Christmas Pet Sitting

We don’t spend Christmas in front of the TV

This Christmas (2017) will be the 26th Christmas Day in succession on which we have provided full-service Christmas pet sitting cover. It is by tradition the busiest day of our pet sitting year. For us, the advent to Christmas is as hectic as it is for anyone else. The traffic is snarled and steaming under the street lamps. Everything is last minute. Everyone is in a queue. And we join them but we aren’t queuing for the shops. We don’t need to buy anything. Instead, we are scurrying about the city picking up keys and taking late bookings from desperate pet owners. Just doing our best to keep on top of it all.

Pet Sitting on Christmas Day

Then with an early start, the busiest day is upon us. We fill our key-chains, gather up piles of Instruction Sheets and set off. And it is silent. The roads are empty. No one is going to work, no one is shopping, we have the city to ourselves. And so we go from house to house (discreetly – because we never advertise on our vehicles), quietly looking after our charges, reading your little Christmas notes and just enjoying the peace of Christmas Day.

By the evening, with only a few calls left to make, the taxis are out, the roads are a little busier – you need to keep an eye out for drivers who have had one too many. And then it’s done. Go home, prep down. Prep up for Boxing Day and pour out a big glass of wine. That’s Christmas, the same every year and, since the children have long left home – not even a tree.

If that all sounds rather bleak to you I am not about to help matters when I tell you that this busy winter workload continues until around the third of January. Only when the schools go back can we relax for a short time before the skiing season starts up.

Makers’ Day

Now, this will be news to you no doubt but the first Saturday after the schools’ Spring term begins is known as Makers’ Day. This is a celebration for those who have worked over the festive holidays to make Christmas happen. It’s non-religious, but in every other way it is the full ‘Christmas’ works, all of the presents and a banquet with family and friends gathered round. As a rule, I will book the day off – no pet sitting at all for me on that day.

Preparations for Makers’ Day don’t need to begin until the New Year. The pre-Christmas queues are now queues for the returned goods counter. Conversely, celebrators of Makers’ Day are now shopping in earnest. We have about a week to get ready. UPS isn’t run off its feet so online orders arrive in good time. No one is fighting us for the shelves – newly stocked with this season’s offer, (and still quite a lot of stuff in the sales).

The conversion, some years ago, from Christmas Day to Makers’ Day was a painful one. The pressure to conform to the de facto commercial version of a celebration is enormous, almost irresistible. But once made, it afforded (my family at least), a wonderful sense of release. And so this year, and I hope for many years to come, I will be one of those who helps to make your Christmas happen. But once the Christmas pet sitting is done – boy will I be looking forward to Makers’ Day!


dog walking

Single file traffic

A short piece about dog walking in Newcastle..

My attention was grabbed this week by an article headline in Pet Business World News. It read: “Everybody needs good neighbours!”

The article opens thus:

“Pets strengthen neighbourhood ties according to a new study conducted by the University of Western Australia in collaboration with the UK-based Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition, part of Mars Petcare.”

Well to any dedicated dog walker, (and I’ve been professionally dog walking one-on-one for the last 25 years), this hardly counts as breaking news – I thought. When you are walking with a dog it is often much easier to break the ice and open a conversation with someone you meet on the trail than when walking alone. This to me is one of the great plus points to walking dogs for a living.

When two dogs meet, more often than not (once they have figured each other out), they too find companionship on this and all subsequent meetings. Whilst this regularly results in two very muddy animals chasing each other through puddles and over fields, it gives two people an opportunity to discuss their dogs and pass the time of day. A good thing surely?

The Dog Walking Pack

But recently I have come upon increasing numbers of professional pack-walking dog walkers on my regular out-of-the-way routes. This is new. I am used to seeing them in the distance, on the Town Moor or around the country parks and landscaped collieries. But now, on the old tracks and bridleways, I frequently find myself part of a dog traffic jam, having to hold back my own client dog from a maypole of leads and dogs dancing around their professional walker.

The reaction of individual dog owners to this type of encounter is, I observe, much less friendly than it should be between dog walkers. The owner’s main concern is how they are going to negotiate the situation without becoming embroiled in a bark-fest with the pack or getting tangled up in leads. And the experience of the individual dog – facing a pack of six strangers coming the other way, can only be very stressful.

Luckily, with one-on-one walking, I am able to constantly reinforce good walking etiquette and training, in my clients. With regular eye contact and a deep understanding of each other, I rarely (in the case of most of my clients), need to return my dog to the lead – even when faced with an oncoming pack.

Most people I meet are surprised when I tell them that I am walking a client, because I am not their picture of a typical professional dog walker. So, here’s my a plea to pack-walkers: Please keep your business to the many wide open spaces that we are lucky enough to have in and around Newcastle and leave the rest of us to enjoy a sociable, individual dog walking experience on the back roads and bridlepaths, with our dogs, acquaintances, friends and neighbours.

[The PBW News article was based on a study lead by Lisa Wood, School of Population Health, The University of Western Australia. Full details of the study can be found HERE.]

Marketing of Pet Sitting - A mountain to climb

Pink Rabbit’s stomping ground

Marketing of Pet Sitting: I am now an old school pet sitter..

