July 2015 marks the 10th anniversary of Well Minded pet sitting. Though I dabbled in pet sitting for many years prior, I decided to make it my full-time career in 2005 when my family moved from California to Arizona. This career has allowed me to meet so many wonderful animals and their families, some of whom have been with me since it all began. It has also allowed me to be a work-from-home mom. My kids, now eight and six years old, are my junior pet sitters and have been making visits with me since they were each less than a month old. I feel fortunate to be able to do what I love and incorporate my kiddos into the "family business."
I've been reflecting on the past ten years and remembering special clients and unique moments. Working with animals can be unpredictable. Though my years of experience help me through most situations, there have been lots of curve balls along the way. Ever wonder what it's like to be a pet sitter? I can tell you that every visit is unique, and I learn from each new experience. In honor of our 10th anniversary, I'm sharing my top 10 crazy pet sitting stories.
top 10 crazy pet sitting stories
1. The time I had to hand-feed an attack poodle. If I met this dog today, I wouldn't take the job. But since Paco* came to me in my first year, I was hungry for work and cocky enough to think I could charm any animal, a la Caesar Milan. Paco's mom was an elderly lady who was taking a rare 10-day trip to see her children and grandchildren. During the consult, I did find it odd that she insisted I hand-feed bologna to the teacup poodle, but who was I to argue. Paco barked at me a little bit during the consult, but seemed calm enough as his mama demonstrated their elaborate feeding ritual.
Everything changed when I came for my first visit. He went bat-shit-crazy, barking and snarling at me. He didn't want to come near me, so I sat on the couch opposite him and didn't make any eye contact. For an hour, he snarled at me. Hand-feeding wasn't an option, so I would toss him bologna like he was a shark. Determined to break his snarling and win him over, I put on leather gloves to try to hand-feed him. He would snarl and bite the gloves as I gingerly handed over the Oscar Meyer. In addition to his off-putting demeanor, he had terrible rotten, stinky teeth (on a diet of nothing but bologna...go figure). After a few days of that, I realized that he was going to hate me no matter what. And the feeling was mutual. So I'd toss the food (if you can call it that) in a bowl and would plop on the couch with a book for the duration of the visit.
We got to the point where he would only snarl if I looked at him. I called it a breakthrough and broke up with the client upon her return.
I learned that if a dog won't really warm to you in a consult, it only gets worse from there.
2. The time I traveled the trifecta. Holiday season 2005. I was living in one city while our home was being built 20 miles away in another. In the interest of building my business, I accepted holiday jobs in both cities, and a third, which was the final point in a triangle of 20-mile-away cities. I had one morning, afternoon, and evening visit to make in each city. We had family in town for the holidays and I didn't get to see them at all. I would leave at 5:00 a.m. and return at 10:00 p.m., driving about a million miles each day. I think I spent more money in gas than I made.
I learned to limit my service area.
3. The time I broke bones. I was walking Ruthie, the sweetest pit bull mix ever. We rounded the corner, and there was a man checking the mail with his three dogs right next to him. It was only when they charged us that I realized they were not leashed. They attacked poor Ruthie, and she wouldn't fight back (pit bull haters take note). I held onto the leash, was pulled down and drug as I tried to pull Ruthie from the pile while the owner of the other dogs pulled them off her one by one.
Ruthie came out of it without a scratch, somehow. I, on the other hand came out with three broken fingers (not to mention quite a few scrapes). Two surgeries and six months of physical therapy later...I still have crooked fingers that hurt every day.
I learned that no dog should be out of the control of their owner. Ever. I avoid other dogs when I'm on a walk with a client's dog, always.
4. The time the ambulance came for me. I had a heart condition, and I suddenly fell very ill at a client's home. Thank goodness my children were not with me. I called my husband at work and asked him to come right away. I'll spare you the gory details of the condition I was in, but suffice it to say I couldn't stand or walk despite repeated attempts. He asked me to call 911, but I knew I had to give a diabetic dog an injection, so I told him I wouldn't call until he got there and was sure he could give the injection. If he couldn't, then he'd have to carry me to the dog to do it.
When he got there, I was lying on the bathroom floor. We called 911, and in the moments we waited, I instructed him on how to give an injection to a dog. He was very nervous, but pulled it off and fed them and cared for them before following the ambulance to the hospital.
