My mom unearthed a couple of letters I’d written to the family from the UK back in 1998. I spent a year there, working with horses when the weather was bearable and pet-sitting the rest of the time.
Judging from what I wrote, I clearly thought that pet-sitting would be a doddle, but I had no idea what I was letting myself in for. I wasn’t as dog-savvy as I am now. I was filled with enthusiasm for my new job, and along with my irrepressible love of animals, I didn’t think I needed anything else to succeed.
I’d pack my stuff and drive off to the address I’d been given by the agency. These were the days before cell phones and a dashboard mounted gps, so I’d navigate by map book; and because the Brits are so organised, finding my way around was the least of my problems.
My first job fell on the same weekend as the Badminton Horse Trials. It was televised live, so I thought I’d give my charges their daily walk and saunter back in time to watch the cross-country.
According to my letter, this is what happened:
They’ve got four Pomeranians and a young, newly acquired Cavalier King Charles Spaniel (CKCS). The CKCS looks like a mixture of Pug and Spaniel. He has a short face, squashed nose with a Spaniel coat and ears. His name is Chester and he always sounds short of breath – I suppose because it looks like he had a brick dropped on his snout. His lower jaw juts out and you can see his teeth, which promise to poke out at odd angles between his lips sometime in his future.
When we left the house everything was fine – I had the leads of four (well brushed) fluff balls in one hand and Chester’s lead in the other. The Toy dogs looked like they were being blown along, rather than toddling along at a jaunty trot. It wasn’t long before I ran into trouble. I looked down and saw that the Poms had been blown into disarray. Their leads were entangled and they were moving as a single, large fluffy unit. I managed to untangle everyone and we carried on.
The sun was finally shining on one of the first warm days we’ve had in ages. Traipsing through a small wooded area, I was thinking “how cool a job is this? Life couldn’t better…” That was when I knelt down the untangle everyone again and somehow let go of Chester’s lead! I made a grab for it as it slithered along the path but this only made the King Charles run off with his ears back and his tail between his legs!
Could I catch him? NO! Neither could two kind strangers who I begged for help. So there I was, dragging four out of breath, beautifully pampered Poms through the undergrowth, calling “Chester” in a pretend light-hearted tone and “you damned dog!” through gritted teeth.
I suppose because Chester has only been in his new home for a week, and now a stranger was walking him, he had reason to be afraid. As far as I could tell, I don’t even think he knows his own name!
I must have looked like a crazy person. People who were taking a walk on their lunch break from the office park I could see through the trees; were staring. I was desperate, calling and looking under bushes (without my glasses!) and hoping like hell he wouldn’t make it to the car park, because then what? What was I going to tell his owners? That I’d lost their prize puppy in the fake forest in the village? I almost caught him half a dozen times in the half hour he was loose, just as I was about to grab the lead, he’d take off again. I was pretty frantic.
Eventually I crept up on him, I was just about crawling, dragging the now out of breath Poms behind me when I finally got hold of him.
That was when I turned my attention to the four small dogs at my feet. They looked stricken. Their coats had a collection of twigs and leaves stuck to it and their eyes where the size of saucers. The old lady plopped down with exhaustion and looked like a baby seal waiting to be clubbed. I had to carry the her home because I thought she wasn’t going to make it.
I made it home in time to watch William Fox-Pitt win his first Badminton and needless to say, I walked the Poms together and Chester on his own after that.