Something went wrong every Christmas.
As a pet sitter, I was used to not celebrating holidays; after all, that is our busiest work season. With everyone out of town visiting family between December and January, the need for pet care is so great that I was usually booked solid by September. Normally, I did four-eight pet sitting visits a day; during the holidays, it was more like 10-14. The days were a flurry of dog walking, cat box scooping, medication giving, and food bowl filling, with little to no margin for error; still, every year something happened to send my well-oiled machine grinding to a halt. This year, it was a cat called Snowball.
Snowball was a beautiful, pure white male cat. The owners had found him as a kitten several years earlier, and raised him into a sleek, friendly creature. Because he was all white and at great risk for sunburn-induced skin cancer, he was kept 100% indoors; despite that, the owners were having some flea problems. They lived in a wooded area with no shortage of flea-carrying critters like raccoons and rabbits, and the parasites seemed to be marching in a line into their home. At this time, topical flea products like Advantage and Frontline were new, and many people weren’t using them yet. Instead, this family was using a flea collar on their cat. I’ve never been a fan of cat collars, since cats seem to either remove them immediately or get them hung up on something while trying to remove them. I especially disliked flea-repellant ones, since they were soaked in chemicals which, despite their toxicity, did nothing to repel fleas.
So it was that I trudged up the stairs to the front door of Snowball’s house and put the key in the lock. It had been a busy but good day; I had already completed eight visits and my car was filled with cards, gifts, and sweets from clients. I was looking forward to finishing a little early, going home and relaxing. “Hi Snowball, how are-“ I was cut short by the sight of his face as I opened the front door. His white head was swollen to the size of a softball. His lower jaw seemed to be sticking out. With a sickening feeling in my stomach, I realized what had happened: he had been grooming himself, and when he licked his neck and chest area, his jaw hooked around the flea collar and was stuck. I immediately dropped to my knees and, with some difficulty, removed the collar. Snowball opened and closed his mouth again and again and swallowed. How long had he been like this? Did he ingest the flea-repelling poison? It was clear he had to go to the emergency hospital. Ditching my ideas of a relaxing evening at home, I picked up the phone and called the emergency to let them know I was on my way.
Sitting in the emergency hospital waiting room, I entertained myself by guessing the thoughts of the other people in the lobby. That one looks worried, that one is bored, that one is angry and frustrated at having to wait so long. Since all other local vets are closed on Christmas Day, the emergency was even more of a crowded nightmare than usual. A wait of two hours was expected if your pet was not at death’s door; still, there were always loud complaints about the wait, and why one animal was seen before the other. At this moment, the door flew open and a hysterical woman ran in.”Please help!” she said, “My dog has been attacked!” The hospital staff, who probably dealt with this sort of scene every day, remained calm and asked what happened. The woman explained that she owned a four-month-old puppy, and she was pet sitting for her friend’s adult dog. She had fed the dogs together in the same room, and when the puppy toddled over to the adult’s bowl to help herself, she was attacked. When asked what kind of dog attacked hers, she replied, “Pit bull.” The two techs at the desk looked at each other, them immediately grabbed blankets and ran outside to the woman’s car to help her bring the puppy in. I only saw the poor thing for a few seconds, but that was enough. She was a fawn pit bull, or at least I could see spots of fawn where she wasn’t covered in blood. There were puncture wounds everywhere. Her head was partially crushed. My stomach turned and my eyes teared up as I thought of those scenes in war movies where they run by with the man on a gurney. The pup was rushed into the back, and the room fell silent. No one complained. The man who had been pacing sat down. The puppy’s owner looked around at us with frantic eyes. “It’s not my fault,” she kept saying, as if we were judging her. “I didn’t know that would happen, I didn’t know!” People started reassuring her, saying things like, “It’s okay, you didn’t know, these things happen.”I got comfortable in my chair, figuring the poor pup would increase my wait at least another hour, but I was wrong. After ten minutes the techs called the woman into the back, and when I heard a great shriek I knew they were telling her that her dog was already dead.
It was dark when I returned Snowball to his home. He was looking much better already; the swelling had started to go down as soon as I had removed the collar. I placed the vet bill and a color flyer for Advantage flea control on the dining table, stroked his white head, and headed out to finish my day.
When his owners Greg and Sue returned, I met with them and explained what happened. I told them they would have to pay an extra visit charge for the transport to the vet which, amazingly, some people were reluctant to pay. Sue pulled out her check book and said, “How much was that?”
“Twenty dollars,” I said. She smiled as she handed me the check, and when I looked at it, it said $100!
“I can’t tell you how much we appreciate your taking such good care of him, especially on a holiday when you’d rather be doing other things.”