Back in the early days of Castle Keepers one morning I answered the phone. It was one of our cleaning technicians who was in a crying voice saying “I lost the cat.” It’s not uncommon for things to go wrong in the field, and occasionally they result in some tears, but usually a wrecked car or broken item was involved. This was a new one. In such situations I knew the first step was to get beyond the crying so we could identify the problem and solve it. Having had some practice, I calmly assured her I wouldn’t be mad, that I knew that whatever it was, she didn’t do it on purpose; I told her if she could calm down we could fix the problem, whatever it might be. We practiced deep breathing techniques over the phone, and after the third breath she was able to explain that the client’s cat has gotten out of the house, and they couldn’t find it.
We make cleaning instructions for each home we clean, and our teams take these instructions with them to each home. These worksheets include detailed information on each home, including Pet Instructions. In this case the Pet Instructions said:
“Cat’s name is Snowball, and she’s a runner. DO NOT LET SNOWBALL OUT; SHE IS HARD TO GET BACK IN.”
While her bed and litter box were in their usual places, she must have gotten out while they were bringing in their equipment.
By now, the all too familiar knot-in-my-stomach began to form and for an instant I went into silent conversation with myself, “I could have replaced a broken lamp or fixed a crushed fender, but what will I do if we don’t find Snowball?” After that quick indulgence, I assured my cleaning tech it would be OK and that I would be right over with some help and we would find the cat. All they needed to do was calm down, focus, and go about doing an excellent job of cleaning the house. I figured that would be the least we could do after losing the family pet.
I grabbed one of our supervisors, and we headed out to retrieve Snowball. Being a seasoned professional, I knew that for such a job we needed the right tools. We first stopped at a grocery store to buy some milk and canned tuna fish. In the professional cleaning world, there’s not a pet situation out there that can’t be solved with food.
By the time we got to the house it was midday. Fortunately, as you might have guessed by the name, Snowball was a solid white cat, so she would be easy to identify once we found her. So after strategically placing the milk and tuna around the house, I decided that I would search the neighborhood while my supervisor waited at the house and tried to catch Snowball when our “bait” became too much of a temptation to resist. No sooner than I got around the block my phone rang. It was my supervisor; I figured she was going to tell me it was going to be easier than thought. But instead, she called to tell me that there were three cats in the yard eating our food but none of them fit the description of Snowball. Even seasoned pros can have an occasional miscalculation. After a quick discussion, I decided the only thing we could do is let them eat, and hopefully Snowball would join them.
Unfortunately, I was wrong. I had my client’s work number, and by 2:00, I decided it was time to make that dreaded call. My emotions were sinking to depths rarely visited and typically reserved for things like theft allegations. My call went to voicemail. I left a message stating that Snowball had gotten out of the house, that we were looking for her, and that the client needed to call me.
While our cleaning team had long since finished this job and had moved on to their next home, my supervisor and I continued to canvas the neighborhood. As it approached 4:00, we decided that it was hopeless and that we needed to return to the office to check in teams. I began having silent conversations again, repeatedly asking, “How do you fix a lost cat?”
As we approached the house a white cat was prowling where our food traps were set. I guess the smell of food was enough to create an interest. At this point, I didn’t care. I scooped up Snowball, locked her in the house, and quickly called my client's work phone. Again, I got voice mail. I informed my client that we had found Snowball, that she was safely locked in the house, and that all was well.
The next morning we had a message from our client. She thanked us for our diligence, but told us that her cat had died the week before. Fortunately, the cat we had kidnapped mistakenly thinking it was Snowball did no damage and was safely released by our client.
Tom Stewart and his wife, Janice Stewart, are co-owners of Castle Keepers, the first company to achieve CIMS certification. Tom is a nationally recognized leader and innovator in the house cleaning industry. Tom is co-founder and publisher of Cleaning Business Today. To find out more about Castle Keepers, click here.