by Alice Cat Expert | Friday, March 17, 2017 | Misc stuff
I know people around the world are busy celebrating Saint Patrick’s Day today. In fact, it’s one of the worst days of the year for cat sitters due to traffic disruption in town.
However, something else keeps me happy today!
Did you know that today, March 17 is also St Gertrude’s Day. And shes the PATRON SAINT OF CATS!!
Happy St Gertrude’s Day to you all!
P.S. And if you are also a pet sitter reading this – stay warm, stay safe, be vigilant of partying crowd, don’t forget to eat! Take care of yourself so that you can take care of our fluffy friends!
by Alice Cat Expert | Wednesday, November 5, 2014 | The Travelling Cat Project
Every year, hundreds of cats are being left behind when people relocate to another country. The Travelling Cat Project is a collective effort to demystify international cat travel.
Hopefully, by sharing our stories, it will encourage people to relocate with their cat(s).
We believe if you manage to move your personal belongings to a new country, you SHOULD BE able to move your cat(s) with you.
For a full of list of information and stories, please click here.
Today, we will hear the fascinating story of Petal and Omar. They travelled from Doha, Qatar to London and then on to Ireland.
It is apparently a bit of a complicated procedure, but their humans Kirsty and Bob were very determined to relocate to Ireland with their feline family members.
I chatted with Kirsty by email and she said,
“Sadly it was all too common to see notices up in the vets’ office and supermarkets in Qatar saying ‘We’re leaving and can’t take our pets, please give them a home’. It made us all the more determined to bring ours back with us. As soon as I could, I started saving a cat-relocation fund in cash, in case our bank accounts got frozen!”
This is inspirational! Only if more humans take the welfare of their cats so seriously!
Let’s have a look at their story…
Doha to London Heathrow, then onward to Ireland by road and ferry a few weeks later
Kirsty and Bob
Petal and Omar
1. Did you use an agent?
In Qatar: The Veterinary Surgery, Bin Mahmoud, Doha (for paperwork only)
In UK: Ladyhaye International Pet Travel, Blindley Heath, Surrey
Vet and Paperwork
2. What kind of work did you have to do with vet before your cat was cleared for travelling?
We had to have a rabies serology test done on both cats to ensure they had the right amount of rabies antibodies in their system (they were already vaccinated against rabies as part of their yearly vaccinations). This had to be done at least a month after the vaccination was administered.
We were lucky that the quarantine rules for Britain and Ireland changed in January 2012. Had the cats travelled before that date, they would have needed 6 months’ quarantine. We had plans in place to send them to live with a friend in Belgium for 6 months instead, had it been necessary.
4. How did you travel to your destination? Which carrier did you use?
5. How did you book your cat with your carrier? Any specific requirements?
My husband was leaving employment with Qatar Airways so he booked the cats’ flight directly with the airline instead of through our agent. We took the cats in their boxes to the cargo offices a couple of days before the date of travel so they could be weighed and measured. The staff created the air waybill and checklist, and we paid for the flight.
(NB I think the rules changed just afterwards so cargo flights had to be booked by a recognised cargo agent, rather than by individuals)
6. How did you prepare your cat box?
We bought IATA-approved carriers and made sure they fit the requirement for the cats to stand, sit and turn through 360 degrees, which is more space than humans travelling in economy class get.
We put a thick towel and an old t-shirt that smelled of us into each box. We also attached hamster-style drinking bottles to each box door (the kind with a spout and valve) – less likely to spill than a bowl.
7. What were the logistics on travel day?
We were required to bring the cats in their boxes to the Qatar Airways Cargo offices at the old Doha airport, four hours before the flight.
Once there, the cats and boxes were weighed and measured, checked in, and whisked off to the DOH airside animal facility where they would stay until the flight was loading.
