Thursday, November 29, 2018

Finding a farmsitter, 101

We previously had an amazing farmsitter who stayed on our farm, with our animals, about 20 hours a day. Her fee was surprisingly reasonable. She told me when we first hired her to “write me a book” cataloging all the routines I wanted her to follow with the animals, which I did. She followed it. She sent me texts numerous times each day of the horses, pony, donkeys, cats, and Corgis. She took selfies of herself with our animals piled on top of her, snuggling up just the way they do with us. We were grateful to have her. Sadly for us and especially our animals, she is now in a serious romantic relationship and wants to have a more normal life - not spending nights and days taking care of other people’s animals. We’re happy for her - she deserves it!

When it came time to find a new farmsitter I asked our former farmsitter, our vets, the pet supply store locally, our feed store, friends, and several farm owners who they could recommend. Sadly, finding someone who would stay overnight was almost impossible, but two people I trusted gave me one name and that’s who we hired. I spoke with her at length on the phone and then spent nearly 3 hours with her here on the farm reviewing our routines. She seemed competent, the animals seemed to like her, and although I was stressed about all of us leaving for a weekend (I always do), I thought things would be okay.

The short version of what happened: we came home to a cat in septic shock who had to be taken to the vet school emergency hospital and remains today in the ICU. Bits of evidence that many items in my extensive instructions had not been done, including my PSSM horse not getting even one dose of his necessary supplement. No evidence I could find that she actually stayed overnight. Animals that in general seemed wary and stressed. Mailbox stuffed with mail, packages in the delivery box not brought in. My farm instructions were missing. This document contained much sensitive information about the security of our farm and home, as well as names and photos of animals.

The text messages that followed as I tried to sort out what happened revealed someone who changed her story many times about whether our cat ate, didn’t eat, allowed her to pet him, or not, where the farm instructions actually were, why she had taken them off the property. Once someone changes the story when they know the stakes are now high, my trust and belief in anything they say is gone.

It wasn’t her fault our cat got a serious infection. But it was her fault that in spite of my telling her the cats needed to be monitored very closely, she did not monitor him the way we had discussed, nor did she let me know when he didn’t eat or take his medication. We found dried up food in the fridge that he hadn’t eaten. Had she told me this I would have had a family member come and take him directly to the vet. He would have received treatment sooner and likely avoided being in the hospital.

In one of the last texts she said “It seems like somehow you are upset with me.”

Um, yes, I am.

When you look for a farmsitter, I suggest you seek recommendations and check them out, then ask these questions:

Are you willing to follow extremely detailed instructions to the letter?

Are you willing to text me photos of each animal several times a day with detailed updates about how the animal is doing?

Are you willing to take the time during your stay (or daily visit) to sit and be with cats and dogs individually so you can see that they are truly okay?

Are you willing to transport a sick animal to our vet if needed?

I thought I covered all these things with her, and I thought she understood. In the end we paid a lot of money for very low-level care, and we’re now spending a huge amount of money taking care of a cat who shouldn’t have been allowed to get as sick as he was.

Right now I’m not sure I will ever feel comfortable hiring a farmsitter again, but if I do, the interview and the communication about expectations is going to be equal to a top-secret security clearance interview. Which in itself may mean I never find someone to stay here and take care of the animals. I’m writing this as a warning, I guess. Be diligent and don’t assume good recommendations mean good care. I’m sure I’ll never be listed as a recommendation for this farmsitter, and no one will hear the story of the nightmare that happened.

I’m getting the yucky part out of the way - I’ll share the wonderful part of our weekend in another post.

Update on 5/3/21:
Adding because it looks like this post is suddenly getting a lot of hits and I want the entire saga revealed. We ended up with THREE cats in the vet school ICU. One of our cats died there. All of this could very likely have had a very different outcome if the farmsitter had done her job. I have checked and she continues to do this work, now has a website, and I hope that no other animals have died thanks to her negligence. Do your research when hiring someone. Have someone check on whoever you do hire. Use cameras. Do whatever you need to in order to monitor what is being done while you’re away. I wish I had done all of the above. 


Anonymous said...

...and people wonder why we never leave...


billie said...

Oh, how true. We have all gone away together exactly 3 times now in 15 years here on November Hill. Each time for 3 days. Once for my son’s college graduation, once for a family getaway while our son was home from college, and once this past weekend for his wedding. We wouldn’t have missed it, so I can’t rethink that decision, but we may have to revert to traveling in ways that keep one of us here at all times, which has been our default mode.

I wish I could find a mature individual, maybe a writer or artist who wants lots of time to work quietly, who would live in a tiny house on the back side of our farm. This fantasy person would also love animals, have a great resume in terms of equine, dog, cat care, and could get free/reduced rent to be our back-up on occasion.

Interested parties may apply, but we’re going to need a year or so to process the application!

Marty, I hope all is well with you. Thankfully the donka boys and horses and pony all fared well in this debacle. They are all puffed up enjoying the morning sun right now. Hugs to you and all your animal family!!

Grey Horse Matters said...

Well, she sounds like an incompetent lazy person. I'd also tell whoever recommended her to you how bad she was. I hope your kitty is doing well. It's a shame he had to suffer because of poor/indifferent care.

I have never been able to find someone to take care of the farm so we could all go away. I get to stay there when J. goes on vacations. I can't tell you how many people we had to fire simply for not mucking the stalls correctly. We have to have someone to muck because J. works all day and I'm not able to be there on a regular basis. Mucking stalls isn't rocket science and neither is turning the waterers back on or sweeping the aisle. But they've all managed to screw it up or take advantage somehow. Here's a tip: the only reliable people I've found are retired men. I have two, one to muck and one to mow. They are used to having a job to support their families and like the few hours out of the house and extra money. That said I don't know that I'd want them to stay over in the house. But they basically live in walking distance so they are always available. I have never had good luck with women and especially young woman. They always try to find a way around doing what they're supposed to but they'll take the money and give you a good story! Good luck finding someone reliable.

billie said...

Once we get Mystic home I am going to write up our experience and share it with both the people who referred her. I’m intrigued with your tip to hire retired men. Our farm helper is not retired but he is an adult and supremely reliable in the work he does. OTOH, our previous farmsitter is a young woman and she was amazing - but she is also a vet tech and has experience as an equine vet tech as well so I think she’s just a rare bird.

Calm, Forward, Straight said...

The last time I went on vacation was four years ago and I took Val with me as we were attending a clinic in Maryland. Wasn't much of a vacay because I broke my arm, but the moral of the story is I haven't found anyone I trust to take care of things to the standards that I do.

One suggestion I got from a friend is to install cameras. There are tiny ones now which you can monitor from your computer or phone. They have become very reasonably priced. You can keep your eyes on everything, plus informing the farm sitter of the presence of cameras would probably raise the level of their compliance and reduce your worry.

billie said...

Cameras are on my list for outside but I hate to put them in the house. Though sure wish I had had them last weekend. :/

We have no plans for travel in the near future, needless to say.

Hope you are well!!!