubber band to secure the snake lower down. I wanted at least an inch of room on each end for the snake to wiggle around during the night without slipping out. Conversely, if I secured the band too far down the middle, the snake tails up top would start to stick out and not look like it was growing from my hair. My boyfriend wished there was a way to straighten out the snakes along each dread. I probably could have with more effort and rubber bands, but decided it looked fine as is. Here's the finished product:



You can see where the rubber bands are, which probably wasn't as noticeable at the bar we attended. You can also see where one snake's tail could have been secured higher up. I did that on purpose so you could see an example. My boyfriend was concerned that the weight might hurt my neck. For the most part it didn't. However, when we were on the dancefloor looking up at the stage, I did start to feel some discomfort in my neck which was alleviated by looking down at the floor for a counter stretch.

I got some compliments during the evening, and I must say it felt good to get the snakes out of my hair on the ride home. For the most part, the rubber bands came out easily as well. Those pesky bands are so annoying when left to their own devices.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Dog Walker Hacks

I often catch myself broken recording complaints about my work: "yeah, you get to work with animals BUT ..."

All jobs have some BS you have to put up with. That's why we get paid money to do them. However, in over 6 years of business, I have picked up a few lifesaving tricks to make the BS less time consuming.

In no particular order, I give you my dog walker hacks:

Best Route Free
Complaint: Everyone wants a noontime walk and I don't know the fastest route to get to everyone quickly.

When the sits start to stack up, it's tempting to believe that the only answer is to plow through the roads like a maniac. I was inspired to look into this further one holiday season when I hypothesized that the UPS delivery trucks and dog walkers were the craziest drivers, as they had the most stops to squeeze in. Then it occurred to me, the delivery trucks have a whole team and system of logistics, all the way down to making primarily right hand turns on their routes to avoid waiting at stop lights.

Most dog walkers can't afford a logistics professional, so the next best thing is the Best Route App, available for Iphones and Android smartphones. This app can import your stops for the day directly from your contacts. Press the optimize button and voila! Your stops have been organized to minimize driving time with gps directions between stops. It will even estimate how much time you'll spend on the road and you can program how long each visit is for a total tally.

What it doesn't do: This is a free app, not a miracle. So you cannot tell it that Spanky needs his pill at 11, Fivfel can hold his potty as late as 3 pm, and so on. For that you need to delete the "special needs" clients and put them in where you see fit. But it's still a good start.

GTime Report
Complaint: My staff and I use Google calendar for our scheduling. Very handy until invoice time or payday, when I sit and count each visit by hand to figure out how much is owed.

There are loads of dog walking software programs out there that -- for a price - can organize your calendar, invoicing, contacts, etc. My business just isn't there yet financially and organizationally, not to mention the headache of transferring all of that data. In the meantime, I needed something free and relatively simple.

I had to phone a friend on this one. My wonderful tech savvy vegan buddy suggested www.gtimereport.com. Give this bad boy access to your Google calendars, and it will organize the data in a spreadsheet for you. Not only did this cut  the time I spent on paychecks in half, but it also has proven invaluable in calculating invoices, accounts receivable, and how much time I am putting into the business.

What it doesn't do: It can't tally up the monetary value of the time, only how much time and how many visits from the calendar.

Virtual Assistant
Complaint: I love working with animals! People, not so much. It's hard to sound friendly and happy to hear from clients when really I just want to play with the dog.

Get thee a Virtual Assistant. Your VA can do anything an office assistant can, but the price is dramatically reduced because s/he can work from home. I've never met my assistant and she is awesome!

It took a couple of failures before I found the right one. The first assistant I hired was through www.upwork.com. I hired the cheapest USA based individual (there were several companies to go through, many out of the country). I knew we had a problem when I asked her to find a generic confidentiality statement, sign it and send it to me so we could get started. She didn't know what I meant. She had further trouble deciphering my Google calendars. This wasn't going to work ... I paid her for a week ($32.50) and let her go.

Then I tried www.fancyhands.com. For $50 a month I could get multiple tasks taken care of ... by multiple people. Some of them were awesome! Scheduling doctor's appointments, cancelling subscriptions, anything goes! But then others couldn't follow a simple script to confirm walks or even schedule a Home Depot check up on my HVAC. I cancelled my subscription as I ended up using them more for personal tasks than professional ones.

Then I put an ad on Craigslist. Having received lack luster resumes for dog walking in the past, I wasn't expecting much from this source. Once again, I got the usual "Craigslist cancel" I've come to expect for interviews from online applicants. Another interviewee actually showed up, but had the personality of a pancake. I wanted a little more oomphf when dealing with my clients.

There was one last applicant that for some reason kept popping into my mind. She was a stay at home mom, ideal for what I needed, but no resume. That was a turn off but I just got a good feeling about her and did a phone interview (she lives an hour away). We talked for an hour! She was intelligent, warm, friendly, and overqualified! It was her first time back to work since her child was born and she wanted to dip her toe in the water. It has been perfect ever since. I started off paying her $50 a month and quickly doubled that because I feel indebted to her. Really all she does is handle new clients -- checks the business landline voicemail, calls or emails back, and sets up a consult or politely says no. Although she is naturally friendly, I give her an extra $20 per new client as a token of appreciation for being the first contact and seeing it to fruition.

What s/he can't do: Depends on your relationship and how much you want to pay. I can't afford to ask my VA to do any more tasks for me, but would love to develop that in the future. I would also never dream of asking her to do some of the mundane personal tasks I asked a stranger to do on Fancy Hands, I just respect her too darn much.

Slydial
Complaint: Ok I got a VA, but there are some calls that even s/he and I still hate returning! I wish I could just leave a voicemail message.

Ah, yes, the crossing of the fingers and "Please please please go to voicemail" prayers. If you are calling a cell phone, all you have to do is dial 267-SLY-DIAL. Then enter the number you are calling (you probably want it written down somewhere) and leave your voicemail message. It appears to the other person that they just somehow missed your call.

What it can't do: Go straight to voicemail on a landline.

I'll post more hacks as I discover them. Please share any you may have in the comments below!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Sliding Scale or Slippery Slope?

