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Pet sitters: 16 things to be mindful of during this festive season

Pet Sitters must be extra vigilant this time of year and here's why....

The time we have between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day is a busy time. For those who are pet sitters, it is a time when they will find themselves in the homes of many people who are celebrating the holidays in a variety of ways.

Each home will be different and sitters will find anything from no decorations at all to homes decked out to the hilt with every sort of tinsel and treat abounding. Although festive and beautiful some of these scenarios can create issues for pets and pet sitters.

It's important that sitters be vigilant.

I think it is safe to say that most, if not all, pet sitters are careful while doing their holiday rounds at client houses. However, sometimes new sitters need some tips, and sitters who've been around for a long time might grow lax due to familiarity with the holiday pet sitting routine or their clients' homes and might need a friendly reminder or fresh motivation to keep both eyes open.

I started my pet sitting business in the month of January so it was almost a year later that I had to deal with my first year of holiday season pet visits. I had learned a lot of tips and tricks of pet sitting during that time, but I learned even more between that first Thanksgiving and New Year's Day.

Let me give you a quick example of a lesson learned:

One of my clients, during my first Christmas in pet sitting, had two adorable cats. Her family was visiting as of December 23rd and the entire family would be up and out of the house early on that Christmas morning to head up to their northern New England Ski Cabin for the week. Needless to say, that was a busy couple of days for my client.

We had a phone conversation before her relatives came and firmed up pet sitting duties. She mentioned that she received some poinsettia plants and I asked her to please put them out of reach of the cats. As you probably already know, Poinsettias aren't friendly to a cat's stomach and I wanted to avoid that problem. I also asked her to please put away any candy or anything that looked remotely interesting for cats to chew on. The family left around 5 AM that Christmas Day and I was to come at 7 AM for the cats' feeding, litter box care, and playtime.

On Christmas morning I arrived at the house right at 7 AM. She had a big foyer and as I walked in, I put down my pet sitting "go" bag (my extra supplies), and as I looked down the hall I spotted one of the young cats choking with a string of ribbon hanging out of her mouth. I ran over got the ribbon out and sat with her on my lap, checking her out. After a minute she was calm and her breathing was normal and quiet. The other cat was there and seemed relieved along with me.

Once I knew the cats were okay, I had to settle my own self down because that is the last thing I had planned to see and experience at 7 AM on a Christmas morning and my heart was racing! As I sat on the floor, with one cat on my lap and the other sitting next to me, I glanced around the house. The living room had a beautiful tree with opened presents scattered about the floor - ribbons everywhere. Dishes of candy and nuts were on the coffee table. In short, cat dangers were abounding! Yes, and the poinsettias were up, but not out of reach of the cats.

So, lesson learned - people who are partying and running out for an early morning trip don't always remember to make their homes pet safe before they leave. The first thing I did was gather everything that was a danger to the cats and put them in a hall closet. I left a note for the client of where things were and why.

While I was in the kitchen getting the cats' breakfast I noticed that one of the cats was trying to jump off the table onto the top of the lidded garbage can, but it was one of those trash cans with the top that rocks back and forth. I thought forward and figured that if she was doing that with me there she'd probably also be doing that when I wasn't there. Plus the owner had the can full of food items and stuff from her party, so I took the entire can, tied up the bag, and put it in the garage away from the cat's curiosity.

I guess what I'm trying to say here is that pet sitters - yes, have a conversation with pet owners before their trips when they are going away for any part of the season, but also figure that they will be busy and will probably overlook something. This is where you come in to sometimes save the day with your quick actions and preventative measures.

When my client returned after a few days and read the notes I left, she called to tell me she was home (one of my policies that clients had to call me when they returned), she was very very grateful for my thorough care of her cats. I would like to tell you that the next holiday season she did a better job with it, and although it was a little better, I was still going around picking up ribbons, etc...

