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Labor of Love: A story over a decade in the making

Sometime in 2006 or 2007, I got a call about a feral cat colony in need of caretakers (regular followers of our Facebook page know that we are huge advocates of feral cat care, and we do a lot of work in the community to help these cats have a better quality of life). The colony was near Guilford College, and had recently been moved about 1/4 mile from the original location. Incredibly, someone had tried to kill the colony cats by poisoning their water bowls. We never found out who did that, but moved the colony any way. Moving a colony is no easy feat. There are houses and feeding stations to move, not to mention the cats themselves. Fortunately, the colony was small–only about 6 cats–and they readily followed us to the new location. 

I agreed to feed a couple days a week. It was a fun little volunteer gig. I adored the cats, which included a family of four sisters. The sisters were tabby cats–two grey and two black/brown. One cat of each color combo was pretty outgoing. They ran right up to me when I arrived with their food and water on my feeding days. This is not unusual, of course. Many ferals become comfortable around their caretakers, and will even allow us to pet them a little. 

I have many memories of caring for that colony. Year after year, we fed them. We put straw in their houses to keep warm in winter. We brought lots and lots of bowls, until one caretaker decided to tether the bowls with a cord (the bowls always went missing before that, either to the wind, or by enterprising raccoons that carried them off). One winter, I got my little KIA stuck in the mud, and had to wait a couple hours before being pulled out. I became friends with the other caretakers, and together we loved those cats just like we loved our domestic house cats. 

Over the years, the colony population changed. A new cat might show up, hang around for a month or so, then move on. At some point, the colony only contained the four tabby sisters. Like all managed colonies, our cats were spayed and neutered, so the only additional cats were the ones traveling between colonies or otherwise on the move (There are colonies everywhere, I mean everywhere. Cats easily travel through the sewer system and literally pop up all over the place). 

Then it began. We started seeing only three of the tabbys at feeding time. It’s heartbreaking, but it’s reality. The cats get old and pass away. Sometimes it’s worse–they get hit by a car. At some point in the last couple years, we only saw two tabbys at feeding time. And finally, just one. 

It was winter, maybe early spring. No matter what time we went, only one tabby met us at the feeding station. She was one of the more outgoing ones, a sweet black and brown senior girl. She always ran up, and walked right around our legs, nearly tripping us as we walked to her dish. She loved to be petted. It was always so good to see her. 

But it was hard to see her out there alone. Her sisters were gone, and she was a very social cat. She appeared to be a good candidate for adoption. But bringing a feral cat home is a major operation–they have never been inside a house, and likely would be shy with anyone but the colony caretakers. We asked around, but for whatever reason, no one could take her. So we did. We owed it to her–she deserved to be with other cats and out of the elements. 

On a Sunday night about a month ago, we pulled up to the colony. This time, we came with a crate instead of dinner. Incredibly, she seemed to be ready to go. I scooped her up, put her in the crate, and then we headed to a 24-hour vet for a complete check up and vaccines. She got a clean bill of health, and we headed home. We had set up our back porch for her: new ceiling fan, new screen, even a neat shade that made the porch cooler for her. Most important, we had a brand new litter box set up, filled with ‘Cat Attract’ litter. Our smart little feral cat learned to use the litter box that first night! 

And so she’s home now. And inside, too. Turns out she was done with living outside, even if the new version had a fan, a view, and a sad little tomato plant that has yet to produce anything. She’s still getting used to our household. Dogs, cats, and all the daily sounds that a house contains–dishwasher, laundry, humans talking, the TV–it is all very new and overwhelming at times. But she’s doing really well, and will come around completely in her own time and on her own terms; after all, she’s a feral cat and that’s how they roll. A labor of love that started over a decade ago has culminated in a happy home for us and our longtime friend, who by the way, now has a name. It’s ‘Stripey’. 

Pet Safety on July 4th

 

It’s almost the 4th! Cookouts, swimming, fireflies, and fireworks. Below are some tips to make Independence Day less stressful for your animals. 


•Many pets go missing on the 4th. Make sure that your pets are secured in your home, away from doors they can easily access. If you must leave them outside, make sure your gate is closed and locked, and that there are no holes or other ways for your dog to escape. 

•As you likely know, fireworks can be extremely frightening to pets. Create a quiet place in your home, away from the festivities. Turn on the TV or radio; find a relaxing station–classical music is ideal–or a show that is not super loud (think “Andy Griffith”). Make sure the volume is not too high. Animals hear many times better than we do, and a station that’s too loud will only add to the scary stuff happening outside. 

•Make sure your quiet room has a comfy hiding spot–an open crate covered in blankets, or a favorite spot way back in your closet. 

•Make sure the quiet room is kept at a comfortable temperature, and provide plenty of water to drink. 

•If your dog has a favorite busy toy, like a peanut butter Kong, offer that too. 

