I’m one of those people who reads something like, “Searchers were alerted to the man’s location by the barking of his Labrador, who was found sitting next to the body” and think, “Thank God the dog is all right!”
Though I’m technically a cat lady (and have a dresser full of t-shirts to prove it), I also love dogs and other furry creatures. Mammals only, please. For several years I had a thriving pet-sitting business on the side. I was in high demand for three reasons:
- The aforementioned love for animals, which guaranteed my clients that I would protect their furbabies with my life;
- My availability to stay overnights at the pet’s home, reducing the stress on the little guys; and
- I worked cheap ($10/day).
The advantage of pet sitting is that you get to know and love a lot of wonderful animals. The drawback is that, while one’s attachment to them is strong, their lifespans are short. Most of the dogs (and a few cats) I buddysat have crossed the proverbial Rainbow Bridge.
I remember all of them and the important life lessons they taught me:
Live life to the fullest! One of my first clients was Rudy, a gentle giant of a dog. Elderly and arthritic, Rudy was nevertheless always game for a walk – even in the middle of a blizzard. Rudy also indirectly taught me the painful cost of suburban sprawl: I used to walk him about two blocks to a weedy and isolated empty lot where he could do his business without it having to be disposed of by me (a gal earns her $10 a day picking up after a big dog). One day on our jaunt, I discovered to my horror that a new home was being built on the potty lot. Poopy.
Practice patience – but don’t be a pushover. Piper was a white Shih-Tzu, equal parts Wise Old Soul and Grumpy Old Man. After the trauma of losing his long-time owner, he’d been adopted along with his sister?friend?life partner?Sassy, a black Shih-Tzu a few years younger than him. Sassy has a great deal of what might be termed ENTHUSIASM, which often manifested itself in jumping on and generally harassing Piper. The old man was remarkably tolerant of her antics up to a point. Then he would lay down the law with an emphatic growl and warning nip: Settle down, Sassy!
- Demand your rights. Brady is a beagle on a special diet. His food is carefully rationed, but he does get a very special treat with his meals: frozen green beans. Woe to the distracted pet-sitter who forgets this most important side dish. He will wolf down his kibble, then stare up at you with a look of increasing malevolence, finally barking sternly, until the absent-minded biped remembers to give him his due.
- Demonstrate your authority. The aforementioned Sassy weighs about five pounds – and every ounce of it is composed of iron. She will make her demands known in no uncertain terms (with a yip high-pitched enough to shatter glass). If you fail to obey, she will stamp her tiny, tiny foot. Then she will start kicking pieces of furniture. And if the pet-sitter is REALLY obtuse, she will kick YOU. Pony up the pupperoni, stupid human.
- Comfort is critical. Jenny, another beagle (an enormous one) knew how to relax. At night she would jump up onto the bed and want to spoon. If the pet-sitter happened to take up more than her fair share of the bed (the preferred ratio was 75% dog/25% human), she would nudge closer and closer and closer, her body radiating a temperature of about 200 degrees that was guaranteed to force her bedmate to retreat. Jenny also snored like a diesel engine and passed foul flatulence all night, which taught me one more important thing: I don’t need a husband.
Humans are ridiculously easy to manipulate. One of my dearest clients was Polly, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. She was a princess, entitled to all the rights and privileges of that elevated station. When she wished to go outside she would ring a little bell affixed to the door, and the staff (me) would hasten to accommodate her. She was groomed frequently and always came home from the spa wearing a smart, little neckerchief. Polly would often lay on her belly in the living room, rest her chin on her paws and gaze up at you with a coy expression that clearly communicated, “I am ADORABLE!”
Polly could have had a grand career on the stage, as she did a Lassie imitation that was beyond compare. Apparently dozing on the couch, she would suddenly lift her head and perk up her ears. Then she’d leap off her perch, race to the adjoining room and start barking frantically. If the pet-sitter didn’t immediately come to investigate, she would run back, pausing in the doorway with her tail wagging frantically and a wild, desperate look in her eyes. She would stare intensely at the pet-sitter and woof out a string of spanielese that translated clearly into the following vital communique: “Babysitter! There is a lost child locked in the treat cupboard! You must come with me at once to save her!” Then Polly would run back to the site of the emergency, sparing a glance or two over her shoulder to make sure her message was understood. I’d follow and open the treat cupboard only to discover – surprise! – the lost child had somehow escaped on its own. Polly would feign astonishment, then give the doggy equivalent of a shrug: “Huh. That’s weird. Well, as long as you have the treat cupboard open …”
- Keep hangin’ in there. Two small dogs I buddysat, Tupper and Lacey, were 18 and 22 years old, according to their owners. (Nothing stresses a pet sitter like being responsible for animals who should have shrugged off their mortal coil long ago. Fortunately, I’ve never had a pet die on me, though my dear Piper gave up the ghost a day after I finished sitting for him. He was fine when I left, I swear!) Anyway, despite Lacey having been terribly abused as a puppy, and Tupper being stone blind and incontinent, these two little ones could still enjoy life. They liked sniffing the fresh air, and laying on their soft blankets, and indulging in Busy Bones, and being with each other. Isn’t that about as good as it gets?
These days I only pet-sit very occasionally for my “special needs” clients who don’t do well in kennels and others in special circumstances. I have to say, I miss spending quality time with all my furry pals – well, except for the poop-scooping part.
That’s just the shits.
Dedicated to (top row): Archie, Charlie, Chester, Fred and Mitzie; (bottom row): Sasha, Wicket, Cody, Sophie and Sam. Not pictured, but still beloved: Maggie, Rudy, Sneaky, Jenny, NBA, Sunny, Dakota, Tupper, Lacey, and Emma
*Yes, I know the correct idiom is dog-eat-dog. But my niece has always said doggy-dog, and it amuses me.