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Monday, June 6, 2016

I live like a servant and it is my own damn fault

Summer is here!  Well, nearly... but it is vacation season and beach season! Well.... for everyone else.  This is the time of year when I reevaluate my life.  How many hours do I work? Why haven't I taken an actual vacation since 2011? Am I charging enough for my services (when I am walking around in 100 degree weather, barely able to breathe)?  Should I take summers off since I don't handle the heat well?  Do I take on too much? Do I deserve to have an actual life that does not involve work? Am I offending people by saying no?

These questions run through my brain all day everyday. People say that your job does not define you.  Well, in my case it does.  I kind of live and breathe animals.  I wake up to 4 cats in the bed, I feed the brood every morning, and then I leave the house at 7:30 a.m. to walk and feed other animals until about 3pm where I come and take care of my animals again. I rest a bit, and then go back out to take care of other peoples animals.  Then I come home to clean up after my own.  Sometimes along the way I find stray kittens that I have to bring home to save. (Yes, this happened 2 weeks ago)

I have sacrificed a social life as well as my free time for the past 6 years. Don't get me wrong, I was always a workaholic. The difference was that when I worked for a company, they forced me to use vacation days.  Boy do I miss that!  I try to please everyone and say yes when they need me.  It's nice to feel needed, but it sucks to feel the pressure of feeling SO needed that my own life suffers.

I used to stay overnight with dogs all the time.  When I was in my early 20's and lived in a crappy apartment with no cable and no washer/dryer, staying in an adult setup was a pleasure!  Now I am married with my own house, cable, and appliances and I just want my own bed!  I will do overnights from time to time, but when I do them I don't sleep very well and my cats go a little nutty.  It is a lucrative service that is needed often, but it just became extremely tough.

My business has grown and it has gotten to a point where I need to turn people down.  Not because I want to, but because there is literally not enough time in the day to accommodate everyone. I've had people beg, offer me a towncar with a driver, offer me double me rate, guilt trip me, and for what?  I have been doing this for 15 years at this point.  Two weeks ago I actually had a newer client request 2 walks one day.  When I got back to her about doing the walks, she said, "Oh!  I saw that you just rescued 2 kittens. It seems like you have a lot on your plate, so I got other coverage."  I was shocked and grateful and honestly a little teary because it made me realize that I can't remember anyone ever saying this to me before. In 15 years!

I take on last minute requests.  I help people out who are having emergent situations.  My phone goes off from 6 a.m. until 11 p.m. I try to do whatever I can to make my clients happy and to make them realize how much I really do care about them as well as their pets.  My entire day is filled with texts and emails asking, "Can you...? Will you... Are you available...? Can you? Can you ? Can you? "  It is extremely overwhelming and sometimes I just shut down and I do not answer until the next day.  Some people get concerned if they don't hear back within a few hours.  I need at least 24 hours to be able to respond.

As I turned 35 this year, I realized that my own life has been put aside for work.  I am taking a stand this year and making doctors appointments, taking beach days, and basically just giving myself a moment to breathe. Instead of filling every waking moment with work and catering to others, I am giving myself a cutoff time in the day where I will not do any more visits.  It is nothing personal to anyone.  If I say no, it is not because I hate you or because I am blowing you off.  I am just one person and I can only do so much in a 24 hour period. If I don't set limits for myself, I will just work until I crash.

So for those of you reading this that care, these are things that you can do to maintain your good relationship with your pet sitter/dog walker:

1)  Plan ahead!  Nothing worse than last minute trips you feel like you have to fit into your busy schedule

2) Have back up sitters!  I won't ALWAYS be available. Back ups are a must

3) When I tell you that I am unavailable do not beg or try to bribe me into doing what you want.  We sitters have to have personal lives as well.

4) Do not text about business after 9pm unless it is emergent.  I have already worked for 12+ hours and I do not want to think about scheduling work all evening as well

5) Make sure to be respectful and appreciative of your sitter and not treat them like hired help that doesn't deserve a life of their own.  We are in the service business, but we are not your slaves.

6) Treat us like adults. We are not 16 year old girls walking dogs after school. This is our livelihood, and although it is exhausting, we love it.

7) Always ask if we are available to do something.  Do not just assume and say, "I need you to come tomorrow at 5 and Sunday and 4."