One of the first times I hired a cat sitter, in my late 20's, I was appalled at the expense. The only sitter I could find charged extra because I had three cats, bringing us to a grand total of $21 per visit. I reluctantly paid for every other day visits and left the air conditioning off to save money (not my finest hour, folks).

Now that I am a sitter, I use that memory to form some of my pricing policies. I charge by the amount of time spent in a client's home, not by how many animals they have. If they have such a demanding household that it takes an hour, I charge for a hour. If they have three cats that I can care for in 30 minutes, there's no reason to charge extra.

It's the same deal with medications. Yes, subQ shots and giving a cat her oral meds can be strenuous, but there's no reason to charge extra because someone is attending to their animal's medical needs. The vet has probably liquidated their assets anyway.

I only charge for my TIME, which becomes more valuable on holidays and on short notice. There is a  perfunctory $2 fee for that, which I have mentioned in previous posts.

Even with what I like to consider fair pricing, some of my clients can't seem to afford my services. It is important to note that these usually aren't the people who tell me they can't afford me (while we are sitting in their home which costs approximately twice as much as mine). What they are really trying to say "I don't understand your pricing. Please explain to me the value of your service." For that reason, I do not advertise a sliding scale. I would rather they find a neighborhood kid who is happy to make $5.

The only time I publicly advertised a sliding scale was when our elected officials found it appropriate to shut down the government over their inability to cooperate with one another (gentle reminder: election day is coming soon). I live in an area that employs a large proportion of government workers, who employ daily dog walkers such as myself when they commute in to work. Due to the government shut down, I barely had a paycheck. I offered a sliding scale to anyone who showed me a government ID so they could afford to live their daily lives or take the trip they had planned well in advance . Oh yeah, and so I could eat dinner.

The Congress's incompetence notwithstanding, I still give sliding scale rates to one or two clients. I and another colleague basically did the same thing: when we raised our rates, a couple of clients who couldn't afford it simply weren't notified. They don't even know they are receiving a discount. If they did know, they would certainly insist on paying the higher rate like everyone else. While their hearts are in the right place, we know this would result in late payments and bounced checks.

As dog walkers, we are privy to very personal details about our clients' lives. It's important to be sensitive to the post it note to "renew food stamps," the little old lady who adopted an aging dog to keep her company, and the day care provider who asks that you hold her check until Friday. Although we spend our days with animals, we must not forget that we are also generously serving the people who need them.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Hello, Animal Control? This is the Knotty Dog Walker

I have the local Animal Control saved to my contacts, mostly for when I see a dog running loose and regretfully from the consult that ended in a bite. Never did I think I would have to report one of my clients to the authories. If anything, the people who hire me err on the side of spoiling their animals rather than neglecting them.

A couple of households I visit spoil their dogs rotten: organic treats, professional grooming, toys, adventures ... no gift is too much for their beloved pooches, and I couldn't agree more! The part that I don't get is how cats in the very same households are kept: sequestered to the basement, mats of undercoat in their fur, litter boxes overdue for scooping ... what gives?

Well, as long as the animals' minimum sufficient level of care is being met, I give. I brush the cats until they're silky again and get the litter boxes as good as new. I've stayed extra to sweep the litter and fur off the floor while the cat beds are in the wash. I've gagged while washing out days if not weeks old cat food dried on to bowls. Although their time with a fresh, clean environment is only limited to a few days after I care for them, at least I know that I have made life a little easier for them in the short run.

That was good enough for me until one of these clients downsized to an apartment. The dog, of course, got full run of the apartment. Without a basement to keep the cats in, he put them his garage. This person had been a client for years and I desperately hoped that the garage was climate controlled, stocked with feline enrichment activities, and most of all a temporary solution before the summer hit. He showed me the setup in April, which was livable: one scratching post, an area rug, and a tinted window. This was by no means how I would keep my cats, but who was I to judge someone who was clearly doing the best he could with a sudden financial hardship? How could I grab his cats and kick him while he was down? And the poor guy, he was actually proud of his problem solving.

In May, I did my first cat sits in the garage set up. The only sound drowning out my nagging conscience was the attention starved meows from the two cats. I seriously considered taking them to my house for the week, who would notice? Well, the client, if he came home early. I decided the cats needed house warming gifts: a cooling mat, oscillating fan, and window seat. This was in addition to my complimentary garagekeeping services. I made a big production out of taking out the litter, dumping the water, and recycling the food cans (Yoohoo! Management! Over here!). By the time I was finished with my garage flip, this client had cost me money and unpaid time. But I could at least sleep at night, until ...

August hit and I was invited back to cat sit. The garage was smelly and unkempt, at a temperature of just below sweltering. And all the cats wanted was attention. I took their bowls up to the apartment for cleaning, as the client never did. When I put the bowls in the sink, the ample light of the kitchen showed me something I missed in the garage: maggots.

My first instinct was to wash them down the drain, but I realized I needed to take a picture. I'll spare you and not post it. You're welcome. Sobbing, I called Animal Control and anonymously reported my client. The officer told me I could send the picture, but I actually shouldn't have cleaned anything up. As gross as it is, they need to enter the residence and see everything for themselves.

The client was understandably livid and not so understandably shocked to find the Animal Control notice on his door when he returned from vacation. I lied through my teeth and denied all involvement (I can just see the  one star review at the top of my Yelp page now). The officer did not find enough cause to issue a citation or remove the cats, but this whole ordeal did get the rental office's attention and they gave a deadline to get the cats out. I found a pet boutique willing to display the cats in their display crate. The client said the cats were better off in the garage than in the boutique and he would just "put them down" if he had to.

I know bait when I see it and I didn't take a bite. It probably had maggots in it anyway.

Weeks past my comfort zone, the cats were finally rehomed to a family of the client's choosing. I continue to walk his spoiled rotten dog and to wonder why his cats didn't get the same level of affection.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Medalilng in Overnights

Did you enjoy the Olympics? Despite our tendency to hyperbolize, racialize, and misogynize  the games, I effing love the Olympics. Just like the Tour de France, it's an opportunity to see the best in the world at sports you don't get to watch everyday (at least not in my bargain cable plan). It's even that much more exciting because I wasn't boycotting this year!

