Caring for companion animals has long been an integral part of my life. For decades, my friends and family heard me ask “why can’t I just spend my time loving animals”. So after 15 years of building a more traditional career, I shifted gears to become a professional pet sitter.
I had a fairly traditional career route before I began pet sitting. After getting a Masters in Information Science, I worked as a librarian, trainer, and a back-of-the-book indexer. I also volunteered for various nonprofit organizations and kept a close eye on animal welfare issues. My volunteer work was rewarding, and I longed for it to be as big a part of my life as my career was. That’s what eventually led me to being a pet nanny.
Not long after I began pet sitting, I became the Knowledge and Research Manager at Mud Bay, the largest independent pet supply retailer in the Pacific Northwest. The company focused on healthy, organic, non-toxic pet food and supplies. At that time it was well-known for its knowledgeable staff, who were required to take proprietary courses in dog and cat nutrition and behavior. My position there was to answer customer questions, prepare handouts, and write articles by doing literature research on dog and cat nutrition, health, behavior and care. For example, during just one week I researched and wrote about toxic plants, nutritional approaches to managing seizures in dogs, low-carb vs. grain-free pet foods, supplements and diets for FIV+ cats, and foods that are ideal for cats with early stages of renal failure. That week, I answered questions from staff and customers, updated staff educational materials, and created customer handouts and newsletters. That position provided me with many opportunities to learn a lot about dog and cat health issues.“You’re AWESOME! I love your organization & knowledge of animals. The kitties will be asking for you!” ~ Alex & Tigger’s human (Val)
For several years I owned a company (Fauna Collective) with two additional former Mud Bay staff members: the former Vice President of Dog and Cat Nutrition (my former boss) and the former Director of Marketing. We provided a variety of business-to-business services to retailers and service providers in the pet industry.
Companion animals – particularly those with special needs – have been important in my life for as long as I can remember. (View photos of some of my pets, both past and present.) As a young child I talked my parents into letting me bring home a sickly chick from a community farm so that I could nurse it back to health. I still remember the dusty smell of her little warm body and the sound of her timid chirp. I spent many sleepless nights watching and worrying about her.
As a teenager, I took care of a neighbor’s diabetic cat when the neighbor was away. This cat was a wonderful old fellow who was still pretty playful in his old age. I remember a friend asking me if I was scared to give the cat his shots. Her question took me by surprise because I was more scared of him not getting the shots. It was crucial that he was properly cared for while his owner was away.“Thank you so much for doing what you do; people with animals that have special needs are blessed to have your help. I’m so grateful that I found you!!”~ Mandy & Lucy’s mama
In college I had a feisty cockatiel named Bulldozer. After surviving a severe upper respiratory infection, he needed daily injections for a while. (Giving shots to a bird is quite an experience!) For the rest of his life, he hung out in the bathroom getting steam baths twice a day in order to loosen the mucus that built up in his lungs.
As an adult, the first time I adopted an animal who had special needs before living with me was in 2005, when I adopted Jane Ear from Feline Friends. One of her ears was amputated because when she was rescued, it was a bulging cancerous mass. The cancer had already spread throughout her body, but at the time we weren’t sure how extensive it was or how long she would live. Jane Ear was so afraid of most people that the other Feline Friends volunteers thought she was feral. For some reason, Jane Ear was quite tame with me. While she swatted at everyone else who came close to her, she let me pet her and even purred for me. I knew that all she needed was a quiet, calm environment with an understanding caretaker. She only lived for 9 months after coming to live with me. (Read more about Jane Ear.)
Her Royal Highness Emma came to me through Feline Friends. When they found her, she was about 6 months old, had a broken jaw, was blind in one eye and visually impaired in the other, and tested positive for FIV. She’s my mini-Meek (see Meek’s bio below): a tiny Bombay with shiny fur, long muzzle, affectionate, and talkative. She also has an enormous vocabulary of chirps, meows, and grunts – some of them have multiple syllables. I’m learning a lot about feline vision by living with a cat who can’t see very much. Most people can’t tell that she’s blind at first. It’s only when something is physically out-of-place that Emma bumps into things.
