Next week will mark the first time in my history of dog-mommy-hood that I will go away and my own mom will not be around to dog-sit. But how hard can it be to get a dog sitter?
Pretty darn hard.
I began by Googling, as so many of my endeavors begin. Checking out the formal dog boarding places in the area, I saw pictures of crates and scary-looking places where I wouldn’t want to leave my two precious mini Australian Shepherds for a day, never mind all the time I’ll be away. I visited a vet who would keep them in a cage all day. I reached out to friends and neighbors who texted and emailed phone numbers of potential candidates. The one nice old lady who said she’d come twice a day but wouldn’t let them go to her house (a recipe for much furniture destruction, as I’ve learned the hard way). The friend who never returned my email. Finally, one woman I spoke to said she had no more room, but she knew a guy who could work with any dog. Best of all, referred by a friend of mine in Teaneck, which is the next town over from me, this guy was in Teaneck too. Having already expanded my search to two counties away, I was relieved that I might find a possible solution so close to home.
I called the man up, explained my problem, and he said he’d need to meet them first before agreeing to take them. Argh. Doggy interview.
Let me say this: my dogs are sweet. But they can be… neurotic at times. I deal with the issue by only exposing them to people they know well or by relegating them to my mother’s house when I’m going to have company or a party. I walk them separately. My older girl, Sky, could make friends with even the coldest-hearted, butterfly-wing-ripping animal-hater. She is the center of attention in any crowd, stunningly beautiful, smart and friendly. She rolls on her back and shows you her belly prompted only by a casual smile. She’s the one who made me fall in love with the athletic and gorgeous mini-Aussie breed. She’s the one who inspired me to get another one.
I won’t go so far as to call my little one, Scarlett, a dud. Not exactly. Certainly I adore her as a mother loves her quirky kid. But I get that she’s got a personality only a mother could love. She’s got little-dog syndrome, yappy and bossy, nipping at Sky to keep her in line when she feels that Sky is being inappropriate. Or getting too much attention. She’s the dog I walk late at night when I am sure all my neighbors are finished walking their normal dogs.
This morning I drove Sky and Scarlett for their interview. The trainer/boarder lives in a cute little house on a lovely, quiet block nestled amid gorgeous Tudors and well-greened lawns. The house radiated ramshackle patience, a house not trying to impress anyone. I drove past it, parked, and took the girls for an extended tour of the neighborhood first, hoping that a walk would calm their less desirable behavior, like peeing by way of greeting. They walked nicely, hardly pulling and I became confident that they would behave. When I looped back around, the trainer was outside waiting for us, puttering around in his garden. He stood and talked to me, calm and confident. He was part Dog Whisperer, part Mr. Rogers. I so wanted to pass his test.
But, no. Scarlett was at her yappy, nasty worst, snapping at any other dog that wanted to get near me, her little ass trembling. After talking to me for almost an hour, the trainer explained that Scarlett needed a lot of work that she didn’t trust the world. The word “muzzle” was mentioned. He began to hint that she wouldn’t be ready to be left in a week’s time, when I need to leave her. Like a doctor explaining to a mother that her kid needs in-patient care, he spoke in short and reassuring sentences. I felt eaten up inside, guilty, no good. How could she be afraid of the world? How had I failed her? I wanted to cry but didn’t. If he didn’t take her, I didn’t know what my options were.
Finally, after I agreed to a “trial” day (for a fee, of course) and did a little bit of begging, he agreed to take them. She was maniacal and twitchy even as we left through the gate, zooming in front of me, prompting the trainer to tell me I wasn’t assertive enough. I left feeling deflated, a failed doggy mommy with some deeply-ingrained flaws. Head hung, I mentally cataloged all the barking I didn’t correct, all the jumping I didn’t prohibit, all the walks that I cut short in exhaustion after a long day in New York. I swam in self-loathing all the way to the car.
As I drove away, Scarlett nuzzled her little face on my lap, grateful to be out of the doggy joint. Sky sipped air merrily through the window I opened a crack. My heart softened at their happiness. They might be kooky and undertrained, but they’re mine. And I might be remiss in my doggy mommy duties, but I’m the doggy mommy they’ve got. And they seem pretty happy about it.