Posts Tagged ‘pet sitting’

My latest boarder is a goldendoodle named Rosie. She’s at least twice as big as my own dog, a mystery breed named Sugar.  They got into a spat within 60 seconds of Rosie coming into the house.

Her owner and I had introduced the two in neutral territory, a park. We walked them for 20 minutes or so, close enough to see each other but not interact beyond a bit of sniffing. When Rosie arrived at my house a few days later, I put her in the back yard. Sugar already was there. It’s big, so dogs have plenty of room to avoid each other if they want.

All this went well, but I knew that Sugar’s possessiveness over the house, me and the cat could trigger trouble. Anxiety from owners and caretakers can aggravate these situations. So I waited until Rosie’s owners drove off, took a couple of deep breaths and then let the two dogs inside.

Rosie immediately found a tennis ball I hadn’t seen under a piece of furniture. She let me take it from her, but as I was putting it up out of reach, she and Sugar turned into a snarling, grappling, teeth-bared bundle of canine chaos right at my feet.

Standing over them and yelling would likely have no effect or just get them even more worked up. So I walked out of the room. Within seconds, they broke off to run after me, probably wondering the same thing: Where is she going? What is she doing?

They got into it again the next morning, when both crowded up to the door I was coming through after running errands. Again, I walked away. They broke it up.

They didn’t hurt each other, but they seriously unnerved me. Their fights were mostly for show, a way of communicating with each other and letting off some steam. But I didn’t want it to ratchet up into a fight.

Sugar and rosie

Sugar (left) and Rosie

Internet research on how to stop a dog fight reveals advice ranging from impractical to dangerous. Slide or drop a piece of plywood between them. Grab one dog by the hind legs and “wheelbarrow” her away from the other. In really serious fights, jam a hammer handle into a dog’s mouth to break its hold on the other (try not to break any teeth), or loop a leash around its neck and twist to cut off its breathing until it lets go.

The best advice was to know what might trigger conflict and arrange to avoid those situations. So I keep all toys and food bowls out of reach. They’re fed in separate rooms. At night, Sugar is kept behind the shut bedroom door with me, while Rosie can roam the house. During the day, I remain calm but watchful around them. Quickly removing myself, my attention and my anxiousness might have kept their spats from escalating into serious fights.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that will work with other dogs, or even work another time with these two. When it comes to dog behavior, there are no guarantees at all.

Within an hour of that first spat, Sugar invited Rosie to play. Rosie didn’t respond then, but the next day she invited Sugar to play. When they start play tussling, I watch for signs they might be getting too worked up. If the play growling gets too loud or the nipping too vigorous, I  interrupt them with an invitation to go out, or call from another room to come get a treat. They have to sit calmly first.

Then I take another few deep breaths, take them for a walk and visualize them flopped out afterwards, peacefully snoozing.









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Otis (bottom) and Zoie

Otis (bottom) and Zoie relaxing on their couch.

 Otis and Zoie had it all – doting owners, their own couch in a loft condominium in San Francisco’s Mission District,  even an acupuncturist. But Otis also had trouble walking and breathing. His owners, Steven and JR, faithfully followed a demanding regimen of diet, vitamins and exercise recommended by the vet. But when they wanted to take a two-week vacation, they couldn’t find anyone they trusted to maintain that regimen.

Luckily for me, they got my name from relatives here in Gary, Indiana who had boarded their dog with me. Their recommendation was good enough for Steven and JR, so I was hired.

They flew me to San Francisco, where a limousine driver met me at the airport and drove me to their condo. They spent that night and the next day doing whatever they could to ensure my comfort in their absence. They introduced me to friends, neighbors and their favorite local restaurants. They took me to the grocery store and loaded up a cart with enough food and wine for a month. They took me by the dogs’ vet. They arranged for one of their best friends to look in on me and show me around. They even left a couple of hundred dollars in cash, unasked, for extra expenses like cab fares.

Otis’ needs were exacting, but not overwhelming. In addition to his medicine and vitamins, he and Zoie ate nothing but fresh chicken and rice, made in batches every other day. They were walked four times a day, and Otis needed little red booties put on his back paws to help him with traction. The sight of him waddling along in those booties never failed to elicit smiles from everyone passing by.

In between walks, meals and medicine, I explored San Francisco on foot or by using its excellent BART subway system. My visit coincided with the city’s annual Gay Pride festival, one of the biggest in the country. It’s grown into a multi-day event that includes family activities, as well as a parade led by a contingent of lesbian bikers on the biggest, noisiest motorcycles available. Lots of people brought their dogs to the parade, many of them adorned in the rainbow colors symbolic of the gay pride movement.

At the Gay Pride parade in San Francisco

This kind of pet-sitting job seemed like a miracle, but lightning struck me twice. The next year, through friends of relatives, I was flown to San Diego to watch over two adorable Yorkies. They lived in a beautiful, sprawling home near the little town of Jamul in the hills east of the city. In addition to the pool, the enormous flat-screen TV, gourmet kitchen, fresh herbs from the garden and gorgeous scenery, I had my own quarters – a one-bedroom studio cottage just up the driveway from the main house. A big, round trampoline sat outside the cottage, and on warm nights I slept on it. It gave me a great chance to quietly observe the wildlife that became active after dusk, including coyotes, rabbits and raccoons.

The picture on the right shows a view from the patio, with me hard at work!

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On my very first pet-sitting visit to Hersh and Samantha, two big, old, black labs, I found a chewed-up pill bottle next to their food bowls.

The label, ripped and sodden, was mostly unreadable. I didn’t know what kind of pills they were, how many had been in the bottle, who had eaten them or how long ago.

Naturally, it was late on a Saturday afternoon, so their vet was closed. Neither of the owners answered their cell phones.

Hersh and Sam stood by, grinning and wagging their tails, while I called the ASPCA Poison Control Hotline. A consultant looked up what I could read of the medicine’s name, then told me it was a highly toxic medication for bone cancer, which was afflicting Sam. Get them to an emergency vet immediately, he said. Watch for vomiting and convulsions.

During the half-hour drive to the North Central emergency vet in Westville, Ind. I kept a nervous eye on the two dogs in the back seat, hoping I wouldn’t see vomiting or convulsions. Each happily had their head out of a window on either side of the car.

After a $500 visit at the emergency vet, the two dogs were sent home with instructions to keep a close eye on them. We were all greatly relieved when neither dog showed any signs of distress during the next several days. They had dodged a bullet.

I went on to make many more visits to Hersh and Sam before old age claimed them. But I’ll bet they thought the very first one was the most fun of all. They got to go for a long car ride, were fussed over by lots of people, then brought home and fed dinner. From their point of view, it was a great visit!

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