Monday, July 20, 2015

Dog sitting

Her tail stayed down like that a LOT.
Someone who has a successful little side job with a dogsitting service suggested I try it as a way to make some extra money. You go to the website, sign up as a pet sitter, set your nightly rate and wait for someone to ask you to watch their dog or cat. The animal usually comes to your place, but you might go to their place. Like Uber and Airbnb, it's another way Americans have found to provide services for each other that benefit everyone. For people who dislike leaving their dog at a kennel or boarding service, this way they can go on vacation knowing their pet is getting lots of attention and walks and isn't stuck in a cage. 

The person I know who earns hundreds of dollars a month from this makes it look easy, so I figured I'd give it a try. I like dogs. I love stopping owners in the street and saying, "Can I say hi to your dog?" Since owning Ozzie the pit bull when I was married (Ozzie now lives with my ex), I've come to appreciate dogs and love running my hands over their fur. Their happy energy lifts my spirits and I come away from my little dog encounters feeling cheered.

Jim (not his real name) dropped off Daisy (not her real name) at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday morning. We had done a brief visit the night before so Daisy could meet me and learn that I'm a good person who gives a great head-scratch. She seemed comfortable with me and I felt confident things would go well. Jim asked if he could pick Daisy up the next day at 8:30 p.m. That seemed late, but it was my first time and I didn't know the usual routine, so I said sure.

I expected Daisy to do some whining when Jim first left and she did. I talked soothingly to her as she whimpered and sniffed at the front door. When she began pacing through my apartment, I tried to pet her, but she shied way. Now the dog launched into full distress. For an hour she wouldn't be distracted by toys, food, water, a video (Jim said she liked Curious George) or my calming voice. And she wouldn't come near me, so I couldn't even pet her. With her tail firmly down between her legs she paced, whimpered, whined and occasionally barked. I live in an apartment and had only warned my downstairs neighbor about this dog, so I worried that someone would complain. 

When Daisy pooped in the dining room, I figured she needed a walk, but when she saw me with the leash, she darted away. She was afraid of me and there was nothing I could do to change it.

Two hours after Jim left, Daisy was still pacing and fretting, but finally she began to let me pet her. Once I accomplished that, I snapped the leash on and her attitude changed immediately. Her tail began to wag as we headed outside and she finally calmed down as she began exploring the neighborhood. I felt relieved. Now maybe I could start to enjoy my time with her. She was a beautiful, black pit bull with a glossy coat and a trim, muscular body. I liked petting her. She was young and healthy and I wanted us to relax together.

She didn't eliminate at all on the walk. Odd. But at least we returned to the apartment 45 minutes later in a better mood. Well, we were in a good mood until Daisy seemed to remember that Jim had left her. We had used the back door, so she returned to the front door where Jim had left and resumed pawing and crying. Oh, my god. Now what?

The weekend went on like this. Going to the kitchen to make myself a meal distracted her, so each time I cooked I made a point of accidentally dropping pieces of egg or chicken on the floor for her. She also got quiet while I sat at the dining table to eat, probably because she was still waiting for food (tiny pieces of which I dropped sporadically). I ate as slowly as possible, stretching out this peaceful time, but after I'd finished and sat for several minutes, she'd figure out I was done eating and start whining for attention again.

This was a high maintenance dog. 

In the afternoon, I spread my yoga mat on the floor and put a fluffy throw blanket over it. We spent some time on it, but she kept returning to the front door to whine. I couldn't let her cry it out because she would then escalate to barking. I already felt out of energy. I knew that another dog sitter would grab the couple of toys Jim had left and pretend to play with them as if I had discovered the most fun game in the world. Another dog sitter would jog around the apartment so Daisy could give chase or would follow her around giving her back rubs and telling her she's a good dog. I just didn't have it in me. All I could do was sit on the fluffy blanket and talk soothingly to her and give her petting and chest rubs when she came over to me. She came over for this physical comfort often, but in between she whimpered, pawed at the door and occasionally barked. This noise made me tense up every time.