In years past, I objected to many of the host countries for various reasons. Canada: Seal hunt. China: Cruelty to dogs. At least in Sochi there was media attention paid to the dogs that were displaced, resulting in rescue efforts. But, like with many of my boycotts, the Olympics didn't seem to be pining for my viewership. Let's face it, none of these instances are like the Berlin "Nazi" Olympics where our entire country threatened to pull out.

When the London games aired four years ago, I was supremely bummed to be spending most of those two weeks working. In addition to a full summer vacation client lineup, I was doing overnights in an unusual situation. The terrier, Rogelio, and I were going to be staying at the home of an elderly aunt who didn't speak English. Not to worry, her aide would be there the whole time ... who also didn't speak English.

Talk about awkward. Rogelio and I spent most of our time up in "our" room with figurines of Jesus and Mary watching over us. I desperately wanted to watch the games but felt like an inconvenience asking to change the channel from Sabado Gigante. For the record, they kindly offered me the remote and gestured for me to stay downstairs. I'm just an introvert even when I speak the same language. If I happened to overhear the games while heating up Rogelio's home made food, we would slide into the living room to watch for a bit. It was a pretty enlightening experience watching the games from an international perspective, Vamos Chile!

Reflecting back on my budget and technology in 2012, it's amazing that I couldn't "just stream it" on my smart phone. Now I can not only do that, but also brush up on my Spanish with the DuoLingo app. We've all come a long way in 4 short years, not just Michael Phelps.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Looking the Part

I had a new client consultation last night. Not with mini me, with the other contractor. The one who called me at noon because she couldn't find the keys to her car (?).

Our consult was with a potential little old lady client who didn't remember meeting me or having my business card. Her failing memory notwithstanding, I sensed that I was doing something unprofessional. She congratulated me no less than 3 times on starting a new business (I've been in business 6 years). Although hierarchy isn't my thing, boundaries are. She referred to my contractor as my friend, a co-founder of the company, and pretty much everything besides her actual role.

On the drive home I wondered, what is it that gives the impression I just started my business? Sure, a lot of it is the nature of the work. Dog walking is a relatively new career choice and most people assume you must be newly self-employed to do it. Everyone seems to have a story about a friend who walked dogs for a short while, so I'm certain that is being projected onto me and my career choice. But what am I contributing to this?

For my first several consults as a contractor, I would wear a sweater and slacks. When I decided to start my own business a year later, I wore a VistaPrint t-shirt advertising my fledgling company. Nothing shouts "I'm new!" louder than a free VistaPrint t-shirt.

Lately, I've had a wait list of clients to meet and greet, and frankly what I wear doesn't seem to matter. Any t-shirt and jeans combo sans holes and stains qualifies as "nice." This certainly hasn't turned clients away. If anything, my confidence attracts them even more.


Last night's meeting taught me that it's time to start presenting as a business owner, Knotty style. We have some organic t-shirts with our snazzy, local artist-designed logo on them. I think it's time to wear them to consults. Additionally, I went to the second hand shop and bought a snazzy jacket to wear over my t-shirt, to indicate my awesomeness:


Only $14 with the tags still on! Learning from my last post, I put it directly into the dryer on high heat for 30 minutes as soon as I got home. Now all I need is a clipboard, or maybe my tablet with a fancy intake app, to complete the look.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

I Quit Overnights

A residual imperfection from my former career in the nonprofit sector is my inability to find work-life balance. This causes a number of strains on my wellbeing and on my relationships. So an idea popped into my head recently: What if I quit doing overnights?

A number of my overnight clients are awesome, and staying in their homes is not unlike being in a hotel with animals. And the pay is outstanding! But still, if someone goes on a 10 day cruise, that's ten nights that my own cats miss out on, not to mention my boyfriend. So I kept asking, what if?

Summer travel is in full swing and thankfully I have a contractor to help with the overnight load, but I'm still turning clients down including boarding clients who could have stayed in my house. It occurred to me, I can train my contractor to do overnights, but I am the only one who can board in my house. Hence the other question I have been asking myself lately: What I am doing for the business that only I can do and what can I train someone else to do?

While I'm asking myself these questions, I still have to complete the overnights I committed to. The last one was a doozy with geriatric animals. On the first night a fish died, the cat had excrement coming out of both ends, the dog ate the cat's vomit, and all the while I'm running up and down the stairs for paper towels, cleaner, and trash bags. On top of that, the cat requires shots, liquid meds, force feeding, and subQ fluid to stay alive. He still has quality of life, because he loves to cuddle under the covers at night. But I'm sorry, I'm not letting that mud butt under the covers with me. The next day, I met my forlorn boyfriend for lunch and he said that he misses me.

Enough. I'm not doing this anymore. Even if I doubled the price of the overnight service, I wouldn't do it at this house. And it's time to give the other houses to my contractor. Anyone who isn't comfortable with that can board their animals with me or find another sitter. I am done.

Whenever I make a big decision such as this, The Universe has a funny way of asking me, "Are you sure?" Except this time it wasn't funny.

It was bed bugs.

Not like like the dust mites that everyone has living in their pillows. I'm talking about the blood sucking, visible-to-the-naked-eye-once-you-think-to-look, impossible to eradicate parasite. There is no telling where I got them. I have been in the bedrooms of many houses, either overnight sitting or crawling all over the floor looking for a hiding cat. I have had numerous cats and dogs in my home, each bringing his or her blanky to cuddle with at night. I volunteer in a homeless shelter and share townhouse walls with two neighbors. And now I'm putting all of those communities at risk.

I may be vegan, but I'm not stupid. These freeloaders had to go. Shout out to Terminix. I called them at 7 am and they got me a same day consultation. While waiting for  my consult, I threw away about half my bedroom. The other half went in the washer and dryer on the highest temperatures. After two extremely unrestful nights (I had to continue sleeping in my bed to keep them from spreading to another room), the exterminator finally came for the bargain  price of $825. Seriously. They did two rooms for the price of one since I'm the only human with a mattress to be treated in the house. I also got the mattress encasement and 90 day warranty.

