Tuesday, May 28, 2019

The Cuteness Factor

     Can cuteness be a topic?  I have two answers...yes and definitely yes!  I try to write about antics or situations which highlighted my career. These two guys never got into any trouble. I didn't get
into any either when they were in my care.
     Cody and Cosby were a pair of mismatched terriers. Cosby was Cairn and Cody was a generic
blending of high energy and ear-splitting barks. Their favored outside entertainment included
hole digging and frog retrieval. Our back yard space was an eight-foot square slab of concrete bordered on two sides by sand and whatever grows in sand. An eight-foot fence defined the north end of the townhomes and separated a walking trail from the perimeter of a local special operations installation.
     Our walks didn't take us very far. Too far south and we'd intersect a four-lane highway.  Almost at our immediate west end was US Air Force property. I was not terribly familiar with the neighborhood. It seemed safe enough, street lights were plentiful and there was a large auto detail shop nearest to the main highway. We could walk on the trail during the day and venture across the lit parking lot to another townhome complex after sundown. No real route to any advertised trouble. It was comforting to see other walkers following similar pathways. At least I knew we weren't in the twilight zone.
     Walking with two dogs on retractable leashes could be comical at times. I really didn't have a lead dog which meant I didn't have a follower. The dogs wanted to be on their own scent trails. We would
begin the journey in a line and in an amoeba-like fashion, the leashes would extend their full length and I would suddenly be the blob in the middle. I didn't mind being central to what was going on to either side of me; remembering to adjust the leash to manual control kept the dogs within my field of vision and I never had to switch to my driving glasses.
     Every time we returned, Cosby knew it was time for sand burr inspection. He usually had a couple of them buried in between his pads. They're nasty and require skill in removing them and leaving the dog's hair on the dog. Cody never had any.
     One afternoon, we walked further up the trail along the Air Force perimeter fence and came upon
a group of bikers on a picnic of sorts.  Why they didn't seek out more appropriate accommodations upset me. They were loud, drunk and their bikes were stacked to prevent walking past the group.
I mean how many motorcycles can you stack side by side in a space of maybe fifteen feet wide? The answer was seven. One woman and two small dogs couldn't squeeze around them. We turned around, marched out of listening distance and I dialed the police.
   Another time along the trail, we met a fairly long black racer. I didn't know they slithered up trees!
This one did and after the dogs exhausted their efforts to climb up after it, we continued our
designated path. I admit I was breathless for a few minutes, but having lived in this state and having had relatives of his in my own back yard, I knew we were not in any danger.
     Their inside lives were very structured. Kennels kept them safe. Meal times were scheduled
at 0530 and 1830 hours. The "L" shaped couch invited group hugs and an occasional group nap.
As is with the majority of my clients, this little family served with our armed forces. Our time together was crammed short between orders and I knew my pals would be packing and shipping out.
     The cuteness factor remains with me in my retirement years. Sometimes memories are
made from the experiences in life, other times all it takes is a pair of wagging tails.


