SINGING THE PET SITTER BLUES

To find excellent care for those we love when we have to leave them can be a big challenge that is hard on the psyche. Whether it is locating just the right pediatrician for your children, or deciding on the best hospice for your elderly parents, or choosing a nurse for your spouse when illness descends–every bit of it taxes your daily life, and your good nature as well.
Anxiety comes to us all sooner or later and sometimes we just have to relax with it in order to solve the problem we’re battling. Only lately have I discovered that if I refuse to let this stubborn demon control me, solutions and possibilities rise up like steam from the earth after a warm spring’s rain.

Breeze says, “I’m the prettiest. What pet sitter could resist me?”

Right now, I find myself confronting just such an anxiety-ridden situation. My younger son is getting married in Tel Aviv in August. Following that milestone celebration, my husband and I are taking advantage of the wedding’s location to tour around Israel, a country more rich in world history than nearly any other. We will be out of the U.S. for nearly two weeks. I’m sure that those of you who read this newsletter regularly can already anticipate my current obsession: pet sitter, pet sitter, pet sitter. How am I ever going to find a loving and attentive pet sitter for Breeze, Cody and Mac?

Many people (the ones not reading this newsletter) believe that hiring someone to watch my dogs in my home twenty-four/seven is a trivial and inconsequential task. They advise me that dogs cannot compare to humans in terms of what they require, and therefore my hunt for a dog sitter should be a piece of cake. Unable to understand why I am singing the pet sitter blues, they tell me to relax and get over it.

I turn aside, sadly. These people will never understand me, because they do not see the heart of my dilemma: my dogs are a precious and central part of my family. They give and receive a bounty of love, and so are deserving of someone better than the average. I must have someone who will, by the end of their stay, love them nearly as much as I do, despite their flaws and naughty behaviors. Someone who will feed them and medicate Cody on time, deal well with an emergency should it arise, not crate them too often or too long, throw a ball with them or play tug, and cuddle as well.

I recognize how ridiculous my anxiety over this may sound to others, but I seem helpless to stop it. As the pet sitter interviews progress and each suitor for the dogs’ affection tramps in and out of my family room, I worry more and more that I am not going to find the right “fit,” and that my standards are, in fact, too high–even though they seem perfectly reasonable to me.

The trio says, “Jump over the couch to meet a stranger? Don’t be ridiculous!”

I need (not just want) someone comfortable with a black and white tide of enthusiastic fifty pound Dalmatians who bark hysterically, burst pell-mell from their crates and leap into your lap as soon as you try to sit down on the couch during your first visit. I try to tell potential sitters, if I can be heard above the clamor, that such rambunctious behavior will settle down once the dogs accept them as a family friend–which usually happens within the first fifteen minutes–but no matter how experienced the person may be, mine often overwhelm all but the most hardy “dog person.”

Those candidates who try to pet Cody immediately discover that he backs away and continues to bark–loudly–because he is afraid of strangers who hover over him. Those who insist on throwing a ball for Mac in the house as a way of making friends are witness to total chaos, as he skids around the hardwood floors feverishly hunting it down. Those who try to play tug with Breeze are foiled by the boys, who bound over to steal her toy.

There really is no way to win except to wait for Cody to ask to cuddle up in your lap and lick your ear, to ignore all pleas for ball throwing until you are in the backyard (no matter how convincing Mac’s big brown eyes), and to accept the fact that Breeze is the submissive member of the pack and will always give way to her sons by dropping the toy she’s brought to you. But once you bribe each one with a cookie, they all sit on their beds, panting expectantly for another.

Cody says, “Does anyone want to throw my ring? It’s my most prized possession.”

Those who run my Dalmatian gauntlet have presented an assorted array of logistical difficulties. There are those who can only stay for the night alone because they have jobs during the day and can’t let the dogs in and out or keep them company nine-to-five. There are those who are dog walkers and so have better and more flexible schedules, but who still can’t be here mostly full-time because of part-time commitments.

There is one who will not shower or eat in my house–which is quite clean and neat–even though I point out that to go home will take her away from the dogs even longer, in light of her already crowded schedule. There is one who is overwhelmed by the idea of giving Cody his medications, (which are crucial to prevent his seizures and bladder stones), even though he opens his mouth quite willingly and swallows them down one-two-three, without the need of a “pill pocket.” And last, but not least, there is one who wants an absolutely absurd amount of money–at double the going rate, which is absurd enough already.

In the long run, how will I ever decide who is the right stand-in for me when, after all, no one can really stand in for me? I suppose there is only one way to make the call, and that is to trust my gut instinct, just as I trusted it when we chose a hospice for both my father and my best friend during their last days. There is something deep inside you that just knows.

Mac says, “Don’t bother me, please. I’m sleeping in my favorite position. Who could possibly claim we’re rambunctious?”

But as I write this newsletter, something else occurs to me, something more important than even that. Though my gut instinct counts for a lot, my only real job is to watch how my three kids react to each stranger.

If I pay attention to their body English, I’ll be more willing to settle for a less than ideal situation of a particular sitter’s available day-time hours, or whether she will shower in my home. Funnily enough, after I have spent so many hours talking to all these people, trying to find the best and most trustworthy, I now realize that it will be the look in my dogs’ eyes, the expression on their faces and whether they do or don’t wag their tails that decides who should be here during our two long weeks away in August. I only have to read them well.

And in finding this entirely obvious answer, I relinquish my anxiety. It flows away from me like water running downhill, banished not by gritting my teeth, but instead by the power of a little bit of insight. I have conquered it, rather than it conquering me. The solution to the problem lay with Breeze, Cody and Mac all along. God bless the superior intuition of my rambunctious three.

Yours,

Linda

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