Remember. You trust us with your house, your keys, and your 4 legged kids.  We hold that trust close to our hearts and we protect your house and keys and 4 legged kids.  We lock your doors, turn on your alarms, deal with the police when the alarm unexpectedly goes off, and we make sure your animals are safe and healthy.  It is as though you are all family to us. Your fur kids are our fur kids too. We just want to feel like we are appreciated. The old saying is really true.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

The Guardian of the Grass

Picture it:  It is 7 am on a Sunday morning and I am walking the dog that I just slept with for 3 days.  She woke me up at 6 and after trying to sleep for a little bit longer, I gave her breakfast and medicine and we headed out the door.  This morning I also had another dog to get to around 7:30 as well as a diabetic cat over 12 blocks away.  Instead of going our usual route up to 4th and Washington, I  decided to change it up and walk down Queen.  She peed a few times and we were passing Mario Lanza Park where she likes to roll around in the grass. ( only dog that I walk that stops mid walk to plop down in the grass and roll around)

Before I go any further, let's keep in mind that this dog has a dog park on one side and then "dog free" grass.  Why is it dog free?  Can they not sit down in it ? Can they just not use it as a bathroom?  It says it is a family friendly area, but I have seen families bring their dog with them to sit in the grass and picnic. I also passed by 2 piles of poop in said "family friendly dog free area".

Anyway, it's 7 am on a Sunday and I am just trying to get her to do her business and enjoy her outside time.  She walks over to the edge of the grass next to the bench where there is pretty much just dirt and leaves and she poops.  As a am standing there with poop bag on my hand waiting for her to finish, someone comes out of their house across the street with a dog to tell me that they really like to keep that area "dog free."  At 7am. On a Sunday.

She is going on about how the grass dies and how they seed and it's backbreaking work.... yada yada.  I am literally on the edge of the grass PICKING UP THE POOP and looking at her as though she is crazy.  I told her that I understand (which is true), but I am not IN the grass. And that she likes to roll around, it's her thing.  Why wouldn't that be allowed in a park?  They have fenced the area to seed it in the winter, I have seen it.  I know it's costly and a big pain, but here is the issue that I see.  This is a PUBLIC park.  The park is in the middle of a neighborhood with hundreds if not thousands of dogs.  Grass is scarce in the city - this park has 2 areas of grass.  Even if you walk a dog by the park, they say to themselves, "LOOK! IT'S GRASS!!"  The only way to even attempt to keep the hundreds of dogs off this grass is to build a fence around it. Even then, people would still feel entitled to put their dogs in the fenced area.  There is no such thing as a "dog free area" in this city, no matter how many people want to think that there is.  Trying to keep an area "dog free" is pretty much the equivalent saying that Philly restaurants are "child free zones." It is crazy and it's not gonna happen.  If you put a bench out, someone will sit on it.  If you have grass, a dog will pee on it.  That's just how it is. People bring their dogs ANYWHERE they want, regardless of signs, manners, or even laws.

I have seen people bring dogs into fenced in playgrounds with kids on Fitzwater between 9th and 10th.
I have also seen people put their dogs in the tiny fenced area on Bainbridge between 3rd and 4th.  They literally took the space to plant flowers down the strip between parked cars and people plop their dogs in there

People don't care, they will bring their dogs anywhere. And in a park with no fence that so many dogs walk through on a daily basis? Come on Queen Village Neighbors Association.  It's nice to think that you can keep the grass dog free, but you can't.  I understand where you are coming from completely, but it is a futile effort.   Especially when the 3 other neighborhood parks are closed and being renovated.  And you know what?  Public parks not only have dogs wanting to use them as a bathroom, but they have neighborhood cats and human beings that use parks as bathrooms when no one is around.  Trust me, I have seen it all.  There is human as much human pee on city surfaces as there is dog and cat pee.  And to have someone come out to talk to me about it at 7am on a Sunday when I am picking up poop on the edge of the grass is just ridiculous.  How about going after those who are leaving poop piles everywhere?  Or those who insist on walking their dogs off leash through the park?  Choose your battles QVNA people, I'm not the one that is causing any kind of trouble in this neighborhood.  I am all about the safety and cleanliness of the streets.  Watch out for those people that are actually breaking a law before you confront them on a Sunday morning at 7am and scold them for doing their job and obeying the law.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

First Impressions = Client Blind Dates

I always do meet and greets with new clients before working for them.  It is the nature of the business.  It starts with a phone call, a text, or an email.  We go over the basics, then we set a "date."   I usually try to meet people in the morning so that I am fairly fresh and don't smell like I have just walked 16 dogs. Sometimes I walk in there looking fresh and awake, possibly even dressed nicely.  Sometimes I walk in with drool and animal hair all over me after having worked a full day looking a bit haggard.

After doing this for 15 years and I have pretty much seen everything.  New meetings can usually go 1 of 3 ways.

Number 1:  The client knows EXACTLY what they want to tell you and they go into so much detail that you are there for at least an hour.   Don't get me wrong, I want to know as much as possible, but I don't always need to watch them show me all the different ways that they play with their cat (unless it's something really cool!)

