Mis-Adventures in Dogsitting

This post, obviously, has nothing to do with DIY, it is more a walk down memory lane for me of my 12 years as a dogsitter and some of the awkward situations I found myself in.

I started dogsitting/housesitting in 1999 to supplement my income.  I was working full time, but the money wasn’t great, so I collaborated with a woman I used to babysit for and together we started a dogsitting business.  After a year, she dropped out, but I continued for 11 more years!  It was a fun way to earn extra money.  The woman I started the business with was very wealthy [think country clubs and weekends in Vail], and had very wealthy friends, so almost all my clients [aka dogs] lived in posh houses and neighborhoods.  I got to stay in some pretty incredible places!  Ocean views, teams of plow men to shovel me and my car out whenever it snowed [that was the life, let me tell you!], gas fireplace’d reading nooks, bathrooms with huge claw-foot tubs and heated tile floors… I got very spoiled!

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I wasn’t the kind of dogsitter you see in parks with 10 dogs on leashes.  I mostly lived at people’s houses when they were away to keep their pets company.  There were some dogs I walked on a regular basis but housesitting was my modus operandi.

5 years into my dogsitting business I picked up a new client with 2 amazing dogs and an incredible house with ocean views that I’ve always referred to as “the Estate”.  For 7 years it became my home away from home.  Some months I lived there more days than I lived at my own apartment [like, for reals].  “The Estate” was one of 5 homes the family owned, but it was the home base for the dogs, so I provided them with a family when theirs was away.  I loved staying there and loved the dogs even more!  The family moved away from the area in early 2011 which marked the end of my dogsitting business [well, actually, the end of my dogsitting business came in summer 2010 when I was mauled by a chow; “the Estate” was the only client I kept on after the attack].   I’m going to include some of the many photos I took at “the Estate” in this post.  I’m not including pictures of the dogs, for privacy reasons.

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Over the course of my 12 years of dogsitting I spent time in probably 15 different houses.  There were some definite mishaps along the way.  Most were pretty minor, like the time Gregory* the Newfoundland ate his entire dogbed.  I had NO IDEA where his bed went.  Until we were walking in the woods and he started pooping a plethora of plaid.  Or the time I was tossing a tennis ball across the living room for Lilly* and took out one of the clay sculptures the family’s kid had made… oops [thankfully I’m a wiz with super glue].  Or the time I set the house alarm off, panicked, couldn’t remember the “safety code” for the alarm company when they called, and had to answer the door in my pajamas when the police came racing up with lights and sirens blazing… that actually happened twice, at 2 different houses!  OMG.  So embarrassing.

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There were MANY cases where I locked myself out and had to break in by getting up on ladders and launching myself through 2nd floor windows [usually the only ones unlocked].  There was the house with the little terrier who absolutely refused to go out – I finally ended up chasing him around the dining room table for ten minutes while he dropped “clinkers” [as my Dad calls them] on the white wool rug that the woman had told me NEVER to let the dog near…  They never called me back.  There was the time the people told me to always crate their juvenile dog at night, but she’d cry SO pitifully that one night I left her un-crated… And woke up to a LARGE chunk of the fancy bedroom rug torn to shreds… with a very happy dog sprawled amidst all the fluff!  Oops…

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My first overnight job was for a local family [local at the time, not anymore].  The woman owned an upscale clothing shop in town, so I figured she’d have a posh residence.  Wrong.  My first day there I discovered acres of old dog and cat poo under all the beds [EW!].  I also noticed long, zig-zagging stains across the wall-to-wall carpeting that I later learned were urine trails from Mack*, their ancient golden retriever [who was 17½ – no joke!].  He’d walk through the house, swaying side to side [the “stiff-knee’d-shuffle”], dribbling urine as he went [EW!].

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I had to stay there for 9 nights, starting right after Christmas.  It was a winter much like this one – super cold [negative windchills] and constant storms.  Their pipes ended up freezing.  Their garage door froze shut and the only “key” they’d left me was the garage door opener.  They had to talk me through digging the spare house key out of their frozen front garden – not fun!

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One night I took him out into the yard to pee before bed.  It was pitch black except for the light coming through the windows of the house, and FREEZING cold.  I lost sight of him but could hear him making a racket.  I followed the sound and found him laying on his side on the ground.  I bent down to help him up and he wouldn’t budge.  Huh?  He was frozen to the ground!  He must have toppled sideways while pee’ing and landed in the flash-frozen pee which sealed him to the lawn [kind of like when that kid in A Christmas Story licked the metal pole].  It took all my strength to pry him back up!  Once back up on his feet he happily lurched off in the direction of the house, straight towards their frozen [uncovered] in-ground pool.  OMG.

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A few nights later I was sitting in the living room watching TV and Mack came meandering in, sideswiped the Christmas tree, got tangled in the tree lights, and suddenly the big, fat colored bulbs started popping, crackling, AND smoking!  OMFG.  I had to race over, unplug the lights [safe?  probably not], and untangle him from the wires.  You would think that experience would have ended my career as a housesitter, but no!