My household is slowing returning back to normal. The last of the poisoned stowaways are stumbling their way around to be vacuumed up. The My boyfriend took me on a #IkeaRun to replace the items I threw away.

Even slower to return is my feeling of safety and security in my own home. That is something that I am no longer willing to  exchange for booming business. I'm taking it off the Ikea table. And thank you, dear readers, for giving me the space to record this publicly. Please hold me accountable, December 22, 2016 is my last night available for overnights.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Dread Hierarchy

When deciding to dread my hair, I read about the sense of community one feels with other dreadies. Specifically, "the nod." This secret handshake, if you will, was supposed to be some form of communication between locked individuals that expresses "I get you. We are kindred spirits."

The first time I saw a stranger with dreads at the airport, I anxiously waited for my nod. He had long beautiful strawberry blond locks. Wow! My first nod was going to come any minute from this passing god of hair. Here he comes ... hello, over here! ... Jeez can I at least get eye contact? ... Nothing. Huh.

This happened repeatedly in my first few months and I was really bummed about being misinformed about my new community. As my locks matured, though, I started to get more street cred. But not from the beautiful dread gods, no. The new people with a messy mop of oily something on their heads (not unlike what I was sporting at the airport) would roll down their car windows at stoplights and ask for hair tips. They would flag me down at Petco and talk to me like we were old friends. I would be a good sport but was quietly looking at their hair like "Wait, she has dreads? Where?"

It was at that point that I realized there was a hierarchy of dreads. Some folks were brand new with knots so loose they could shampoo them out, and they were dying for some validation. The folks with mature locks had been going through this process for over a year and quite frankly just wanted to finish their #TargetRun before So You Think You Can Dance comes on.

I certainly don't think that my hair makes me any better or any worse than anyone else, and don't want to come across as arrogant, which my introversion likely misleads folks to thinking. Any time a dreadie says "Hey nice dreads!" I love to smile back and say "You too!" if I catch it in time (compliments in motion are quite common). But dang it, everyone deserves a smile. Everyone.

And yet the other day at Chipotle there was a dreadie in front of me waiting on his food. I knew from a quick glance that mine were farther along than his and a nod would have meant the world to him, but I just wanted to get my sofritas bowl and hit the road. Sorry, brother.

If you decide to dread your hair, do it for yourself or at least to spite an ex, but not to join a larger community. If you're looking for connection and unconditional support, go vegan. Seriously, we love each other and stick together no matter what! I know vegans who have waited by the other's car because they wanted to meet the owner of the animal liberation bumper sticker. Or just adopt an animal. Definitely swing by the shelter and everyone will love you there!

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Product Review: Heavenly Be Scalp Refresher

This blog post is like a month late. My mini me had a death in her immediate family while my part time helper has not been the most reliable fill in ... more on my staffing issues another day.

Today, I'd rather write something positive. I found this really great stuff for my scalp! Heavenly Be Scalp Refresher solves many problems with one application. It is hand made by a small USA based business with all vegan ingredients and no animal testing.

I originally found it through an internet search when my dreads were new (yikes! 3 years ago as of June 23!). That was when my scalp, which has been dry since childhood, was adjusting to the new twice monthly shampoo routine. In addition to some mild discomfort, I was concerned I might smell. Plus, it was summer time so sweat was a factor. Although this product is not directly marketed toward dreadies, I figured it was worth a shot.

I ordered the scalp refresher, not a huge investment at under $10, and tried it as soon as it arrived. Ahhhh! It tingled delightfully on my irritated scalp! And it smelled naturally divine! Woops, then I went a little overboard and it dripped down my neck. Note: I solved this problem by transferring it to a spray bottle which makes distribution easier to regulate.

As my locks matured, my scalp was less irritated but I continued to use the scalp refresher for different reasons. Sometimes, I just wanted to smell good. Other times, I was overdue for a shampoo but I didn't have the time to dry my hair (a problem that exacerbates as my locks get thicker and longer).

My trusty spray bottle filled with Heavenly Be Scalp Refresher is an essential part of my hair care tool box. Quite frankly, on any site dedicated to dread care, this product could easily be marked up to twice the price. And people who really need it would pay as much. Luckily for us, the makers of Heavenly Be aren't trying to rip us off. So let's all buy their stuff. Often.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Dread Breakage

So this happened ...


Twice.

I was warned and I know all the palm rollers out there are saying "I told you so." It's a well known urban legend that those who crochet hook are at a high risk of their dreads breaking off ... at any point in the day you could find your locs half the length they used to be. Like, don't roll down the car window because they might fly out or something.

Once again, like my run-in with dread rot, there is a kernel of truth to the rumors. Yes, an inch or so of the end of my dread broke off. The nature of dreads is that once they are mature, the oil from your scalp no longer distributes throughout your hair and you're literally hanging on to hair that otherwise would have shed and been washed down the shower drain by now. My dreadies are now well past my shoulders and nearly three years old so this shouldn't be a huge shock.

I do crochet hook, and probably over-crochet-hooked the ends in order to get them nice and blunt instead of having "paint brush" ends. Also, I shampoo and blow dry them too often, about once a week because I like to jog and get sweaty. This makes my already naturally dry hair even more brittle. I should be more mindful of a conditioning routine, but I can't find a good product to soften my dreads (dear readers, any suggestions?).

But a huge culprit, even more so than the crochet hooking, is the beads I used to decorate my locs with. I read a warning that they can cause weak spots. I wish this warning was as ubiquitous as the crochet hook panic! Those weak spots from the beads are EXACTLY where my hair is breaking off.

And finally, I may have overdone it on the palm rolling and especially the finger rolling. The dreads that broke are on my left side, precisely where I mindlessly finger roll out of habit at stoplights with my elbow propped on the interior of the car door. Woops.

The happy ending is that I get to do less dread management, including less palm rolling, while my dreadies recover. Hooray! Don't have to tell me twice.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Knotty Manager

I've been doing less dog walking these days and more business management. I'm not going to lie, it blows. For the time being, I'm making less money while I work to get more clients for my mini-me. As I take a percentage of the money she earns through my company, eventually it will feel like earning money for doing nothing. But still, when she has an issue with one of her clients, I'm the one who deals with it while she gets to walk the dog.

