At first glance, pet sitting looks like an easy, fun way to make a living – walking dogs, playing with cats, making one’s own schedule ... what could be better? The reality, of course, is quite different; pet sitting can be fun, but it’s never easy, and the day-to-day experiences can range from challenging to unbelievable. This blog is a ten-year collection of touching, humorous, and downright wacky stories based on my experiences as an animal care and welfare professional.
Tuesday, December 1, 2015
Dorothy and I had
known each other for ten years. We met at the Peninsula Humane Society in the
1990’s when I was working in customer service and she was working as a
dispatcher. When I left to start my pet sitting business, we stayed in touch,
and two years later I hired her as a part-time sitter. Being petite and not
very strong, she was not comfortable walking dogs, but she was great with the
cats. She helped me out on weekends and on her days off, and we often talked on
the phone and met for lunch.
Dorothy was one
of those amazing people who, by the age of 25, had saved enough money to buy
her own condo. During the booming economy of the mid-90’s, she was able to sell
it for more than twice what she bought it for and move up to a cute house in
San Mateo. She wanted to rent out her extra bedroom, and invited me to move in
with her. At the time, I was still living with Bill, so I declined, but when we
broke up a year later, she was the first one I called.
“Still got that
room for rent?”
“Yeah, you want it?”
“How soon can I
She laughed. “How
about next week?”
A few days later,
we were sitting in Sushi Sam’s, a very popular place in downtown San Mateo,
enjoying dinner and discussing my moving in. Laughing, I popped another
California roll into my mouth. “How is it,” I asked as I chewed, “That you’re
Chinese, but I’m the one eating with chopsticks?”
Making a mess of
her roll while attempting to spear it onto the end of a fork, Dorothy replied,
“I don’t know, we just never used them.”
the roll into her mouth and eaten, Dorothy continued, “My parents wanted us to
be totally American. They thought we wouldn’t get ahead if we acted Chinese.
They only allowed us to speak English.”
What a shame, I
thought. This phenomenon is not uncommon in immigrant populations. Fearing that
their children will experience the same prejudice and lack of opportunity that
they did in the U.S., parents suppress their ethnicity in an attempt to make
their families “totally American.” Culture and history become something to be
ashamed of and are lost, sometimes never to be regained. As Dorothy could
attest to, learning Cantonese as an adult – as she attempted to do at the
community college – is damn near impossible.
dinner, we agreed on how much I would pay for the room and when I would move
in. I left feeling a great sense of relief.
“Okay, so we’ll
meet tomorrow at 3 o’clock? Great, see you then!” I hung up the phone and
jotted some notes on a piece of paper. I was sitting at Dorothy’s kitchen table
clearing out my business voicemail while she sat in the living room watching
TV. She was so petite that when she sat on the huge pink couch she disappeared
into it. Her eyes were glued to the screen as they had been for several hours.
She was hooked on the soap opera Days of Our Lives, and since she worked when
the program was aired, and taped it during the week and watched them all, like
a marathon, on the weekend.
Looking up at
her, I said, “How do you feel about a Cockatiel?” There was a delay as she peeled
her eyes from the screen and swallowed the potato chip she’d just put in her
mouth. “Do I have to let it out of the cage?”
“No, just clean
and feed through the cage. Once a day.”
for a moment, ate another chip. “Yeah, I can do that. Initial meeting is
nodded, looking again at my notes and smiling, “But there’s just one thing.”
Driving to the
new client’s house, I wondered at the idiosyncrasies of people, and of their
animals. According to Tweety the Cockatiel’s owner, he was a friendly bird as
long as you weren’t wearing stripes. Evidently the wearing of such a pattern
would cause him to respond very aggressively. Since I’d never worn stripes in
my life, there was no danger of that occurring. Glancing at my notes, I made a
left turn, then a right onto the cul-de-sac where Tweety resided. June was the
name of the lady I was supposed to meet. Lucia, the owner, would be at work so
her partner/roommate June would give me all the info and the key.