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There was the time a few summers later when I taught Domenic K*, the pug, to swim in the family pool.  Apparently he usually wore an electric fence collar, so when they came home he shorted out the whole system…  I wasn’t invited back to that house, either [Domenic K was fine, I saw him and his array of non-pug siblings at the beach a few months later].

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There was the dog who favored road kill… One night I had to pry something VERY dead out of her mouth [EW!].  The next morning I discovered the poor thing had been sick ALL night – from both ends – all over the shag rug in the basement family room.  They had to hire a rug cleaning company to fumigate and disinfect the entire thing!  That’s the same dog that came in from outside once, spent a few minutes wheezing and hacking, then coughed up a slug onto the kitchen floor.  Oh, the memories.

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There was the time I brought my pet rat to a house with me [she was old and alone, and I was housesitting for 3 weeks so I didn’t want to abandon her!].  I put her cage on top of the kitchen counter.  Apparently every day while I was at work the dog tried to get up onto the counter to eat my rat.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but they called me after getting home and asked what I’d had on the counter… I fibbed and said “food” [which wasn’t a total fib, because I did have food up there, too].  They were like “well, that’s odd – our painter had to come and re-paint the kitchen cabinets under the counter because Scotty* clawed them up so bad…”.  Oops!  I felt very guilty for that one!  But I didn’t have the balls to tell them I’d had a rat on their counter for 3 weeks.

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As you can see, I have some colorful memories of my dogsitting days!  I have many great memories too.  And many sad memories, regarding my friends who have since passed over the rainbow bridge.

* Dog names have been changed to protect the innocent…

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PS – Hubby wanted me to point out the irony involved in my choice of work, being that I’m highly allergic to dogs. Which I didn’t know until halfway through my 12 years of dogsitting!  How could I not have figured that out sooner you might ask?  Because I’m also highly allergic to cats & dust.  And most houses, even super clean ones, have hidden caches of dust mites and/or cat dander.  Even if a house hasn’t had a cat for years, the dander still lurks in corners and under carpets.  So it seemed reasonable!  And I’m particularly allergic to golden retrievers, Labrador retrievers, and Aussie shepherds.  Which comprised about ¾ of my clientele!  D’oh!

I’ve been getting allergy shots for cats & dust since 2006, which is why I’m currently able to share a house with 3 cats.  I also take 2 anti-histamines daily:  Claritin in the morning and Allegra before bed.  I know it’s not good to take anti-histamines day in and day out, but without them I have too many breathing problems.  I grew up with cats [my allergies didn’t kick in until college] and I’m a TOTAL cat person!  Living with them as an adult has been a dream come true!

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I almost forgot!  My very first dogsitting mishap:

I was 10 years old, and my family was visiting my aunt and uncle on Cliff Island in Maine, where they were renting a house.  They had an Old English Sheep Dog named Panda [I believe her brother Cedric had passed on by then].  I don’t remember the circumstances, but I was left home alone for a short while with Panda.  She somehow convinced me to open the front door, and as soon as I did she blasted right by me and away down the street.  I was in shock!  I ran out after her and saw her galloping – full speed ahead – down the main road of the island towards the ferry dock.  There was a ferry just pulling away from the dock and everyone started yelling when they saw her coming.  Thankfully she put on the breaks and stopped short of leaping through the air onto the departing boat, but still…  I burst into tears and tried to drag her away from the dock, but she wasn’t having any part of that.  Finally a woman came out of a store near the dock with a piece of rope she let me borrow and I was able to tug Panda halfway back to the house.  I believe my aunt and mom showed up at that point and took over.  Totally traumatizing!

I found a couple pictures of the Cliff Island, ME Ferry Dock for fun:

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It just occurred to me that Panda probably heard the ferry whistle blowing [the house was about a block from the dock] and was like “I don’t care WHAT it takes, I’m getting off this F*@#ING ISLAND!” and figured I was an easy mark who would open the door for her [obviously she was right].

As an aside, every night of that visit my brother and I would lay on our air mattresses in the living room, clasping our hands over our mouths to stifle our giggles as my uncle carried Panda up the stairs to the bedroom.  She was always cradled [upside down] in my uncles arms, like a baby [a really BIG baby], growling and gnashing her teeth, trying to bite any part of my uncle she could reach.  And with each step my uncle would mutter a new string of swears.  It was sooooooooooooooooo funny!!!

* And Cleti, if you’re reading this, none of the mishaps happened at your house!  I can’t honestly remember any problems except for the time I locked myself out and Dad had to help me replace the screen!  Or I suppose that time you were babysitting my rats for me and the one rat gave birth to one random baby [!?!] which later disappeared… SO WIERD!  HA!

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2 Comments

  1. WOW, it made me LOL, Love it, Dad

  2. Loved the stories of all your mishaps. So funny now, but certainly traumatizing at the time. And the pictures of the Estate are amazing – I particularly love the one of the lantern light under the snow drifts.

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