One such client complained to her yesterday about the $2 short notice fee we charge for booking a walk less than 24 hours out. This woman, who is kind of scary and a born and raised New Yorker, is not hurting for $2.

Rewind back to my original conversation with her, she thought we were expensive compared to her former dog walker, who got dropped for leaving a nasty voice mail in response to -- you guessed it -- short notice walk requests. I explained our $2 short notice fee and the reason why we charge $4 more than her former walker, who has a reputation for only taking the dogs out for as long as her cigarette lasts. I also turned down both of her requests for a "regular client discount."

When mini-me told me of their conversation yesterday, I knew I had to tread lightly or risk losing the client. But, come on! Two lousy bucks for my mini-me who is worth her weight in gold doesn't seem that outrageous. I decided to sleep on it.

This morning I awoke to my cat smacking me in the face, as is our custom, and the first thought in my head was "I don't want to deal with this client today."

I really, really didn't want to. I thought maybe I should postpone our conversation to make it seem less reactive. Maybe I could pass this off to my virtual assistant? Nope. The business owner should really be the one talking to clients and making sure they're happy. If someone thought I was unhappy and had their assistant call me, I would be offended.

As I did my morning pet sit, I ruminated. I am not enjoying being a business owner. I suck at people. My staff gets to have all the fun with the animals while I kiss clients' butts. And I haven't made any profit off of it yet, just breaking even. I want out. I even looked up an online job application for another sitter, thinking I could sell my business for several grand and get back into doing the work that I love.

I was getting more and more agitated as the morning went on. I went back home to do email, made a second cup of coffee, and stated getting clumsy and agitated. Enough, I decided. I'm going to call this curmudgeon and I'm going to listen actively. I'm going to have compassion, even if it goes against every fiber of my being.

I took a big sip of my magic elixir and dialed the phone. She was thrilled to hear from me! I asked how mini me was doing. Great! I reminded her to fill out our paperwork. No problem! I told her we had a new hire, could she fill in for mini me on occasion? Sure thing! Finally, she got to the elephant in the room, the $2 fee. I listened to her concern and apologized for not being more clear from the beginning. I thanked her for being flexible on which dog walker actually comes to see her dog and said that if she could be more flexible with us, there's no reason why we couldn't be more flexible with her. She thanked me and everyone was happy! Amazing!

Then, she said the reason why she needed so many last minute walks was because she was going through a nasty divorce. She made more than her husband, and he was trying to take her to the cleaners. She has a chronic health condition, and now with no life partner she needs her savings in case of a medical emergency. She isn't a miser, she's scared. Although it wasn't my intention, to her my company was just one more entity that saw only her wealth and how they could take her for all she's worth.

You know what? I'm scared, too. This difficult conversation taught me that, should I continue to choose the path of the business manager, I can do it. But is that what I want to do?

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Missing a Walk

If you're ever having a really awesome day and feel the need to take yourself down a few pegs, here's my sure fire recipe for feeling like the scum of the earth:

1. Become a dog walker.
2. Tell a client you'll walk their dog at a certain day and time.
3. Don't show up.

Yep. It happens to all of us, and from the looks of a recent Google search, it appears none of us are talking about it.

It happened to my colleague last week. She was training a helper and plum forgot to stop by a regular's house.

It happened to me this week and I just found out. I assigned it to my mini me and forgot to put it on her calendar.

It happened a year ago when I got back from my sister's wedding and didn't think to check my calendar.

It happens to all of us, because dog walkers are human.

It's been a crazy week or two. I hired overnight help, tabled at an event, replaced my Subaru only to take the car back for repairs at a dealership over an hour away.

But there is no excuse good enough for failing to take a dog out. I'm walking around today like that crazy priest in the Da Vinci code who keeps slapping himself on the back with that torture device thing. He's trying to prove his devotion to Jesus and I'm trying to prove my devotion to the animals.

For the client who missed a visit, I profusely apologized and gave them a discount on their upcoming trip. At my upcoming staff meeting, I'm delegating the responsibility to my sitters to double check their calendars to make sure I add everyone they agreed to visit. I also have a virtual assistant, whom I'm asking to triple check our calendars in exchange for higher pay.

I guess my business is going through some major growing pains right now. Beating myself up won't change any of that, or the past. So I'm sharing this teachable moment in the hopes that it might help us all to do a better job and be a little more gentle with ourselves.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

DIY Dread Band Part Deux

I once purchased an adorable charcoal gray sweater dress for the bargain price of $9.99 on the Macy's bargain rack. I loved that dress. It was turtleneck and knee length, so cute with a bright pair of tights! And it was so comfortable. It felt light I was dressing down but I always received compliments when I wore it.

Man I was I bummed when a cat's claw ripped a hole in it! As with sweaters, the hole just got bigger and bigger until I could no longer pretend people couldn't see it. But it's so dumb to throw out an entire article of clothing because of one hole. What to do?

Me being me, I got out my scissors. I cut along the seam to remove the turtleneck that smelled nostalgically of perfumes past.


I stretched out the fabric and wrapped it around my neck twice like a scarf. Then I pulled one loop up followed by the other. From there, I can play with it to tuck in the scraggly ends and play with the width. I can stack one loop on top of the other or overlap them only slightly to add width.



Ta-dah! Not too shabby. Now, a quick word on buying bargain rack dresses at Macy's ...

I'm trying not to do that anymore. It's a part of the whole vegan thing. I'm trying to live without causing harm to as many living beings as possible, and that includes humans. When something comes dirt cheap (e.g. processed food, genetically modified plants, bargain rack clothes) there is a higher cost somewhere, just not for you in the moment. My $9.99 dress was probably made in a third world country by someone who was not treated kindly all so I could save a buck or two. Not cool. 

Fair trade items cost more and it's a major pain in the butt to finally find a piece of vegan clothing only to discover it was made unethically. I would be lying if I said I can vouch for everything I buy from now on. I still need good dog walking shoes and new underwear from time to time. However, on a dog walker's budget I can go to Goodwill more often. At least that way I'm not directly supporting the overseas manufacturers. And Goodwill has some good stuff! I'll keep you posted on how I do with the transition to fair trade. It almost feels like going vegan all over again, and helps me to have more empathy for people who say it is too hard. I'd like to think we're all on a journey to live more kindly. What's your goal? How's your journey going?

