Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Expert Advice: Important Questions to Ask Your Potential Dog Walker

You may know that Walks 'N' Wags Pet First Aid was initially a mobile dog walking and pet sitting company. That's right, for 10+ years we zoomed around to our client's Vancouver homes collecting and walking our furry dog friends.

Securing new dog walking clients always went the same:
1. A phone call or email would come in requesting service for an animal.
2. We would determine whether the inquiry lived in our geographical service area and was agreeable to our fees
3. We'd arrange a complimentary meeting at their home to obtain care information and pickup house keys.

The troubling thing was, many of these clients didn't have a clue what they were looking for in a dog walker. We truly felt we were the "BEST" but they didn't really know what stood out between "us" and "them".

To delve into this deeper, I consulted colleague Vanessa Johne, owner of Vancouver's Best Friends Pet Care. Vanessa took over our pet care operations when we decided to focus solely on Pet First Aid. I figured that between the two of us we could help pet owners make an educated decision in who to trust with their furry family members.

Me: "What 3 pieces of information do clients usually NOT ask you that you wish they would?"
1. "New client enquiries rarely seem to ask prior to meeting if we are licensed/insured/bonded. And if they do ask, they never ask me if we will provide them with proof of that at our initial meeting.
2. NEVER do I get asked for references, I keep some on hand just in case someone asks for them, however in the past three years I've not handed them to anyone.
3. I'm never asked about the training process for my employees nor how their dog specifically will be handled and transported."

Hard to believe isn't it? You are giving the keys out to your home and you don't know the background of the people entering? You don't know how these people are trained nor how your pet will be cared for all day? Sounds scary! People need to be more educated about what's going on with their pets!

I asked Vanessa: If you were hiring a dog walker, please share a list of other questions that a client should ask and why?
Vanessa replied with a lengthy list, clarifying "here are the essentials, though people should also have more specific questions relating to their personal situation".

- how long have you been in operation?
- how many staff do you have?
- how are they trained?
- is every one certified in pet first aid? Is the certification maintained throughout employment?
- are you insured and what are the particulars of your insurance, including liability and negligence coverage?
- how do you transport my dog?
- where do you walk the dogs?
- do you comply with municipal commercial dog walking permitting laws & other regulations?
- how long and what time will you be out of the home with my dog?
- what is your procedure in case if animal (or other) emergency?
- will my pet ever be left unattended?
- how do you ensure proper handling of my dog from staff member to staff member?
- where and how will my house keys be labelled/stored?

Great questions! The above should be information readily provided by your potential dog walker. And knowing this information will indicate whether you are dealing with a true professional. Speaking of professionals, I asked Vanessa: "Why are some dog walkers so much lower cost than others?"

Her reply: "As with most things in life, you usually get what you pay for. Most companies who cost a little more offer better trained (longer term) staff, insurance coverage, and more experience working with dogs professionally. Typically the lower cost walkers are new or start up companies who do not have the years of experience to draw from while out and about in the world with your dog."

So the experience of dog walkers can vary significantly. This is a good thing to ask your dog walker! Imagine someone inexperienced with dogs being responsible for keeping 6-8 of them safe! So, I ask, "What kinds of qualifications are required to be a commercial dog walker?"

You might be surprised by Vanessa's reply: "None! Seriously. Anyone can start a commercial dog walking company without any prior certification or training. That's why it is so important to ask any and every question you can think if prior to handing over your house keys to a dog walker. If you are even somewhat dissatisfied with the answers you're receiving do not be afraid to move on to another company, there are so many great ones to choose from!" if this is the case, "What are some requirements that you think should be expected of all professional dog walkers?"

Vanessa's reply: "At absolute minimum: Insurance, Pet First Aid, and making safety of our furry charges our top priority. After all, people are entrusting us with a member of their family."

To learn more about Best Friends Pet Care please visit their WEBSITE
Learn more about Walks 'N' Wags Pet First Aid and safety program HERE

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Instructor Profile: Ellis van Schuur of "Pet First Aid with Ellis" in Calgary, Alberta

We first met Ellis several years ago when traveling to Hinton, AB offer a custom Pet First Aid course to the Alberta Enforcement Officers Association. Here's her story:

"My name is Ellis van Schuur. I currently live just outside Calgary with 4 large dogs and 3 horses. I grew up in the Netherlands and moved to Canada 12 years ago. After moving here, I became addicted to watching "Pound Patrol" and "Animal Cops" on Animal Planet and decided I was going to become and Animal Cruelty Investigator.

After my 2 years in College and with experience in the Animal Control field, I was hired as a seasonal Animal Control Officer and later as a Bylaw Enforcement Officer in Grande Prairie. Although it wasn't exactly the field I had planned on getting into, I dealt with several animals whom I may have been able to provide with pet first aid, if I had had the knowledge.

Throughout our years in Canada my family also owned and lost several dogs, all due to unnatural causes such as: Distemper, Parvo virus, a serious motor vehicle collision, choking to death and high fever combined with old age. One of my own dogs also nearly lost his life thanks to a foreign blockage in his stomach. With each of these experiences I wished so hard for a program that would allow me to save the next one, should there ever be another one, and to have the knowledge and skills to be able to do something that may actually make a difference. However, I had never heard of such a program and was never able to find one.

My employer sent me off for some courses and one of them was the Walks 'N' Wags Pet First Aid course. I was psyched to finally have a good program to give me what I wanted and what felt I needed. When a year later I had the opportunity to become a Walks 'N' Wags Pet First Aid instructor I grabbed my chance. I wanted to teach others these amazing skills and knowledge and share my experiences so that people taking the course would never have to feel as helpless as I did watching out beloved pets die in front of our eyes knowing there was nothing we could do because we didn't have that knowledge nor those skills.

I love teaching the program because I know that every student of mine CHOOSES to be there and wants to learn everything I can teach them. It's the most wonderful experience knowing people care so much about their own animals, and those in their care that they seek out courses such as ours. Plus, having dogs to help me teach, learn and play with make the days lots of fun!

However, the utmost gratifying for me is to hear students' experiences after having taken the course where they had to utilize their new knowledge and skills. And to hear that thanks to that new knowledge and those skills they were able to help or treat the animal who got another chance at life, because without those students having taken the course, they wouldn't have known what to do."

Ellis has been teaching our program since 2011. There are so many amazing adjectives to describe her! To name a few: motivated, kind, dedicated, funny, loyal and enthusiastic. A class with Ellis will leave the participant passionate about pet first aid and pet safety.

Ellis currently teaches regularly in the Calgary, Alberta area and is open to accepting private courses in surrounding communities. You can reach her via her web site or her Facebook page.