Over the 4th of July weekend a local professional pet sitter posted this to our local Portland professional pet sitters message board.

This pet sitter was prepared and takes the job seriously.


Sherry Hasslacher

Owner – Sherry’s House Pet Sitting & Dog Walking

sherryshouse@ gmail.com




I took on a new client for a job starting on July 1st. My questionnaire/ contract is 8 pages long (which some people think is  excessive), and includes a veterinary release and questions like,  “Where is the breaker box? Where are your cat carriers? Do your cats have favorite hiding places?” Fortune favors the prepared, and I knew this was important information to have “just in case”. I didn’t realize my “just in case” was coming on July 3rd.

The day before the job started my client sent me an email to let me know that she had hired a crew to remove the lead paint from the exterior of her home in “an environmentally friendly” way. I wasn’t worried about it because they would not have access to the interior of the house. When I arrived for the first visit I found out that their method included using propane(?) fired torches to heat the paint then scrape it off. This seemed vaguely wrong to me, but I researched it on the internet that night and found that this is an accepted process… although people usually use heat guns and not an open flame. In retrospect, there is probably a pretty good reason for that. 🙂

The three cats have to be in separate parts of the house because the 3-legged boy, Jake, has FIV. The other 2, Domino and Mista, are relatively healthy- but Domino has bouts of IBS, and Mista is VERY shy. I had worked hard on the previous visits to bring her out of her shell a bit.

About forty minutes into my visit, the paint removers started beating on the door and shouting, ringing the doorbell repeatedly. I put Jake down and opened the door and saw just a wall of water pouring down from the arch over the entryway. I couldn’t see anyone, so I shut the door. I went around to the window and tried to figure out what was going on. About that time, another man was beating on the side door to the house. I went out that way and he was yelling at me rapidly in Spanish. I started to smell smoke, then thought about the water I had seen before. Feeling a little slow on the uptake and needing confirmation, I asked him in my 12th grade Spanish, “Es la casa en fuego?!?! (Is the house on fire?!)” He said, “Si!” and disappeared back around the house. I went back inside and started looking for the cats while dialing 911. Amazingly, 911 put me on hold, which gave me time to round up Domino, who was standing peacefully on the dining room table, and put him in the first carrier I could grab, Jake’s. I couldn’t find Jake, I figured he had run upstairs when all the noise started. He likes to hide up there. I got through to 911 (FINALLY!!) and gave them my client’s address, informed them that the house was on fire, that I was inside and so were 3 cats. The 911 lady told me to get out of the house, bless her heart. Right about now was when the smoke alarms started going off. I have to admit I was completely freaked out, but pretty focused in spite of that. My only thought was that I had to get the cats and get out. I finished up with 911, grabbed Domino and took him out the back door (where the fire wasn’t). I screamed at the painters “Ayudeme (Help me!)” and when they came I gave them Domino and told them “Dos mas gatos en la casa. (Two more cats in the house.)” I know, I know, my Spanish is probably awful. Anyway, then I went back in for Jake and Mista. Mista likes to hide in the basement, so I knew she was safer thanJake. I headed upstairs, and the smoke was already filling up the air there. I looked everywhere for Jake, but couldn’t see him because my eyes were watering so hard and I couldn’t breathe. I went back down and a man was at the door telling me that there was an attic fan that was pulling in air and helping the fire to grow and I needed to shut power off to the house at the breaker box. I ran down to the basement garage and turned off everything there was to turn off after I openedthe electric garage door. (I figured the fire department would need to get in that way.) I yelled up from the driveway that the electric was off, and went back in to look for Mista. Of course, the house, especially the basement, was completely pitch black now, and I couldn’t find her. Just brilliant. The gentlemen from the fire department had arrived and were telling me to get out and stay out. But, I knew where the carriers were so I ran back into the garage (one of the safest places in the house) to get them. I went out and called the client and told her what was going on. I’ve never heard someone begin to cry so fast. My heart was breaking for her. I was shaking so hard I almost dropped the phone. That’s adrenaline for you, I suppose. I found a firefighter and grabbed him by the arm and told him that there were two cats inside, and they had to get them. I gave him one carrier and gave the other to another fire fighter and told them exactly where to look. “Jake is a 3 legged cat, he will be hiding somewhere upstairs, probably the bedroom at the end of the hall. Mista will be hiding in the basement, probably towards the back of the house.” Then I sat down on the sidewalk away from the house with Domino and tried to think of what else I could do. I couldn’t believe this was happening. The roof was fully engulfed at this point, and it was pretty apparent that my client’s house was going to be history. Keep in mind now that I have only known her for 3 days. And it’s looking like I am going to have to be the one to tell her that her house is totaled and I can’t get to 2 of her cats. As I wastrying to wrap my mind around this, a kind hearted neighbor from two streets away offered to take Domino to get him away from the smoke and the noise, and once I got his name and address I let him and his wife take Domino.

I was left alone to anxiously watch the house, waiting for word about Jake and Mista. Jake came out first, safe in the arms of Portland’s finest. We both worked to put him in his carrier… to say he was not pleased with this turn of events was an understatement! Then Mista came out, safe in her carrier and being carried by another of the wonderful firemen. I just want to take a moment to say that I can’t thank the Portland Fire Department enough for all that they did. They are the best bunch of guys you could ever hope to have supporting you in an emergency. Anyway, I bundled up both of the cats by my spot on the sidewalk and called my client. “We got them!! We got all three!! They are out and they are safe!!!” We both spent the next few minutes crying our eyes out with relief. I locked Jake and Mista (who each only had cardboard carriers that were a bit wet- too flimsy to carry very far to the kind neighbor’s house) in my car in separate areas- remember, Jake has to be quarantined. The same kind hearted neighbor took me to see Domino and let me drink some water at his house with him and his wife. I checked on Domino and found that he was fine. I took a few minutes to gather my thoughts and then went back to my client’s house.