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Holy Boundaries, Catman!

A few years ago I was really hurting for clients so I took on a charity case of sorts. A retired widower called, saying his litter box hadn't been scooped in weeks since his wife passed. He was on dialysis and physically unable to reach the box. He needed someone about once a week to stop by and completely change out his cat's box until he came up with a more permanent solution.

It was Christmastime and I needed the cash, especially in the next couple of months when no one would travel. I cut him a deal, a half price visit since it was only changing the litter, as long as he paid cash.

At first, this worked out great. I could come in the morning when I had few clients and felt good about being so helpful to someone in need. The widower was enjoying our arrangement as well. He started to become more talkative and to try and get his Maine Coon to be social with me. Pretty soon, my quick in-and-out litter box visit took a full 30 minutes.

Spring turned into summer and I noticed that the widower's son was home from college. His son took him to appointments and such but, strangely, I was still needed to scoop the litter box. I'm not one to point out when I'm not needed, but as summer travel picked up for my clients I started to get a little short with this guy when he wanted to talk and have me brush his cat. Instead of feeling proud of my good dead deed, I reluctantly headed to his home once a week wondering how much longer our temporary situation would drag on.

As is predictable with boundary issues, it got worse, not better. The widower, after dumping lots of personal details on me about his deadbeat daughter and need of a new kidney, would start to pry and ask questions about my personal life. Did I have any dates over the weekend? With whom, a vegan? How does that work? Where did we eat? And then, super creepy red flag, if that restaurant is good maybe he and I could go sometime!

Just as I was starting to get grossed out by this guy, he would do something equally pathetic. He called me one weekend, terrified that his cat was sick. I came over to check on kitty and spent two hours helping to herd him to the vet. Then, once at the vet's office, I witnessed this guy's manipulation in action. Everything he told me, about the dead wife, the horrible kids, the need for a new kidney ... got repeated to the reception staff, the vet tech, and the vet. His pity party clearly took up too much of everyone's time, and I would interrupt and interpret for him: "The cat is breathing harder than usual. She was hiding, which she normally doesn't do." Finally, I rounded up kitty and widower and dropped them back at home. Lucky me, I got an extra $5 that week.

Then, he thought his cat needed a friend. A kitten, could I recommend a breeder? This was completely out of the question as far as I was concerned because the vet said that his other cat hadn't been in six years and didn't even have a rabies vaccination. And how could I recommend a "good" breeder when there are so many homeless cats at the shelter? Yet the widower wanted to know if I would go to a Maine Coon breeder with him and start coming twice a week. You know, for the kitten.

As I stalled on the kitten issue, we got to the last straw. The widower had "lost my email address" and told me he tried to find it on facebook but couldn't. Odd, because all my contact info is on my business facebook page. Then he said, "And I don't know why you're single when you look so cute in that yellow sweater."

Huh? What yellow sweater? Then he showed me ... he didn't find my business facebook page. Dude was creeping around on my personal page without sending a friend request. And then telling me how cute I look.

I started to make myself scarce. I told him I needed two weeks off because business was getting slammed (it was). I made one last appearance and he told me that he had a blow out with his daughter, who happens to have the same name as me. Then he told her -- sarcastically, I can only hope -- that he wanted to change the last name on his inheritance. Meaning, he wanted to will it to me.

Then it all clicked into place. The widower most definitely had boundary issues, but not of the sexual nature. He saw me as the daughter he wished he had. I spoke to my friend who is a licensed clinical social worker and had been through chemo. She explained to me that the dialysis was probably messing with his head big time. Oh, and get the hell outta there!

I did. It broke my heart but I sent him an email saying that business had picked up so much that he had better find another litter box scooper. And I gave him the name of one in his neighborhood. He didn't understand and continued to try to manipulate me. I blocked his email, phone number, and facebook. This was years ago, but just the other day he wanted to add me on linkedin.

My boundaries are much better now. I'm grateful for this lesson and that the worst that happend to me was I got grossed out. I'm not sure what I could have done differently in the past, but now I know not to take any client that makes me feel even slightly uncomfortable. It's never worth the cash.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

So, you want to work with animals ...

Every few months or so, a friend-of-a-friend asks if she can give my email to someone who desperately wants to work with animals but doesn't know where to start. The cousin/brother-in-law/dental hygienist/other-random-acquaintance  is burned out on people and ready to go play with dogs all day. I've gotten to the point where I just cut and paste the same brutally honest but hopefully still motivating response. I think my grand tally of converted dog walkers is 0. Here, dear readers, is what I write:

I got into pet sitting because much like you I wanted to spend my day with animals. I tried applying to tons of places having anything to do with pets, but I didn't get much of a response, likely because they must have been inundated with applicants and my work experience was with humans. Finally I got a job working for a pet sitter, a 45 minute commute away! She couldn't get enough clients for me to make a living, so I worked for another pet sitter 30 minutes away which also had problems staying afloat. (lesson learned: no one wants the new kid on the block to take care of their pet, regardless of how qualified that person may be). Finally, I got a prosperous position working for a pet sitter here in my town and simultaneously started my own pet sitting business because I was very afraid of not having a reliable income. I now run my business full time doing dog walking, pet sitting, overnight house sitting, and in home pet boarding. It's not unusual for all of these services to overlap in the same day.
It took me about two years to build up a solid, full time client load. Just about every pet sitter I know had a moment in the beginning when they had to sit down and have a "come to Jesus" moment where they realized they might have to find another job or continue trying to pet sit and eat ramen noodles for dinner every night. My response to this was to take every single client who called me, which meant that I was taking a lot of clients that other sitters turned down: Christmas clients, people who don't tip, problem dogs, short notice, etc. Don't make the mistake I did! I was so hungry for the work that now it is nearly impossible for me to set boundaries with my clients such as when it is inappropriate to call, ask for a short notice pet sit, etc. It's kind of like gaining weight! I'm now slowly in the process of losing some of that "weight" by hiring help, taking one weekend off per month, and saying no when I already have personal plans.
I could go on and on about my personal experience! I'm also happy to meet you for coffee some time if you have more specific questions.
Also your small business resource center should be a wealth of information. I took a free class from ours and learned everything I needed to know to get registered with the state. Sometimes they offer free business counseling, too.
For insurance, I go through Pet Sitters Associates, LLC. They can insure you for a year for like $200.
But this is all assuming you want to be a pet sitter. My personal favorite is in home boarding, which Pet Sitters Associates can also insure you for. This is easy money, and if space allows maybe you want to do a doggie day care. You can list yourself on websites like dogvacay.com and rover.com
Or maybe you want to take some classes at the community college and become a mobile groomer! The possibilities are endless ...
I hope this helps! Feel free to reach out to me anytime.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