..a bit of a man-out-of-time type when it comes to developments in the marketing of pet sitting services. My business, Paws Indoors arrived early into this new market in 1991. We were part of a small, pioneering cadre of businesses in the UK that had spotted a need for some new sort of holiday-care for pets, something which improved upon the existing offer from catteries and kennels.

By the year 2000 this service was commonly known as “pet sitting”.

The initial idea occurred over a quarter of a century ago and I remember submerging myself in the detail of how such a business would work. There was no template and no one to ask. No Internet to refer to. No guidance at all. There was also no belief in the proposal. Not from banks nor from local start-up funding organisations.

To be fair, I didn’t look like a great prospect. My background was in Land Surveying. I had spent my life up to that point travelling around the world making maps and I had no previous experience with animals other than my own pets, nor any concept of how to run a business.

Yet there was one person who seemed to get my idea.

Marketing of Pet Sitting: But some background first..

In the 1980s a pervading zeitgeist was captured by the comedian, Harry Enfield with his: “loads ‘a’ money” catch phrase. This, after Maggie Thatcher had announced that there was “no such thing as society”. It seemed to me that everyone was out for themselves. To me, scrabbling around for a business idea, I figured this meant that there was no such thing as community. I wasn’t right about that of course, but I ran with the thought that neighbours didn’t have as much time for each other anymore.

Also, we were all much more mobile than we had ever been. We were commuting further, we were living away from family and we were holidaying abroad more than we had ever done in the past.

So, if you hate the idea of putting your pets into boarding, what were your options? No family around, no neighbours to call on. Everybody’s busy.

That was my argument. And the one person who seemed to get it was an advisor I met at the business start-up support organisation in Newcastle Upon Tyne: Project North East, (PNE). That person was Nicky Dickinson. Her particular interest in my business proposal stemmed from her background as a judge at Kennel Club pedigree dog shows. She also saw the sentiment and the need and she supported me through the first few years of getting established. A long time has passed since we last met but I will be forever grateful to you Nicky for grounding me and guiding me through those early years..

Marketing of Pet Sitting: Then technology..

When the Internet finally arrived in the UK: dial-up, Compuserve, Microsoft Windows 3.1, (remember any of that?), I discovered that pet sitting, (I had been calling my business idea a ‘neighbourly service’), was already at least a decade old in the States! Pet sitting it seemed, was what my business would have to become.

I used what I had discovered from the US to begin drafting a set of technical procedures, trying to encompass all possible situations that you might come across as a pet sitter; a missing cat, a burgled property, a delayed flight, and so on..

Without a standard insurance policy for pet sitting I sat down with a broker and within a few days we had one drafted and we put it to his underwriters. I needed legal agreements for clients and a contract of service with my pet sitters. All of this was brand new ground. And eventually, out of the unknown, our Paws Indoors pet sitting business was created. I was very proud of it.. And it has served me well – from the age of 30 to the age I am now (which, okay, is 55).

Marketing of Pet Sitting: I’m so far behind the times..

I recently joined a pet sitters’ forum on Facebook, a members only, pet sitters only, group. Its origins are American and it mainly discusses American pet sitting issues. In the short time that I have been in the group I have learned that pet sitting in the US continues to lead the UK version by a long chalk, and differs from the UK significantly in many ways. The US is always quick to embrace new technology.

The tech has raced ahead. I have a huge steel filing cabinet in my office in which are locked all of my clients’ (hundreds of them), details. I am a stickler for security and discretion where my job is concerned. But it’s all on paper, and that is not what the market expects these days. So my goal now is to get to grips with the new, smoother ways of providing this service, and at the very least, passing my old filing cabinet on to someone even slower than myself!

The market is also almost saturated now in the UK and I recognise I can’t stand still and watch it from the sidelines any longer if I want to remain on the inside. So my blog, at least in part, over the next year or so, is going to be the story of our transformation from a paper-based old hack pet sitter from the last century to something that can at least give some of our younger competition a cause for concern!

Thanks Kerren!

My daughter, Kerren has a Masters Degree in Marketing from Newcastle University. She moved me in this direction. She shoved a few times if I’m honest, trying to make me understand modern marketing of pet sitting. I have kind of got it now Kerren. That SEO lecture you dragged me to last week was well worth the effort.

So here goes..

© Steve O’Malley

(No animals were harmed in the writing of this post.)

Pink RabbitFollowing two weeks of learning, coding and re-writing, I believe I have finally managed to drag the old (1990s) Paws Indoors Pet Sitting website into the 21st century. I have checked it and checked it and checked it and can no longer find any errors in the pages. That doesn’t mean they are not there. If you spot one, please drop me an email, I’d be enormously grateful!

I have no fixed idea yet about what I’m going to post here. Maybe some stuff from my day to day pet sitting life. I might re-run some stuff from our pet sitters manuals. Also, I used to get published for my articles for and about the UK pet industry. I quite like the idea of returning to that – but without the daily deadlines. I guess I’ll just let it develop.

I’m not sure about what is the best way to allow comments either, so for the moment at least, I am keeping them turned off. Again, let’s see how it goes.

So, short and sweet – my first post. Here’s to many more.

© Steve O’Malley

(No animals were harmed in the writing of this post.)