Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
How long have you been in the pet sitting business?
C-U Pet Sitting Service (CUPSS) has existed since 2000, when I retired from my position as Assistant to the Director of the National Center for Supercomputing Applications after fifteen years (plus 10 years’ labor in various other offices prior to NCSA). Once my little cottage’s mortgage was paid off, I was finally free to follow my heart and “adopt” cats, dogs, and other pets through my wonderful career as a pet sitter. Prior to 2000, I loved pets all of my life, and often cared for those of vacationing friends and neighbors, as I had done since my childhood. My own sweet black Labrador, Babe, lived to be 14 (if you care, there is a photo of her with me at the bottom of my web site’s home page). I now share my 950 sq. ft. home with 3 cats: two 15 year old sisters (KitKat and Pixel), and one who was brought to my door as a sick and tiny “little kitten” in desperate need of a “mom” — thus her name remains Little Kitten, even though she’s a huge 10 year old beauty now. CUPSS’ business flourished immediately, and while I had planned for it to be a part-time endeavor, it quickly became a full-time operation. For me, this is a labor of love as well as my sole source of income. I have helped at least five other pet sitters get started since 2001, and am happy to refer clients to them or others if I feel they are better suited to the animal than I am, or if I am already booked up. Pet sitting is a relatively new service to many pet owners, but the peace of mind it affords them is unbeatable by a cage in a vet’s back room or some concrete kennel. Not only is your home secure and disease-free, but your pets KNOW you’re coming back to them — no more feeling abandoned!
How many clients do you take?
I have about 50 regular clients who leave their house keys with me permanently (I call this joining my Key Club), and another 20 or so who only need my services once or twice a year. I prefer to service only 2-3 clients per day (which often means 6-9 visits per day, if they are dogs). But during the busy summer vacation months (June – August), more often I make 7-8 visits per day, 7 days a week. Of course, there are times when I have only one client per day, and vacation/holiday times when I have as many as 16 visits to make in one day. The lighter my schedule, the more extra time I have available to spend with your pets (at no cost to you). I especially try to spend extra time with “single” pets (ones without multiple pets in their household). This occupation becomes stressful during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays and the summer vacation months, when I have to take bookings on a first-come, first served basis. For example, in 2006, the last half of December was entirely booked up by mid-September! “Booked up” means that I have filled eight 45-50 minute slots per day, but during the end-of-year holidays I will book twice as many visits as normal and work from 9AM to midnight to satisfy as many of my regular clients as I possibly can. However, If I get exhausted myself, the pets lose out on the quality of my devoted attention, and they NEVER understand my lack of enthusiasm. My motto has always been, “Quality, not Quantity.” If I have to turn you down or refer you to a pet sitting colleague, therefore, please know that it is because I cannot cheat the pets already booked to be under my care. I may not always be able to accommodate your pet’s exact feeding schedule (especially if you’re a pre-dawn riser), but will do my best to arrange my route and timing to make sure everyone remains happy and healthy. Most pets understand that their routines are a little different with a pet sitter than with their “parents,” and find easy compensation in receiving lots of exercise, play time, and hugs from someone who is focused ENTIRELY on their needs and wants.
Are you insured against theft of my property and injury to my pet(s) and yourself?
Yes; I carry full liability insurance through my membership in Pet Sitters Associates, LLC. I am also a long-standing member of Pets Sitters International.
How long are you visits?
45-50 minutes each, more than twice as long as most other pet sitters. In the case of driving to Mahomet, St. Joseph, and other outlying towns, part of that time might be needed as driving time if the weather is especially bad; usually, however, 45-50 minutes is the time I actually spend WITH your pets.
What do you provide with your service? What do you do while at my home?
Of course, this depends on what kind of pets you have. Cats usually require only one 45-50 minute visit per day. Dogs with excellent bladder control can manage with just two 45-50 minute visits per day, but remember that means they are alone in the house for two 11-hour blocks every day. Three visits is best for them (I usually aim for 9-10 AM, 3-4 PM, and 10-11 PM). I bring in your mail and newspapers, open/close draperies, turn on/off lights, will water a reasonable number of plants, and do anything else necessary to make your home look occupied. I scoop litter boxes every visit and remove the used litter (either put it out in your outdoor garbage can or take it with me, so that it doesn’t cause odor in your house). For cats, I bring along some new toys to engage them in play (if they’re interested in that). Everyone’s favorite is a flying feather wand toy called “Da Bird.” With the owner’s approval, I may offer a pinch of loose catnip on a throw rug or in a small box, so the cats can roll in it. For dogs, I am happy to take them for a 20-30 minute walk if neighborhood safety and weather permits, and if the dog is leash trained and not aggressive toward other dogs or people. Usually my clients have fenced yards, and the dog(s) and I play safely in their own yard during my visit. I will scoop poop in either case (walk or yard play) if that is your usual habit. Of course, I clean their food and water dishes and refill them (with either dry or canned food, as you direct me). I DO insist that all pets in my care remain in my presence at all times (i.e., outdoor cats have to become INdoor cats during your absence, since I cannot wait around for hours until kitty decides to come home). I have given pills and insulin shots to agreeable cats, but we would have to run a test to be sure your pet accepts me in this role before I can accept you as a client. As long as there is no trauma involved, there is no extra fee for administering medications.
What do you expect of us as homeowners and pet guardians?
