After driving overnight to our sit in Georgia we were hungry, exhausted and in need of a shower. We arrived and found the house key under the mat. Our hosts had left that morning and communicated very little with us via text. They had had many sitters before and seemed to prefer non contact transitions, not too unusual these days with Covid-19. For us it feels a bit odd letting ourselves into a stranger’s home. It is a big beautiful house, and we expected to be greeted by the two dogs who had been home alone all day, but instead there was silence when we called their names. A quick search of the first floor yielded a well behaved and silent Shelby sitting behind a closed office door. We were told the dogs were not allowed upstairs, but we found the second dog 13 year old Burton deep in sleep on the guest bed. Relief crossed my weary mind and we proceeded to unpack the car, fed the dogs and eat our now cold pizza.
Burton took his walk the next morning as we were instructed. Shelby stayed home, apparently too mischivous to be trusted out on walks. When we returned from the museum late that afternoon our greeting was much the same, except that Burton merely sniffed his food and lay down under the dining table as we ate dinner. I recalled Sam and Bruce not eating the second night of our previous sit and thought perhaps Burton missed his owners. I suppose contacting the owners at that time or worrying more would not have changed the outcome. The following morning we found Burton where we left him the night before, under the table.
Imagine giving a stranger the news that their loved one had died in their sleep. I realized I had a glimpse of what my husband Kenny did everyday for ten years working at the Office of Chief Medical Examiner’s (OCME) office, except that this was a dog left in our care. Of course we felt in some way responsible even though we had only been in the house 36 hours. Our heads were still spinning when our son woke and walked in as we broke the news to the owners over the phone. We felt terrible that we had no opportunity to prepare him for the news. This was the beginning of our second full day of our nine day sit.
My husband and I are probably more familiar with death than most people because of our ER and his OCME experience. I wonder if somehow Burton chose to die in our care because we could “handle it”. Not that we were not saddened to tears for this dog and the family that we didn’t even know. Perhaps he was sparing his owners the pain. It is surprising to me how transfefrable our medical skills are and how seamlessly we revert to assessment of the situation, diagnosis and plan even as we house and pet sit.
We spent the next days trying to ensure Shelby was not lonely without her companion. She enjoyed tug of war and playing ball in the yard and we enjoyed her company. The uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach after Burton’s passing was starting to subside when suddenly Kenny bolts out into the yard yelling for Shelby. She had pushed aside a board in the fence and was three houses down by the time Kenny had miraculously convinced her to turn around. Disaster number two averted thanks to my dear hubby. We baracaded the fence and never left Shelby outside alone again. This was day #7 of 9. Lesson learned, never let your guard down.
I would imagine some might never want to house sit after this story, but there were also good experiences. The family whose house we were sitting included a daughter and son around our son’s age. Ricky enjoyed playing with the boys toys and reading their books. He seemed comforted by familiar things and very much at home in this house. And except for Shelby’s escape, she was actually very lovable and a great companion. The bottom line is house sitting, like life, is full of experiences. The way I see it you can choose to accept things for what they are without judgement, learn from them and move on or choose to label things as “bad” or “good” and miss out on all that life has to offer.