8. Was it easy? Was it difficult?
I used to run the animal facility at DOH so I knew the people working there and in the cargo offices, and consequently wasn’t too worried about the procedure. It took a lot of time, and of course we were nervous about seeing the cats off on their journey, but on the whole it was relatively hassle-free (nothing in Qatar was ever 100% free of hassle). But our history of working at the airport and for the airline meant our cats had VIP treatment at both ends.
9. How is your cat behave during the journey?
No idea! They meowed a lot in the car on the way to the airport but that was normal for them. They were quieter once out of the car. When they reached their final destination, their bedding had been changed, so they both must have peed, pooed or spewed at some point in the journey. That’s not surprising, as it was a seven-hour flight and they were in their boxes for several hours before takeoff.
10. Any further inspection or procedure on arrival before you could take your cat home with you?
Our UK agents had to get the relevant paperwork before the cats could be released to them. That meant checking their rabies blood test results and the customs forms.
Our agents collected the cats from LHR and took them to my mum’s house in Sussex. She showed them to us on Skype (we were still in Qatar at that point), then took them to the Alpine Hotel for Cats in Ashurst Wood, UK. The cats stayed there for about seven weeks while we moved out of Qatar and found somewhere to live in Ireland.
Once we had a house in Ireland, I rented a Transit and took the ferry to the UK, where I picked up a load of furniture and the cats. They were stuck in their boxes for another nine or ten hours. They had to stay in their boxes in the back of the van during the three-and-a-half hour ferry crossing from Holyhead to Dublin, but that was probably less stressful for them than being taken into the unfamiliar environment of the passenger lounge.
11. How did your cat react to the journey?
On arrival at LHR, our agent emailed saying ‘They are both curled up together in a cattery, a little shell shocked, but they are all ok.’
They soon settled in at the Alpine Hotel for Cats. It was their first time seeing grass, trees and rain.
They were fine after the van and ferry journey to Ireland. We let them out of their boxes and confined them to one room overnight. Within an hour or two they were their usual selves and having a good sniff around their new home.
12. How much did it cost in total? Can you provide a break down if you don’t mind?
Agent’s fees Qatar: no record, sorry.
Agent’s fees UK: £450 (paperwork, clearance and delivery to Sussex)
Flight: QAR1873.00 (about €385)
Boarding in UK: no record, sorry, but we did get a reduced long-stay rate
Van rental and ferry crossing: about €1300
13. Any other information you think other cat people should know if they want to do the same journey?
It’s counter-intuitive, but it’s much better to send animals as cargo rather than excess baggage. Cargo staff are more likely to have had special training in handling animals than baggage staff. Also, never sedate a pet for travel. Some airlines won’t accept sedated animals, and it’s against the IATA Live Animal Regulations.
Thank you very much Kirsty for sharing your amazing story with us today. If she can get two cats out of Qatar I think we can travel with a cat ANYWHERE!
Have you made similar journey? Have you travelled with your cat(s) internationally? We need to hear from you. Your stories might give helpful insight to other cat people who are making the same journey. Altogether, we can make effort to make sure less cat(s) left behind. Knowledge is power. You don’t have to worry about the writing. We will send you a questionnaire like the one above, you just need to answer them. Please be in touch!
by alicechauginguene | Wednesday, September 24, 2014 | Start My Own Business
I started my own business on 2009. Since then, I am asked regularly how I did it. I notice I keep repeating myself answering these questions (and many others FAQs), I decided to start a series here to answer all of them ONCE AND FOR ALL! (A full list of posts on this series is here).
When I tell people what I do for a living, it usually draws funny reaction. I can’t blame them, what I do is a bit…er, let’s call it ‘non-main-stream’. And people always like to ask me ‘how did you get this business idea?’
Well, the answer is actually pretty simple. I needed the service myself! I got the idea to start a cat sitting business at around 2008-holiday season. My mum suddenly shown up in Paris to see my sister over Christmas, so my husband and I decided to join them for New Year. We have arrived to Dublin only a year before that, we didn’t have many friends at that time so we were in need to find a cat sitting service that can help us with the cats when we were away. I called a few companies out there. And not surprisingly, there were all fully booked due to holiday season and such a short notice to book them. So I jokingly said to my husband, ‘geez! I could have started my own cat sitting business! There is demand out there! I can’t be the only foreigners who need to go somewhere to see mom, right?’