For liability reasons, I make every visit myself, and will not share responsibility of your pet(s) with a friend or neighbor. Please do not ask me to pet sit for just SOME of the days you will be away. I take the responsibility of your home and pets very seriously, and I must know that, when I return, your home will be as secure as I left it on my last visit. Prior to enforcing this policy, I have arrived to find cats locked out on unheated porches (whoops, the neighbor didn’t check to be sure they were all inside before locking up). I have arrived to find unsupervised puppies put out in the back yard by a cleaning crew, in the heat of summer, with no water bowl. So experience has taught me that I have to be the only person in your home while you are away. Please be sure to cancel all cleaning crew visits during your absence. Also, even cats can get into trouble when they’re bored and thinking up new ways to amuse themselves, so it’s imperative that I visit at least once every day. Please do not ask me to come every other day. Their health could depend on me catching a problem and rushing them to the ER. Finally, in winter months you should make advance arrangements to have someone come to shovel your walks if we get more than 2 inches of snowfall, to clear a safe path for me to get from my car to your door without fear of slipping on ice. I have your pets – and probably quite a few others – depending on me to stay well and on schedule no matter what the weather brings, but I will not have the extra time and/or energy to shovel out both my house and a half a dozen clients’ houses, too.
What are your fees?
My fees vary depending on what kind of pet(s) you have, how many pets you have, how many visits per day they require, and how soon before your departure you are booking my services. The current Rates Chart (dated January 1, 2007) is downloadable from my web site. My Basic Rate for one visit per day with 1-2 cats, with 2-8 weeks’ advance notice, is $17.00 per visit. Two visits per day are $30.00. For 3-4 cats, with the same advance notice, the price would be $21.00 for one visit and $37.00 for two visits. Basic Rates for three visits per day with 1 dog, with 2-8 weeks’ advance notice, is $50.00 per day. Add a second dog, with the same advance notice, and the fee for three visits per day is $70 per day. For homes with a combination of different species of pets, I charge full price for the primary species plus half price for the secondary species. For example, a home with 3 dogs and 2 cats would pay full price for the 3 dogs’ visits plus half price for the cats (since, for so many critters to care for, I will no doubt be there for twice as long each visit to be sure everyone has had personal attention). In all cases except holidays (actual dates are listed at the bottom of the rates chart each year), if I am booked with more than 8 weeks’ notice, I offer a 10% discount. If I am booked with 4-14 days’ notice, I charge 10% more than the Basic Rates. If I am booked at the last minute (3 days’ notice or less), the fee is 25% over the Basic Rates. Everyone also pays a small gas surcharge for each booking (seven cents per mile). This is based on the actual mileage from my home to yours, multiplied times the number of visits I make, and will be included in the fee quote given you at the time I email confirmation of your booking to you.
What if a problem with my pets were to arise? Do you take them to a vet?
It’s never happened (knock on wood), but I always ask that you notify your regular vet that I am authorized to bring them in if I feel they are in need of non-emergency care (in those cases, I would try to call you and discuss it first). If I arrived to find an animal in real distress, I would rush it to either the UI Vet Med Emergency Clinic or the Animal Emergency Clinic of Champaign County (located at 1713 S. State Street, near St. Mary’s Road where it becomes Fox Drive). These are both excellent emergency facilities. I would probably go to whichever was closest (the Animal Emergency Clinic is, at this time, for evening/overnight care only). Once there, I would try to contact both you and your regular vet. When you download the 2-page Client Information Sheet from my web site, you will see that I request both vet information and your destination information. I put this form in your client file, and keep that file in my vehicle whenever I am pet sitting for your critters. We update your destination information via email for each booking.
How do I go about giving you the keys to my place... is there an initial visit?
Yes, once we agree via email that you wish to hire my service, I come to your home for a free initial interview. I try to arrange this within a few days of your departure, so that your pet(s) have a fresh memory of me. You will need to have the Contract and Client Information forms filled out (or feel free to email them to me in advance of the initial visit, and include any detailed instructions that I can use to get to know your pets’ needs and routine). You’ll show me where the food, leashes, brushes, pet carrier(s), and vet records are kept, and I get to meet the critters (my favorite part!). Often cats are not particularly thrilled with meeting me during this first session, but it’s important to be formally introduced by you as being allowed into their domain. Often they warm up to me once they understand that I’m their only source of love and attention (smile). If they are particularly shy, I do the “chores” part of my visit first, then sit quietly on the floor and let them come to me in their own time. I do insist on seeing them every visit, even if I’m only seeing a lump hiding under the bed covers or huddling behind a desk (some of my clients are VERY shy). I ask you to write down and then show me the commands YOU use for your dog(s) (everyone’s are a bit different), and I check that each dog will respond and obey me. At this initial visit, you give me keys to your home, which I tag with the PETS name, not yours (in case my key ring is lost or stolen). If you choose to give me a key to keep in my permanent collection, thus saving me two trips to your home every time you book my service, I give you a $5 discount off bookings of two visits or more (I call this joining my Key Club). If you do not wish to do that, however, I have no problem returning the key within a day or two after you return. I also have a CUPSS Drop Box on my front porch which is convenient for clients wishing to leave their keys on the way out of town, and pick them up when they return (earning themselves the same discount deal as Key Club members get!). In all but single-visit cases, I leave a written Pre-Paid Invoice and a written Report detailing how the visits went. These written items also jog your memory to make the required CALL IN WHEN YOU RETURN (a very important part of our agreement). If something were to happen to you to delay your return, and you were unable to call or email me with at least a 12 hour notice, I would continue caring for your pets past the agreed-upon end of the booking (although the additional fee would be billed from the right-most column of the rates sheet). I consider myself responsible for their care until I know you are back home and have taken up that task again. I therefore request that you ALWAYS check in, no matter what time you return home, so that I know you are safely back. I may not be home (or may be asleep), but if you leave a message on my business answering machine, I will hear it and you will not be charged for additional visits.
Do you provide recommendations from other clients as to the quality of your services?
I have several letters of recommendation from different types of clients, who list their phone numbers or email addresses if you care to question them. These are among the other documents available as downloads from my web site.