•For extra-stressed pets, your vet can advise you on using medication, such as trazodone, to keep your pet calm and comfortable. Non-medicinal options include ‘Composure Chews’ and ‘Comfort Zone with Adaptil’.

With a bit of preparation, your pet can be kept safe and comfortable while you celebrate this 4th of July! 

 

It’s getting hot (and humid) in here…

 

 

Summer has arrived, and not just because Memorial Day is upon us . It’s here because we have had temperatures in the 80s every day, and the humidity isn’t much better. 

This is also the time when we see clients going on vacation and leaving the A/C off, or worse, leaving their windows open. Now, we get it–you aren’t home, so why pay for air conditioning when no one is there. Well, someone is home–your PETS! 

While animals that live outside may adapt to hot temperatures, especially if they have proper shade, ice water, and a cooling mat, inside pets, especially young and old pets, don’t adapt so well. 

One thing that seems to get little notice is humidity. Humidity–amount of moisture in the atmosphere–can effect a pet’s ability to cool down. As your pet pants, moisture leaves the lungs and takes the heat away, thus cooling them down. But if the air is too humid, panting becomes inefficient. If you leave your windows open, it’s imperative that you check the humidity first. Ideally, your house should be at 60% or below. My house is generally at about 45%–a number that seems perfect for my pets and me! If you don’t have a way to keep track of indoor (and outdoor!) humidity, an affordable device like the ‘La Crosse 308-1425B-INT Wireless Color Weather Station’ is a great option. 

This can be a rough time of year for pets, but with some planning, the dog days of summer can be as enjoyable for our critters as they are for us! 

Relationships Mean Everything

When I arrived at my favorite ‘mom and pop’ coffee shop this week, my coffee was poured before I had time to order. They know me there–they even know my routine. When I came early one morning, I was greeted with surprise. “You never come at this hour”, declared the staff. 

I had similar experiences as I went to the small pet supply store down the street from me, when I made a deposit at my local credit union, and even when I stopped for a quesadilla at my favorite restaurant. I know these businesses, and more importantly, they know ME. They can tell when I am having a rough day (and not just because my hair is messy and there is dried cat food on my shirt), and they know what I like, what my interests are, and what I do for a living. 
All of that got me thinking about what we do at Lucy’s Friends. We love our clients, both human and animal. We KNOW them. We can tell when one of the animals in our care isn’t feeling great, and not just because we see medication near their food dish. We know because we know their personalities, their habits, and their expressions. We know our human clients, too. We can tell when you ran out the door in a hurry and forgot to do something you normally do–like take out the garbage or even lock the door. We quietly take the trash out and maybe leave an extra nice note when we go. We share in our clients’ joys (new baby, new pet, graduation, marriage…) and of course, their heartbreak. We have sat with clients at the vet when they put a beloved pet down, we have gone to funerals, we have grieved with our clients when a marriage ended, someone had to move away, or sad medical news was received. We have watched animals in our care grow from rambunctious puppies and daredevil kittens into slow moving, special needs seniors. 
This is what we do. We love it and think it’s the only way to do our job. So, while we can never compete with the big guys like Wag or Rover when it comes to large staffing and high tech apps, we think the way we do business is the best way. Relationships are the foundation of Lucy’s Friends Pet Sitting, LLC. Relationships take time to cultivate; they don’t move at the speed of technology and are difficult if a new sitter is booked each time you need one. It’s a slow way to do things, but we think it’s what makes us special. 

My pet won’t eat!

Is your cat or dog a fussy eater? Try these tips:

•Baby food. A spoon of baby food–chicken is the most common type we suggest–can really inspire your pet when they turn up their nose at the dry stuff. Just mix it in with their regular food.

•Canned food. Most cats and dogs will happily eat with a spoon of canned food added to their regular dry kibble.

•Broth. Fat free, low sodium chicken or beef broth is an easy go-to for picky eaters. Warm it for about 7 seconds in the microwave, then mix into the kibble for a soupy, yummy meal.

•Stinky stuff. This is especially handy for older cats, who tend to be harder to feed. The diminished ability to smell their food, combined with health issues and medications, can make working up an appetite difficult. Using something like tuna, or a canned food that is especially “stinky”, can really get an older cat interested in their meal.

•Shredded chicken.  Mixing some chicken with your pet’s food can really do the trick.  

•Appetite stimulants. When all else fails, talk to your vet about an appetite stimulant,  such as Mirtazapine. Your vet can discuss the advantages,  and risks, of these types of meds. 