Moral of the story:
1. You need to find a business idea that you are passionate about.
The chance is, once you are self-employed, you will have to work your ass off 14 hours day, 7 days a week. If you don’t like the business you are in, trust me, you won’t be able to do it. I am writing this sentence at 0:38am, I am still waiting for my takeaway to arrive, eh no, I haven’t had my dinner yet. See what I mean? Along the same line, maybe I am biased but I believe being a sole trader is the best way to go when you are running a SME. It’s very very difficult to make sure every single partner put as much effort and being as passionate as you are. Plus, partnership tends to have a lot of legal issue. (We will get to that later on when we talk about Business Structure) In my case, I love cats. And more importantly, I love talking with cat people who share the same passion. So make sure your business idea is something you will not get sick of talking about.
2. Get into a business that you know about
If you watch Gordon Ramsey Kitchen’s Nightmare, you will see a pattern. Those ‘nightmare’ consists of A LOT of people who enjoy the romantic notion of starting a restaurant but know very little about running a restaurant.
I am pretty sure they imagine they will be whirling around on the restaurant floor smiling, sexy and looking blissfully like a successful restaurateur, having amusing chat with different customers while the waiters at the background elegantly serve delicious food to happy and even sexier customers. Problem is most of these people DO NOT KNOW ANYTHING about catering!!! Not only do most of these ‘nightmare’ candidates don’t know about how to cook, they generally have no experience to run any business at all! They don’t know how to manage their finance, source suppliers (I remember one of the candidate shop her food at Tesco for her restaurant…), manage staff. And a lot of them have absolutely no experience whatsoever about CUSTOMER SERVICE! The idea that someone who knows absolutely nothing about customer service or cooking thinks they can run a restaurant is beyond me. Stick to what you know, people! Stick to what you know! In my case, I am a foreigner who is in need of cat sitting service, and I know other cat people out there who needs this service.
3. Think small
I do believe we are experiencing a new era in the history of economics. For the past few decades, we have been concentrating on how to make bigger companies. But I think we have reached a stage when people start to miss small businesses that provide personal service. So think small. If you just want to make a full time salary, you don’t need to have a million dollar business plan. You are not starting the next General Electric. That’s another reason why I think it really is the best time to start a business, because if you start small, that takes us to the next point…
4. You don’t need a lot of money
Thanks to technology, you don’t actually need a lot of money to start a small business these days. I started my business with no loan, no particular big saving spree. I just spend money on buying a domain and paying for a company name, instead of buying a pair of shoes. Trust me, you don’t need to spend a lot of money to start up. Sacrifice some of your ‘happy money’ and use them on your new hobby – starting a new business that is.
As I mentioned in my introduction, I see Ireland as a place full of business opportunities. Here are a few examples of business idea inspired by what I see overseas that I think would work in Dublin.
Mobile beautician, mobile pet groomer, mobile anything to be honest…
We have enough population in Dublin to support any mobile business. Also thanks to the fact that Dublin is so small, you can easily cover the whole city and have a substantial client base. In most capital cities in the world, mobile services have been blooming for the past two decades due to the time starve nature of the big city lifestyle. The trend hasn’t quite arrived to Dublin yet, so I see there are lots of potential.
Nappy laundry service, babysitting agent, any other businesses that deals with babies…
We have the highest birth rate in Ireland. Yet there is a lack of modern life style baby service available in Dublin. A quick check on Google shows a full page of baby laundry service in London and New York. In case you don’t know this yet, these companies came once a week (or however often you want) and pick up your baby clothes, wash them and re-deliver to your home the week after. I would love to have this service in Dublin! I need them!