Monday, May 27, 2019


     Sometimes my job came with bonuses. Caring for more than a single animal was always joy multiplied.  I love odd numbers, there's perfection in a trio or quintuplet that is missing in anything equally divisible by two. Even numbers are dry, odd numbers are whimsical and unbalanced.
     Having said this, you might think I adore the digit one.  I do not. So we'll begin with three and it's the number behind this story.
     The "D" dogs are favorites of mine. They belong to my friends, Diana and John. I've known five "D" dogs: Yellow Dog, J.D, Rusty, Wimberly and Benji. Wimby and Ben are my companions now
and I'm hopeful the brood will grow.
     On a recent job, Diana introduced me to a phantom cat. She had a shelter and food dishes on the front porch. There was now a cat food section in the pantry.  Emerson had come to live with them.
John did not love Emerson. He definitely didn't want a feline in their home. Been there done that.
It didn't phase Diana. He could be their outside companion.
     Emerson was a member of the clipped ear society.  Feral and stray cats were captured, spayed or neutered and then released back into the neighborhoods.  I'm unsure who was in charge of capturing the cats, but since Diana had asked me for references for baited traps, I'd guess the effort was successful in great part to cooperative, well meaning cat loving people all around the city and neighboring districts.
     The animal shelter in cooperation with  the local chapter of the Dumb Friends League and other non profits, corralled hundreds of stray cats in a calendar year.  The goal was to reduce the number of litters resulting from the hundreds of cats. Apparently it was working. In this temperate coastal climate, stray cats and dogs live their best lives in nature. People interfere with best intentions and in our city, dogs make up a higher percentage of adoptions.; in part it is due to the nature of a cat. Dogs can be happy as inside dwellers.
     Some cats just put their paws down and take each day as it comes. They develop a route and follow it sometimes to their last days and if the last person on the route up and moves away, their last days can mean dying alone.
     Emerson is a large tabby. He isn't easily hidden between shrubbery in his neighborhood. When he first appeared at her door, Diana decided to camouflage his water dish and food bowl behind the
hedge so as not to invite criticisms from her non cat loving neighbors. It worked for a while,
but when the weather was uncooperative, the cat and dishes got the worst of it. She moved his
dishes to the porch...which invited the non cat loving dogs to bark and claw at the windowsill. Wimberly would run to the door in hopes of scaring Emerson away. Well, as long as the door was closed, Emerson stayed. This commotion was unsettling to say the least and John had enough.  The cat loved early morning visits.  John was accustomed to waking up AFTER the rooster crowed.
He insisted that Diana move the dishes to the garage and leave enough space for Emerson to squeeze under the garage door and adapt the boxes, crates and usual garage stuff as his cat cave.
      This move worked well until the day John opened the kitchen door to go in the garage...one of the dogs followed and all hell ensued.  Emerson left for vacation and now the dogs knew where
he was hiding.
      Months passed and no Emerson. Diana was worried. I was scheduled to come by for a long weekend and she left me a detailed list of Emerson's needs. Okay, I'm flexible.  I'd never met him and was looking forward to the introduction.  Problem was where to put the dogs when I went outside.
I'd have to go about it covertly.  So I grabbed the kitchen trash as if I was going to to put it in the dumpster. Dogs thought nothing of it. They had me on ignore.
       I went through the kitchen door and inspected all the hiding spaces in the garage. No cat.  I opened the garage door and walked to the porch. No cat. I looked in the food bowl. No food. Emerson had come!  I texted Diana.  She was happy to hear the good news. For the next few days
I replenished his water and kibble. Some days there was no evidence he had come by. That's just the way it is.  To this day he remains the phantom cat. I guess that makes me the phantom cat sitter. With my job, anything is possible!

Sunday, May 26, 2019

A Little Bubbly

     It was May and the in-laws were coming for commencement. I had scheduled a family portrait for the afternoon before the ceremony.  We met the photographer at a local waterfront park and spent a couple of hours adjusting our posture, widening our smiles, smoothing out wrinkles and celebrating
the achievement of our high school graduate.
      In the getting to know the family chit chat in which all professional portrait photographers are
experts, I mentioned my pet sitting business. Who knew she would return the favor and hire me
before summer's end? As is  my usual practice, an interview and tour of the home was scheduled
prior to the hire date. I met the photographer with baby in arms at the front door. Barking greeted
me through the patio screen door.
      A few minutes later, I was holding a very startled baby and she was trying to get the young dog's attention. Assuring her that I didn't mind the pup investigating me, she relaxed enough to apologize for his unruly behavior. In my opinion, he was not unruly. He was one hundred percent shepherd and his willingness to accept me as a non threat was crucial to my being hired. I won't ever take a job when the dog is on the defensive. If I can't trust the animal in the presence of the client, there's no chance for me to successfully care for it on my own.
     Conversation between us was dotted with baby talk. The interview went as smoothly as one could expect with the constant babble of the child and the repositioning of my hands and feet by the dog as he squeezed himself between his mistress and me.
      The breed is family-centric. Any outsider has to earn his trust. It didn't take too long for that trust to break the tension. An experienced pet sitter has a few tricks. Mine included treats in my pockets and lavender body spray. I always wore freshly washed scrubs when meeting new animals. Once
a bond developed, the smell of another animal was no longer a concern. Thank goodness! Sometimes I had several clients in a day. Truthfully, my pet scented clothes became an unorthodox calling card.
     This young dog was almost too big for his house. The floor plan was without much variation as far as town homes go. I've worked for many a family who live squeezed into tight quarters. There are tradeoffs of course when square footage is claimed by all the occupants. In this household,  the people and dog spilled out on to the back lawn and shared the abundance of sunshine and sweet fragrance of a summer garden.
     A fifteen month old youngster needs inside toys and outside fun. The shepherd didn't understand territorial play things. He was happy chewing on forbidden fringe haired dolls and Duplo building blocks and taking them to bury in a raised flower bed. The exception to a shared experience between child and dog was blowing bubbles. That game was reserved for the dog.
      On the few days of my job there, I was asked not to walk the dog. Bicycles were required as well as a six mile route and the client felt that either I was unqualified or their home owners insurance would not favor a claim if one or both of us incurred an injury. So fun time was restricted to the back yard between the patio furniture and a tree house without a tree.
      The single dip of the wand into the bottle was the silent signal for my companion to wait. Steady in a sitting posture, he would wait for the release of the glistening spheres. Some would burst, others would escape and rise into the warmth of an afternoon.  He jumped and tumbled with jaws snapping
at the floating balls. The wet surprises formed a trail of soapy foam from his mouth and he would
break from the game to dry his whiskers in the lawn.
     If the bottle tipped over and suds began to soak into his top layer of hair, it was time to
bring out the hose and give him a bath. That would lead to a game of tag and another of hide and seek as the very wet dog ran from room to room in an effort to air dry. Any attempt to capture and dry him
was fruitless, so I reserved the towel to wiping down the furniture and small puddles - now plentiful and dangerously spaced on the tile floor.
      That dog was visibly excited by bubbles. I don't know if he had any concept as to their
temporary enchantment. He just knew that chasing them was was a connection to surprise and delight. It was the time when he was the focal point of attention.
     I'm guessing as the child grew up, the game became a time of bonding. What a lovely gift to give the family dog. In this family, there was no prejudice, no exclusion, no rules that separated child from
her best friend. I understand why dogs understand people. They're one of us.