Finally, she lay down next to me and we managed to take a nap. Relief! The dog was asleep and I felt renewed hope that things would get better. I had the air conditioner going, plus a fan, which did a pretty good job of blocking out all outside noise. This was good because there are many dogs in my neighborhood and Daisy reacted every time she heard a bark. With the motors humming, I hoped Daisy would stay asleep for a while. Jim had said she normally did a lot of laying around.

Unfortunately, a huge thunderstorm rolled in and woke her up. Damn! But at least Daisy didn't seem afraid of the thunder. I don't know what I would have done if she'd been phobic about it, as many dogs are. Instead, she simply resumed her usual level of anxiety, pacing, whimpering, and sniffing at the door. This dog just didn't want to be here. Even when the skies cleared up and the sun came back out, she kept fretting. Her stress wasn't about the weather. She just wanted Jim to come back.

I felt awful for her. The more she cried, the more I wanted to cry, until I finally did. Maybe she reminded me of a time when I had felt like my parents had abandoned me. I had no such memory, but I might have felt like that as a baby or toddler. I tried to hold it together. I tried to be calming and cheerful, but Daisy was too much for me. At one point, we were both an emotional mess.

I'm extremely grateful to the friend who dropped by that evening. Anticipating my anxiety with the dog, I had asked Ania if she wanted to visit that day, so she came by around 6:30. I had stopped crying by then and had taken the dog back outside where she was calmer. The three of us took a walk along the lakefront where Ania told me that Daisy looked happy outside. Ania observed Daisy's interest in the sand and grass, and in other dogs. 

Now that Ania pointed it out, I saw that Daisy was very interested in other dogs, but also afraid of them. She shied away or stopped walking if one were in front of us, but she also stared after them. A couple of dogs must have looked less intimidating because Daisy's tail stayed relaxed as she poked her snout towards them. These dogs wagged their tails and strained back towards her, and they tentatively greeted each other. It was sad that Daisy seemed to want to make friends, but didn't have the courage to be friendly. Her tail didn't wag once when we were outside. In fact, her tail didn't wag at all during the whole time she was with me, except when she would see me put on my shoes and sunhat to go out. She was not a relaxed dog.

We took a nice long walk and then returned to the apartment. Ania and I sat on the fluffy blanket and Daisy lay down between us, eventually closing her eyes. Peace! I told Ania how hard this was. I said Daisy's fear at being left by her owner felt familiar to me, making me feel afraid of abandonment, too. I told Ania I must have some old terror about being left behind by my parents and Daisy was making me feel that again. Then I just wept and tapped, as Daisy rested and Ania sat quietly. I love when friends know that the best thing to do when I'm crying is just sit with me. 

I felt much better, and Daisy was relaxed, when Ania left around 9:00. I thanked her many times for coming, and decided it was bedtime. Daisy and I had exhausted each other and I hoped we'd have a good sleep. As I went into the bedroom with Daisy's dog bed, she began to whine and pace again, sniffing at the front door. Christ god, this dog! So much for a peaceful transition into slumber. I lay in bed, my back sore from spending so much time on the floor, and hoped she'd join me. She did, but only for a few minutes. Then she was up again, whimpering and pacing. After several minutes she came to me with that "go for a walk" look, so I reluctantly, resentfully hauled myself out of bed. We stepped out into the sticky night air, Daisy happy to be back outside and me angry that we weren't winding down inside.

As we walked, I slipped into zombie mode. I could feel myself dissociating, pretending I wasn't really outside walking a dog at all. My movements became stiff and my eyes glazed over. I ignored where I was, I ignored how I felt, I ignored any thoughts of where I'd rather be. I just went numb. Once again, Daisy eliminated nothing. The only thing that pierced my brain fog was surprise at how small this dog's input and output were.

