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Anatomy of a Pet Sitting Visit - Part 2

(This is the second in a series about what happens at a pet sitting visit.)

Let's continue talking about how a pet visit plays out, shall we?

When we left Part 1, we were about to enter a client's house, so we will move on from there.

A pet sitter enters the home, and if the pets are not at the door to greet her, she locates them for, at the very least, a visual to make sure they are okay. I say just" a visual" at the least because sometimes a sitter has a pet that enjoys hiding under the bed or snoozing in some special place and they may not want to leave their spot to greet anyone. Unless an obvious issue is detected the second a sitter walks into the home, finding and greeting the pets to make sure they are okay is the first order of business.

The types of pets in the home will determine how this step plays out. If there is a dog or two, and if they don't have to go right out for a piddle, I would do a "safety check" before going out for the dog walk or doing anything else. However, if the dog looks like he is desperate for a piddle, then I'd do that first.

Today's post is about the importance of doing a safety check in a client's home and what that entails.

What is a safety check? I came up with this policy very early on in my pet sitting business. Nothing I read in any pet sitting literature before I started my business gave me the idea to do this, and I realized that a safety check is something that had to be instituted at each visit.

A short background of how I started Safety Checks:

One day, I walked into a client's condo and greeted her two cats (Hildy and Hershey). As I made my way into the kitchen to get their breakfast I noticed that the oven light was on. My client had inadvertently left the house without turning it off. I turned it off and continued on with the visit. If I hadn't been an observant person I might have missed that little red light, and it might have been on the entire time she was gone, or God forbid, a fire might have started due to some malfunction.

Not too many weeks after that, on Christmas morning, I walked into a client's home. The family had opened their presents the night before and left super early on Christmas morning for a ski trip. They wanted me to do an early breakfast visit. As I entered, I noticed that one of the cats was gagging on a long piece of ribbon from one of the presents that were left under the Christmas tree! I was able to immediately get the ribbon out, checked that the cat was okay, and then proceeded to pick up every ribbon and bow that I could find and put them "someplace safe" so this curious cat couldn't get at them. At the end of the visit, I noted in the log what happened and where they could find their Christmas ribbons.

These two events made me create my "Safety Check" policy. Basically, it went like this: besides making sure the outside of the house was A-OK, as noted in Part 1 of this series, I would do a walkthrough of the client's home as part of each pet visit. As I walked through the rooms, I'd look around for anything that could be of danger to pets and would adjust accordingly. I would tell clients this at our Meet and Greets and they would usually quite pleased with this concept. At the end of the visit, I'd make a note in the log to let the clients know of any changes I had to make to accommodate the safety of the pets.

These are the things I would look for while doing a safety check:

  • Anything a pet could ingest that would be a danger such as ribbons, small objects, chemicals, dangerous plants.

  • Anything that could injure a pet such as knives sticking up in a dish strainer that a cat might rub against, lick, or jump onto while getting on the counter.

  • Make sure all other interior doors like sliding doors, and doors to the garage entry were closed and locked.

  • Dangerous things left available in garbage cans. Note: I had one cat who loved to jump from the kitchen counter to the cat tower and sometimes he would land in the garbage, so the garbage can ended up being put in the hall closet while clients were away.

  • Anything that a pet could turn on by mistake, or out of curiosity, such as paper shredders, stoves, and ovens. I once cared for 3 border collies who were adept at accidentally turning on their owner's gas top burners. I found that out by walking into their kitchen one day and seeing 4" flames coming out of the stovetop! I kid you not! These dogs were large and they'd jump on the kitchen counters and rummage around when their owners weren't home! In the future, the knobs were removed before the clients left, or I'd have to remove them if they forgot. Another elderly client left the home with a pot of boiling water on the stove. In this instance, it was the dog who led me right to it the minute I walked into the home! Sure enough, the pot was out of the water and starting to smoke. (Good dog!)

  • Opened windows were closed.

  • House temperature was checked to make sure it was warm enough in the winter or cool enough in the summer.

  • Toilet seat covers and washer/dryer doors were closed to avoid accidental entrapment or drowning.

  • Bowls of candy or food items that were unsafe for pets were removed. Pets may not bother these things when owners are home, but when left at home under a different schedule, they can get bored and get themselves into things they normally wouldn't.

  • Curtain and blind pulls were adjusted for safety. Cats especially can get themselves tangled in these strings and it could end in either the curtains being pulled down, a distraught and trapped cat, and at worse - death by strangulation.

  • Interior doors are secured open so pets don't accidentally trap themselves in a room. Example: I had visited 3 sweet cats on Christmas Eve and was back bright and early on Christmas morning for their breakfast visit and to make sure "Santa Paws" delivered their gifts, and although all three cats would normally run to greet me, nobody showed up at the door. Where were they? Well, their owners had several items of clothing draped over the top of their bedroom door and while the cats were playing a racing around one of them must've moved the door. The clothes fell off the door, causing the door to close, and trapping them in the bedroom. I discovered the cats sitting on the bed looking calm. I didn't see any poopies around the room and they didn't look distressed so I was thinking that they couldn't have been trapped more than a few hours. After that incident, if I saw clothes or anything, that might cause a door to trap a pet, I'd put a shoe or something I found nearby to prevent the door from closing.

  • Medication containers left open. This happened more times than I care to remember, especially with elderly clients.

  • Irons left standing on ironing boards. This is so dangerous. Pets playing can accidentally hit the board and topple a heavy and pointy iron on top of themselves. I'd plug it, take the iron off the board, wrap the cord around it, and place it on the floor out of harm's way.

  • Brooms and other things that are propped against walls or counters that could easily fall and clunk a small animal on the head. Once I even had a not-too-smart client leave a rifle leaning against the wall!

  • Plastic bags left around that a small animal could get into, tangled up in the handle, or suffocated by getting inside and not being able to get out.

  • Radios - while these aren't safety issues per se, there were many times that I'd enter a house to find radios blasting either because the owner left it at that volume or because the pet did something to it to increase the volume.

  • Alarm clocks buzzing. Sometimes I'd walk into a home and hear the loud repetitive sounds of an alarm clock and the pets looking at me like "please make it stop!".

  • Pet Toys and leashes. If using the owner's leash, give it a check for safety so it doesn't break on you when you are out walking the dog. While playing with a pet, if their toys look very worn or unsafe, remove them from circulation and leave a note for the client. Never throw a toy away, just put it someplace safe, and let the owner decide what to do with it.

As you can see, safety checks are proactive things that sitters can do to make sure the pets in their care are not injured in any way, or problems don't erupt in the home. Additionally, sitters must realize that sometimes when clients leave for the day, or for their vacation, they might be racing out of the house to meet a plane or a deadline. They don't intend to leave things unsafe for their pets, but it is just something that happens!

Clients are thrilled to know that sitters go the extra mile to make things safe for their pets. It is one of those things that make a good pet sitter an invaluable resource for their clients.

Stay tuned for Part 3 of the Anatomy of a pet visit.

Questions for Pet Owners:

What things can you check before you leave your home to make sure your precious pets aren't injured or trapped from the time you leave your home until your pet sitter arrives for their first visit?

Action point: If your pet sitter doesn't do Safety Checks, talk to them about it, and ask them to add it to their "to do" list".

Question for Pet Sitters:

Do you have a Safety Checklist? Will you consider doing safety checks if they are already not part of your protocol?


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