My name is Alice. I am a Cat Sitter and Behaviourist.
Every day (day in day out, 7 days a week, no fixed hours), I go see different cats – and sometimes their humans, when they are around… but mostly, I spend 90% of my waking hours with cats. Their humans usually use my service because they are away – holidays, business trips, hospitalisation, funerals, weddings, etc. So it’s a ‘given’ that I don’t see their humans. I also do behavioural therapy to help solve people’s ‘cat problems’.
But up till 5 years ago, I was just your normal office worker. I was born in Hong Kong and spent my first 23 years there. I got my Bachelor of Arts 11 years ago, and since then I have been working in various offices in Hong Kong, Paris, Brussels, Antwerp, Guangzhou and eventually Dublin. To be honest with you, there really isn’t much about my life working in ‘cubicle farms’ worth talking about. I am the type of person who gets bored easily and enjoys problem solving, so every year or so, I HAD TO change my job or the country I was in, or I would get depressed. But all of that changed 5 years ago when I made the insane decision to quit my job at the peak of the recession to start a…well, ‘cat business’.
I have been told again and again I have a very unusual (from polite strangers)/great (from friends)/weird or strange or oh-my-god (from rude strangers – probably cat haters)/dream (from cat people) job.
I have to work regardless of weather conditions. I work on sunny days (few and far between in Ireland…), I work on rainy days, I work on snow days, I work even more when there is volcanic ash (some customers were stuck and couldn’t get back home to their cats), I work on Christmas, I work on my birthday.
Some people ask me, ‘How do you do that? Are you not tired?’. To tell you the truth, it can be tiring at times, but I knew what I signed up for since the first day I started my business. Being a cat sitter is a ’round the clock’ thing. In fact, I believe if your job involves taking care of anything at all (pets, the elderly, children, buildings, etc), it’s sort of ’round the clock’. You have to be available when people need you – that’s what they pay you for. And cats need to eat 7 days a week! So I can’t really take a weekend off without arranging for a locum and it has to be planned ahead. Four years into the business, I have enough customers to support the hiring of part-time help. So I do hope I will get more personal time for myself from now on.
Another thing that keeps me going is, in all honesty, since that fateful day in 2009 when I quit my job in the office, I don’t feel I have worked a day! Being a cat sitter is the toughest job I have ever had, but it is also the most interesting – so much so, it is the longest job I have had in my life! The urge to change job or country has completely disappeared! I’d like to think I have finally ‘found my calling’.
And that’s because every day is different, every cat is different and every cat person I meet is different. So far I have taken care of hundreds of cats and their humans. All of them have amazing stories. This definitely keeps me from being bored.
Just to tell you one as a teaser of what this blog is about. My husband and I were once trapped in a house for 6 hours because we underestimated a cat’s ability to trick us. With cats outsmarting me on a daily basis, it teaches me to respect them more every day. Unfortunately, just like all jobs in the world, it’s not all happy and shiny either. There are times when cats need to be rehomed due to divorce; there are also times when cats pass away, or their human’s family members pass away. I’d like to think I try to be the best friend I can be to help these families and their cats when they are going through difficult times. But then there are times when I receive a box of chocolates from my customers, or they call me their cat’s ‘godmother’, or I get a Christmas card signed by the whole family, including the cat. Instantly I forget all the difficulties of the job and think I have the best job in the world.
My job takes me to a very unusual intimate level with my customers. I am in and out of their homes all the time when they are not there. They give me their trust 100% – that never ceases to wow me. I treasure their trust, so I do have a very strict policy regarding respecting their privacy. I never tell other people who my customers are unless they reveal themselves. Sometimes, I have to be really really careful because two customers could be working in the same office, each not knowing the other is using my service! You might wonder why I have to take the privacy thing so seriously. Look, my customers use my service when they are away. So they might not want people to know that, because this screams – ‘my house is empty!!!” Plus, I don’t think it’s professional to be telling others their holiday plans. It’s ok if they decide to tell their colleagues where they are going, but it’s not my place to be talking about their private information they entrust me with. So yeah, my job is definitely more than just putting down food for kitties and scooping poop! It requires advanced levels of professionalism and ‘people skills’. Like I say to a lot of people, I don’t only work with cats. I do spend 90% of my actual time with them, but I also work with cat people. Maybe one day when cats can have their own bank accounts, but so far it’s their humans who pay me!
Owing to this trust, a lot of wonderful friendships flourish between my customers and my family. I still can’t believe the amount of both moral and practical support we received during the time when my mother-in-law passed away. It is mind-blowing. I have customers who volunteered to take care of my own cats, pick us up from the airport after the funeral, send us cards or take us out to dinner. I feel so honoured to have met all these wonderful people – all thanks to my unusual job.
Cat sitting is such a new profession, it’s not much talked about. I hope by being one of the first sitters to show people what it actually involves, it might help the general public to understand our profession. Hopefully, you will find my stories interesting, or educational, or heartwarming. Do expect to have lots of laughs but you might need to shed a few tears at times as well, haha.
Do you know more than half of my customers have at least one foreigner in their families? If you also happen to be curious about foreigners living in Dublin, you might find my stories interesting as well.
I also intend to start a corner on this blog to share my journey starting my own business. I did so during the peak of the recession and am proud to say I not only managed to pay my way and then some, but my business has been expanding. I have not only worked full time since the beginning, but also have 4 part-time helpers in the team at the moment. I have no formal business training; I run my business according to one very simple principle – treat my customers as friends. This has proven to be a very successful approach.
So DON’T GIVE UP! There are still lots and lots of opportunities during this recession. It’s not impossible to have a successful business in these difficult times, you just have to work harder and be more creative and flexible. I will share my journey in the ‘Start My Own Business’ corner. I hope it will be helpful to some of you out there who are interested in becoming self-employed or starting a small business. Since it will be all ‘shop talk’, I will section this away in one corner for ease of reference and also not to distract those readers who come here just for the cat stories.
I feel so privileged to be doing what I do for a living and hope you will enjoy reading my blog, where I share stories of my wonderful customers and of their cats (I call them my catstomers) with you.I am going to kick start this blog with a 4-part series titled ‘How I became a cat sitter’ – when I was growing up, I was a cat hater, but a chain of events that started 13 years ago not only made me the biggest cat lover in the world, but also got me into working with cats for a living! – So ‘How I became a cat sitter: Part 1’ is here.