Babysitting agent is another business we are in desperate need and we don’t have in Dublin. When I was a student in Paris, I used to register with a babysitting agent. Whenever there are parents who want to go out for the night, they call these agents, the agents will send in a sitter from their database to go straight to these people’s home. All sitters have to go through training and be insured, and they only accept university students. Parents are happy to be able to maintain their pre-parenting lifestyle and be able to say yes to all lovely dinner parties, students are happy to get work, and these agents are making a fortune.
Quality restaurant that serve REAL foreign cuisine
I am sick of people telling me yet again there are plenty of Chinese restaurants in Dublin. No there aren’t. Some of you do know most of the Chinese ‘restaurants’ are not serving authentic Chinese food and most of them got their sauce from the wholesaler and just put them together to make a dish (I said putting them together because I don’t think there is much ‘cooking’ involved).
Also, there is a lack of authentic cuisine from other culture as well. I am still in search of an authentic Thai restaurant. Heck, I am forever in search of good honest-to-goodness Irish food cooked by Irish mommies!
And I am not talking about fancy-pants restaurant with costume-wearing-waiters, I am talking about just honest affordable cooking. There is a surge of Asian Bubble Tea shops in Dublin, which is a good sign. But we need more! If you are a foreigners living in Ireland just like myself, it’s time to sit down to think about your favourite home-cooked food and see if it is possible to work out a business plan around it.
A better and more modern version of an existing business idea
You don’t necessarily need to invent a new business to be successful. A lot of existing business idea in Ireland is due to have a big makeover. You can just pick an existing business idea and make it better, and trust me, sometimes it’s not even that difficult.
For example, it’s so difficult to find companies, big and small, in this country that have a good website. If there is a company who provides a good website with lots of information so that I know exactly what question to ask when I call them, I tend to choose such company other its competitors. Let’s use the above authentic cuisine as an idea. It would be nice that such business also have a cute website with most up-to-date menu and interactive social media page to go along with it. There are way too many businesses in this country who either don’t have website or don’t have Facebook page. If you start a business that has everything, you definitely have an advantage over your customer. Look, I am not the only company who provides pet sitting service in Dublin, but I am pretty sure I have one of the best websites among others. In fact, a lot of sitters don’t even have a website yet. How can your customer find out about you or even know your existence without a website? Also, a lot of people wants to look for the basic information before even giving you a call. Everyone is busy these days, they want to screen through things before they waste time on making a 5 minute phone call.
Another thing that’s so easy to do is provide better customer service. I hear you going ‘duh!’ Hear me out. Maybe because I am Asian, I have different standard of customer service. Most of the customer service experience I have encountered in Ireland, and in Europe in general, are pretty crappy. Just to name a few things that piss me off to no-end: don’t listen to my question and tell me to call someone else, saying they will call me back and never do, never ever answer email, very restricted office hour, etc. Providing good customer service is not only for your customer actually, it’s about helping you to make more money. If your customers are pissed off, how are you going to make it? So providing good customer service is more for you really.
Ok, my case. I answer phone call 24 hours a day (ok, I am workaholic and my business nature is a bit different, you don’t have to do that, but you got the message); I generally answer people’s text immediately except if I am in a meeting; I reply email within an hour; if people leave a message, I DO get back them as soon as I hear them; if I don’t have a solution for their problem immediately I will tell them when I will get back to them and I WILL get back to them and if I still have yet a solution then I will keep them update and tell them I tried and am still looking for a solution; I will never EVER leave someone hanging around wondering what’s happening. It all sounds very simple and common sense, isn’t it? But the majority of businesses in Ireland don’t do any of the above! So my bet is, if you can just do that, you will stand out from the crowd already and people will keep coming back to you. Depending on your business nature, but if you have a few dozen of repeat customer, the chance is you have just made a full time salary all by yourself!
My handyman is another person I know of who will get back to customers immediately. Every time I mentioned that to anyone around me, they ALL want his number immediately! See? He doesn’t even need a website or do any marketing to be honest. Just providing good customer service is enough in itself for him to get a full time wage.
