Critters in Cars: Let’s Talk Safety

Head out the window, ears flapping, catching the breeze and checking out the world as it whizzes by. No doubt many dogs enjoy this experience, and many people who witness it smile at the cuteness as they drive alongside the vehicles containing said dogs.

Now imagine that the dog is a child instead. How would you feel about that?

Most of us would never consider allowing a child to stand up in the seat and stick his or her head out of the window of a moving vehicle; in fact, I’m willing to bet that most parents wouldn’t dream of not having their child buckled into a crash-tested car seat, depending on their age and size. And I think it’s safe to say that most of us (hopefully) take care to ensure that we are wearing a seat belt as well.

Dogs and cats are made of the same stuff we are: their bones break; their skin is vulnerable to lacerations; and their organs can sustain damage from blunt trauma. They are also subject to the same laws of physics that we are, and become moving projectiles when subjected to force.

Dog wearing goggles with head out of moving vehicle window.
At least this pooch is wearing goggles to protect her eyes from debris!

My impetus for writing this post was another local pet sitter who was advertising her services, including pet transportation, on a local listserv. One of the photos she posted was of a sweet little dog on her lap in the driver seat. I was immediately struck by a vision of the airbag deploying; given the angle at which the dog was sitting, a broken neck was the most likely outcome of that scenario. It probably wouldn’t have ended well for the driver, either.

I realize that this is not a fun topic, and to be honest it’s not one that I ever gave much consideration to until I took my pet first aid/CPR certification and learned about the injuries that are sustained by pets each year, especially dogs, because they are not properly secured in a moving vehicle. However, I couldn’t unlearn what I had learned, and am now a firm advocate for securing pets during transportation.

So the obvious next question is “what’s the best way to do this?” Fortunately, Lindsey Wolko took this question to heart and founded the Center for Pet Safety, whose mission is “to have an enduring, positive impact on the survivability, health, safety and well-being of companion animals and the consumer through scientific research, product testing and education.”

The center has developed the CPS Certified Program, a 501(C)(3) non-profit which requires rigorous product testing from its members who commit to meet independently developed safety standards, monitor product quality control, and commit to truth in advertising. If you are a pet owner and you want to try to mitigate injury to your pet in the event of an auto accident, please visit the Center for Pet Safety website to learn more (be sure to check out their FAQ’s, where I learned, among other things, that they advise against using a seat belt to strap a carrier in). I also recommend watching the video below so you can see how the organization conducts their safety tests, and read a helpful list of things to look for when shopping for a travel harness at the end. Warning: although no live animals are used in their tests, some people may find the visuals upsetting.

My goal here is not to make anyone feel guilty about how they choose to transport their pets in a vehicle, but rather to introduce an idea that may not have occurred to you. That scenario above with the pet on the lap when an airbag deploys? It could have been me several years ago, when I traveled along the I495 with a newly adopted kitty on my lap.

It wasn’t too long ago that seat belts and car seats for humans weren’t standard practice. But now that we know better, countless lives are saved every year. It’s at least worth considering that our pets deserve some of the same safety measures that we have come to expect for ourselves.

Hair versus Fur: What’s the Difference?

The short answer is: there is none.

It’s all nomenclature; the stuff that covers the bodies of many of our pets and their wild cousins is made up of the same stuff that covers parts of our bodies: an outgrowth of the protein keratin. We just typically call it hair when referring to it on a human body, and fur when referring to non-human mammals.

For some reason I tend to think of my cat’s hair as fur while it’s still on his body, but hair once it has become embedded in every square inch of my bedding, couch, and carpets.  And I’m more inclined to think of dogs, cats, ungulates (hooved animals), and apes as having hair, whereas I always think of bunnies, bears, foxes, wolves, and beavers as having “fur” (yes, I know – foxes and wolves are dogs…it makes no sense).

Photo from 1001catblogspot

Some fun facts about animal hair:

  • Porcupine quills are greatly enlarged hairs.
  • Whiskers are hairs that work as sensory receptors.
  • Fingernails and claws, rhino horns, and the scales covering the pangolin are all made of the same stuff that hair/fur is made of: keratin.
  • Not all languages differentiate between hair and fur like we do in English.

    Pangolin on sand with blue sky background.
    Photo by Nigel Dennis/Getty Images

Check out this Mental Floss article for more interesting facts about hair/fur.


Harness Hell

I confess that figuring out how to use a new dog harness is one of the most challenging aspects of my job as a pet sitter. My brain just doesn’t map the process out well, and with so many different kinds of harnesses out there, it’s a sure bet that I’ll be confronted with and confounded by this on a somewhat regular basis.

