It’s time to take some time off

dog vacation

This article was originally published in the dog*tec blog. 

Depending on where you live, summers and holidays likely see RVs rolling down the highway, station wagons and SUVs loaded down with bicycles and camping gear, school-age children screaming through local parks in the middle of the weekdays, or tourists sauntering about with cameras and pointing index fingers. What about you? Did you get a break this year?

Everywhere we travel giving business talks for dog pros, we hear the same refrain: “I haven’t had a vacation in years.” “I couldn’t possibly take time off.” People have even tried to tell us that it’s impossible for a dog trainer/sitter/walker/daycare or boarding operator to take a vacation. We disagree. Not only is it quite possible, it’s imperative.

There are countless advantages to working for yourself as a dog pro—no supervisor micromanaging your work, no co-workers who make your eyes roll, no busy work or illogical requests coming across your desk. Oh, and you get to work with dogs. But then there’s the downside: No structure, no one to hand you a regular paycheck, all the responsibility for just about everything, so many people relying on you. Oh, and no paid vacation time.

It’s easy to feel that you can’t get away. Who would take care of the dogs whose owners are away on vacation? What would your clients do without daycare or walking for a week? Who would answer the phone and return emails? And how could you possibly afford it?

Before we help you answer those questions, here are a few more: How can you afford not to take a vacation? Who will take care of your clients and their dogs when you’ve burned out? What will you do instead of working with dogs when you are so tired that you don’t enjoy it anymore? Remember what the airline stewardesses say before take off: You’re supposed to put on your own oxygen mask before helping others. There’s a good reason for that.

Here are tips for a stress-free vacation from doing what you love:

Plan ahead – Your schedule is crazy. You can barely keep up. You can’t imagine when or how you’ll get away. The trick is to turn the calendar page. Turn as many pages as you have to to find a blank spot—a week where nothing has yet been penciled in. Pull a fat black Sharpie marker from your desk and fill that week with so much ink you couldn’t possibly write over it.

There. You have your dates. Now you just have to figure out what fun things you’ll do and where you’ll do them.

Give lots of notice – Given how busy dog pros tend to be, you probably had to plan a few months out anyway, so this one’s easy. Give your clients plenty of heads-up about your plans; at least a couple of months’ notice. Then put it in your calendar to give them a reminder at the one month, two weeks, and one week marks, just to be safe.

Let clients know what’s expected of them. You may choose to arrange a substitute walker or sitter for your clients, for example, but don’t feel obligated to do so. Schools close in the summer, on holidays, and for teacher in-service days, and working parents manage to figure out what to do with their children. Your clients can absolutely do the same for their dogs.

Simply write, “We’ll be closed on these dates. I wanted to give you early notice so you have plenty of time to make alternate arrangements for Fido.” You’ll likely be showered with well-wishes for your vacation and supportive comments like, “It’s about time! You sure deserve it.”

And if you’re worried that your clients will jump ship while you’re gone, don’t be. The likelihood of that is very, very low. They’re going to be just as excited to see you back as their dogs are.

Choose the slow times – The dog industry has natural yearly cycles. Sitters and boarding facilities are busiest during the holidays and summer months, for example, while these times tend to be slower for most dog trainers. Take a look at the patterns in your business and, if possible, take your vacation when things tend to be slower. This will help keep your revenue losses to a minimum and lessen the impact on your clients as well.

Budget – Put a bit aside for your vacation during the busier months so you can take time off with less financial stress and worry. Then get creative about planning a wonderful vacation that fits your budget. You may not yet have the funds for a trip to Europe or the Bahamas, but perhaps a road trip would do the trick. Are there unexplored areas close to home that you’ve overlooked for their proximity? A friend to visit? Maybe resources you haven’t considered? One of our clients announced a small upcoming vacation at home and one of her daycare clients gave her use of a vacation home!

Go! – You’ve planned and budgeted, now go. It’s that simple. Just go. Have a great time. The world and the dogs will be there when you get back.

Don’t work – If your budget only allows a staycation, be disciplined about not working. Lock the computer in a closet if you have to. Consider putting together an itinerary of day trips or plans—hiking, lunch with friends, a novel you’ve been looking forward to—to make sure you take advantage of your downtime.

It’s tempting to keep working right through vacation these days. E-mail, texting, and mobile phones make it hard to truly get away. But nothing ruins a vacation faster than taking a frustrating phone call or dealing with a missing class registration. So record a vacation phone message and turn on your auto reply. There’s little that can’t wait until you get back.

If you find that you rest easier and enjoy yourself more not knowing you have a full inbox waiting for you, allow yourself an hour of email each morning. Then lock the computer away and go have fun.

Plan for easy re-entry – Try to give yourself at least one day at home before you jump full time back into the business. Get unpacked, maybe catch up on a little email, take it easy. The transition from vacation to business owner can be jarring. Take it slowly and you have a better chance of bringing some of your newfound vacation zen back with you into the job.

Make a habit of it – Plan to take at least one vacation every year. In addition to the obvious personal benefits, your clients will become accustomed to your vacation schedule, making the whole process smoother for everyone.

One trick is to take the same week or weeks off each year so your clients know to plan for those dates. This is an easy way for facility-based businesses to give staff time off (and maybe even take an extra day or two for deep cleaning and a little maintenance work). And it means you don’t skip a year and cheat yourself out of some much needed and deserved time off.

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Having a well-trained staff can make vacations easier for everyone! Subscribe to FetchFind Monthly Pro and relax, because you know your employees can do the job while you’re away.

You have to take care of yourself, too

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By Jamie Migdal, CEO of FetchFind

The tragic suicide of Dr. Sophia Yin in 2014 brought the issue of compassion fatigue to the front and center of the animal-related professional and volunteer communities. When I ran a suburban shelter in the early 90s, it was not uncommon to have both volunteers and employees suddenly drop out of sight for extended periods of time. Nobody really talked about it back then, but everyone who worked there knew about that breaking point, and we all did our best to support and encourage people to take care of themselves.

Now, of course, it’s much easier to have a discussion about compassion fatigue in the animal care community. But that increased openness often doesn’t benefit the many advocates and professionals who feel the weight of all of those innocent lives on their shoulders and are compelled to work far beyond the boundaries of their own emotional and physical well-being.

If you work with animals, you should get into the habit of checking in with yourself to see if you’re feeling any of the symptoms of compassion fatigue (also known as “secondary traumatic stress disorder”, or STSD), including apathy, poor self-care, repressed emotions, isolation, substance abuse, nightmares, and difficulty concentrating. If you are a business owner or supervisor, be on the lookout for absenteeism, lack of teamwork, increased aggression, and high levels of negativity. (You can see a more comprehensive list of symptoms on the Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project website.)

Self-compassion is imperative. As Jessica Dolce says, “We need to be well to do good,” and it’s important to give yourself permission to take a break when you need it. Subscribe to a meditation program or follow guided meditations and exercises to help keep yourself on a more even keel on a day-to-day basis.

If you feel like you are spiraling out of control in spite of regular self-caretaking practices, PLEASE SEEK PROFESSIONAL HELP!

If you don’t have a regular therapist or counselor, call the University of Tennessee-Knoxville veterinary social work helpline at 865-755-8839 Monday through Friday 10am-5pm eastern time, and they can help connect you to resources in your area. You may also email them at vetsocialwork@utk.edu.

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