Newsletter Steven Ferry

The Modern Butlers’ Journal, August 2018, The Butlers Speak

Steven FerryThe Butlers Speak

by Steven Ferry

Caring for the principals’ Pets

83% of those surveyed have had to deal with pets: “Most homes these days have some sort of pet, and if one works for a family with children, then watch out, the pets can range from the more-normal dogs, cats, birds, and fish to the more exotic, such as cobras, specialty fish, Shetland ponies (that happened to be pregnant, we came to find out), hedgehogs, toucans and macaws, and even mice.” Other butlers reported having to look after turtles, an albino boa constrictor, and monkeys.

Duties relating to the pets included day-to-day care, research when needed, collecting permits, house sitting when the principals were away, meeting with vets, groomers, handlers, ordering special foods, seeds, insects, the list goes on and on. As one butler put it, “You’d better not have a “dicky tummy” when it comes to clean up, as you’ll be told a million times ‘The dog pooped in the living room’ and all you can say to yourself is, ‘The last time I checked, this dog was yours, not mine,’ and that mindset, of course, won’t get you very far, because when it comes to dog poo, that dog is very much yours.”

Dogs, it seems, according to another butler, “Require the most upkeep: feeding, brushing daily, bathing and, in between appointments with the groomer, washing dog bowls, giving meds, cleaning up the dog run daily, brushing their teeth, playing in the yard, taking to vet appointments, dog sitting and walking. Cats are easy: Feeding, cleaning the litter box daily, giving them attention if they want it; grooming, taking to vet appointments and overnight stays when the principles are away. For fish, it requires cleaning the tank, as children usually feed them, as well as any turtles, although that duty falls to the butler when the family is not in residence.” Luckily snakes do not eat often, so required no feeding by the butler.

As any parent knows, in the beginning children think they can take care of their pets, and it will all be fun, and so it goes with principals. As one butler pointed out, “Pets are often seen as a fashion item, like an expensive handbag. After a while, when reality kicks in, they realize that an animal, like a child, needs lots of attention and companionship, and that is where we come in as staff.”

When it came to difficulties, most agreed that they were limited, other than that the extent of duties were “time consuming.” One butler added that the duties frequently were “invasive of my personal time, especially when I was supposed to be off and the employer was out of town. When entering a home with children and pets, the rules can and do change immensely, as they are not yours, yet they are your responsibility: I was very aware that if any negative experience were to befall these animals, I would experience similar consequences up to and including position termination. These pets were for the most part treated not as animals, but as uncontrolled children with absolutely no education nor manners—what a horrific experience!”

Generally, the day-to-day challenges include, “The type of care needed, special diets, what they can and can’t eat, city permits, and discovering applicable laws: If the city has a limit on the number of dogs, say three when the employer has seven, how does one manage that without leaving the principal vulnerable? Or if they want to keep large birds that make awful noises every day at 4 p.m., what does the city ordinance say about noise levels?”

For some, there have been no dramas (so far) in looking after pets, but all kind of things can happen: For instance, a plane had to be sent back with a cat that went missing during a holiday cruise, so that it could recuperate.

“While the couple was located in their 52,000 square foot main residence,” shares another butler, “I had the assistance of twenty other staff to take care of the four Maltese dogs who had complete run of the home leaving their various messes any place they desired. I remember one carpet in particular was a favorite depository, the value of this carpet being greater than that of my own home—Oh well, just clean it up was the command! These dogs had never had any level of training, never felt a collar or the tug of a leash, nor a loud, angry, or disparaging voice from the patriarchs. While traveling between the various properties around the world, I was the main caregiver for these dogs, each of which had their own seat on the GS 650 and were free to run on the plane as they desired.  One very scary moment occurred when one of the dogs escaped onto the tarmac, and I was only just able to grab it before it was sucked into one of the engines. The patriarch had quite a chuckle watching me run in circles attempting to capture the dog. Knowing the danger at hand, I was scared to death. All I could do was to stay calm and seem as though I was in control of the dogs. My act was apparently convincing, as I never lost a dog!”

“There were three Rottweilers on one property,” recalls one butler, “that I needed to be super-aware of when I was in the compound: It took a while, but they warmed up to me as I was the one feeding them and taking them to the vet.”

“One sweet dog,” related another butler, “had cancer, so I drove it 180 miles, three times a week, to the University Animal Hospital for the cancer treatments. That went on for about six months. I also had to take the dog on alternate days to a local vet to check its vital signs. I needed to give meds and carry him around when he was too weak. People love their animals and I love animals, too, but what made it difficult was that I was always scrambling to catch up on the rest of my work load.”

And for the best approach, one butler reports, “I found it relatively easy to ensure they were looked after by other members of the house staff!”

Whether dealing with difficulties or how to best manage pets, the butlers had some suggestions:

  • Educate, educate, educate yourself, and quickly. Be part of the solution, not the problem, and that includes checking for any health problems related to working with certain types of animals: With all the different types of allergies that people can and have these days, it’s up to the butler to see that all his staff are protected.”
  • Another butler agreed: “An animal is not a LV handbag, so make sure you and your employer are well informed before buying an animal. A colleague bought a dog for one of the children in the family with so called “official papers.” It turned out to be a nightmare, with the dog in bad health and lots of complications. So buy only from official breeders, the national organization of that specific breed. They provide much information and can guide on the selection, purchase, and care of the animal. If you are not familiar with animals yourself, find someone on staff that has experience and involve them, no matter what their position may be.”
  • “Stock dog treats approved by the principals: I always had them in my car and in a Tupperware container in the garage. Take one dog at a time to the vet.”
  • “I do anything for the safety and well-being of the animals.”
  • “Finding a groomer who would make house calls made a tremendous difference: Staff members no longer had to interrupt their work to drive the dog to and from  appointments.”
  • “I am eternally grateful to the staff members who step forward to care for the dogs when there was a sudden need.  One housekeeper was even willing to board the dog at her home when the principals decided to go away at short notice.  In another family, it was a nanny who took full responsibility for feeding the dog twice a day.  I also appreciated the groundskeeper who would step forward any time the dog would need to visit the vet.”
  • One third of the butlers surveyed felt this way: “If you are not an animal-friendly person, do yourself a favor and don’t apply for a position with families who have pets. Whether you like it or not, they are your responsibility and if you take your eye off “the ball” for one minute it’s a recipe for disaster.”

And just to wrap up, looking after pets has its amusing side, too, as one butler noted:

  • “It is funny to see the eyes of team members when you show up with a cat in a helicopter, or on a nice, shiny, and white-carpeted yacht!”
  • “There are some people, either family or friends, who think it is cute to give the principals something they think they’d like: Rolling up out of the blue with a pregnant pony was not on my radar, nor the poisonous lizard and the snakes that needed to be locked behind a “safe door;” or being told on a Monday morning, ‘Oh, by the way, I’ve bought a thousand-gallon sea-anemone tank, deal with it, will you?’ Sure, jobs like these are challenging, but one thing they are not, is dull.”
  • “Some days, the dogs are the only ones happy to see me! It is fun having them follow me around as I do my never-ending chores. I have pet names for them, too: The dog who had cancer was a show dog and his nickname was Tiny Dancer, as he would perform a little routine for me for his treat. He will always be my favorite because he was sweet before and during his medical complications. Actually, I have fond memories of all the animals in the families I worked for.”

The Institute is dedicated to raising service standards by broadly disseminating the mindset and superior service expertise of that time-honored, quintessential service provider, the British Butler, updated with modern people skills, and adapted to the needs of modern employers and guests in staffed homes, luxury hotels, resorts, spas, retirement communities, jets, yachts & cruise ships around the world.