I had a  meet and greet recently with a Rover client* whose Boston terrier wears what I think is a “Trixie” harness. She showed me how to put it on, but I have no confidence that when it comes time for our walk this afternoon I’ll be able to do so with any grace. The client sensed my apprehension and told me that she learned recently that her regular dog walkers have been just leashing her dog at the collar because they couldn’t figure it out, so that makes me feel a little bit better.

I was hoping to find a funny video of someone as inept as I trying to put a complicated harness on a dog and failing, but alas…I could only find sober instructional videos.

But you know what there are a ton of online? Yep…videos of people trying to get their cats to wear harnesses. While I don’t condone teasing or making any animal uncomfortable for entertainment, the following video is a stellar example of how many cats react to having something placed…well, pretty much anywhere on their bodies.



* I created a Rover profile back when I first started Northwest Pets DC, hoping that I could get some side jobs/income while I built my NWPDC clientele. The client mentioned above is the first I have worked with on the Rover platform. If you are a Rover client and you are looking for the occasional walk for your dog, please feel free to look me up on Rover and book me via their site. If you are looking for regular walks or vacation stays, please contact me through NWPDC’s contact form; call 202-999-8206; or email

Local Pet Profile: Pimms

Pimms lives in AU Park has been a member of the Corcoran family since 2014, when his guardian Sara received him as a 40th birthday present. The two have formed a strong bond, and Sara is incredibly grateful that Pimms has become an integral part of her life (he thinks she’s pretty awesome, too).

Cat curled up in bed
Photo of Pimms by John Lambrou

Sara was a good sport and participated in a little Q&A about Pimms:

Who is Pimms’ favorite family member?
I am Pimm’s favorite family member.

If you had to choose one personality trait to describe Pimms, what would it be?
Pimms is very slick – we think he might be part Russian.

Two cats laying on bed
Photo of Pimms and Marliegh by John Lambrou

If Pimms could talk, what do you think his voice would sound like?
He would most certainly have a British accent, and would enjoy an occasional drink of his namesake.

If Pimms could convince you to change something about his or her environment or routine, what do you think it would be?
I think he would prefer to be able to go in and out freely.

Cat laying on flagstone outside on sunny day
Photo of Pimms by John Lambrou

What’s the naughtiest thing Pimms has ever done?
He once opened a bag of bread and took a bit out of every slice. I thought it was funny. My husband at the time did not. We’re divorced now:-)

If Pimms had a theme song, what would it be?

(All photos in this post are by Sara’s boyfriend, John Lambrou)

Adorable Duo Seeking Forever Home

A friend of Northwest Pets DC who lives in Fairfax, Virginia wanted us to let everyone know about a sweet pair of 8 month old kitties who are looking for their forever home.

Meet Lil and Caesar, who were living under a trash dumpster when they were found by Anna, who was on her way to pick up a pizza at Little Caesar’s when she found them. After three weeks of daily feedings, the kitties warmed up enough to be lured into a carrier, and have been with Anna since that time. However, Anna already has four cats (2 of them with special needs) and a dog who can be a bit hyper. Lil and Caesar would be so much happier in a home where they can get all the love and attention!

Anna is hoping to find a loving family who will adopt both of them and keep them as indoor kitties. She has taken care of all their initial health requirements: they are spayed and neutered, have tested negative for feline leukemia; have been given their rabies and distemper vaccines; and have been cleared of intestinal parasites.

If you or someone you know would like to bring  these two sweet, gorgeous kitties into your family, please let me know and I’ll put you in touch with Anna.

LilC2 (2)
Caesar is the darker kitty with longer hair (also shown in the feature photo) and Lil is the lighter kitty in the front of this photo.

Holiday Pet Care: Don’t Get Scrooged By Higher Rates

The leaves are falling. The pumpkin spice lattes are flowing. I saw someone wearing brown leggings and boots the other morning. It looks like autumn really is here! Which means that the holidays are just around the corner, and it’s time to start thinking about who is going to care for you pets if you’re going out of town.

Pet sitters tend to book up quickly for the holidays, so it really is never too early to schedule your pet sitter for these most in-demand dates that include Wednesday through Sunday of the Thanksgiving weekend, and the day before Christmas Eve through New Years’ day.

One thing that sets Northwest Pets DC apart from many other pet sitters is that I do not charge extra for holiday visits: The rates you see on the services & pricing page of my website are the rates that will apply to holiday visits.

New clients receive a free, 30-minute in home meet and greet, so please contact me to schedule yours today!


(Please visit our policies and procedures page for important information regarding cancellations for holiday services, and note that I am unable to offer overnight visits during the holidays).


Crumbs & Whiskers: A Cat Cafe

I have a confession: I’m not that into cats.

