Adventures in Pet Sitting

This is Rainy’s first 4th of July as an adult.  No wonder she is afraid.–Kathy Zupancic

This past July, my husband and I would have lost our youngest cat if not for the diligence of our pet sitters. Andy and I were visiting my family in Canada. We had left the care of our pets to his parents and to two friends who pet sit on the side. I knew that our formerly feral cat might freak out on Independence Day due to the exploding fireworks and so had asked our sitters to give her some extra attention. I expected our other two cats to be fine: one had done just fine the previous celebrations while our youngest seemed to know no fear. My correspondence with our pet sitters soon proved me wrong.

Rainy did not want to eat all her supper.  I left Andy’s mom a message about this.  I think what happened was that the neighbor kids were shooting fireworks.  Every time Rainy heard a boom she would look toward the direction of the boom. I will let you know how she is tomorrow a.m. I will also phone Andy’s mom to see if Rainy eats breakfast.–Kathy Zupancic

 Kathy left me a phone message last night about the cats. This morning neither Rainy or Cinder would eat. I gave Rainy fresh food because last night’s in fridge looked dry. But she didn’t want that either. I mushed a few treats into her food and she ate those and nibbled a bit in the kitchen with me standing by the sink. Cinder would not take a treat. I covered her and Cinder’s plates and put them in fridge and left a note for Kathy. Bootsie ate all hers. Cinder and Rainy do not act sick. They both batted at dangly toys.–Andy’s Mom

Initially, we tried to stay rational about our cats’ hunger strike. It seemed clear that fireworks were the culprit. For that reason, it seemed probable that all the cats’ appetites would return to their normal eating animals once the holiday had passed. Meanwhile, Andy’s dad turned on a radio to mask the pops and booms of fireworks. Our pet sitters also pulled out all the stops when it came to food. Chicken, tuna, cheese, and milk became regular fare. Otherwise, we decided to sit tight and hope for the best.

Cinder and Bootsie ate about 50% of their dinner. Rainy did not eat. I gave them new cat food. I then offered them some of the tuna because I am aware that cats cannot go without eating. Cinder and Bootsie ate this tuna out of my hand. I attempted this with Rainy; she would not take the food.–Kathy Zupancic

 I talked to Andy’s mom.  She said you had decided to take them to the vet, a good idea in my opinion.–Kathy Zupancic

On July 5th, with fireworks shows mostly a thing of the past, Rainy was still refusing to eat. Now Andy and I began to worry. If cats go three days without eating, their liver can start to shut down and they can die. I asked Andy’s mom to take Rainy to the vet. As Andy and I feared, the vet said that Rainy was a very sick little cat. She was dehydrated and had a temperature. Fluids were administered and an appetite stimulant prescribed. Feeling it was critical for Rainy to have extra care, I asked our back-up sitter about visiting daily until Rainy’s health improved.

The cat trio tonight: Bootsie ate her entire supper; Cinder ate about 50% of her cat food and some chunks of canned chicken; Rainy wouldn’t eat. I attempted to feed her in the kitchen and even attempted to hand feed her. The other cats were not in her way, so I don’t think they distracted her. Rainy would take a piece of food in her mouth, chew on it a bit, then spit it out. She acted as if food was not something she wanted.–Kathy Zupancic

Andy and I talked about my flying back to Nebraska to be with the cats. Unfortunately, the scary reality that we faced is that by the time we got everything worked out for me to fly home, we’d likely have already lost Rainy or she would’ve starting eating again. Either way, we basically had to put all our trust in our pet sitters.

I’m going to ask my licensed vet friend and another friend who is now a vet herself for tips and tricks, if that’s okay.–Jodi Lee

I opened a can of Friskies tasty treasures with Cheese in it. Rainy started eating a tiny bit right away! I’ll try again in a 1/2 hour and so forth.–Jodi Lee

Thankfully, our pet sitters proved to be rock solid. They updated me daily and talked with each another regularly. We all knew which cats were eating, which were playing, and which were acting healthy. Most importantly, we all knew the moment that Rainy took a turn for the better. Within a day, Andy’s mom reported that Rainy had eaten some baby food and cheese and licked milk from her fingers. The day after that, Rainy also began to accept Friskies cat food, the kind with “tasty treasures of cheese”. (A box of Friskies had been graciously given to one of our pet sitters by The Cat House, from whom we had adopted Rainy.)

