I am pet sitting this weekend for neighbors, both a cat and a dog. Cats are no problem. They tend to be closely bonded to their house ape (although never clingy—hold on loosely, but don’t let go) and any sitter is obviously far inferior than their regular house ape, who is obviously inferior to the cat. Just refill the food dish, change the water, clean the box if you can manage and then go on your merry way. I’m in the middle of a nap right now.
Dogs are all about the crowd. If the old crowd is gone, and now there’s a new crowd, OK, I’ll run with this crowd. Of course, some crowds are better than others. People always seem to think of dogs as the loyal pets, but I don’t think so. Dogs will eat with whoever puts the food dish down. Cats will hunger strike if the dish isn’t put down the right way, which it never is by the new person.
As dog sitters go, I am the Dreaded One. I am the dog sitter who smells like Vick’s Vapo Rub, makes you eat raisins for snack, follows Mom and Dad’s TV rules, and brings educational toys. Nothing *bad* happens, except nothing *good* happens. Other dog sitters come with a whole pack of dogs (big dog fun), play in the park for hours, go new exciting places or bring treats and toys. I arrive with a theoretical belief that dogs are supposed to be obedient and follow leash laws and treats are sparing, if at all, if one is remembering one’s training and following commands and such.
When I was a kid, pet sitting was a favor you did a neighbor or a teenager job—going out for the night, hire the neighbor kid to watch the baby. Going away for the weekend? Hire the neighbor kid to watch the pets. In DC, people like to hire a service, even to cover the day when they are in town but at work. No slight to the folks who make a living walking dogs and taking care of houses and pets. The dynamic is different here. People do not necessarily know their neighbors, there are a lot of single adult households, long commutes, and small or nonexistent yards.
I have seen plenty of urban dogs living the apartment lifestyle that seem happy. It seems counterintuitive to me, seems like the dog would get bored and frustrated and have no way to burn off the energy. I guess walking works and wears the dog out and is good for the owner, too. I’ve never really gotten over the whole dog piddling where the toddlers play bit, and in this heat, the walking seems to be a bit tough on the dog. I plan to keep the mid-day walks short. Years ago there was an editorial in my hometown newspaper from an irate resident about dogs dying on walks on hot days and the need to bring water and a dish for the dog, so I’m doing that.
Of course, in the Midwest, most people who have a dog have a decent size yard and off-leashing (and piddle time) is in the back yard. A lot of dogs have a fenced-in run and a house in the back, so they can run around as much as they want. When people are away, the dog goes out back of the house—which keeps the dog from tearing up the house, whether this is for a few hours or a few days. The dog thrives in most cases, although the dog does need a house, or at least a tree for shelter, and water in this heat.
In a lot of urban areas, keeping the dog outside is considered cruel. I appreciate that dogs need to feel like they are part of the pack, however—heat wave aside—equating a dog house and a run with neglect is a connection I have never quite been able to make. Any time the family goes away and the dog is left behind pack instincts may leave a dog feeling isolated or abandoned, whether they are in the house or not.
For me, dog ownership will have to wait until I have the space for a run, with a house and water dish.