The Fear Factor in Pet Sitting

So much advertising is based upon fear. Unless you spend a certain amount of money, something bad will happen.
This is no different in professional pet sitting. We see pet sitters constantly saying that hiring an uninsured, possibly untrained sitter will lead to disaster. That might happen, but likely it won’t. What is likely is that the kid down the street will come and do as you asked. Things will be fine. So, why pay the higher rates associated with a professional sitter?
Boutique-style services are truly what set us apart. We offer highly individualized care for your pets and home. We go the extra mile to make sure you and your pets are happy while you’re away. That level of undivided attention comes at a higher price than the kid down the street. But we find that most people like that care. They hire us not out of fear of what might happen if they don’t hire professionals, but rather, because of what WILL happen while we’re there.

 

What is required to be a ‘professional’ pet sitter?

“It felt a little ridiculous,” he says. “I never thought this was something I needed experience for.”
–Alec Garcia, in the Wall Street Journal

And what is this quote in reference to? Being a pet sitter. Mr. Garcia was turned down by a major pet sitting company when he applied. He lacked the necessary knowledge and experience for the job.
Here’s the thing–it doesn’t take a degree in aeronautical engineering to be a dog walker. But it DOES take more than just liking animals. You have to understand the body language of cats and dogs. You must know what to do when an animal is injured. You have to know how to deal with all kinds of situations –most of us work in homes with complicated feeding and medicine schedules.

Pet sitting is a great career. But it’s NOT easy money (as the WSJ suggested), and it requires incredible stamina. Most days, we have 20 or more pet visits on our schedule. This job is incredibly rewarding, but incredibly hard. Clients move away. Or your favorite cat to sit for gets old and dies. You know the heartbreak you feel when you lose a pet? We feel it, too. Several times a year when one of our beloved pet clients dies or moves away. We work long days, weeks at a time WITHOUT A DAY OFF. Burnout is a very real danger. We work holidays. Every one. I haven’t had a Christmas at home with my family since 2002.

Pet sitting is not a job you carelessly walk into. Experience is a must. Animal knowledge is a must. Loving animals is a must. An incredible work ethic is essential.

I know Alec Garcia wanted that job. With a different approach to pet sitting, and some “homework” ahead of time, he just might have a shot.CPPS-Certified-Professional-Pet-Sitter-logo

Why do we require dogs and cats to be ‘altered’?

One of the first questions we ask potential clients is whether or not their pet is ‘altered’. But why?

Well, to begin, let’s define ‘alter’. It’s just a brainy term for spaying or neutering. At Lucy’s Friends Pet Sitting, we require all animals in our care to be altered by six months of age. We began requiring this way back in 2009, after a trip to the state capital. We went to petition the department of agriculture to stop the practice of euthanasia via gas chamber. The gas chamber was a horrible, inhumane way to euthanize unwanted animals in the shelter system–nearly 300,000 a year in North Carolina ALONE. We lost the fight that day (but not in the long term; in 2014, NC shelters phased out the use of gas chambers) and decided one way to keep animals out of the shelter, and subsequently being euthanized, was to prevent unwanted pets in the first place. Thus, our new rule regarding unaltered pets. 

But there are other benefits to altering your pets. Mainly, disease prevention. Spaying eliminates the possibility of pyometra, and reduces the risk of reproductive cancers in dogs. Males have a reduced risk of cancer after neutering, and male cats typically stop spraying once they are ‘fixed’. And there is longevity, too–the Humane Society of the United States estimates that spayed dogs live 23% longer than unaltered female dogs. Altered male dogs live an average of 18% longer than unaltered males. 

The only way we’ll ever tackle the pet overpopulation problem is to adopt homeless pets and  get them altered. Lucy’s Friends is incredibly proud to be a part of such an important solution. 

Why is professional pet sitting worth paying for?

A Google search for pet sitters yields many results, including one site that proudly announces, “The most caring sitters will pet sit for free.”
To be sure, there are many people who will watch your animals at no charge. But for those who DO charge, it has nothing to do with how much–or as implied here, how LITTLE–they care about animals.
Here’s why we, and other professional sitters, charge for our services:
1. Pet Sitting is what we DO. Most pro sitters pet sit full time (like all day, every day, 365 days a year). We don’t split our time between walking dogs and working full-time at an office. Pet sitting is how we pay our bills and care for own pets.
2. We invest in our business. Pro sitters have things that ‘hobby’ sitters generally do not–like insurance (in case your dog bites someone while on a walk, or your vase from your honeymoon 20 years ago gets smashed during a game of inside fetch on a snowy day). Those insurance policies are essential but expensive for us to have.
3. Professional affiliations. Most pro sitters are members of organizations like Pet Sitters International, and that also costs money every year.
4. We invest in ourselves. Pro sitters tend to have extra training and certificates that better prepare them for the care of your animals. All those extra classes, certifications, and seminars cost money.
5. We LOVE animals! It’s why we do what we do, and why we work so hard and stay up to date on the latest care, training methods, first aid and CPR protocols, and everything else we invest in our company.

Do the most caring people pet sit for free? Not always.