How to Meditate With Companion Animals

For about 8 years I have had an on-again-off-again relationship with meditation. These days, my meditation button has been in the on position. The number one barrier when I started was my inability to meditate at home, because my cats would have none of that. Or so it seemed ...

There is a Buddhist fable -- please don't take it literally because that would be cruel -- that I will paraphrase. There was a cat that would hang out around a Buddhist monastery begging for attention. So insistent was this cat that the monks would have to tie her up outside so they could have some peace and quiet for meditation. (Don't try that at home.) Every day they would first tie the cat outside and then proceed to meditate until one day the cat died. The next day when it came time to meditate, the monks said to their teacher, "But Thay, how can we meditate when there isn't a cat tied up outside?"

Basically, I was doing the exact opposite. I would attend a group meditation about once a month and say "I would meditate at home, but I have cats." It was true, if I sat down for an extended period of time, they would get confused and check for signs of life. If I reclined for total relaxation, a kitty would recline on top of me and then hit me in the face repeatedly for attention. There's no such thing as closed doors in my house because my boy cat doesn't believe in closed doors, he does everything in his power to kick them open again.

On and on the excuses went. I even brought my concern to a Buddhist monk who visits my congregation. "Can you sit in a separate room?" No. "Well," he said, "then just be aware of what they are doing and let it go."

Huh. Not helpful.

I asked another teacher, "Oh yes," he chuckled. "I have companion animals at home, too."

Even less helpful.

Then someone in my sangha used a metaphor that people who meditate every once in a while aren't going to get anywhere. My ears perked up as he said if you put a potato in the oven a few minutes every month, you're still going to have a raw potato. If, however, you cook it every day and extend the time in the oven, you just might get some dinner. Even if you start at 5 minutes a day, consistency is the key.

That was all well and good, but as you know I have a very busy schedule and can't possibly fit one more thing in. And what about overnights? I can't meditate at a client's house. I would have to cut something else out, but what?

I spent the next 24 hours pondering where on earth I would find 5 minutes a day. It was the first thing in my head in the morning when I hit my snooze button. And then 6 minutes later as I hit my snooze button again. And then 6 minutes later ... Oh. I found 5 minutes.

I downloaded an app that started me off even gentler, with a three minute meditation, that I could take anywhere. Slowly it increased the time of my meditation practice as I decreased the frequency and duration of my snoozes. I am now up to 12 minutes of morning meditation and down to two 3 minute snoozes -- and this time, I'll keep it off!

And for my cats? Easing into meditation worked just as well for them. They know that while I sit down, they are supposed to eat breakfast. Sometimes I will get a soft nuzzle or good morning meow, which I can be aware of and let go. Other times, if I have been away on overnights, the meditation session doesn't go over too well and the insistent face hitters come back. That's fine, I simply stroke them mindfully for a few minutes of petting mediation. A treat for all!

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

"I like your dreads"

Who doesn't like a heartfelt compliment? You know that fantastic feeling-like-a-million-bucks moment when you're walking down the street in your flashy coat you finally got to wear after buying it on an off season discount last summer and a complete stranger goes "Nice coat!" ... Yeaah!! Feels good.

I'll never forget the first time someone complimented my dreads. Like most newbies, my locs looked awful. I frequently covered them up with a scarf in the style of a thick headband just so I could walk out the door. And then, out of nowhere, the cashier at the gas station said to me -- I remember it word for word -- "How did you get your hair to dread so fast?" I kid you not, I collapsed on the candy counter and said "Thank you!!!" like she had offered me a sip of water in the desert.

Slowly, as my locs began to mature, the compliments increased. People with silver hair couldn't wait to tell me how much they liked my look because they used to be hippies, you know. Teenage misfits too cool to speak to anyone would set aside two very special words for me: "Sweet hair." Many would gush or ask questions, but the most common compliment to this day was the simple "I like your dreads."

At first all the attention made me blush and say thank you to the sidewalk. Sometimes it still does. But as time went on, I got used to and even slightly annoyed with the ubiquitous "I like your dreads." A lot of times, this said more about the other person than me. They tended to look very proud of themselves, perhaps because they aren't used to complimenting strangers. Or some of them would linger and want to start a conversation with me, which I'm afraid isn't easy to do. Many yell it out of their car windows and are gone before I can respond.

One day, I went to a hip little pasta shack in a beach town that had vegan mac 'n cheese on the menu. Yummm! I would tell you where it was but I could easily make just as good of a dish at home for half the cost so we'll leave that little detail out. Anyway, the owner himself was dreaded and as I walked in he beamed and said, "Wow! You got a new 'do!"

I smiled and said "Yeah!" but there was a bit of an echo in the pasta joint. I turned to see that his apparently very dear friend standing behind me got a new cut and color, and accepted the compliment intended for her. Woops.

I'm still looking for the middle path between thanking the sidewalk and accepting compliments intended for others. Like my dreads, I'm a work in progress. In the meantime, I'm going to try to say nice things to strangers, and loved ones for that matter, more often.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

HIRED: Assistant Dog Walker

As you may recall, my adventures in hiring left off at saying "thanks but no thanks" to the most mediocre person I could find on Craigslist. I spent the better part of the following year wandering around aimlessly and complaining that good help is hard to find.