As I see it, after safeguarding all three cats, my job as a professional at this point was to try to help safeguard my client’s possessions, then help the fire department figure out how it happened, and then answer any questions they had. I talked with an arson investigator and gave her my information, told her what I saw and heard, and gave her the information I had written down from the side of the paint removal crew’s trailer (name, phone number and CCB number). Incidentally, by this point they had all magically disappeared. I gave her my client’s name and cell phone number. I talked with the man from Pacific Power and told him that I had shut off the power at the breaker, and he told me what work they had done and gave me information to give to my client about what sort of inspections would be needed before she could have it turned back on. I talked with the fire chief and made sure he knew that I would need to get back into the house to get my paperwork, and any belongings my client wanted me to get. He told me as soon as they cleared the place, I would be the first one in. Throughout the four hours I was there, I talked with the client multiple times- taking notes on important points. We came up with a plan for where the cats would stay, how I would gain access to that residence, and where their food and other necessary items were kept. We made a plan for what things she wanted out of the house, where they were and what was mostimportant. We got her files out so she could get her homeowner’s insurance information (it’s not like you usually carry that stuff with you!). In the meantime, I kept checking on Jake and Mista in my car, which was encircled with fire trucks. Working with the fire department, I was able to go in and we were able to recover almost all of the materials she had said she wanted, before the water and smoke had damaged them too badly. Working with my client’s handyman and a disaster recovery specialist she hired through me and the handyman over the phone, we made sure her house was boarded up and locked because there are people in this world that listen to fire department scanners just specifically to loot houses after the fire department leaves. I handed out my business card to all of my client’s neighbors and asked them that if they saw anything suspicious to please call 911, then call me.

After recovering as much as I could from the house and giving it to the disaster recovery company for safeguarding, and picking up Domino  from the neighbors house, I went to Fred Meyer’s to get a new litter box because there was only one at the house the 3 cats were going to be going to. It was about 9:30 p.m. I got everything they would need, then spent the next hour and a half driving them out to my client’s boyfriend’s house. I gained access, and got the cats situated in their new places. I took extra time to pet them and love on them so they would know they were safe and sound in their new space.

Then I went to the last three client visits of the night- very late- but I got them all done…  I finished about 1:15 a.m. I picked up my husband at the end of his work shift at 1:30 a.m. and went back to the house. I worked with the disaster recovery people, who were still there trying to cover the roof with plywood, again to get access to parts of the house I hadn’t been able to go in while the fire department was there. I got Domino’s medicine, the canned food that had not been sitting in water, and some dry food that had been safe in a drawer in the basement. Almost everything else was soaked or smoke damaged.  I went home at about 2 a.m.- sweaty, scratched up and bruised (I still don’t know where some of these came from!), smelling like sulfur and smoke, with a sore throat and eyes from the smoke and exhausted. And I mean really exhausted. But, my clients are safe. That is all that matters.

Today, in between other client visits, I went shopping for new cat beds, new cardboard scratchers, catnip and some toys for Domino and Mista. I spent a lot of time thinking about what I could do today to  get the kitties comfortable in their new space. I replaced as much of  their stuff as I could. I got extra litter pan liners and litter so the client won’t have to shop for them when she returns. Remember, she is going to have to re-buy everything she lost… clothes, shoes, everything she needs for her toddler. Everything that wasn’t in her suitcases when she left on vacation. She shouldn’t have to worry about shopping for the kitties right away. I talked with her about alerting the post office not to deliver mail to her house, and told her how to change her address online (make sure you have a credit card available!). I called her handyman to make sure he would recover other items she might want or need, intercept any mail that got through the address change and that he would water the plants I was going to water since he was going to be there everyday with the disaster recovery people. I visited the cats twice today, once during the fireworks to make sure they were calm and felt safe. I will be there for Domino, Jake and Mista until their folks are able to return. I am a professional and I am responsible for them. I will be doing everything I can think of to make them happy, comfortable and keep them feeling safe and protected. That is my job. It’s what I love to do.

I had about 4 minutes total to make important decisions and take actions that ultimately ensured that the cats lived and were healthy.  (Thank God and the Portland Fire Department!) I had to make choices about what I could safely do and what I had to leave for other, much more qualified people, to do. I had to subsequently make multiple decisions with sketchy information and under a tremendous amount of pressure. And I had to relay a very large amount of information to my client over multiple phone calls in relatively chaotic conditions. She had to know that she could trust me to make accurate assessments about the situation and give her good advice. I remember once that someone on this {pet sitters message }board was told by a client that “a responsible middle schooler could do your job.” I’d love to meet the middle schooler who could have pulled off the day that I did yesterday. Put simply, days like this are what separates us, professional pet sitters, from the “responsible middle schoolers” of the world- however many there may be.

It’s nice knowing that there are folks out there who will understand when I say that I was terrified for my client’s lives. And who won’t think I was an idiot for going back in the house. You all know why I had to go back in there. There was never any choice. It’s who we are. You all will know that I am telling the truth when I say that I never once thought about gettinghurt myself, that I was only thinking about getting the cats. You all know why. Like I said, it’s who we are.

Once, when I told a new acquaintance that I was a pet sitter/dog walker, he responded with surprise by saying, “That’s a REAL job?!?!” Yes. Yes it is. I may never make a million dollars, and it may not always feel like work, but it is a real job. And it takes real professionals.