Here are some things a pet sitter should converse with clients about before their trips and also be aware of when they get to the clients' homes for pet sitting. I am thinking primarily of this festive season but some of these dangers can be year-round:

1. Ribbons, bows and scotch tape can choke or entangle a pet. A pet caught in ribbons will try to eat it or run away and while running away can get hurt, knock over other things, etc..

2. Candy and food items can be left out so do a search of all the rooms for these items. Even put candy bowls with covers away because pets are smart and can open things.

3. If there is a live Christmas tree in the house talk to your client about watering it before they go and leaving out a watering can so you can do it while they are away. Make sure the lights on the tree are off and unplugged.

4. Encourage the client to anchor the tree against the wall so pets don't knock it down when they are away. Yes, I've seen a very young cat race down the stairs and take a flying leap into the family Christmas tree at breakneck speed, knocking off ornaments, and I just caught the tree in time as it started to topple over.

5. Vacuum up pine needles of live trees. Your client should tell you where the vacuum is kept.

6. In the kitchen, make sure sharp things like knives and forks are put away, that dish soap containers have their lids snapped on tight, and that toilet bowl covers are down, and that human medication bottle tops are secured tightly.

7. Keep an eye open for Christmas packages left on front and back steps and bring them in.

8. Check the temperature in the home. For pet sitters who live in colder climes this time of year can bring furnace problems so get the name of the clients' oil and gas companies so you know who to contact if you can't reach the client directly.

9. If you live in a colder climate a pet sitter's car should have emergency items in it such as flashlights, shovels, sand, extra gloves, etc.... These things come in handy if you get stuck in the snow - and this does happen!

10. Make sure you get a client's snowplow person or company's contact information and talk to your client about the time you'll need to get into their driveway. Most places do not allow cars parking on the road during snow events so you must be able to get into the client's driveway. (I learned that lesson by having to walk about an eighth of a mile from a client's neighbor's driveway because I couldn't get into the correct driveway due to a big mound of snow. I had to ask the neighbor for permission to park.)

11. Have a Plan B in case of a huge blizzard and your trip to a client's home is delayed. For example, at the visit just before a storm hits, put out some extra food and water bowls to tide the pet over should you not be able to get to the home for a couple more hours. At least you will know that the pet will have some food "just in case". If this last visit is in the morning hours, then leave a light or two on in the house and outside the house so the pet will have light to see inside (speaking more of dogs than cats here) until you get there after dark, and you'll have light to get into the house.

12. Each type of pet has its own needs so think through your list of pet sitting visits for the day and what specific needs will you need to meet under various circumstances.

13. After taking a dog for a walk, clean off his/her paws thoroughly. Licking rock salt off of their paws is not good for them so take a few extra minutes to dry off the dog and clean the paws with a warm damp cloth (carry extra in your "go" bag) or have them stand for a minute in a small container of warm water - one or two paws at a time. A little time-consuming yes, but well worth it.

14. Be mindful that wintry weather may delay a client's return so if foul weather is on its way start doing some thinking of how you will meet the needs of all on your pet sitting roster. Sometimes that means rearranging a few pet visits at the last minute. For instance, if a client has a pet that needs early morning medication will be returning a day late, then you might have to move that pet visit stop to earlier in the morning and push other pet visits for pets who do not need medications, to a slightly later time.

15. Leave "buffer" time in between pet visits because weather or holiday traffic may slow you down and you don't want to rush and find yourself in an accident or get a ticket for going too fast so give yourself extra time.

16. As you are driving to all your pet visits during this season - remember to have fun! Play some great music in your car, take a few snacks you can munch on while driving between client homes, bring a hot carafe of tea or coffee in your car, bring some extra warm socks and dress in layers so if you get warm you can adjust yourself, and think happy thoughts! Keep yourself focused on the real meaning of Christmas or Hannuakh and the promise of the new year ahead!

Well, here you have it, some of my tips to help you in your festive season pet sitting visits! And in this "year of Covid" remember the hand sanitizer!


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