Then one day out of nowhere a client of mine, who is also self-employed, mentioned that one of her clients was looking for a way out of her job at a local vet. I wasn't very thrilled, after the number of false starts I had been through. "Oh," I said feigning interest, "well give her my email and have her send a resume and cover letter." She did, and to my utmost surprise, she was qualified! I tried not to pee my pants as I set up an interview with her.

She was on time, smart, professional, compassionate, and *gasp* nearly vegan. Obviously, she got the job. The only snag was that being an Independent Contractor with tax responsibility and variable job security scared the bejezzus out of her. I knew the feeling all too well. When I first got started, I could barely make ends meet. I called my dad sobbing that I couldn't afford groceries and almost had to go to the food bank. Now, when I go to the grocery store, I try to pick up something to put in the handy little food bank cart.

Her part time status notwithstanding, I was thrilled to have my mini-me helper. Except she's taller than I. We still couldn't take new clients, but all the overflow went to her. Goodbye 13 hour days! I have so many clients in the same neighborhood, that I frequently caught her doing her job. Amazing! I was so inspired by this that I decided to go all out and start advertising for a weekend helper on www.Indeed.com. The first job you post with them is free, after that the charges start at $5 per day (lame).

I interviewed one person from Indeed. She said she had worked at my former vet. I didn't remember her, and hated that vet. She also had a little smudge on her criminal history. Who knew her now ex-boyfriend would ask her to pawn a stolen item? And there was no thank you note after the interview.

Speaking (or writing) of which, what the hell ever happened to the interview thank you note? Am I getting old? Come on people, nothing seals the deal like a well written thank you letter.

Anyway, the deciding factor on this interviewee was that my clients often ask if my contractor is going to be "As good as you" or "Just like you, right?" Well, Mini-Me is quite a bit like me, all the way down to the tattoos and plant based eating. But this interviewee ... wasn't the right fit.

Then, Santa Claus put a gift in my stocking. Mini-Me was on the receiving end of the last straw at her vet job. She quit and now she's all mine! I could call off the interviews for weekend help!

I'm beyond excited, but also scared. With great power comes great responsibility, Spider Man. I need to take good care of Mini-Me. I need to make sure she has enough work, feels appreciated, and is heard. I take her to coffee every week. I pay her on time. I check in regularly. Holy crap, I'm a Boss!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The Inicident of January 5

2016 isn't off to the best start for me. My cell phone broke and the new unlocked phone I bought is fantastic but doesn't get service in my house (?). In addition to my limited connectivity, I've been nauseous. I thought it was a hangover from New Year's but it just won't go away. On the bright side, the holiday weight is falling off in record time!

Rewind to December when my client called to confirm her cat sitting dates as December 24-January 4. Or, wait. Was that what she said? She called while I was walking a dog in the rain and I didn't mean to answer the phone. It was my stupid back up phone (which I am back on now) that somehow answered her call when all I wanted to do was see who it was. I just said yes without looking at my calendar, which is pretty impossible while walking a Boston Terrible in the rain.

On January 4, I did their final visit, left a thank you note for their generous holiday tip, and went on about my life. Looking at my calendar that night, I saw they were on it through January 6. Huh. I rechecked their initial email which also stated they would be out of town through the 6th.

OK. My bad. I'll go in the morning. So I did.

I walked in and immediately saw I was wrong. There was a pair of shoes that wasn't there before. The burglar alarm started beeping so I entered my code to turn it off. I saw luggage.

"Honey, what's that noise?" I heard.

Shoot!

"I didn't hear anything." Honey replied. Hmmm.... here's my chance to run. No, better not.

"It's your pet sitter!" I called up to Honey.

I tucked my tail between my legs and made my way upstairs. I apologized and explained to them the email dilemma.

"Well you should have called!" Fair point, but I have this strange aversion to talking on the phone. And they were supposedly out of the country or on a plane and well ... I screwed up. Apparently walking in on someone in their bathrobe is just as embarrassing as a phone call to me.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Knotty Dog Walker Gets Soaking Wet


I have the best job ever ... until it rains. Although it is impossible to stay completely dry, I can keep from getting saturated on most rainy days. Like many important life lessons, I had to learn the hard way. Here are my top 5 tips for surviving rainy days.

1: Keep at least one pair of dry socks in your car.

My first summer of dog walking, I would hop out the door and go play without putting any thought into the weather forecast and what it might mean for my day. One fateful summer day, I was walking Tucker and the heavens decided to open up on us. Tucker was my first walk, so I spent the rest of the day with soaking wet shoes and socks even after the rain had stopped. I came home with painful, nasty blisters.


I'm an idiot and deleted this picture
2: Get waterproof shoes.
Large amounts of rain cause great big puddles, which sometimes are impossible to navigate around. Or, even worse, they look shallow and -- surprise! -- they're really ankle deep. I tried to solve the wet feet problem on the cheap by applying a $6 can of waterproofing spray to my sneakers. That was an improvement, but not a solution. Then I purchased a pair of those really cute galoshes that the trendiest of us put on for even partly cloudy days because, if it rains, we will look friggin adorable. No go. Those galoshes were not designed for 5 to 10 half-hour walks in one day. The frequent, repetitive foot motions cause creases which turn into cracks that let frigid rain splash into your hipster footwear.

I'll find and replace the pictures 

Almost as cute, but much more effective, are these "garden shoes" which I found on sale at JoAnn Fabrics for $14.99. They still get the dreaded crease and crack, but because they're ankle high they allow for more foot movement. And they have ribbons! Keep these in the car with your dry socks.



 3: You can never have too many rain coats.
Rain coats are proof that God loves dog walkers and wants them to be happy. Again, go for function before fashion here. And be sure to have more than one because the rain can still go up your sleeve when you're holding a leash at an angle or perpendicular to your body. Plus, raincoats make good cat beds.

4: Ditch the umbrella.
Have you ever tried to hold a used poopy bag, umbrella, and a leash or two all at the same time while in motion? Don't. Because your cell phone will ring.

5: Have FUN!
Once you are properly dressed, don't forget the whole point of walking a dog: to have fun! Start a water fight, splash in the puddles like a little kid, and don't forget the towel dry doggie spa treatment.