Tuesday, October 28, 2008

An inexperienced pet sitter can be perilous for your animal

Whatcom Humane Society staffer Katy James with Jack the Jack Russell.

I’ve rescued animals for long enough to know that when you happen upon somebody standing on the road forlornly clutching a leash at one end and no dog attached on the other, it’s time to take action.

I was on my way for an evening out when I spotted the woman, and pulled my car over to speak her. She explained that she was pet sitting a Jack Russell for a friend. While taking him for a walk, he bolted unexpectedly into the woods lining one side of the street, hot on the scent of some exciting prey.

Now I feared for the prey and the dog. A flurry of barking in the woods told me that he had found his target. Without a thought I turned from the woman and barreled ahead, crashing into the woods after him as branches snapped my face and wound around my ankles. My favorite sunglasses flew off my face and were stomped to smithereens.

I followed the barking and came upon the dog facing off against a terrified possum. Trapped and defenseless, he hissed in panic and pressed himself into the brush, trying to make himself disappear.

I dropped to the ground between the two and put my face up to the possum (Readers beware: this is not a recommended move.) He looked me eyeball to eyeball and seemed to say thanks. Turning to the dog, I pointed to the road and yelled “Go home!” in a firm tone that meant business. Reluctantly he trotted back to his people, disappointed.

I have heard many nightmarish stories of pet sitting gone awry. Well-meaning friends, family and neighbors might offer to sit for free, but cheap can be expensive. One woman I met was in tears as she told a story of sitting for her neighbor’s cat. When she went in one day to feed him, the “Thump!” she always heard as he dropped to the ground and ran for the door to greet her was replaced with dead silence.

Earlier that day, her children had come home and told her they had seen a cat dead at the side of the road near where the school bus picked them up that looked just like their neighbor’s. She hadn’t thought anything of it, assuming her charge was safe in his home. Unbeknownst to her, he had slipped out the door past her on the previous visit.

Telling her neighbor upon his return was one of the hardest things she’s ever had to do. My heart broke for her.

Consider hiring an experienced pet sitter schooled in the ways of pet escape artistry and other situations that may crop up. If hiring a professional isn’t feasible for financial or other reasons, ask someone in your life who loves animals, is responsible and is already familiar with your animal’s personality. Always go over your animal’s idiosyncrasies thoroughly with the person to whom you are entrusting his care. The well-meaning caregiver and your animal will thank you for it.

No comments: