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Friday, March 4, 2016

Cats Who Can't: "I'm not using that litter box!"

Is your cat avoiding the litter box? When my mom's cat, "Puma," started peeing outside the litter box, she thought he was just being ornery.  When she finally took him to the vet, they found a urinary blockage that would have been fatal if untreated. 
In a newsletter published by veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker, he discusses other causes that might keep a cat from using the litter box.  First and foremost, rule out any medical issues  by taking kitty to your vet.  Other possible causes:
Stress. This includes changes in routines, other pets in the house, or even new cats in the neighborhood.
Dirty litter box. Cats try their hardest to keep themselves clean, and they have very sensitive noses that detect the smallest odor. If you think the litter box smells terrible, imagine how it must smell to the cat, up close and personal. Make sure to keep it as clean as you can.
Difficult access. If the litter box sides are too high, your kitten or elderly cat may have trouble crossing the threshold. Arthritis is very common in older cats, so maybe try a box with a lower threshold.
Location. Many people keep litter boxes in the laundry room or basement, but imagine how frightening the sudden noise of a washer spinning, or an igniting furnace can be! Also, if the litter box is too far away from where the cat normally eats, drinks, or relaxes, it might be difficult for kitty to make it to the box.
Here are some helpful guidelines:
--Clean the litter box twice a day. 
--Once a week, empty the litter and wash out the box with soap and water. 
--Because some smells stick to plastic, Dr. Becker recommends throwing out the litter box and buying a new one every six months. 
--He suggests a minimum of one litter box on each floor of your home. 
--You should have one more litter box than the number of cats. 
--Studies show cats prefer non-scented, clumping litter about 2 and a half inches deep.
You can sign up for Dr. Becker's informative newsletters, highlighting a variety of pet issues, here:

Friday, January 15, 2016

Bright Star Pet Services: Customer Service Award for 2015/16

Gordon Larsen Business Achievement Awards

The Business Achievement Awards are presented annually by the Lake in the Hills village board.  Each year, the board recognize businesses that have made a positive impact in our community. People from Lake in the Hills and surrounding areas are encouraged to nominate a local business that stands above the rest in one of three different categories: customer service, community service, or employer of choice.

Judy playing with Lucca and Brisby.
Anita snuggles with the puppy Gee-O

We were thrilled to be nominated by several clients for the award in the field of customer service. It was even more exciting yesterday when the village President, Paul Mulcahy, presented the 2015/16 award to us. We are proud of our business and will always work hard to be responsive to our customers' needs.

Nick shares some love
with Gannon and Blarney.

We now have a web page with testimonials and pictures of happy client pets on our website,

We want to say thanks to the Lake in the Hills village board for presenting us with this award, and to our many wonderful customers who nominated us. Most of all, we offer our heartfelt gratitude to our outstanding employees who work hard, every day of the year, and provide exceptional care and love to so many pets.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

A Tidal Wave of New Additions

Summer is over, and Fall is going to be busier than ever.  Kids are going back to school. Parents have added new puppies to their families.  We'd like to give a warm welcome to the newest four-legged additions to the Bright Star Pet Services family.  

Our "big dogs," pictured above, include Tara, Roscoe, Daisy, Diesel and Toby.
Pictured below we have Lady and Gizmo, Stanley and Jillian (both will qualify as a big dog when they are full grown), Vinny, Zsa Zsa and Dudley, and little Scooter.

Of course we can't forget the littlest puppies:  two Golden Retrievers, from different litters, but they almost look like twins!  These are Bleu (on the left) and Gee-O (on the right).

With so many wonderful additions, it should be no surprise that we also needed to hire a couple of dedicated animal-lovers to help with pet sits and dog walks.  We found the perfect combination of experience, integrity, and enthusiasm with our newest employees, Nick Russo and Judy Stettner.

Nick has been a lifetime animal lover, but went a more practical route early in life, earning  a Bachelor’s degree in Accounting from DePaul University.  For several years he worked in the service field, utilizing his attention to detail and his compassionate nature to help resolve customer issues.  He was born and raised in the Chicago area (Northwest side), but has lived in Lake in the Hills for the past 17 years.  Now he is finally getting the chance to do what he loves: working with pets and helping their owners! He has a natural connection with both dogs and cats, having lived with them his whole life.  He enjoys watching silly puppy and kitten antics, and is deeply dedicated to the needs of our senior pets.  One of his dogs, Millie, died last year, but he still has Lucy—who he adopted from Animal House Shelter in Huntley—and two cats named Jackson and Miles.  In the picture above, Scooter is snuggling up to him.