I learned that a back-up plan is critical. When you think something can't go wrong, it does. (I've had heart surgery, and now I'm all good.)
5. The time a game of fetch went south. A classic game of backyard fetch with an ultra-friendly pooch. What could go wrong? We played, and played, and played. The dog was large and the yard small, so I was tossing underhand, palm down (swinging from the hip with the back of my hand on the upside of the ball, like modified bowling). The dog got excited and playfully charged the ball, only my hand was in the way. His upper fang got stuck in the back of my hand.
I probably should have had a stitch in it, but I'm stubborn and foolish sometimes. Ask my friends.
I learned that even happy dogs can cause injury.
6. The time the dog locked me out. This family recently (and beautifully) landscaped their back yard. They requested that I let the dogs out one at a time, and accompany the outside dog. Apparently, the dogs would destroy the landscaping as a team, but were less likely to disturb things going out solo. I followed instructions.
I took Tango outside first and left Sparky inside. Sparky wanted in on the fun and was quite excited, so she started jumping up and down at the slider. Up and down, up and down, up and down...click. In her flurry to join us, she clicked the lock down. Tango and I outside, her and the key and my phone inside.
I walked about a mile to another client's house to use their phone to call my husband to bring the back-up key from my office. I went back to Tango and Sparky's in hopes that the landscaping was still in tact. It was. Instead, I could only watch as Sparky drug the bathroom trash to the window and teared through each piece before my eyes, taunting me as I waited for the backup key.
I learned to keep a client's house key and my cell phone on my body at all times.
7. The time I found out more about a family than I needed to know. The characters: Two barking dogs. Three talking birds.
The dogs would bark, and bark, and bark at me, at a tree, at each other, and at the wind. It was quite irritating. The birds revealed how the family handled the situation. About five minutes into the bark-fest, I hear:
"SQUAK! SHUT UP!"
"SQUAK! DAMN IT!"
I learned to keep my mouth shut at that house and any other with a talking bird. And I had a good laugh.
8. The time I scared the shit out of a dog. Poor thing. Poor me. It was a big English Sheepdog, and I was instructed to let her out of her upstairs crate and into the backyard. The poor thing was quite fearful of me. As soon as I opened her crate, she bolted toward the stairs which curved twice leading downstairs. As she rounded the staircase, she let her bowels loose and sprayed feces in a fanned-out pattern ALL OVER the staircase walls.
I learned to always ask a client where they keep their cleaning supplies.
9. The time I was sure a dog would choke. Oh, Quincy. One of my all-time favorites, but not the sharpest tack. The small terrier was rummaging behind a bush, but I didn't think much of it. Dogs nose around in bushes all the time. When he emerged, I saw he had something quite large in his mouth.
A dove. He had a dead dove the size of his head in his mouth. I slowly approached him to retrieve it, knowing that if I tried to get to him too quickly, he'd bolt. As I approached, I calmly requested Quincy to drop the bird.
He looked up at me and swallowed it in one gulp. If I didn't see it with my own two eyes, I wouldn't think it possible. He then went about his business as if he'd not just swallowed something the size of his head.
I learned that when it comes to dogs and prey, the impossible is possible.
10. The reunion. Perhaps my favorite memory. When I first opened for business ten years ago I was contacted by a very nice couple with a puppy named Clinton. I cared for Clinton regularly for a couple of years, and we had a special bond. Then the couple moved away. Then I moved. Then they moved. Then I moved. They had a couple of kids, and so did I.
A couple of months ago, I received an email from Emily, Clinton's owner. She said she'd found my web site and wondered if I serviced her area (not really, but close enough). She wondered if I'd be Clinton's pet sitter again.
So now I am. He's not a puppy any more, and neither am I.
I learned that bonds with animals survive over time and distance.
After ten years, I can definitely call myself a pet sitting veteran. I've seen a lot and experienced a lot. Mostly positive, with a dash of "what did I get myself into?" But every situation has been a learning experience, making me a stronger, wiser pet sitter. I'm fortunate to be able to be paid to do what I love.
Here's to another ten years of making crazy memories!
* In the interest of privacy and security (and to save off embarrassment), names have been changed.