Even with the ease of apps such as DogVacay and Pawshake to help pick the perfect pet sitter, it's understandable that pet parents still have some anxiety about leaving their furry family member with a stranger. However when family and friends are unavailable, a pet sitter can be the only option. Of course there are photo and video updates but what really happens when the keys are handed over and doors close?
As a former neighborhood pet sitter, I can tell you. When I was young, I looked to pet sitting as a way to enjoy a furry friend in my life and make some ice cream money. However, what started as an innocent business for the fuzziest of creatures turned into a string of adventures with much more interesting animals.
My step into the pet sitting business began at the age of ten. A neighbor asked my two younger siblings and I if we would take care of their cat, Barney, while they went on vacation. We had to come to their house twice a day to feed him and then make sure he was inside the house when it was dark outside. At ten, it was a heavy task I took very seriously. It was an uneventful two weeks with Barney and with one successful job behind me, my confidence grew. Soon other neighbors began asking me to watch their pets as well. Before we knew it, my younger siblings and I were responsible for quite a few neighborhood dogs and cats. Our small business continued it's upward trajectory until one day when a neighbor from down the street had an unusual request. Their family was going out of town but needed someone to take care of Squeakers... the pet pig.
We quickly agreed to watch him for them. (How hard could it be to watch a cute, little piggy?) As it turns out, the answer is quite challenging. Squeakers was a pig on a mission. The first morning we went to feed him, let him out of his little barn and put on his sunscreen (yes, pigs need sunscreen too). We oggled and cooed over his sweet pink nose. We squirted some suncream into our hands and slowly made our approach. Before we could say 'Oink', he had barreled us over and was running towards the open gate. I'd assumed up to that point of my young life that pigs were slow, however this is not always the case. Squeakers dashed out of the pen and ran down the street with my brother trailing behind. For two miles we chased him, through brambles and swamps. We heaved ourselves over fallen trees and scrambled into tall grass, trying to corner him. We tried to lure him with treats and even constructed a rudimentary net to try to catch him in. It took us the entire day to finally, ever so carefully, sneak up on him. My brother made an arching jump and grabbed him by the collar. At long last Squeakers was safe and sound. When his family came home and asked us if anything happened while they were away, we confessed we almost lost him and recounted the harrowing tale. Instead of being upset, our neighbors were thankful we cared enough to spend the day hunting him down.
Word of our dedication got out and before long we found ourselves caring for horses, goats, a black swan, a rooster, geckos, turtles, exotic birds and several monarch caterpillars that successfully hatched into butterflies. Our stories continued as my sister shocked herself on an electric fence wrangling an escaping goat, my brother ran into traffic to save a spirited lapdog and I found myself feeding mealworms and fruit to some very flappy bats.
While this can simply been seen as a cautionary tale for children in a barnyard, I feel the greater lesson is that as pet sitters we weren't perfect. We made mistakes. Yet we also chased, wrestled, cajoled, sunscreened, played with, cared for the animals we were responsible for. We gave each animal the best we had and we aren't the only dedicated ones out there. The other day I found this adorable video of pet groomer Luis Antonio Caballero dancing with the dog he was grooming
. (watching it will be the cutest minute of your day, I promise.)
So the next time you open the door to a new pet sitter and they greet you with a smile, try to give them the benefit of the doubt. Know that while they might make mistakes, they will run the extra mile (or sometimes two) to take care of your pet.