Rumi joined us in 2010 when he was 1.5-2 years old. He had obviously been hit by a vehicle and his wounds weren’t healing well. His left arm had several nasty, oozing, infected wounds. Every rib on his left side was broken. His spine was twisted in two spots and one section of vertebrae was turned 90 degrees. The poor guy was very hungry and must have been in pain, but he remained quite calm as Jo, from Feline Friends cradled him. I met Rumi and knew he belonged with me. That same night I named him after a Sufi poet who lived long ago. We had Rumi’s left arm amputated so he came into my house learning how to live with only one front leg.“Kari is especially good with medically fragile cats. All her cats have very special needs. She will immediately recognize any distress signal requiring medical intervention.”~ Tinny’s best buddy (John)
For 15 years Meek, a beautiful Bombay – just like Emma, lived with me. Like most Bombays, Meek was extremely talkative, flirtatious, and needed lots of attention. He liked playing hard to get – he was a great tease and knew how to play “cute” so people would walk over to try to touch him. However, just as they got close to him, he would hop up and start to run off; he would then stop and turn around to make sure they were still following him; if they were not following, he would try again. Meek had chronic renal failure (CRF), so he was on a special diet and took medication and supplements that supported kidney function. I also needed to pay close attention to his water intake so I learned a few important tricks to getting more moisture in his diet.
Meek’s litter-mate, Snicklefritz (Fritz) lived to be 16. He was a typically aloof and independent cat who only began to cuddle when he was 14. Fritz used to have lots of aches & pains, and was on small doses of aspirin every other day. Luckily losing a small amount of weight made a huge difference in his pain levels and he was aspirin free for the last few years of his life. When Meek died in early 2009, Fritz was completely distraught. It took several months for him to return from the depths of sorrow and begin figuring out how to live without his best buddy.
Raggedy Andy officially joined my family when he was around 9 years old. He’s one of the many cats I’ve rescued from the greenspace behind my home. When I first saw him, I thought he was feral because he took off running into the woods whenever he saw people. After many weeks of dropping dollops of wet cat food in the woods as I walked on the trails, Andy learned to associate me with food. Even so, I was patient as he took 10 months of seeing me several times a day before he trusted me enough to let me touch his head as he safely crouched under my shed. Several more months passed before he would let me actually pet him. After 18 months of this, I took him to the vet to be neutered, get a round of tests, and get vaccinated. Andy tested positive for FIV. Andy died in the summer of 2014, after 8 wonderful years of playing the role of my best buddy.
I’m friends with many dogs in my neighborhood and several of them keep me company when I’m gardening, mowing the lawn, or doing just about anything outside. My two best dog friends are Ginger and Annie who live just two houses away from me.
I also take care of cats who show up on my property looking for food. (Read more about El Missiano Del Gato.) If they don’t have humans caring for them,I help them as much as they like. I feed them, re-introduce them to human kindness, and make sure that they get fixed. Feline Friends has been a huge help in these efforts. (View photos of some of these rescued cats.)“Kari is knowledgeable & experienced with cats (feral & other). She’s very caring & understands the pet owner’s anxiety” ~ Humans of the Tyler Tribe
I’m a huge fan of Feline Friends, a non-profit organization offering medical services, refuge, and placement for rescued cats. While a number of organizations help pets who already have human families, Feline Friends‘ sole focus is on cats who have no people looking out for them. In fact, many of the cats they help have been found after surviving abuse and torture. They come to us with bullets and arrows lodged in them, broken bones, chemical burns, spray paint all over their fur… you name the torture, Feline Friends has dealt with the aftermath. They also have a trap and release spay/neuter program for feral cats. I currently foster their cats who have terminal illnesses and volunteer at their events. (I stopped working in their shelter because it’s tough to resist the temptation of adopting a gazillion cats who need a family.) When people want to buy me gifts (for birthdays or holidays) they know that my biggest wish is for them to make a donation to Feline Friends.