“Greta has to have a ball with her when she goes to bed. The orange one is her favorite, but if you can’t find that one she should be okay with the green or yellow ones. The purple one is in the drawer, but that’s an emergency backup in case the other three are missing.”
The young woman I am speaking to nods and types something into her phone. “Got it,” she says. “No purple ball. Anything else?”
I chuckle. “Just a few more things,” I tell her.
The young woman, the daughter of a friend, is going to be staying with our dogs, Greta and Lillie, while Cubby and I go away for a weekend. It’s the first time we’ve gone anywhere in the three years we’ve been together, and the first time I’ve been away from the dogs in almost a decade.
Finding someone to stay with the girls was not easy. Because Lillie is missing a leg, as well as having multiple conditions that require daily medications, she needs some special care. And because I am home pretty much all the time, both dogs are used to a certain level of attention and to going out whenever they need to.
Cubby and I will be gone for just over 48 hours. To prepare, it has taken me weeks to write up the care instructions for the dogs. There are pages of notes. There are emergency phone numbers. There are schedules and possibly charts.
“We could just take them with us,” Cubby suggested the other day, after I showed him the list I’d made of the 37 different fleece blankets that Lillie has, in order of her preference for sleeping under them.
We could. The campground we’re going to allows pets. But a huge reason for going is to get away from the dogs for a few days. Also, I have attempted to travel with Lillie before and it has not gone well. She barks at every unfamiliar sound. When I drove from Texas to Utah, a 24-hour trip, I had to do it straight through both ways because when I tried to stop for the night, Lillie made so much noise that the hotel asked me to leave.
And so they’re getting a sitter.
“Lillie has to be fed by hand,” I tell her. “One piece at a time. If you try to feed her more than that, she’ll stop. Then you have to wait an hour and try again. Oh, and if anything touches her feet or her ears while she’s eating, it’s game over.”
The orientation session takes two hours. The young woman is shown how to give Lillie her meds, how to tell when Greta needs to go out, and what their various barks indicate. (One means “I want off the couch” but two means “the water bowl is empty.”) To her credit, she doesn’t roll her eyes even once.
“Of course, this will all be in the handbook,” I tell her when we’re done. “And you can call or text if anything comes up. Also, I gave your name to their vet as a temporary guardian and they have a credit card on file should you need to take them in for any reason.”
Look. I am fully aware that this is all a little much. I also know that the dogs will be fine, and that all of their eccentric behaviors will probably disappear for the time they’re with the sitter and they’ll behave like normal dogs who eat without an elaborate ritual and sleep through the night without requiring hourly bed checks. They’ll just be happy that someone is here and that they get fed. Even Lillie’s multiple physical issues will likely not be issues at all.
I mentioned this to a friend who has both children and pets, all of whom she occasionally leaves with sitters so she and her wife can get away. “It must be even harder with kids,” I said.
“No,” she said firmly. “The kids are never the problem. Give them food and something to watch on TV and they’re perfectly fine for a week. It’s the dogs. I spend so much time explaining to the sitters how Hector has to have a fan blowing on him when he sleeps, and how Colonel Mustard hates the mail carrier and can’t be allowed outside between eleven and one because that’s when he comes. It’s ridiculous. When our last sitter moved away it took me two years to find another one I trusted.”
I suppose it should be some comfort that I am not alone in having this problem. But ultimately it doesn’t solve the issue. When we leave on Friday for our weekend away, I know I’ll be on high alert, waiting for a frantic call because Greta has chased a squirrel into the surrounding woods and hasn’t come out again, or that Lillie is barking in bursts of three and the sitter doesn’t know if that means she wants to be held or that her pancreatitis is flaring up, because I failed to include it in the handbook.
Eventually, when no calls or texts come, I’ll start to relax. Probably sometime around 4:00 on Sunday afternoon. As we’re pulling into the driveway. ▼
Michael Thomas Ford is a much-published Lambda Literary award-winning author. Visit Michael at michaelthomasford.com.