We’re dog-sitting at the moment for our neighbours, the Ks. Heidi, she’s called, and largely no trouble. We’ve had her a few times and the boys love it, which makes me think about getting a dog. But only momentarily because then one of us has to scoop the poop, a phrase which is so much pleasanter than the activity actually is. It’s the texture and the warmth of the stuff through the thin plastic bag in your hand that makes me gag every time. I’m assured you get used to it, but I’m not so sure I want to. We’ve debated the issue, Mr N and me, more than once over the years, listing the pros and cons, and it’s always come down to the same faecal, er, sticking point (sorry, bad pun). The fact is, I suppose, that we just don’t want one enough to be able to move on from the brown stuff. [Incidentally, both of us had dogs growing up but I don’t remember ever dealing with the crap and since Mr N point blank refuses to shovel up his share I can’t image he ever did before either. Perhaps we didn’t, just left it wherever? Was that the norm back then? I think it probably was; that, or we were badly behaved families whose doggy detritus caused many a tut and a grumble and no doubt a fair few shit smeared shoes. I do apologise.]
So temporary ownership is a brilliant compromise. A bit like what they say about being a grandparent – you get the adoration and the action, can spoil her rotten, make your teens do the dirty stuff – which, for a few days and with bribery, they can be persuaded to do – and then you get to give her back! Before we moved to Houston, we used to look after the M family’s dog, Daisy, a white-haired Lab. Then, she was an excitable youngster, yet massive, so it was quite like having a bouncy baby polar bear in the house. Being friendly and basically adolescent, and also a water magnet, it wasn’t unusual for her to lie down in stagnant pools and then bound up and on to other walkers. It was useful to be able to say, and I did say it a lot, “She’s not my dog”. Another benefit of transient care. But I bring Daisy into this because I don’t, in fact, have the best history for the job, particularly the giving back bit (but I’ve not told the Ks this as Mrs K is a bit of a worrier). We had Daisy over Christmas one year while the Ms were away. By Christmas Day, there’d already been a lot of cold, muddy, rainy walks involving long spells watching Daisy happily swimming in the river and not wanting to get out, ever. We also had my mad mother virtually in residence, who kept forgetting we had the dog and then, time and again, like Groundhog Day, being mentally and almost physically bowled over by her enthusiastic hellos as she came upon her in surprise. And she (the dog) had naughtily made it upstairs a few times, once to consume the whole of F’s chocolate orange from his stocking. So, though it was fun and she was adorable, it wasn’t relaxed, and I said as much to Mrs M in a text on Xmas Day. I forget my exact turn of phrase, this was over two years ago now, but I think I possibly expressed some slight stress through humour. I mention this because it has a bearing on my later guilt. The next day, Boxing Day, we took her for a long walk then dropped her back at the M’s house late morning. We were going out for lunch, with mad mother, and didn’t think Daisy in tow in pub would work. Anyway, the Ms were due back later that day, so with water bowl filled and snacks out, we knew Daisy would be fine for a few hours. I dropped the key back through the letterbox, sent a text saying that she was home and off we went to the pub. The next day, we drove up to Edinburgh, setting out quite early. A couple of hours up the motorway, and I get a panicky call from Mrs M. Turns out they weren’t due back until later THAT day, she’s only just seen my message, and so Daisy had been home alone (and still is!), shut in the kitchen with no access to the garden, for almost for 24 hours. How full of shame did I feel? Not only had I taken her back a day too early, but I’d sent an ambiguous text, in the light of which it could’ve looked like I’d had enough, done it deliberately! [It all ended happily, you’ll be pleased to know: Daisy didn’t appear to be overly distressed on rescue, amazingly hadn’t messed in the kitchen, and, most importantly, we’re still good friends with the Ms – they came out to stay with us in Houston last Easter to prove it. Phew.]
I guess that the worst thing about pet-sitting is the danger of death (my immediate image of Daisy was a dead one, ludicrously, really, as dogs can go days and days without food, but the awfulness of the prospect was just too, well, awful). And, in fact, whenever we have Heidi here she does take a while to adjust, so doesn’t eat much and looks decidedly dejected for the first few days (look at her, here on the right!) which can be a bit of a worry. She’s getting on a bit too, and, as was starkly pointed out by M at the bus-stop this morning, she’s overweight. So sudden death could still happen on our watch.
Fortunately, touch wood, that’s not something we’ve ever had to deal with, yet. But I have been on the other side of the fence, as my lovely friend R knows only too well. I suspect that she still feels contrite these full nine years later, as well as, morally, still in my debt to the tune of £175, for the demise of James (or was it Tom?) the guinea pig while in her care. It’s a very long story, but the salient facts are as follows:
- James and Tom the guinea pigs cost us £5 each; they were about one year old so still, really, should’ve had a good two or three years of life ahead of them; they were not particularly tame;
- R agreed to look after them while we were away for four or five days, in a run in her garden, but when I dropped them off, we discovered a horribly bloody mess oozing out of the belly of James; R had the unfortunate job of taking him to the vet on my behalf, as we literally had to fly; I told her that it would be fine if he was put down and that, obviously, I’d pay for whatever was required; he was not put down (R didn’t feel she could ask outright, James not being hers), but instead prescribed (costly) antibiotics, and R was charged with administering them orally and cleaning the abscess area daily. Nice.
- On return from our hols, we took the critters back home and continued the treatment, but the abscess didn’t clear up. This time I visit the vet and, stupidly, take the then nine year old F with me. Our presented options are: another course of antibiotics, but at the risk of the wound attracting flies and their eggs (ew!), or an operation to remove the thing and see what’s what inside. A freaking operation! On a £5 guinea pig! The vet didn’t offer the euthanasia option, and because I had F by my side welling up, I couldn’t bring myself to ask for it directly. So, absurdly, down the op route we went. There was a chance that, once opened up there would be too much wrong and he would be allowed to die, so we left him there, me with my fingers crossed that the DNR solution would come into play.
- But he was made of strong stuff, was James. He pulled through, and back home he came. He needed another (costly) course of antibiotics, as well as to be housed separately from Tom while the wound healed so I had to buy a hamster cage for his convalescence.
- Roll forward about two or three weeks after he has rejoined Tom in the hutch in perfect health, and we’re away again, so back they both go to R, in the run in her garden.
- [Keep in mind, this is £175 on vet’s appointment fees x 2, course of antibiotics x 2, operation (successful outcome, therefore longer and pricier than death on table) and hamster cage down the line.]
- One evening, dusky, R lifts up the run to pick James up, and, feral creature that he is, he escapes, whoosh, gone. Down the garden. Out of sight. Just out. And two days later, stiff body found and (helpfully, I thought!) returned to R by neighbour three doors down. There’s no denying he’s dead. £175 down the drain. Like that *snap of fingers*.
I have not let this come between R and me, I think you can probably tell. Here’s hoping the Ks (or anyone else I might find myself pet-sitting for) would show the same grace in the event of animal death in my custody. It’s a risk I’m prepared to take in return for a fleeting family pet. In the meantime, I’m off to take Heidi round the block and, of course, I’ll be counting on her to save her business for the boys…