Here are some examples of innovative business idea around me:
1. DIY Divorce Ltd
2. Virtual Office Worx
There are lots of business opportunities in Ireland and it’s very easy to start a business here. If you are like me and start a business with very low setup cost, you have next to nothing to lose. Even if it doesn’t work, it will be a wonderful learning experience for you to know what you can do and what you can’t do in a business. So sit down and come up with a business idea and have a go. There is nothing stopping you.
by alicechauginguene | Monday, September 15, 2014 | Cat Sitting, Human
After this saga, you would have thought we learn our lesson. But no, we didn’t, we were still convinced that we were smarter than cats and we could get them under control.
Of course, Monkey knows better and was determined to show us how wrong we were (again).
After the ‘Monkey gone missing’ incident, I had a long discussion with Monkey’s mum and asked how we should proceed going forward. We decided we will continue to let cats out, it’s a beautiful summer after all, but I will make sure to be in the garden with them at all time. The idea is, I shall be able to stop her immediately if she attempts to jump over the wall again.
Or that’s what we thought we could do.
Problem is she didn’t use the same tactic this time. She didn’t need to jump over the wall…
Monkey probably thought, ‘huh? Sure! I haven’t even lifted my paw yet to show you human. Oh well, I suppose I have to put things right this time once and for all.’
Did our plan work out? No. Not even on the first day.
But you might ask ‘what can go wrong?!’
A gap in the garden…
A gap so narrow we never pay any attention to.
Oh but Monkey knows…
On the first day since the ‘new plan’ is put in place, I arrived to the house as always. It was a lovely morning.
I let the cat out like I did before. The cats did their usual thing, dashed out like lighting only to stop after 3 seconds because they got distracted and forgot they were supposed to dash out.
We walked around the yard. Jake smelt the grass, went to the corner to go to the loo. Freddie disappeared into the neighbour’s garden immediately. Monkey walked normally around the garden.
But she looks too “normal”…
On hindsight, she was almost pacing herself to make sure I won’t suspect anything. Almost going ‘la la la la, I am acting as causal as possible…la la la la…’
After half an hour, I told the cats it’s time to go back inside. Jake went straight back not a problem, but Monkey stood there hesitated. So I stepped in her direction, but I was too late!
She dashed into this little gap and disappeared into darkness.
I have never noticed this gap before so I wasn’t sure where this gap lead to. As it turns out, it doesn’t lead to anywhere, but it doesn’t matter, Monkey has her own plan in mind.
She knew I usually only stay in the house for one hour, she KNEW if she wait it out, I would leave the house eventually, then she could have her freedom to roam the garden, then jumped outside the garden like she did a few days ago.
She had smelt the taste of freedom; there is no going back.
She would get to do whatever she wants to do during the day. Nothing, NOTHING is holding her back!
I tried to coax her out with food, but soon I realised I got myself into a war of attrition. It’s meaningless. I have to let go.
I called Monkey’s mum, and she agreed that there is nothing we could do.
If you are wondering if a cat can plan the whole plot all along, I’d like to believe she could. She probably figured out the gap is too narrow for human to access.
And another thing she knows if we were going to get into a war of attrition to ‘wait it out’, she would win, because after a few minutes of me trying to coax her out, she decided to close her eyes to take a nap to pass her time.
Since that fateful day, Monkey has been given (not really given but we have no choice…) freedom to roam during the day. She always comes back just before sunset. And she always demands to be served her dinner immediately…in her majestic style as always.
Moral of the lesson? One needs to be humble when one is to work with animals. The longer I work with cats, the more I realise I don’t know anything about cats. Monkey is one of the most memorable cats I have ever worked with because she always put me back in my place whenever I get cheeky.
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by alicechauginguene | Wednesday, September 10, 2014 | Start My Own Business
After spending a long time in my last post to explain you how easy to start a business, unfortunately I have to go into the negative bit in this post – you might not be cut out for it.
Honestly, I am not trying to sound snobbish but starting a business is really not for everyone.
