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  1. Grieving for a Beloved Cat

    by Sarah Sorgi

    Driven by my own current state of loss, I have decided to touch on the subject of grief and loss in this blog.  Should the subject of grief, when dealing with the loss of a much loved animal and family member, be as taboo as it sometimes seems? Can sharing our experience ultimately help with the grieving process that so many of us experience and yet, go through quietly? Should we just get on with it..."oh for goodness sake, it was only a cat!"?

    So, here goes...last week, we sadly and suddenly lost our young cat to the road. Safi would have been two in summer, so she was still so young. Having lost her sister to the same, awful, fate last year, Safi seemed to show no real interest in going near the road (that we know of), instead revelling in the paddocks, fields and stables behind our house. There was good hunting to be had, in the form of mice and rats, and she would frequently come home smelling very much of horse! On the morning of the day she died, she brought home a young rabbit, and both my husband and I thought the same thing...oh damn...young rabbits are often spotted in the grass verges at the side of our road. We suspect that later that day, she discovered this fact too. Now she and her sister are reunited in our garden and I am hoping that they are both terrorising the local rodent population in their blissful spirit forms.

    Safi's untimely death was a massive shock, despite knowing that her sister had met her fate in a similar way. Having her wrenched out of our lives so suddenly has left us broken hearted. Over the last week we have felt the massive hole that Safi's passing has left in our family. And not just amongst the humans...our poor dog, Gizmo, is also now grieving for the loss of his 'sister' – he waits for her to jump over the fence back into the garden, he is confused that he now has full access to the bed that she monopolised for herself...small cat on huge cushion...the dog on the floor ha ha!

    So we find ourselves grieving. 

    Firstly, after the shock of being told by a neighbour that our cat had been hit by a car, to the panic of rushing her to the vet, to the realisation she was gone. In this state of shock, we brought her home and buried her next to her sister, with some of her favourite toys and the open packet of Dreamies.

    Secondly, and this stage is still very much ongoing, is the fluctuating between anger, sadness, guilt and sorrow. I feel angry that (yet again) some careless person had been driving too fast along our road to notice a black cat. I feel angry that we couldn't keep her safe (I am not a strong believer in keeping a cat indoors, but I accept that for various reasons, people do) . I even feel angry at Safi for going near the road when she usually avoided it. Then all of these reasons turn into sadness and the hole in our lives becomes even more visible yet again. Then I feel guilty...I made a silent vow to Toothless when she died that I would do everything I could to keep Safi safe from harm and loved. She was certainly loved, but I guess I failed at keeping her safe – sorry to both of you. This all then descends into a soul-wrenching sorrow, where I would quite happily sell said soul to have my velvet coated, bristle-tailed, stable-smelling gorgeous girl back with her family again (and that goes for her sister too). And then, it all wheels round again...anger, sadness, guilt, sorrow....rinse and repeat! I am sure that with time, the loss of Safi will become easier, she will never be forgotten. Having lived with cats for most of my life, I now find myself in the horrifying situation of being too fearful and guilt-ridden about getting another cat...especially not here! But is that real, or is it the grief talking? 

    Loss of a PetThe process of grief packs a punch. Whether dealing with a sudden, unexpected loss, especially in a young animal, or whether dealing with death that follows the natural ticking clock of  life in an elderly animal...saying goodbye is hard. Struggling to reach the decision, or realising when the time has come to offer our much-loved four-legged companions a peaceful passing, is every bit as traumatic and devastating as having them snatched from you in a split-second.  The grief process remains fundamentally the same. Shock, anger, sadness, guilt and sorrow, rinse and repeat.

    The wonderful thing is that by talking about it (especially with fellow animal-lovers, of which ForPaws is amazingly, luckily blessed to have so many) we get to share our experiences of grief and loss with people who can empathise first hand.  These are people who don't think 'it was only a...'. they're people who have their own tales of loss to tell. That in itself is a huge help in dealing with grief. 

    I thank each and every one of you for taking time to read this tale, and in essence, taking a part in helping me with my grieving process. If you have your own tale or experience to share, please feel free to share in the comments below. It means alot that no matter whether it is sudden or expected, the grief we feel when we lose the animal hearts in our family, we as their guardians can unite to make the sadness and pain hurt that little bit less but more importantly make the happy memories feel much more special.

    Give your animal an extra treat, stroke, play time, we never know when they may be taken from us and in so doing taking a piece of our hearts with them.  We love you Safi!

