Starting off on the Right Paw with Feline Boarding Experiences
By Deborah Hansen
“I am sorry, I will need to cancel the three–week stay we had booked for Fluffy. Yes, we will still be going to Europe. We will have a neighbor put out food every few days”.
The cat industry has a high cancellation rate because cat owners cannot locate the cat or safely get the cat into their vehicle for transportation.
Cats are usually dropped off at the feline boarding facility just before the owners go out of town. After the suitcases are packed, the owners will retrieve the carrier—typically from a hidden place somewhere in the house or garage. They then come rushing up to the cat with the foreign carrier and try to coax the cat inside. If that doesn’t work, the owner will proceed to “stuff” the cat in—usually against its will—making the journey out of the home stressful for everyone.
This makes us ask, “When does the boarding process begin?” The owners of boarding facility tend to view the boarding process beginning when the appointment goes into the books as potential revenue. The staff views boarding as beginning when they first see the cat. Most owners view it as beginning when they start looking for the cat to put it in the vehicle to bring to the boarding facility.
With all these different perspectives, as boarding facility owners, we need to understand that the boarding process begins at first contact. When a potential client communicates with us is when your processes and procedures should start.
With your canine clients, you have it down; required shots, what to bring, food, medication, etc. As business owners, logic tells us to apply that same script to our feline clients. We forget one very important thing…cat people are not dog people!
Cat people come from a different starting point than dog people. Most dog people know that the dog needs training. They have a concept of rewarding good canine behavior. Most dog owners know when they need to seek a trainer. Dog owners know public etiquette and expect to be asked for shot records. They seek regular veterinary care. Dogs are comfortable walking on a leash or being carried in public. Dog owners understand the general concept behind crates.
Cat owners do not have that foundation. Most cat owners bring home a kitten; it already knows how to use a litter box; it doesn’t overeat when free–fed. Life is perfect! The cat lives harmoniously with the humans. When the cat rips up the furniture, the owners complain, but they do not seek professional help. Shots are often neglected because the cat does not leave the home, and most cat owners do not use crates. While certain standards are set for a dog, the cat is free to live life the way the cat chooses.
What do we need to do different for feline boarding clients?
When a potential client contacts you, begin the conversation as always. Then add, “Is the cat comfortable in the carrier?”, “How do you usually get the cat into a carrier?” and “How does the cat act during car rides?” These questions not only open the door for client education, but allow you to address the top reasons cat owners cancel their bookings.
How do we educate and support our feline clients before they arrive at our boarding facility?
Use your website to your advantage! Have a page dedicated to cat boarding. Teach owners how to safely crate and transport their cat. Include video and text with basic tips for getting the cat comfortable with the carrier. Reinforcing the importance of transporting the cat in a carrier to your facility goes a long way toward helping clients start their vacation and their cat’s boarding experience in a safe and stress–free manner.
Tips to include on your website:
The weeks or days leading up to drop–off:
- Leave the carrier in the corner of the most used room of the house, facing the activity, with the door open.
- Put the cat’s favorite bed (or what they like to nap on) in the carrier.
- Leave treats in the carrier.
- Pet, talk to or play with the cat when the cat goes into the carrier on their own.
- Repeat as often as possible.
Day of drop-off
- An hour before it is time to leave, put the cat and carrier in a small room with no hiding places.
- Fifteen minutes before departure, go into the room the cat is in, close the door and calmly put the cat into the carrier.
Place a courtesy call and trouble shoot.
A week or two before the drop–off appointment, place a courtesy call to the owners. Ask if they were able to put the carrier out in the family room and inquire how that is going.
If your client has not put the carrier out, ask what the biggest thing is that is stopping them. Most of my clients tell me it is an eyesore. My solution is to put the carrier out and heap pillows around it, or order a designer purse–style carrier. Other clients tell me they haven’t bought a carrier yet, or just can’t find it. All easy solutions.
Once you start these courtesy calls, your clients’ reasons will have common themes. When you establish the themes, put links with the solutions on your cat boarding web page.
If the cat is uninterested in the carrier, make suggestions to make it more interesting to the cat. Feed breakfast in the carrier, or play like you would with any box to help the cat become more comfortable. If the cat hasn’t gone into the carrier, move it to a room that is used more often by the family.
Asking a few extra questions when booking a feline stay, adding additional educational material to your website, and placing a follow–up call will increase the likelihood that your feline boarding clients will keep their bookings—and most importantly—arrive less stressed than before.
Deborah Hansen, CFMG, CFCG, is the owner of a successful feline exclusive house call business, Kitty’s Purrfect Spa in California. She is the creative talent behind Feline Artistic Creations and founder of “Deborah’s Programs,” a complete rebooking program for cats. Deborah is also the owner and creator of Kitty’s Kopy Kats, a stationary store for cat groomers, and author of multiple articles in Groomer to Groomer magazine, Purrfect Pointers and local publications on the topics of feline grooming, issues that affect felines, and business growth. She teaches, speaks and consults on the topics of all things feline, including grooming, environment, behavior, and creative grooming. Additionally, she teaches business and online presence for groomers. deborahhansen.com