Number 2: The clients welcome me into their home and silently stare at me until I ask all the questions.  I get it, they may have never done this before and they don't really know what to do.  I have to take charge and get all of the information that I need and hope that they are more comfortable than they appear.

Number 3:  The clients that are extremely prepared with notes and a key.  They give me a quick overview and I am outta there in 10-15 minutes.

I am perpetually early, which means that usually I have to wait for them if they are not home yet.  I have waited for up to 30 minutes for new clients to show up.  I have seen disastrous houses that clients don't mention.  I have seen impeccably clean houses that clients call disastrous.   I had a client greet me at the door with a large amount of cocaine all over his nostril.  I have been given full house tours and I have been given the quick kitchen/basement tour.  Some people have gone on a dog walk WITH me off the bat, some have handed me a key and I never heard from them again.

Depending on what time of day I come, the animals might feel differently about me as well.  If I come at the end of my day and smell like 20 different dogs, cats tend to hiss and run away.  Dogs are either engrossed or wary.  If I come first thing in the morning and I smell like my house and soap, I get entirely different reactions.

People are very very different in how they deal with certain situations.  Every new client meeting is an adventure and I never know what to expect.  I just always hope that a good story comes out of it.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

We miss you Jacob!

Last week we lost a furry part of our family. Little Jacob (Jacup) had a blood clot that came out of nowhere that left him paralyzed from the waist down and put him into immediate congestive heart failure. I found him in the morning and we rushed him to the emergency room at 7am. Unfortunately when something like this happens, there isn't really anything that can be done, so we had to make the choice to say goodbye to our little friend. He was so young and it is just not fair.  When we adopted him from the shelter, you could tell that he was badly bred.  He had some deformities and overall just seemed bewildered at life.  I fell in love with him immediately.

We took him home and soon realized that he didn't know how to be a cat.  He learned from the cats around him, and every day he became more of a cat.  I knew that because of his weird medical issues (intermittent daily vomiting, odd hair growth, corneal scar, crooked spine, insatiable hunger ) and physical abnormalities that he may not live as long as we wanted, but I certainly thought it would be longer than this.

videoNothing bothered him.  Nothing made him angry. He never hissed or growled.  He was literally the happiest and sweetest cat that I have ever known.  Every animal and person that came into our house was his friend.  He LOVED people food.  He LOVED chasing balls with bells in them.  And he LOVED sneaking up on you to lick your cheek.  He showed his affection in such an odd and amazing way.  He made us laugh every day and brought us such joy.  We were lucky to have had him for the short time that we did, I wouldn't trade it for anything.   The energy in the house is different and we all miss him terribly.  I can only hope that he has little cat angel wings and is looking over us all.

We dressed him as a bumble bee and took him out for Halloween

Confused when he was first at our house

Easter Hat

Sleeping with his best friend Max

Hanging out with the guinea pigs

He always made a bed out of my outerwear

Tolerating Max humps

Taking it out on the blanket by humping the fleece

Best buddies

Chin lick or chin bite?

He loved to sleep in any bag. Any time.

Bumble Bee

Persian brigade

Farmer Jacob

Christmas Jacob

Monday, March 28, 2016

Housecleaners are intimidating!!

Throughout the last 15 years, I have run into many different house cleaners from many different countries and I have to say that I have had a different experience with each one!  We have scared each other not knowing that the other was going to be there.  I hate to startle anyone and I usually try to just avoid them when I know that they are there, however sometimes due to the timing of visits, contact is unavoidable.

Many of them are from another country and either very sweet and apologetic or they are militant and angry that I am in their way. There is one lady (I think she is Polish) who cleans a few houses that I work for and she does an amazing job.  Although she has a sweet side, she is all business and very stern.  My last interaction with her was during our last snowstorm.  I walked in the door and we locked eyes.  She had just mopped the floors and glared at my dirty boots.  I quickly took them off and proceeded to do my "cat duties."    She called me upstairs to yell at me for the cats "going" on the bed in the master bedroom.  She just kept yelling, "Look!  Cat's go here! Ugh!  All over! You need to close door!" I told her that the cat just had a hairball on the bed, the cat did not go to the bathroom.  She did not believe me, so I showed her and smelled it.  Told her (with the universal sign for throwing up) that is wasn't urine.

