Being a pet sitter is a tremendous responsibility. You’re entrusted with the care of other peoples’ beloved pets, and — in many cases — with access to their home and possessions as well. A successful pet sitter is meticulous, caring, patient and responsible.
The best thing I’ve ever done was become a pet sitter. I can’t imagine any other career as fulfilling and fun as the one I have. But we pet sitters are human, which means that, despite the best attention to detail, calamities are going to happen. Pets don’t always react the way we want or need them to in any given situation. Illness, anxiety, excitement, equipment failure and more can lead to disaster.
Here are 3 personal stories to show you just what I mean.
Walking a dog who pulls is not a fun experience for the dog or for the dog walker. Dogs who pull too hard often choke themselves in the effort to move farther and faster — while the person behind them tries to keep from being yanked off their feet. As you can imagine, this put tremendous pressure on the equipment (harnesses and leashes).
I have some dogs just like this. And the inevitable did occur – the dog was pulling so hard that he managed to snap his leash.
This is a very dangerous situation. The dog is now free to run wherever he wants, including into traffic or smack into other dogs who may react aggressively. So what do you do?
The first thing is to not panic. Whatever you are feeling is going to be in your voice; if you’re calling to a dog in fear or anger, they’re going to react to that by running away. Don’t chase aggressively — this can scare a dog or make them think you’re playing a game. Speak calmly, and if you’re smart, you’ll carry some treats with you.
Most dogs have some sort of food motivation, and if you’re calm and happy-seeming, you can get their attention and wave the cookie. Because you don’t appear angry or threatening, the dog is usually happy to return to your side for the cookie.
With my client’s dog, this was the case. He bounced right over once I said the magic word. Of course, I had to hang on to his collar all the way home, but the important thing was he was safe. The client invested in a stronger leash, a harness and promised to leash train their dog. As for me, I now carry a backup leash wherever I go.
Catastrophe on the Roof
This story is from a friend of mine; we’ll call him “Brian.” Brian agreed to watch a woman’s 3 cats while she was away. It was a pretty standard deal: feed, water, scoop litter and playtime. What the client failed to mention was that she had a window with no screen open upstairs.
Pet sitters don’t — or shouldn’t — tour people’s homes unnecessarily. We’re not there to invade your privacy; we’re there to take care of your animals. So Brian didn’t realize that there was an open window until he arrived at the house the next morning — and found 1 of the cats peering down at him from the roof, meowing loudly.
Naturally, Brian went upstairs to try and coax the cat back inside. And that’s when he realized that somehow the cat had managed to get his tail stuck and couldn’t get loose.
Climbing out onto the roof was not an option, so cue the call to the local fire department, who showed up in the big red ladder truck to lend a hand — which, of course, instigated the curiosity of the neighbors, who gathered in full force to watch the drama play out. The cat was rescued safely and checked over by his veterinarian as a precaution, but he was fine.
Needless to say, Brian did not hand out his card in that neighborhood.
When a Dog Bites
One thing that people don’t always realize is that their dogs aren’t going to behave the same way for a pet sitter as they do for their them. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard “She definitely doesn’t bite!” during an initial meeting — then 2 days later, when I attempt to attach a leash, I have to to play “dodge the teeth.”
In this particular incident, a meeting involving a friendly Lab named Lucy and her humans went very well, and I didn’t anticipate too many problems walking her. However, when I arrived the following day and attempted to attach the leash, Lucy wasn’t having it. And she let me know in the clearest way possible — with her teeth.
So here I am, bleeding, with a dog that still needs to be walked lest she ends up toileting in the house. How to fix this disaster?
First, with bandages and a calm demeanor. Lucy is not a vicious dog — she’s anxious. I made the mistake of not reading her body language quickly enough to determine that she’d need some coaxing. Once bandaged, I sat down and simply talked to Lucy, while offering a cookie or 2. It took some time, but eventually she allowed me to leash her, and we went for a walk.
This seems like an awesome job to have:
Learning From Mistakes
In every disaster, there is an opportunity to learn something. From these 3 disasters, we have 3 important takeaways:
- Backup equipment is a must. You don’t have to spend top dollar on it, but have a leash and/or harness ready in case the pet’s equipment fails. If you have a dog who pulls significantly, you may even want to walk them with both leashes attached.
- Ask people about any and all routines involving the home. I always ask what their security routine is regarding windows and doors. Use your eyes when you arrive and depart, and look for any problem areas.
- Never assume any pet will not bite or scratch because they didn’t when their humans were around. Any pet is capable of inflicting injury, given the right circumstances. Budget extra time for the first few visits so you can take your time getting to know the pet’s body language and comfort zones.
Pet sitting is the best job in the world, but like any job, it has its low points. Stay calm when they happen, be honest about them and learn to laugh about them — some are simply unavoidable.