Don’t get me wrong – I like cats. I have even loved a few of them. And of all the domestic animals out there, I identify and connect with cats the most. But I am not “into” them like most people who know me, and who tend buy me cat-themed gifts, seem to assume. I don’t get all “squeeeee!” over cute little kittens, and I have no desire to surf the web for cat videos (I actually rely on friends and family to source these for me for this blog and other social media). I became a pet sitter not because I am “into” animals, but because I care deeply about their well-being and understand, as a pet guardian, how valuable it is to have a good pet sitter who you trust.

So when I heard that there was a cat cafe opening in Georgetown in June of 2015 (because, you know, everyone started dropping newspaper articles about it on my desk), I was underwhelmed. Honestly, the first thought that popped into my head was “Oh, I wonder what kind of food they’ll have? Will they serve wine?”. Which is why I didn’t prioritize getting down there to check it out.

However, once I started this blog, I realized that this excursion was inevitable, so I finally made my reservation for a 2:15pm slot at Crumbs & Whiskers on Wednesday, and headed down on my bike. And boy am I glad I did.

The staff was friendly, enthusiastic, and informative, and I was amazed at how relaxed and content all the kitties seemed. You can tell that these cats are receiving great care while they wait for that special someone who is going to give them their forever home. And you can tell that the staff members here really *are* into cats. Heck, I think some of it may have even rubbed off on me, because I could totally see myself going back with another human sometime.

And because that old saying about a picture being worth a thousand words is often true, I’m going to shut up now and just share some of the photos I took while I was there.

How Long Can I Leave My Cats Alone?

I recently had a conversation with some other pet sitters regarding the optimal frequency of visits for kitty clients. It appears that the consensus among most professional pet sitters is that a once a day visit is the standard for most cats not requiring medicine, and that every other day is the absolute minimum for any cat. Apparently, leaving a cat on its own for more than 48 hours is frowned upon…and quite passionately.

I confess that when my own cats have had no health issues that required someone to visit and administer medication, I have left them alone with some automatic feeders and multiple bowls of water for the occasional long weekend of 3 days. And I have more than a few friends and family members who do the same.

So I find myself, as I often do, conflicted. I can see this issue from both sides. And because I’m relatively new in this business and not yet willing to plant my flag on one side or the other, at this time I will simply ask that cat parents understand if a pet sitter declines your request for visits of frequency of less than every day, for the reasons outlined in the following blog post I came across while researching the issue.

I would also ask that those of us who may be inclined to leave our feline friends to fend for themselves for a weekend take note of these potential dangers, and do our best to guard against them.

I have copied and pasted the list from this blog post for your convenience. All credit for the following list goes to Purrfect Pet Sitting, LLC. I made notes next to the types of incidents for which I have some sort of personal knowledge or experience.

  1. Indoor cat greeted pet sitter outside.  Cleaning crew had been there and accidentally let her out.
  2. Client had accidentally locked cat in closet before they left.
  3. Cat managed to crawl into a vent and was trapped inside a wall. (NWPDC: I have heard this story from friends with cats).
  4. Cat had gotten tangled up in the computer wires and was unable to get free.
  5. Cat had gotten the cords from the mini blinds around its neck and was hanging. (NWPDC: A friend of mine came home to find her kitty dead because of this, and it stuck with me. All blind cords are tucked away whenever I leave my home, even if just for a few hours).
  6. Cat got stretchy collar stuck on its lower jaw and was unable to break free.
  7. Arrived at a house to find the door wide open and cat was gone.  Realtor had done a showing and didn’t close the doors.  Thankfully we found the cat!
  8. Arrived at a house to find it had been broken into and one of the indoor cats was missing.  I searched for days and eventually found the cat hiding under their shed.
  9. Cat had been peeing blood, took to vet and discovered he had a urinary blockage.
  10. Cat who normally doesn’t miss a meal suddenly wanted nothing to do with food.  Took to vet and discovered a fecal impaction.  Emergency surgery necessary.
  11. Couldn’t find two indoor cats anywhere.  After searching house found a torn out screen in the window where they had escaped.  Took a while, but managed to find both cats and coax them back inside.
  12. Cat had been playing with a ‘bird toy’ and gotten the string knotted around its front legs and was unable to move.
  13. Cats had been playing and accidentally closed the bathroom door, trapping them inside with no food, water or litterbox.
  14. Pet sitter could hear cat crying, but could not find cat.  After much searching she found the cat trapped inside a sofa sleeper.
  15. Arrived at sit to find the burners on the stove on. (NWPDC: This happened to me…I came home at lunch one day and found the side of my refrigerator starting to melt due to the gas burner next to it flaming away on high. I am almost certain I did not leave the burner on that morning – I don’t typically cook anything on mornings when I have to work. I can only surmise that one of my cats somehow managed to jump up on the stove-top and turn one of the knobs in the process, igniting the burner accidentally.)