Judy Stettner comes to Bright Star with 8 years experience as a veterinary assistant and technician and a lifetime of experience with dogs, cats and small animals. Her family includes her husband and two wonderful teenagers. Completing the family are Betsy, the cat, Billy and Bubbles, the goldfish. The newest family member, Ellie, was recently adopted from Animal House shelter in Huntley and is a lab/border collie puppy. Judy gets to fill two roles: she will be assisting with scheduling and office administration, as well as taking on some of our newer clients in north Crystal Lake.

As a reminder, all our employees pass a rigorous background check, must be insured and bonded through Pet Sitters Associates, and are required to become certified in pet first aid and CPR.  In addition, they go through extensive training with Jessica before they can complete any visits on their own.  They are professionals in every sense of the word.

If there are any questions or concerns-- please contact us, and we will be happy to help in any way we can.  We hope you are enjoying this lovely, cool fall weather with your furry friends!

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Wanted: Serious Pet Lovers!

Catching Up on All the News
Smokey the cat says,
"Stay informed!"

It has been a crazy, busy winter and spring for us.  I hope you'll allow me a few minutes to fill you in on some exciting and important changes with Bright Star Pet Services, starting with this:  
We are...

Looking for New Customers

If you've been driving around Crystal Lake or Lake in the Hills lately, you might have seen the new signs on my car:
Eby Graphics did a fantastic job with the wrap on my car!
    It is hard to miss the bright red, orange, and yellow that announce Bright Star Pet Services.

    This year we are ready to grow and take care of new customers. I have added mobile advertising on my vehicle to help spread the word.  A huge "Thank You" to Matt Eby of Eby Graphics in Crystal Lake, who designed this amazing car wrap for us!

Safety and Security

     Some people might be worried about their home safety if a car pulls into their driveway that could be perceived to say, "Nobody is home." Obviously, we don't want you to worry about the safety of your home and your pets, nor do we want to risk walking into a home being burglarized!  For this reason, when you see this car, it will be parked on the street, some distance away from client homes.  We also have a completely unmarked car which can be used as well.

     I don't know if burglars read car signs, but ours announces "Dog Training" and "Dog Walking"-- did you know we also do that?  So even if they see the car in your neighborhood, they won't know which house, and if that house has a big, scary guard dog in training, or  some other kinds of pets.

Spread the Word and Save 

Customer referrals are one of the best ways for us to get new business.  I'll bet you know some serious pet lovers in your circle of friends and family.  We greatly appreciate any customer referrals, and we'd like to thank you for your trust and support.   For each referred household that books a visit through us, you will earn a $20 credit for your next pet sitting, dog walking, or dog training service! They just need to tell us who referred them.

Other Exciting News:  Employees and More

For nearly three years, I worked this business almost completely solo.  In February, when my backup pet sitter decided to quit her business for a corporate job, I realized I needed to hire help. It took a long time to get all the pieces together and find the perfect sitter for your very important pets! More than just a person who loves animals, it had to be someone with dedication, passion and commitment to work with pets and their owners every day. I wanted someone interested in furthering their education about animal behavior, with excellent communication skills, and a willingness to go the extra mile for you. They had to be tested with my own large, loud, and crazy dogs.  They had to be willing to learn each customer's routine to our exacting standards, added to my business insurance, and willing to learn pet first aid and CPR.  After finding a few good candidates, checking credentials, and running extensive background checks, I am pleased to announce our new employee!

Anita has earned paws of approval
from my Giant schnauzers, Atlas and Phoebe!
Anita T. is a pet sitter extraordinaire, having had a variety of experiences in all kinds of pet care and an eagerness to learn more about animal psychology and behavior.  She has been training with me for two weeks now, and she is outstanding with pets of all kinds!  She will be taking on many of the dog walking and pet sitting visits, and will be learning the care for each customer's pets under my watchful instruction.

A short biography on Anita:  She grew up in Northwest Chicago, and for most of her life has owned cats and other assorted animals.  Specifically, she has owned 3 Amazon parrots, 2 parakeets, 2 cockatiels, a Collie, a turtle, and both saltwater and freshwater fish.  As a kid she was fascinated with animals, especially reptiles, spiders, and dangerous pets, and considered becoming a veterinarian.  She is currently a married mother to two teenagers and an 8 month old kitten, and has lived in Crystal Lake for 15 years.  The adorable photo of "Smokey" the cat, at the top of the blog, is hers.

Coming Soon...

We will be hiring a backup pet sitter and/or dog walker soon!  If you know someone who might be interested in a very flexible, small part-time job, and who fits the qualifications above, be sure to let them know.  Within the next few weeks, I hope to update my website with information about joining the Bright Star Pet Services team.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Canine Influenza: How Can You Protect Your Dogs?