Rainy is on the mend! I’m always so grateful to find other compassionate hearts out there. In a life-threatening cat sitting emergency so many wonderful souls stepped up to help Rainy start eating again after 4 days of being unable to eat. To her cat sitters, and my friends Brian and Belinda, she says thank you. And please feed me.–Jodi Lee

The above was posted on Facebook by our back-up pet sitter. Every time I read Jodi’s message, I think about how blessed were my husband and I to have such wonderful pet sitters. I’m grateful to my in-laws who faithfully care for our pets whenever we’re on the road. Special credit also goes to our other pet-sitters from this past summer, Kathy Zupancic (who is also Rainy’s ‘god-mother’ and Jodie Lee, who went far beyond their job duties to fight for the health of our cats.


When I decided to write an article about pet sitting, naturally I thought of our experience with Rainy. But I didn’t just want to write about Rainy. I wanted to tell a broader story about pet sitting. What draws people to pet sitting? What qualifies them? What perks do they offer? And what better place to find the answers to these questions than our own pet sitters!

As you would expect, Kathy loves animals. Her interest also stems from her graduate studies, as part of which she is studying behavioral interventions for canines, felines, and pet birds. Being a pet sitter, Kathy says, gives her the “opportunity to interact with and care for many types of animals as well as many types of breeds within that species.”


Pet sitting can involve funny moments. Kathy shared of a time when she took care of very large breed dogs. The dogs preferred to stay in the living room at night instead of the bedroom. To remain near them, Kathy decided to sleep on the sofa. In the morning when the dogs needed to go outside, Kathy said they’d come, all of them together, and stand at the side of the sofa and stare into her face.  “My body must have sensed that someone was very close to me. I’d wake up out of a dead sleep, and through the light shining through the blinds on the window, see these huge dark hairy faces, staring at me about three inches from my face!”

Pet sitting can also involve embarrassing moments. One of Kathy’s pet sitting assignments involved four cats who didn’t seem to “like having a canine mom taking care of them” and were slow to become comfortable with her. One morning Kathy inadvertently opened the door without first turning off the security system. “A horrible sound from the security alarm undid the many hours of work I had done to get the cats to be comfortable around me.” When the phone rang, Kathy knew it was the security alarm company. Because she didn’t have the code to the security system, the police came to the house. “I was happy that it was an understanding female officer who believed me when I said I was the pet nanny and showed her my business card. To this day, I still feel sad about scaring the cats accidentally with this horrible alarm.” From this embarrassing moment, Kathy learned the importance of asking enough questions of owners. “I respect people’s privacy and try not to be too intrusive, but often one tiny piece of critical information saves the day.”


As part of my chat with Kathy, I learned that besides doing graduate studies in animal behavior, she’s cared for dogs for over twenty years. “With these dogs, I have personally dealt with a variety of chronic and acute illnesses, including various types of cancer. I’ve also had to deal with the death/euthanizing of several of my own dogs. I understand the level of difficulty with such situations.” In addition, Kathy has gained experience by taking obedience and agility classes through the Greater Lincoln Obedience Club.

With her extensive background with animals, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that Kathy gives back to the animal community in many ways. Not only has she volunteered with the Greater Lincoln Obedience Club (and served as its president), but she’s also done therapy work with her dog Skylar. “Each year, rather than buying holiday gifts for our pack, I donate food, money, bedding supplies, and so forth to community organizations that provide help to needy homeless pets.” In addition, Kathy joins the ranks of animal welfare advocates in educating people how to best care for animals.


Through her pet sitting experiences, Kathy has also developed an even deeper admiration and love for animals. “In human psychology, the focus was on the uniqueness of humans as a species. In my current graduate program, I’d have to say that domestic companion animals such as dogs aren’t really that different than us. Perhaps that’s why humans and canines have lived together for 15,000 years plus. Caring for and training companion animals brings great joy into my life, more than I could’ve imagined.”

As I noted earlier, our pet-sitters from this past summer went far beyond their duties to ensure the health of our cat trio. All four increased the frequency of their visits and exchanged regular emails. My mother-in-law took Rainy to the vet. Jodie not only consulted with a vet for advice, but she sent me photos and videos of Rainy’s progress. If you’re ever in need of a pet sitter, I highly recommend Kathy and Jodie. During the school year, Jodie is typically occupied with teaching duties and her volunteer work with The Cat House, but she is available in the summer. If you already have a pet sitter, be sure to thank them for the important role they play in the lives of your animal companions.


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