Friday, May 24, 2019

The Tool Box

     A pet sitter's to do list would seem to be rather short, wouldn't it? You might expect feed and walk the dog and the additional chore of changing a cat's litter box. For the "in the tank" group, turn on the light and check the water temperature are essential details in the care of fish.
     What you may not realize is how carefully an experienced caregiver observes the animal's home. Patterns of the animal's life are evident in the details of the rooms it occupies. Sometimes, bedding
is laid out in deliberate layers to entice a nesting ritual.  Clippers, combs, and brushes are readily
available on the bathroom countertop. Pet shampoo bottles are set out right next to the people products in the master bathroom. Of course, the canisters and boxes of treats are always full and invite frequent inspection.
     Over the years, I have added a few tools that always traveled with me from home to home.  I found tweezers helpful in plying the sand burrs from tender paws and whiskers. Powders as remedies for skin irritations and hot spots on the bellies of long hair companions were packed in a small backpack. I carried blankets and a variety of collars and leashes.
     If the dog needed a manicure, a pumice stone worked well and it's a trick I've used for years on my own dogs. The buffing action is non-threatening and there is no motor which can set some breeds
on high alert.
     My toolbox also contained soothing music cd's which I would leave on for the in-between times before bedtime. Animals respond to music and in times when storms would roll in and out,
having a little white noise proved a useful anecdote.
     Rarely, did I have to take charge of an emergency, but I was fully prepared to do so. I wouldn't
take a job if the pet did not have routine veterinary care. Having lived with animals and
been the responsible party in the middle of the night visits to many an animal emergency clinic, my clients relied on my insight during the unexpected mishaps.
     A pet sitter may or may not have undergone certification to become a member of any professional
organization.  Many qualified animal companion care providers have obtained licensing through local
municipalities. Some, like me, have a combination - required paperwork, a lifetime of pet ownership and a toolbox filled with a few handy gadgets and a whole lot of love.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Please...Don't Hang Up

