The Bitch And The Chow
(Or the trials and tribulations of a pet/house sitter)
By Kelly Hayes-Raitt
Next week, I was supposed to be dog/housesitting for Pixie, a chow-chow with separation anxiety so severe she once threw herself through a plate glass window. It did occur to me that watching this chow might be more than I could chew.
However, Cheryl, the owner, assured me in her syrupy voice that Pixie had been through extensive therapy and was doing better. Good. She could not, however, be left alone for more than a quick grocery run. Figuring it was only for a week while Cheryl and her husband cruised to Mexico, I decided to hermit with Pixie and start my next chapter.
After all, I hardly had left the Carson McCullers house in Columbus, preferring to hunker down and write. Even in urbane Decatur, I spent many housebound days writing with Bebe, a sleek grey cat who lobbied for an author’s credit by regularly sauntering across my keyboard before settling into my lap. I figured Pixie would be a blessing by forcing me to LEAVE the house twice a day for our walks.
Cheryl was flatteringly insistent that I accept this housesit, and it fit my schedule perfectly, but still I hesitated until she offered me the phone number of a previous housesitter. But how would I gingerly ask this stranger if it’s the dog who’s neurotic, or the dog owner? Former Housesitter spared me by jumping right in: “Don’t get me wrong,” he said. “Cheryl is a nice person; Pixie is great.” The chasm between the lines echoed loudly.
Since I would be spending the week with the “great” dog and not the “nice” dog owner, I agreed to this housesit in February and started arranging my travel schedule around Cheryl’s. Then the e-mails started. First it was web sites featuring photos of the chow, written in first-person from Pixie’s perspective. (No offense, but Pixie needs to keep her day job.) Then an e-mail titled “Gorgeous week here in NM” with a photo attached – I assumed it was of a glorious sunset or of a dashing roadrunner. Instead, it was an indoor close-up of Cheryl and Pixie. I now have more photos of that chow than I do of my own mother.
And the questions. Cheryl wanted to know my height and was obsessed with my travel plans after I left her house. My height? Just how tall is this chow? Cheryl offered to have me spend the night with her and her husband after they returned home, so I could spend a “couple of hours debriefing” them. Debriefing them about their own house? Just how complicated is this house?
My next housesit is in Buffalo in April, arranged around Cheryl’s schedule. Seems not many Albuquerquians want to fly to Buffalo (imagine that!), so flights are limited. I found a flight that left ABQ 4 hours before Cheryl’s flight landed. It was an ancillary bonus that I wouldn’t have to spend the night with this controlling woman.
Now, you have to remember that I was not being paid to care for this dog. Knowing she’d want Pixie watched for those few hours, I e-mailed her before I purchased my plane ticket. That’s when I learned the depth of the dog owner’s separation anxiety. The frantic, panicked tone of her voicemail made me want to jump through a plate glass window. She told me she had lined up a girlfriend who was charging her to sit in her living room and watch her dog for 6 hours. Stephanie would come an hour before I was to leave so I could “debrief” Stephanie. Cheryl then shifted the conversation to when we would “debrief.”
“Well, we can’t speak when you’re in the air,” she said in that breathy, saccharine voice, “Perhaps when you’re between flights on your way to Buffalo?”
“How about the next morning?” I ventured.
“Oh, yes, well let’s see. But then you’ll be 2 hours ahead of us. Oh,” I could hear her hands wringing, “oh, we’ll just have to find a time.”
Suddenly she got even more tense. “Oh, now I have to figure out when you and Stephanie can meet before we leave.”
It wasn’t a total surprise when Cheryl called me two days before my arrival to sing-song that I was “free” and didn’t need to show up. Without a regard to my schedule, or anyone else’s that had been arranged around hers, and without even an apology, Cheryl was downright gleeful that she was stranding me with this eleventh hour cancellation.
After uttering a string of epithets that made everyone within earshot suspect I’d suddenly contracted Tourette’s, I realized this was just another opportunity to find faith. I was being spared – or in Cheryl’s words “freed” – to allow something better to enter my life. I just needed to trust. Well, trust and a stiff drink. And chocolate.
The next day my dear friend Janet offered an available bedroom in her ABQ house, presumably free from anxious chows, controlling bitches and beckoning plate glass windows. Life worked out.
Still, I do secretly hope Cheryl’s ship sinks.
(Ed. Note: To finance writing her journalistic memoir about her experiences with Iraqi and Palestinian refugees, Kelly Hayes-Raitt housesits and lives in writing colonies. In 2009, she drove 4.5 times across the US through 24 states while pursuing housesits and writing fellowships, sleeping in 54 different beds and packing and unpacking 68 times. Albuquerque was supposed to be one of those stops. She blogs at www.PeacePATHFoundation.org.)