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October 23, 2011 / Melissa Leeanne

Diary of a dogsitter

I can’t have pets at my apartment or I’d probably have picked up a pound pup after one of my petfinder.com searches. To make up for my puppy-less-ness, I sometimes agree to walk or watch other people’s dogs, with more interesting results than anyone would want.

When I sat for a friend about a year ago, I was pretty enamored with her medium sized King Charles Spaniel with all his exuberance and soft fur that would decorate everything I wore for the week my friend was in Hawaii. We would go on walks together and sit on the couch for petting sessions and everything was great.

That exuberance I was talking about, though, it meant that he wanted to go a bit faster than my bipedal frame and admittedly less than lithe figure could manage, so I decided that I would let him off leash based on generally obedient behavior and how he always seemed to want to be everywhere I was, especially when I needed to take my own pee breaks, closing the door to the bathroom right in his cute little face. I was having good off leash experiences for the quick morning jaunts and decided, later one evening, to let him roam free for a bit. Winter in Alaska means it is dark by around 4pm and cold. I didn’t have a flashlight (I am still cursing myself for not buying a stupid headlamp, come on already) and when he dashed off outside of my field of vision, I started calling his name. Repeatedly. For about a half hour. While wandering in the dark among trees like an idiot. At least the bears are hibernating in the winter. I called a friend, who talked me down, convincing me to go back to my friend’s house because the dog was probably there. He was right. The exuberant dog was sitting in front of the door looking all too exuberant for my mood at the time, with something adding to his exuberance in his mouth. Again, it’s dark this time of year, and I reached for the mystery item in his mouth to find that it was a salmon head.

A slimy, cold salmon head (Alaskan problems).

That evening continued to be adventure filled because, of course, I had to give the exuberant, dead-fish-smelling dog a bath. He was less exuberant in the bath, shaking and pouting, and clearly aware of his much deserved ill favor for the hour I looked for him and then had to bathe him.

We made up, don’t worry.

Another friend of mine has a dog that can best be described as the embodiment of adorable. She’s a pom-chi-gle (Pomeranian-Chihuahua-Beagle) and the belle of the metaphorical ball. My friend had to work some pretty long shifts and the embodiment of adorable needs a break during that time, and my friend and her out-of-town (now) fiance needed to enlist someone who could handle that much cute without acting on the inevitable urge to steal a dog that cute. I would take the cutie on walks around town and everyone would be beside themselves, squealing and cooing at her. This was a summertime gig, too, so I had the occasional chance to parade around town in sundresses with the most sought after accessory of all, an adorable dog.

One day I was on dog walking duty (or had dog walking privileges?) and there was also an event going on at a nearby park. I asked permission to take the cutie to the park for Punk Fest, and apparently neither my friend nor I thought that maybe, just maybe, a tiny and adorable dog might be terrified of discordant, three-chord, punk songs and crowds. Once bitten twice shy, I was hesitant to allow her free roaming abilities and, as it turns out, I was right to be worried. As soon as the first band started their sound check, the ball of adorable disappeared from sight. Again, I looked everywhere for a half hour, enlisting friends to search for “the really adorable, tiny dog” until an acquaintance casually mentioned seeing said dog up the hill. By her house. Of course.

The embodiment of adorable was sitting on her little deck at home, apparently not desensitized to loud and discordant music like my neighbor’s girlfriend’s dog (my neighbor listens to a lot of Screeching Weasel). Luckily, we were able to fix it all with cuddles, so in the end, we all won.

If you are curious as to why I’m suddenly inspired to write about a year’s worth of darling and occasionally frustrating dog sitting experiences, it’s because I’m writing this with a 13-year-old pug snoring at my side. A family I know had to head out of town suddenly to see an ailing family member on the East coast and I offered to sit. Now, in my experience, dogs can exhibit uncharacteristic behaviors when their schedules and situations are altered, but at least this little guy isn’t going to run away. As a matter of fact, he doesn’t really want to run, walk, or waddle anywhere.

At age 13 (which is 81 in dog years), my current canine pal is not in peak physical health. He is also used to the attention of a family of four, with at least one adult working from home. I keep a weird schedule – job related – more on that another day. This confluence of factors means that the little guy and I do not have the most compatible schedules, or that  is the determination I’ve made based on our two days together.

Let me set the scene: It’s October in the rainforest of Southeast Alaska and, naturally, rain is falling. It’s gray, it’s cold, it’s kind of depressing (we’ll revisit this theme soon, also) and apparently snuffly-pug-face isn’t really into that. Most times that I try to coax him out of the house to go pee or poo, he will stand in the doorway staring at me like I am out of my mind. I have tried cooing and clucking and whistling and beckoning and bribery with treats. He’s got an iron will, this one. I think I’ve gotten him to pee outside three times so far. So far, he has peed indoors once. Pooped indoors twice. The first time was due to a slightly longer wait time between caretakers than he is used to, due to an early flight, and my work schedule for the day – which should have been no work but ended up being hours of work due to my post-unemployment terror at spending a day outside a workplace(?) or my incredibly slow, but ever quickening layout skills.

The second indoor pooping, though, that was just him exacting revenge for not enough petting, I assume. At this moment, we are best friends, with him keeping my left thigh warm (can I get him to sleep on my feet?), but earlier today I provided only about 2 hours of in house time and only about 10 minutes of active petting. Not acceptable, I have learned. After two attempts at bathroom breaks, one a no-go, the other successful in the liquids department, we were hanging out in the living room and I was reading a Cracked.com article and chuckling to myself when I saw the all-too-familiar squat of a dog about to poop. Seriously, within the half hour before that moment, I had offered him the vast outdoors twice, yet here he was, squatting on the carpet.

I used the proven method of making a really loud noise to scare the impending poop back into him (okay, I was not near enough to see if it was that close) and herded him toward the back door. We made it half way. It was a compromise, really. I wanted him to poop outside, he wanted to poop on the beige rug – instead, he pooped on the linoleum. Much easier to clean up, but still involving picking up poop with a paper towel and some floor scrubbing.

I am hoping that the more normal hours I will have the next few days will be more to the little guy’s liking and that our time together will involve less indoor pooping and cleaning and more petting and leg warming.

Reasoning with dogs is about as easy as reasoning with a 7-year-old. I should probably explain that later, as well.

All said and done, I still enjoy dog sitting and I still consider myself an excellent candidate. Don’t you want me to watch your dog?

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