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.