Have you heard the news that Canine Influenza has infected dogs in Chicagoland with record numbers this Spring?  Here's what you need to know about this disease.

Nope, they aren't sick.... Just comfortable at home!
Cause and Symptoms
First, canine flu is caused by a virus that attacks a dog's respiratory system.  In most (mild) cases, the dog will have a cough which can last from 10 to 30 days.  It might be confused with kennel cough, but usually includes additional symptoms:  lethargy, decreased appetite, and possibly a fever.  The dog may also develop a snotty nose from secondary infection.  In the severe form, dogs develop a high fever of 104-106 degrees F, and have difficulty breathing due to pneumonia or inflammation in their lungs.

Try to avoid walking where many other dogs--
and their germs-- frequently go!
Transmission to other dogs
The virus is highly contagious, and just like human influenza, it is passed through respiratory droplets either directly from dog-to-dog, or from contact with inanimate objects. Dogs are most contagious even before they start to show symptoms. The virus can survive on hard surfaces for up to 48 hours, on clothing for 24 hours, and on your hands up to 12 hours.  It is inactivated by ordinary disinfectants such as diluted bleach (30:1), laundry detergent at normal laundry temperatures, alcohol-based hand sanitizers, or appropriate hand-washing.  Ongoing sanitation procedures need to be maintained in any areas where dogs might be congregating, such as kennels, groomers, day cares, or veterinary offices.   Fortunately, this virus has not been found to cause illness in humans.

How dangerous is it?  How is it treated?
Treatment for any viral disease is mostly supportive, including providing fluids, if needed, and antibiotics for any secondary bacterial infection.  There is no magic cure for the influenza virus. There is a vaccine, but it requires two shots, given 2-4 weeks apart, before it takes hold-- and even then, it will only reduce the severity of illness, not eliminate it completely.  The good news is that most dogs recover fully from the illness; the terrible news is that some dogs might die from pneumonia or secondary infection if they are not treated for it.

Can we avoid it?
Although there are no guaranteed ways to avoid the canine flu, your dog will be less likely infected if he is not exposed to sick dogs or items in the environment of sick dogs.  Since dogs are contagious even before showing symptoms, if you are concerned about infection you may want to keep your dog away from doggie daycare, groomers, training centers, dog parks, or kennels until the epidemic slows down.

Professional dog walkers or pet sitters can provide your dog with love, attention and exercise without the risk of contamination, provided they wash hands between houses and change clothes if visiting a dog who was sick or coughing.

Also, to prevent the spread of disease: if your dog is sick or isn't acting normally, call your veterinarian and keep the dog isolated from other dogs.  Be sure to let any care providers know if your dog is coughing, or might be sick.  Click on the infographic to see a larger picture.


Friday, December 5, 2014

An Introduction to Rally-O

An example of an AKC Rally sign

Rally-O is a growing dog sport that offers a fun challenge to pet dog owners who enjoy competition.  Basic obedience skills provide the foundation for competing in this sport.  Rally-O helps owners develop teamwork with their dog while reinforcing basic and advanced obedience maneuvers.

Each Rally-O course is an obedience obstacle course.  Specific obedience-style exercises are written on signs and placed in varying sequences for the team (dog and handler) to negotiate. Participants must complete the obedience exercise at each station before moving on to the next.  Each team is scored on its performance at each station (or rather, marked down for lack of performance...!)  From a maximum score of 200, teams can “qualify”  and receive a ribbon if they earn 170 points or more, and after three qualifying scores, they will earn a Rally-O title that can be written with the dog’s name.  For instance, my dog Phoebe has earned her AKC Rally Novice title and her official name is now Tanglewood’s Star Bright, R.N. (Rally Novice).

An example of an UKC Rally sign
The maneuvers in Rally-O can range from simple heeling exercises (heeling with your dog beside you, you halt and the dog sits) to much more complicated.  To a beginner, the advanced exercises might sound overwhelming, but you and your dog learn together, step-by-step.  Everyone starts with the basics like having your dog heeling next to you, making left and right turns, learning how to do an “about turn” with the dog staying in heeling position, and learning how to sit and down in heel position.  Gradually you learn more complicated steps like weaving around traffic cones, having your dog “stay” in a sit while you walk around him, or having him sit squarely in front of you when you call him to “front” from heeling.