“Hi! It’s the
pet sitter!” I could hear someone walking around inside, and a bird chirping,
but no one was answering the door. I heard a loud voice talking inside, to whom
I wasn’t sure. “Hello?” I called out again, and finally the footsteps
approached the door and it was opened. Before me stood a rather large woman
with short-cropped dark hair, wearing what was either a large T-shirt or a small
nightgown and yellow underpants. Her big white legs stuck out from under the
shirt, and since she had no bra on her large breasts hung down to her waist. I
was trying to be polite but it was impossible not to stare. Fortunately she
didn’t notice; in fact, she just turned around, walked back into the house, and
resumed talking to the bird.
your friend! This is your friend, Tweety! Here she is!” Her voice was loud and
kind of strange, as if she was hearing-impaired. Tweety, a mostly-white bird
with orange cheeks and a yellow head, raised the feathers on his crown and eyed
me suspiciously. Birds, I had learned from my time pet sitting, tend to like
the familiar and to distrust strangers. I had a few over the years who warmed
up to me, even some of the big guys like Cockatoos and Amazons, but overall I
left them alone unless they clearly wanted to be touched.
at me, June launched into the care instructions. Bird seed, water, newspapers
to line the cage... “Please take in the mail,” she said, pulling a small key
out of a silver-plated decorative tea pot and heading for the door. I watched
in amazement – and followed her, somewhat embarrassed – as she marched right
out the door in her underpants and bare feet across the parking area to the
group mail box for the town home community. She showed me their box and how to
open it, then walked back in and returned the key to the tea pot. Glancing over
my shoulder, I wondered if anyone saw her walking around like that. Oh well, I
thought, she probably does it all the time.
“Put the mail
here.” She placed today’s mail on top of a rather large stack on the dining
table. “And remember, don’t wear stripes!”
and a T-shirt?” Dorothy couldn’t stop giggling. “For real?”
“Yes, for real,
in living color!” We laughed again.
“Oh, um, would
you mind…” Dorothy started, looking at the floor. It was her way of speaking
when she needed a favor.
“What?” I asked.
“Could you fix
the mirror? It’s turned around again.”
“Sure.” I got up
and went out the front door to where the ghost mirror was hanging. It was a
windy Spring and a few good gusts would flip the thing around so that the
mirror part was facing the wall instead of the street. For trying to make her a
white-bread American, Dorothy’s parents had passed along a whole lot of Chinese
superstitions; among other things, she believed in ghosts, signs, and the
zodiac. The ghost mirror, an octagonal piece of wood with symbols painted in
each of the eight sections and a round convex mirror in the middle, is an
important tool for repelling bad spirits. Good spirits, who may want to help
you, can enter the home freely, but those with bad intentions will look in the
mirror and be bounced back by their own reflection. At the time I thought it
was silly, but later, when my life got more difficult, I found myself embracing
the wisdom and buying one for myself.
The visits with
Tweety went smoothly. Dorothy reported that she found everything okay and that
the little bird seemed well. I did the visit on the last day, as Dorothy had to
work at her other job. I walked in the front door and chuckled at the mental
image of June in her unusual outfit. I approached Tweety’s cage and was
surprised to see him wide-eyed and agitated. His cage was reasonably clean, and
his food and water dishes were full, so I had no reason to believe that Dorothy
hadn’t properly cared for him, or that anything else was wrong. Maybe he was
just reacting to me as a stranger, since he hadn’t seen me since the initial
visit. He eyed me suspiciously as I change the newspaper at the bottom of his
cage, then removed his food and water dishes, refilled and replaced them.
Shaking my head, I retrieved the mail box key from the silver tea pot and
walked outside to get the mail. When I walked back in, I was startled by the
sight of a person standing in the living room! Almost dropping the mail, I
looked up and saw a small Hispanic woman holding a broom and dust pan. Oh yeah,
Cecilia, the house keeper, I remembered. She comes on Fridays. Seeing me, she
smiled and raised her hand. Tweety, already big-eyed, launched himself at her
side of the cage and screeched like a banshee.
“Hola!” said the
Cecilia. “Pajaro loco, eh?” Crazy bird!
Getting a closer
look at the petite lady, I suddenly noticed what she was wearing. Old Navy was
having a sale that week – I’d seen their Spring collection just the previous
day, when I was shopping for pants. Evidently Cecilia had been to the same
sale, and had purchased the v-neck t-shirt completely covered in dark pink and