Are you a workaholic? Do you enjoy working all day every day? Before you go ‘alright….sure!’ When I mean all day every day, I mean it. Most SMEs I know work 16 hour a day at least for the first year, 7 days a week. Even if they are not actually doing work, they are thinking about how to improve their business, how to trace a new lead. Including the time when they are on holiday.
Are you a risk taker? Not everyone enjoy the uncertainty nature of SMEs. Some people prefer to get a fixed pay-cheque every month. Don’t confuse that with security though, because I am a strong believer in being in control of your destiny is a much secure choice. We will talk about that more when we get to the subject on finance.
Are you a decision maker? Being your own boss means you are the one who make all the decision. If you are not a decisive person, then being self-employed might not be for you.
Are you a self-starter? Being your own boss also means no one will tell you what to do. You have to find out by yourself what to do next. You have to plan your day by yourself. You have create your own office management system, customer management system, and so on. No one will know exactly what’s need to be done in your business but yourself.
Are you good at multi-tasking? Being self-employed also mean, at least at the initial phrase, you are doing EVERYTHING yourself! From IT manager to Customer Service Representative; from Purchasing Manager to Cleaner, and everything else in between, you have to do them all. Down the line, you might be able to start hiring some help, as I have been doing for about a year, but you still have to manage these people. So you still need to be pretty knowledgeable about all the task involved in running your business so that you can instruct other people effectively.
Are you a good self-learner? As I said in the above point, you have to do basically every job title all by yourself at least during the initial stage. But there is no way you have all the skill under the sky to do all these jobs. As a result, self-learning is essential. In my case, I know I am good at customer service, finance management and marketing. But I am not very good at accounting and I have no knowledge on making a website and even how to get a domain. So having the curiosity to learn everything to make your business better is what keeps you going.
Are you a confident person? Being your own boss means you have to be quite a confident person. I have heard so many great business ideas from people around me over the years, but when I got excited and said, ‘oh you have to go ahead and start that, it sounds like a great idea!’ then they go, ‘oh, I was just dreaming, it will never work…’ If you don’t even believe in yourself to make something work, then stop immediately. Remember you are also the Sales Manager of this business? You need to be almost cheeky at times to ‘sell’ your product or service to people. If you don’t believe in yourself and your business 150% then you can’t do it.
Are you motivated? Obviously, you can’t blindly dive into any business ideas that come into your mind. You do need to evaluate if you have the finance to fund it, is it the right time, etc. But if you don’t have a fire burning deep inside you when you talk about your business, then it might not be for you. Your business should preoccupy your mind so much you forget to eat. It might not be a very healthy lifestyle but it means you are cut out for it though.
Negative bits of being self-employed
- Anti-social: Being self-employed is very anti-social. At least for the first year, you will be working 16 hours day, 7 days a week. Forget about social life. The chance is you will keep saying ‘no’ to people’s invitation and they might stop inviting you after a while. Trust me. Make sure you can handle that. And make sure you know what you got yourself into.
- Family resentment: Due to the fact that you become so anti-social, your family might resent your disappearance. I will talk more about family and friends support in future post because the issue is so complicated and so influential that I think it deserves a separate post.
- Loneliness: Working alone can be very very lonely. There is no one to brainstorm with you, no bouncing idea around. It takes the right personality to actually enjoy that. I am a control-freak myself so I actually quite enjoy doing everything myself exactly the way I want, but it’s not for everyone. And even then, you still need to build a new social circle to ‘talk shop’ with or you will go mental for not speaking with anyone for days on ends. I will get into more details in the future post on ‘networking’.
You know what is the final indicator that you are cut out for it or not? After reading this article, instead of sitting down and think about if you can do it, you feel like starting your business regardless of what I say, then you might actually be cut out for it!
If you feel no one is going to stop you no matter what, then you might actually have what it takes to be your own boss!
Good luck and enjoy the journey!
Next SMOB post coming up on 24 September – “Business ideas”. Make sure to FOLLOW my blog so you don’t miss it when it comes up.