There's little doubt that Mack is one well-loved feline.
Mack, a 16-year-old orange tabby tended by Don and Linda Huffman, has received acupuncture treatments from a holistic veterinarian and gets a special blend of Chinese herbs added to his food to keep him healthy.
When the Lawrence couple have to go out of town, they wouldn't think of boarding their "baby" at a kennel or just leaving him home alone for a couple of days.
They hire a professional pet sitter to come to their home and look after all of Mack's needs, as well as check to make sure everything is OK around the house.
"Cats need to be in a familiar place that's very quiet and peaceful. It's difficult enough when their people are gone," says Linda, who works at home as a distributor for a health-food business.
"Cats have such a heightened sense of territory, and when you take them out of their known surroundings it is extremely stressful. When you have an older animal like Mack, you want to eliminate as much stress as possible."
The Huffmans pay Kelli Church, owner of Critter Sitter, a Lawrence-based pet-sitting service, to visit their home daily whenever they are out of town.
"She makes sure that the house is secure, she checks on our pet, she plays with him and loves him, makes sure he has fresh, clean water and good food. She even does things like bring in the paper or the mail," Linda says.
The Huffmans are among many Lawrence residents who have come to rely on professional pet-sitting services to take care of their animals when they leave town. Some dog owners who can't come home from work at lunchtime even hire pet sitters to visit their homes and walk their dogs every weekday.
"Kennels are a wonderful place for some animals," Church says, "but any time a pet can stay in the comforts of his own home, it's less stressful."
Pick a safe pet sitter
When you hire a pet sitter, you are not only hiring someone to care for your pet - you're also granting them unsupervised access to your home and your belongings. So it's important to take the time to carefully check out potential pet-sitting services before settling on one. Pet Sitters International, the world's largest organization for professional pet sitters, suggests that pet owners should keep these quality standards in mind when selecting a pet-sitting service: ¢ The sitter is bonded and insured. A bond holds the sitter responsible for any theft of property that occurs during an assignment. Insurance is intended to take care of liability claims for bodily injury, personal injury or property damage to others that may be brought against pet sitters due to negligence. ¢ The sitter provides references. ¢ The sitter has adequate knowledge and experience in caring for pets and is clearly mindful of their safety and well-being. ¢ The sitter visits the client's home before the first pet-sitting assignment to meet the pets and get detailed information about their care. ¢ The sitter shows a positive attitude during the initial meeting and seems comfortable and competent dealing with animals. ¢ The sitter wants to learn as much as possible about the animals in his or her care. ¢ The sitter provides a service contract that specifies services and fees. ¢ The sitter is courteous, interested and well-informed. ¢ The sitter keeps regular office hours and answers client inquiries and complaints promptly. Source: Pet Sitters International, www.petsit.com.
And her clients enjoy the peace of mind that comes from knowing someone is coming over to check on their homes, too, she adds.
Wilma Wake started her Lawrence business, Professional Sitters Unlimited, 13 years ago. Most of her time is spent caring for elderly clients or children, but she added pet sitting to her business as a way to diversify her services.
She now has about 150 clients who hire her to look after their animals.
"I think all pets do better in their own surroundings, whether it's a dog or cat. Clients know without a doubt that their animal is going to feel more comfortable and less stressed. And the client knows that someone is going to be in and out of their home, making sure everything is OK," Wake says.
"It's a comfort level not only for the clients, but for the pets as well."
Wide range of services
People who are willing to hire a pet sitter are typically those who view their animals - whether a dog, cat, fish, bird or hamster - as a full-fledged member of the family.
"They love them, they give them excellent care, and they expect them to continue to have excellent care when they're gone (on vacation). They love their animals, and they are treated as well as kids," says Kathleen Womack, owner of Wing And A Care, a Lawrence-based pet-sitting service.
"The clients I deal with appreciate the fact that their pets are going to be lonesome, and they want them to be as comfortable as they can."
Womack, like other Lawrence pet sitters, tailors her services to the requests of her clients. During a visit to a client's home, she will walk dogs, clean litter boxes, groom and play with pets, and fill water and food bowls. But she's also happy to bring in the mail and newspapers, water plants, take out the trash and make the house look as though it were occupied by its owners.
Lawrence has several pet-sitting services available. Here are a few of the pet-sitting services in Lawrence, along with contact information and pricing for their services: ¢ Professional Sitters Unlimited, Inc., Wilma Wake. Cost per visit ranges from $10-15, depending on how many pets a client has. Visit Web site at www.prositters.com, or call 842-3301. ¢ Wing And A Care, Kathleen Womack. Cost per visit is $10, no matter how many pets a client has; three visits in one day cost $25. Call 838-3169 or (913) 634-8460. ¢ Lawrence Pet Friends, Denise Van Sickel. Cost per visit for dogs, $13; $7 for additional, same-day visits. Add $2 per additional dog each visit (approximately a 15-minute visit). Cost per visit for cats, $13 for up to three cats; $7 for additional, same-day visits. Add $1 per additional cat each visit (approximately a 15-minute visit). Visit Web site at www.lawrencepetfriends, send e-mail to email@example.com, or call 760-3946. ¢ Critter Sitter, Kelli Church. Cost per visit for dogs, $8; cats, $10, or $12 for two visits in one day. Cost for three visits in one day, $25. Ten percent of Church's profits go to support the Lawrence Humane Society. Call 766-1166, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Most Lawrence pet sitters are comfortable giving pets medication, too, such as pills or routine injections, such as insulin for diabetic animals.
Hiring a pet sitter doesn't seem to cost that much money.
A survey of pet-sitting services in Lawrence revealed that most pet sitters charge $10-15 per daily visit. But these rates may vary; pet sitters usually add a charge for additional pets in the home, or for added services.
Lawrence pet sitters say that their busiest times of the year are spring break, summer vacation and the holidays.
More people entering field
Professional pet sitting appears to be a growing business in Lawrence.
Denise Van Sickel, whose background is in managing pediatric dental offices, launched her new business, Lawrence Pet Friends, July 1. Before setting up her service, Van Sickel did plenty of research on the Internet.
"I got onto the Web site for Pet Sitters International, and I got excited and motivated right away. They've got this great organization for networking, they offer education and accreditation. I'm going through that process (accreditation) right now," she says.
She also consulted a book called "Pet Sitting for Profit," which she says is considered "the pet sitter's Bible."
"Reading that book was really the catalyst for going forward. My goal is for this to become an established business that people in Lawrence will look to for taking care of their pets," Van Sickel says.
Dave and Jane Henry hire Womack, owner of A Wing And A Care, to pet sit their toy poodles, Francie and Jolie, when the Lawrence couple go out of town.
"We don't have any children, so Francie and Jolie are our kids. And so I want somebody who's very trustworthy and who the pets can relate to. It was clear when Kathleen walked in that she was an animal person," Jane says.
"We use her two to three times a year, and we have her come over twice a day. The dogs love her."