When we got back inside, I lay down on the fluffy blanket again, even though my back wanted none of it. Maybe Daisy felt more comfortable in the living room and the bedroom felt foreign. She lay down near me, finally quiet. I did my best to sleep, but it was useless and Daisy wasn't asleep either. Either her eyes were open or they were closed but I could tell she was awake because when a dog is truly asleep, it does that twitching thing. Daisy just lay still.

It must have been near 11:00p when I couldn't take the floor anymore. I got in bed, hoping this wouldn't set Daisy off again. Fortunately, she lay down in bed with me and kept still this time. But I was just too tense. Exhausted and sleepy, I lay next to that dog until 3:00a before I finally drifted off. I don't think she fell asleep before that either.

After Daisy's morning whimpering and sniffing at the front door, we were out for a walk before 8:00 am. I had texted the owner to keep him updated and he knew what an ordeal I was going through. Jim had agreed to come get her at 5:00p instead of later. Yay! I only had nine hours to get through!

The second day was better, but Daisy remained a whiny, high maintenance dog to the end. I was much more relaxed now and I think she was, too, but she never stopped watching the front door and she never stopped whimpering for attention. 

Daisy's anxiety with people and other dogs made her look like a traumatized dog, but she had been acquired as a puppy and had only had one home. I figured her owners had simply sheltered her too completely, handicapping her for the real world. Maybe they had given her all the attention and physical touch a puppy demands and maintained that level of attention into her young adulthood. Maybe they hadn't socialized her to play confidently with dogs. Maybe they hadn't modeled for her how to trust the wider world of people and animals. I texted my dog sitter friend, "I suspect her owners have overprotected her and spoiled her," and he texted back, "That happens a lot." Now he tells me! After I heard that, I knew I couldn't do this again. This behavior was common? Forget it! I realized there are probably as many bad-yet-animal-loving owners as there are bad parents. My disgust with the world grew. 

I was so happy to see that dog leave at 5:30 on Sunday. As much as Daisy wiggled and wagged and jumped and peed when Jim finally returned, I knew my relief matched her joy. Jim apologized for her being a big baby and I, of course, said it was fine, but I knew what I wasn't saying. The dogsitting website coaches us sitters to say that we enjoyed our time with the pet and would love to have them again. I obviously did not say that, but I also restrained myself from saying that I was going to delete my sitter profile from just as soon as my payment cleared. 

I don't know why my dog sitting friend thought this would be a good idea for me. I clearly don't have the patience for the kind of dogs whose owners use such sites. Those websites probably exist for those who have raised their pets like brats, with no coping skills or ability to self-soothe. That's probably why the dogs fall apart in a kennel and need personal attention in a private home, and who wants to deal with THAT? Well, apparently, a lot of people do, but not me. 

How much did I earn? My rate, like my friend's, is $30 a night. My friend says he would have told Jim that's $30 for a 24-hour period, but I didn't know. Clearly I needed a lot more coaching before taking this gig. Daisy was with me for a total of 31 hours, required my constant attention, caused me as much distress as I caused her, and I earned $30 for my trouble ($25.50 after takes a cut). So that was worth it...


Rudy Giuliani said...

As you now realize, dog sitting can be very stressful and / or very fun but it really depends on the dog's personality and social abilities. Obviously you don't / won't know these facts before you do any dog sitting which makes each dog sitting experience a real wildcard. Sorry you didn't enjoy but you may want to consider it again. Can you select which types of breeds and/or size of dog you would consider? Some breeds are definitely more personable than others. I love dogs and occasionally do dog sitting for friends but I'm not sure I could've helped this dog either. I would be happy to visit sometime if you have a difficult time with your next dog and need someone to help.

Regina Rodríguez-Martin said...

Rudy Giuliani - thank you for that offer! If I ever found myself in that situation again, I would certainly ask for your help, but I'm not planning on it. I like to be open-minded with new experiences, but it only takes one time for me to learn what I really really hate, and I really really hated taking care of that dog. No more wildcards. I'm hoping to never even walk a dog ever again for the rest of my life.

Regina Rodríguez-Martin said...

My profile has now been deleted from the website, and another of my sub-careers is over.