I cleaned what I could, but washing bedspreads/sheets is not in my job description.  Especially for a hairball. Also, I leave the house as I find it.  If doors are closed, I leave them closed.  I don't take it upon myself to close doors that are normally open just because the cleaning lady told me to (even is she scares me a little)

Then there are the cleaning ladies that LOVE to chat.  They ask overly personal questions about my life and job and seem to lack every boundary known to man.  Are you married? How much do you make? How did you decide to do this? Is it good money? ( etc....)  Sometimes my client will warm me ahead of time and tell me to avoid their house between certain hours because their cleaning person is chatty.

After dealing with one of the chatty ones recently, I was annoyed and exhausted and ended up bumping into another one at a different apartment.  She was shocked to see me, asked if the owner was away and I said yes and told her how long I should be there.  She stopped, looked at me dead in the eye, and with a very serious voice (with a heavy accent) she said, "Your job.  Is none of my business."     Well it's about time!!!  I so appreciated that!  I feel the same way about hers! You do your thing, I do mine, and we are like 2 ships passing in the house.

Just another tidbit of the various obstacles I have to deal with doing what I do.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Lost a dog this week :(

One of my long time clients was put to sleep this week.  She was having GI problems for a bit and was rushed to the ER a few nights ago.  As it turns out she had a cancerous mass and was put to sleep.  She was a love - and I knew her well because I did many overnights with her. She would wake me up at 6 am with a freezing cold wet nose on my elbow to get me to let her out.  We would watch TV, we would collect shoes (she was a shoe hoarder), and once we went to the ER because she found a bag of baking chocolate and ate it all.  I tried to induce vomiting at home and she seemed to stomach the peroxide quite well. We had good times and she was nothing but a gentle sweetheart who just wanted love. The cat stole her bed on a regular basis and instead of fighting she just slept elsewhere. She will be greatly missed.  R.I.P. Bella

Sunday, February 21, 2016

HEADLINE: Woman Owns Dog - Has NO Emotion

Last week I was in Washington Square Park walking a sweet older Golden Retriever.

 This is a dog that seeks out love wherever he is.  Mainly from people, but sometimes from other dogs.  Usually he couldn't care less about other dogs in the park, but last week he would spontaneously get very excited with certain dogs!  We were walking in the park one day and I noticed that there was a girl walking a boxer towards us.  I never know how he will react, so I just played it cool and we kept walking.  They got very close, but the owner didn't say anything to me.  Normal dog etiquette in a park is to say, "Hey, can they say hello? "  or " Is he/she friendly?"  She said nothing and Finn seemed interested (as did the boxer) so I said, "You wanna say hi Finn?"  He then bounded over to the boxer and the woman (who were at that point about 2 feet away from us) jumping and smiling and showing interest.  So I said to her, "I guess he really wanted to say hi!  More so to you it seems ! "  He just wanted head pets from her.  She literally said nothing.  Looked at me, and at her dog, acted like she didn't want to pet him.... and seemed generally annoyed.  What she did not do was walk away from us and the boxer seemed thoroughly confused.  So I was completely weirded out and just talked to Finn saying, "Come on, let's go home...."  

Why would you walk your dog up to another dog and not speak? Or even acknowledge that the other person is speaking to you.  And then seem annoyed, yet not willing to remove yourself from the situation? This girl is probably in her early 30's and obviously taking the dog all over the city. I encounter dogs with owners and walkers ALL DAY LONG. I have never seen this happen.

Today I was walking another dog in a completely different neighborhood and we usually go to the church cemetery to "do our business."  We get to the gated entrance and I see her and the boxer again!!  She is reading the sandwich board in front of the church and trying to take a picture of it - however the boxer is sitting right in the middle of the entrance that I need to pass through.  The dog that I was walking this time can get a little crazy around other dogs so we try not to interact with new ones if we don't have to.  Here I am standing across the street , watching her take pictures of this church sign and after about 2 minutes I just decided to cross because they obviously weren't moving.  I stopped within a few feet and said, "Excuse me, we need to pass by and get in there, she's not always good with other dogs."  The girls reply was, " You are allowed to bring dogs to church?" And I said, "No... we aren't going TO church, we are walking around in the grass over here." (meanwhile the dog I had was pulling and barking and fussing trying to get at this boxer) She just looked at me blankly.  I asked of she could just move the dog out of the way so that we could squeeze by.  As she barely pulled on the leash calling his name, her reply was, "Oh, it's ok.  He won't move. He just won't move, sorry."      WHAT?????  You walked your dog ON A LEASH about a 1/2 mile from where I saw you the last time, but he "won't move."  So I had to drag an overly anxious dog right by him while he say stoic as can be.

Twice in one week this woman has driven me insane and I fear that I will keep running into her and be forced to say something.... unpleasant.   Here is a helpful hint.  When you own a dog and you don't want to interact with other people or dogs, stay away from heavily populated areas on nice days!!!!