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 and
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!