     My success as a self-employed person relied on my reputation and availability.  Jumbling my schedule was second nature. I always found myself in the company of pet owners whether I was working at school or out in the community.  Animal lovers seek out people of the same compassionate nature. Relationships were built on shared experiences. It was interesting to me
to find other like-minded people who opened their wallets and pulled out photos of their pets and not their children! If their galleries were digital, scrolling and swiping across the screen was always highlighted with animated conversations.
     One of my colleagues was the owner of four very large cats.  It's been too long for me to recall the cat' names, but they rhymed.  The felines were not siblings and each had territorial places within the two bedroom house. One preferred under the master bed, another the kitchen counter, a third wanted nothing to do with anywhere other than the three cushion sofa and the fourth one claimed the entire Florida screened porch.
     Food bowls were lined up in a specific order and the cats knew which ones were theirs. Their diet was exactly the same, but I couldn't coax one to another's spot. So every day, I would follow a predestined pathway around the kitchen and respectfully place a bowl of kibble between
bar stools,  walk a few feet and place another in front of the refrigerator, the next one in the northwest corner of the kitchen floor and the fourth one under the piano bench.
     The litter box was shared and for good reason.  It was a Tupperware storage box, a very large one.
If you can imagine pouring a dozen or more buckets of sandy litter into one container, you'd be
close to understanding how generous this litter box was.  Its location was in the center of the
Florida room - which was really the designated cat's playroom. Truthfully, in this house, every room belonged to the cats...
     I couldn't stand it. So on one of the morning visits, I cleaned the house; which confused the cats.
I felt better and during that afternoon's visit, I stayed to watch a favorite television program.
The phone rang. I didn't answer - it was a rule of mine. Clients do not wish to advertise their absences
and almost always have an answering machine which they check on from where ever they are.
     A familiar voice began a dialogue with the cats "Hello, this is mommy. And daddy...how are you all doing? We miss you. Today we are in ......... and are telling everyone about our babies."
The cats came from all directions and lined up on the kitchen counter to wait their turn to talk.
Each began to mew and wait for a response. I'd never seen anything like it! Once the owners had finished talking with one, it would jump down and resume it's activity. Never once did my clients inquire about me. I looked forward to more eavesdropping on subsequent visits. I wondered if the cats were keeping their owners informed about the sitter.
     I've known dog people and cat people. I've written about those with aquariums and cages with perches. I understand relationships and the underlying reasons an animal companion makes a house a home. This family was exceptionally close. The daily conversations were just another example of how animals complete our daily existence; how they fill voids and balance the stressors in our busy lives.
     The language of love is truly universal, even at the other end of a telephone call.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice

     Nutmeg and Ginger were the pair of companions to a single married woman who lived her life
apart from her better half as he was a rock star musician with heavy global commitments. She was
civil service and connected to the special operations command of the nearby USAF base.
     I don't remember the breeds except the coat colors of each made remembering their names easy.
The ruddy one was Nutmeg. The blond (by default) was Ginger.  Neither one was large as all three of us could walk through the back door in a horizontal line.
     The pups were loving to strangers and glad to have their usual routine altered to include outdoor times in between their very long ten hour days.
     The parcel of land was generous, the house cozy.  The homeowner had inspired a lavish garden which combined perennials, annuals, and vegetables. The blooms climbed up and over trellises.
The leaves and ivy's cascaded over fence tops and gates. Fairy lights twinkled after dark and
seemed to reflect the vastness of the starred canopy at late night.  This outdoor space was indeed magical and I was glad to be able to spend the evenings outside with the dogs.
     Some people keep memories in scrapbooks or in picture frames. Others tuck them deep in their hearts.  This woman kept the cremated ashes of all her previous companions in highly decorative urns on her chest of drawers. In my hazy memory, these many years later, there were six in her collection.
Each pet's name was engraved and photos were included somewhere on the containers. For her, their presence was comforting.
     The dogs retired each evening on top of her bed. She had added doggie steps in recent months to
allow the older one to scramble up and join her in the canopied four poster bed. I would find them there again in the early morning.
     We enjoyed daily afternoon walks. Sometimes we would join the parade of other dogs and their people. No traffic to worry us as we were the last street in the neighborhood. Seems the sound of the mail man signaled it was time to go. I don't know the reason why that particular activity stirred their
curiosity. Maybe the postal worker was the nearest thing to a doggie ice cream truck. I spotted
a crowd of wagging tails as the truck stopped and reversed back up the road.
     Our night time visits were extended. We settled in the lawn chairs (me on one and Nutmeg and Ginger on the other). As if on cue, the seven o'clock hour ushered in the spectacle of hundreds of fireflies. The coolness was welcome and blanketed us in a refreshing layer between stars and the
softness of the lap quilts. Dogs do what they do and flittering bugs beg to be chased. Scampering
around and through the sculpted hedges and darting one behind the other, the game ended in a tie
and guaranteed a rematch the following evening.
    Being a pet sitter allows glimpses into other realities.  Short term and long term jobs
were always a happy accident. I never knew what my schedule would be other than predictably busier during the holidays.  Ginger, Nutmeg and I spent a single summer together. Life goes on and we never had the opportunity to reconnect. And when the stars come out these many years later and the lightening bugs buzz about my head, I remember lazy summer nights with a couple of sweet old dogs.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Learning Curve