  2. As some of you already know, I have good news in that I am expecting a baby in September this year!  This has meant that my main focus and top priority has been on creating a reliable service that works well without me whilst I am on maternity leave, through being simple and easy to use, transparent and reliable, with clear contacts for our clients depending on their needs.  Readers already saw in our newsletter the improvements I have made to our staffing processes, although some were still work in progress at that time, so this is just a quick extra update for you on what's happened since:
    1. New Staff!
    We are really pleased to welcome to our team, Jo Ellet and Julia Nicholls.  Both are part way through their induction processes (Stage 2, see below for an explanation) but they are now out looking after our dogs and cats for our clients!  Jo is going to be helping out mostly with holiday cover and ad hoc requests from our existing clients when our current team are full, as well as some solo walks in Guildford and Godalming.  She has also been fully insured to drive our ForPaws van, so Jo will be Hannah’s dedicated holiday cover and she has been receiving extensive training from Hannah!  Julia is a dog groomer in training (might be a useful person for you all to know!) and she will be mostly covering the Haslemere and surrounding areas – as we are getting a lot of new interest from this area.  We have put a lot of work into ensuring that we hire the right people to keep you and your dogs happy and content, so we look forward to you meeting them in due course!
    Jo had her first time covering Hannah last week which went well!  When Hannah is on holiday, Jo will also be carrying Hannah’s work mobile, which is 07584 129457 – which ensures that there is no confusion over who to call on what number for last minute changes!  If Hannah is on holiday (we will let you know) she will also now ensure that there is an out of office on her email, with instructions for urgent emails, that require attention before Hannah’s return to be resent to [email protected] – who will action them as soon as she can.
    2.  New Appointments
    To help ensure that you now have clear dedicated contacts depending on your requirements, we would like to confirm the following internal appointments:
    • Hannah Cubbon  Bookings Co-ordinator – all requests and bookings for cats and dogs to go to Hannah at [email protected] in the first instance.  Please note that Hannah often starts walks early and finishes in the early evening, so replies to emails are often sent by her in the evening, not day time. 
    • Sarah Sorgi – Staff Supervisor – any feedback on our team or our training processes, should be addressed to Sarah in the first instance.  Please also contact Sarah if you have any queries regarding your dog’s health and wellbeing on our walks too – she will liaise with the team if we need to make temporary arrangements whilst your dog recovers from an op, or needs solo attention due to a bug or behaviour issue.  As well as training up our new staff and monitoring their progress through the induction process, Sarah will also be monitoring our new monthly survey – a link will be sent to you all each month with your invoice!  If you would like to, you can contact Sarah via direct email to [email protected]
    • Michelle Bialogrodzka - Book–Keeping and Accounts Co-Ordinator – any queries on your invoice should go to Michelle who will then do the legwork for you!  She will also be sending out invoices from this month, running batch payments via Stripe, receipting the accounts and sending reminders.  You can contact Michelle via direct email to [email protected].
    We hope that these new appointments will mean that any questions, queries or feedback you have, will now be dealt with swiftly and efficiently by a dedicated team member.  Should you have anything you would like to escalate to me, then you are of course welcome to email or call me directly on 07500 119232.  From mid-September-December, I would suggest that any emails to me are also copied to Matthew Harding, my partner and fellow Director ([email protected]) as I may have my hands full with our new addition!  
    3.  Stripe Payments
    Last month our first payments were made via Stripe, a secure credit/debit processing system linked to Pet Sitter.  If you would like to sign up, just drop Michelle an email to request your account details and then log into the system to add your card.  Payments for dog walks will be taken when the invoices go out (7 days before month end) and receipted automatically – so no need for reminders or worrying about late payments!
    4. Induction
    Our new induction for new staff has been going really well and we are thrilled that we now have a very thorough process for both vetting the suitability of new staff and ensuring that we provide them with clear, concise training, not only in dog walking (which can be an art!) but also in the processes that we have adopted over the past 5 years of business!  Just to give you all a quick overview of the induction and the stages:
    1. Stage 1 – References, contracts, driving license, insurances and bio. 
    2. Stage 2 – Reading our staff procedure guides, CRB checks, shadow walks and cat visits with a Senior Pet Carer, review procedures with staff member, introduction to Pet Sitter programme.
    3. Stage 3 – Shadow a team member meeting a new cat client and dog client. 
    4. Stage 4 – Complete a written assessment on all procedures including emergencies, be shadowed on a dog walk by Corrine/Sarah.  
    As you can see, this is a lengthy process that spans usually 1-2 months.  Until complete, our staff are referred to as ForPaws Trainees, but if and when they pass, they will then become a ForPaws Pet Carer.  Trainees will start to take over and run their own dog walks during Stage 2/3 of the induction process, once we are confident they are capable (and are definitely ‘ForPaws material’!) whilst their induction continues in tandem.  Stage 4 is our final check once they are starting to build up their own schedule.  During the induction, Sarah will stay in contact with the owners of the dogs that they are walking, just to ensure that they are happy, and to address any additional training needs that may be highlighted.  We feel confident that not only will this ensure a high standard of client service for all our team members, it will also improve our staff retention as we start off as we mean to go on, with plenty of training and support!
    5.  Searching for New Staff
    We are also going to be looking for further new members of the team as we are hoping to have at least one more full time member of staff offering group walks in Godalming and Haslemere and we are also now looking for a dedicated ‘Hound Solo’ Dog Walker.  This will be someone with a particular interest in dog behaviour as they will be dedicated to working with some of our more reactive dogs to help them enjoy their walks a little more and improve in their behaviour on them.  More details on this soon!
    5.  Refining the Services We Offer
    Finally, we have started looking to review our services to ensure they reflect our values and commitment to providing fabulous and well organised care.  One of our biggest realisations has been that offering dog walks on an adhoc-only basis for new clients, does not suit our day-to-day schedules.  They tend to result in unpredictable group walks (we like our group walks to be set groups of dogs who all know each other and get on, this can change in an instant with the sudden introduction of a new dog) they often take a great deal of time to manage and co-ordinate, which we feel detracts from time we have to spend with our valued regular clients and their dogs, and lastly they also take up space that we feel should be kept for our regular clients when they request the odd extra walk.  Whatever you use us for, this will not affect you or your service, as this only applies to new enquiries, but we just wanted to highlight this change for taking on new potential clients - so that you can see the steps we are making to ensure that your dogs are our top priority!
    If you have any questions or queries, please do not hesitate to let me know.
    Enjoy the glorious spring sunshine and we look forward to seeing you soon!