Once you are ready to move on to the advanced and excellent courses, there are difficult and fun new challenges to master.  At the advanced levels, everything is done off-leash.   An example of one of the most advanced exercises: while heeling with your dog beside you, you signal the dog to stop in a stand-stay while you walk 6 feet away,  command your dog to sit in place, command your dog to come straight and sit again directly in front of you, and finally command your dog to return to heel position, sitting next to your side, before starting on to the next exercise.  The advanced levels always have easier Novice signs mixed in with more difficult signs.  This reinforces what you have already learned, and helps you and your dog feel like you can accomplish something even if you have trouble with a station or two.   

Another exciting challenge with advanced rally courses is that they include one or two jumps for the dogs to jump over while the handler walks alongside.  Some dogs are scared of the strange-looking  jumps at first, but when they learn what they are, and how to do them, almost all dogs enjoy the jumps. In fact, because advanced dogs are off-leash, sometimes a dog gets so excited when he sees a jump on course that he leaves the handler to go jump!

This video shows my dog Atlas and I performing an 
Advanced Rally course. 

Some of the advanced rally stations can be almost diabolical, like having your dog heel in a figure-8 pattern around two cones while tempting bowls of food or toys are on the floor.  (Not all venues offer this insane challenge).  Most new handlers look at these stations and think, “Oh, my dog could never do that!”  With practice, even the most unruly food-hounds can be taught to ignore the food bowls.  Honest!  There is nothing that compares to the realization that you taught your dog to happily perform these complicated maneuvers.

There are several venues that offer titles in Rally-O, with the most common being AKC, UKC, and World Cynosport.  Each venue has some differences that make its Rally-O courses unique.

Here are some helpful websites for further information. (World Cynosport Rally used to be run by APDT; thus some websites still refer to APDT rally.  Make sure to check with Cynosport to get the most up-to-date info on the former APDT signs). -- World Cynosport Rally  --AKC and APDT signs, descriptions, and mini cards to print out -- UKC rally rules

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Five Requirements for Healthy Cats

For cat owners, cats are more than just pets. In exchange for a warm place to sleep and a little food, they reward us with frequent entertainment, unconditional love, and teach us how to slow down and be in the moment (especially when they are sitting on our laps!)

"No Ma'am, I don't think this
qualifies as a safe retreat!"
In return, we open up our homes and wallets to provide them the very best life we can.  The American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) lists five basic pillars for a healthy feline environment.  If any of these requirements are missing, it can cause stress and behavioral problems for the feline members of our families. Here is a breakdown of the five requirements:

1.) A Safe Retreat

Cats need to have a retreat where they can go to feel protected, especially if there are dogs, kids, or other cats that might not always be friendly to the kitty.  In general, cats want a safe place with at least 2 ways to exit. Some cats like the safety of height, and prefer a kitty perch on a windowsill or a tall cat tree.  Others prefer a more enclosed area such as under a bed or in a box.  Whatever the choice, try to have as many safe retreats as you have cats in your house.

2.) Separate, individual resources for food and water, litter boxes, sleep and play areas

Anyone who has ever been in a multi-cat household knows how impossible it is to feed kitties in separate bowls. Inevitably one will want to check out the other's dish, and they both end up eating out of each other's bowls.  That's fine, but even kitties that are best friends sometimes need a little space!  The important thing is that there are options, so that each of these environmental resources are available to the kitty when needed.  The general guideline for litter boxes is to have as many boxes as you have cats, plus one.  If one litter box is being used, or perhaps a feeding dish is blocked off for the moment, the cat can find another one if needed.

3.)  Play opportunities

We all love watching cats play, and play is crucial to their health and well-being.   Predatory toys, such as fake furry mice or fishing poles, allow cats to practice their natural hunting skills and also encourage human interaction and bonding.   Puzzle toys can help a cat's mental acuity and require that kitty works harder for its food.  

4.) Consistent, positive human interaction

Each cat is different in how much human interaction they desire, but maintaining a dependable and beneficial presence in a cat's life will always be good for them.  Never force your cat to interact with you-- they will tell you when they have had enough.

5.) Respecting a cat's sense of smell

Felines rely on their exceptional sense of smell, and use it to scent-mark certain areas and things.  If a cat is having trouble adjusting to something new, try not to clean any scent-markings off.  Felines also produce pheromones which help them feel more calm, and many pet stores now sell a plug-in pheromone diffuser that can help cat  households alleviate stress.  Notice whether highly scented products like candles, cleaning products or air fresheners seem to bother your cat.  Finally, cat litters have differing amounts of air fresheners, but a highly scented litter might cause a cat to find other areas to relieve himself.  

Being aware of these requirements allows us to enjoy our pets to the fullest, making their lives and our own happier and more meaningful!