     Scout and King were a pair of German shepherds who were still maturing when we met.  I'd guess they were about a year and one-half old.  I had met and worked with a third shepherd in this family,
but he passed on during the couple of years I was employed with them.
     Shepherds are strongly opinionated and when they keep secrets from the pet sitter, all heck can break loose.  These pups were mischief with a capital M! There would be evidence of SOME BODY'S bad habits, but I couldn't discover who to blame.  Of course, the antics would occur during the times I was NOT there.
     Clean up was constant and because they were gated in the kitchen overnight, any mess would belong equally to both dogs. They took reprimands in stride and were proud that I had stopped to notice their efforts.  Mostly outside habits greeted my arrival. Not that I was delayed in my morning schedule, they just decided to un-train themselves in my absence.
     They loved to get into the kitchen cabinetry and upend the silverware drawer. Perhaps they liked the sound of cascading spoons onto the tile floor.
      Equally entertaining, apparently, was the bottom drawer of dish towels.  The game of tug of war kept them busy sometime in the dead of night.
      After multiple text messages to the homeowners, it was suggested that I buy a camera, have it installed and report back.  Six weeks was a huge chunk of time to trust the care of their dogs to a virtual stranger.  I wasn't exactly a stranger, but not living on the property, gave me a decided disadvantage.
      I had the equipment set up, learned to access the video through their home computer and spent the several weeks watching the best YouTube ever!
     Of course, there was the alpha male and after just one video clip, I deduced it was Scout. He was just bored, could get out of his kennel, tug the toggle on King's kennel and busy himself with a follow the leader - let's get into trouble - game that lasted ALL NIGHT LONG.
     How they avoided the relatively no brainer escape over the baby gate, I'll never know. I mean, if I could straddle it and I'm only five ft. four in. -  a fifty-pound dog could easily hurdle it, but they stayed in the kitchen. It was nearer to whatever smelled so good behind the closed refrigerator door.
      Once a daughter joined the family, Scout decided her baby things were his baby things. His owners were much too trusting. They would leave baby rattles and pacifiers on the kitchen counter.
They would leave the diaper genie on the floor in a bathroom and pack up the car, leaving the tempting contents readily available.  I know parents of a newborn are never in their right mind, and this couple hadn't even accomplished puppy training or perhaps they THOUGHT they had.
     "My" two handsome dogs, had the upper paw. I knew it and I gave in. I am a quick study and realized that I'd never win an argument let alone succeed with basic training.  Even if I had,
there was no guarantee that the owners would have followed through.
      On our walks, I know ONE of us got more exercise than the other two. I developed matching biceps over the six-week job. We seemed to attract more than our share of attention and the additional
well-meaning compliments caused interruption to our routine.  It never failed that within five minutes of our leaving the house, someone would come out just to say hello.  That greeting caused the dogs to forget any sense of order and they would wiggle over to the person. I would have to wiggle over as well. Can you imagine three jello cubes sliding down a cookie sheet? Well, that would be us. King would start over and his leash would demand I follow him which in turn pulled Scout to a new direction. Once the greeting committee retreated, we would reassemble and begin again. A thirty-minute walk became fifty minutes of stop and go. I tried to be gracious, "parking" the pair
every few minutes to chat with a total stranger. I began to keep my business cards in a pocket for a
quick retreat. I didn't work. That maneuver extended the conversation. The delay made the dogs anxious and they would head back to the middle of the street, pulling me between them as I added a hasty, "I'll be speaking with youSOOOOOooooon," with my voice trailing behind me.
      Depending on the time of the afternoon, we would pass a corner lot with an invisible fence and a very visible and audible small white terrier. She would yap, yap and taunt the boys, running the perimeter of her yard.  We got even just once. We stood at the "fence line" and barked back.  I had a few choice words to add.  She backed up and shaking her head retreated to the safety of the front porch.
     She had a full day to consider her attitude and the very next day, as we rounded the corner, she just sat on the porch and let us pass. I don't know what the dogs told her the previous day, but I praised them, "good boys", patted their heads and we kept to our path.
     Throughout my time caring for King and Scout,  nothing changed, the pranks and attention seeking activities continued. As the baby grew from pacifiers into teething rings,  I noticed an increase in dog toys. Jealousy is common in a home with babies and pets. It can be comical, it can cause concern.  Thankfully, I was never tasked with babysitting for this family. I belonged to the dogs.
      The month and one half I spent with them taught me immeasurable patience. Patience is the foundation of empathy which is the basis for compassion - and it's all good when shared with
two rambunctious German shepherds.