Monday, February 4, 2013

Pet sitters and other marchers

Don't worry, this post is long, but only some of it is about my empty nest kitten, Gus. 

Empty nest Gus
Long ago, when I was between the ages of 8 and 11 and my teeth were too big for my face and I never got picked for kickball and I was discovered talking to myself - often - I remember a tired old teacher telling me that I was "someone who marched to a different drummer." 

It's been years of course, but I can still spot another marcher - my refrigerator repair guy for example - a mile away. But I've been at ease socially for a long time, so when a marcher and I communicate, provided they are peaceful, I am always happy  to carry the conversational kickball. Then, if my marcher and I confront an awkward  pause  - waiting for a supervisor to call back with a price for example, we won't have conversations like these:

Appliance repair person: 

But more like these:

Me:  "So how did you decide to be an appliance repair person?"
Appliance repair person  "My father told me to get a job and I answered their ad."
Appliance repair person :


Courtney is getting married in September. She is not, as I've mentioned, willing to relocate to New England. I will, therefore, be making monthly visits to Cleveland to take over help with the planning. Because Gus is unaccustomed to being alone for more than a few hours at a time, and because he gets sick when he travels, and because boarding is out of the question, and because none of my friends or relatives are willing to move in while I'm gone, my only choice was to hire a pet sitter.

I had mixed feelings. My experience with marchers who prefer non-human company is that they don't always love actual humans. They can be snarky. They can have off-putting bumper stickers that say things like: "The more I know about people, the more I like my (non-human)".  

We'd have to interview, and how would that go?

Me:  So, how long have you been in this business?
Pet Sitter:  I'm not sure what you mean.
Pet Sitter:  

But I asked around, found the perfect candidate and went to her website. Did I care about testimonials? Not really. Did I care about years in the business? Not really. What I wanted was a picture which I would scrutinize for signs that she was a happy person who would be compatible with docile, affectionate Gus, or a disgruntled, surly person who might drive him under the bed where he would wonder why I stopped loving him.

But my marcher had a smile and eyes that said, "I also cry at sad movies" and so I clicked "contact".

From the kitchen window Gus and I watched her arrive, not in a crumpled van in need of cosmetic repair or covered with hostile bumper stickers but in a late model Honda that looked freshly washed. Out of the car did not step a person stealing furtive glances at the woods and chatting with herself, but an energetic young woman who marched to the door with confidence. When she knocked, Gus leaped like a gazelle from my arms and raced to the door as though he'd been waiting all eleven months of his life to meet her.   

Here would have been a good time to pull out a couple of chairs, discuss Gus's habits, her rates, what they included, when she'd be at the house, and conduct a tour.

Instead, I shared my  research of the Ragdoll breed and explained more about them than even I had wanted to know as a prospective buyer. Then I asked ten or eleven questions about her experience. Then I offered a few "let's say" hypotheticals to gauge her judgment.  Then I asked if she would prefer to email me each day with reports or leave written ones.  And how would they spend their time? And what about emergency vet trips? Where would she go and would they treat him without my authorization? Should I sign a release?  Then, so that there was no question about the unique drummer to which I march, I spent several minutes trying to figure out where to leave her a key. Mailbox? Under the mat? In an envelope under the tire of my son's car? Under a rock in the back yard?  For the second time,  I asked if she would take Gus to the vet if he was sick.  Her answers were thorough and polite and probably she wondered if I'd left the house since bringing Gus home.

"So food is here." She  pointed with her pen at his dishes.
"Yes, and the water, as you can see is next to it."
"In the bowl," she nodded.
"He never drinks it but if I had to eat kibble, and the same kind all the time, I'd definitely want to have water with it. But Gus loves the fountain I bought for him. He drinks from it all the time."  I called Gus to his fountain to demonstrate, and he responded by staying where he was. 

Pet sitter:

After a tour and a few more "what ifs" and even more discussion about where to leave the key, we agreed to talk again soon, and the interview ended.

I hoped we made a good impression, but I wondered where exactly I'd gone for that half hour while my inner marcher was in charge.  Maybe, I concluded, we try harder to relate to those in whom we see a little of our hidden selves. Or maybe, we make our most awkward attempts at relating when relating is most important.  

Outside, the pet sitter sat in her car making notes. Probably while the visit was fresh in her mind, she wanted to get her thoughts down on paper.  

Probably they included something like this:
Cat: sweet and social.
Owner:  not used to interaction with humans others.

In any case, I was charmed. In addition to being equally skilled at communicating with humans and non-humans,  the pet sitter clearly adored Gus. I hired her to visit the following week when I would make my  first visit to Cleveland  to take over help with the wedding planning. 

Gus, clearly thrilled, responded to the news by having a drink at his fountain. 


  1. We adopt our cats from our local shelter (but adopted one cat someone left outside -he was beautiful and we were crazy about him). I think everyone who wants a pet should go to their no-kill shelter and adopt. That said, we get our pet sitters through the shelter, so we know they are always loving, caring and compassionate people. I am so glad you found someone for Gus. We all love our pets, and they deserve to have owners like you that take such great care of them!

  2. Thanks, Cathy. Gus replaced our fourteen-year-old "Percy" and filled more of a void than he knows. But my hat is off to you...fewer deserving beings than an animal in need of only a home, and often they know where to go. My daughter's cat "Daisy" showed up on her doorstep in the days after a painful break-up and they cherish each other.

  3. Great post, Susan! I know exactly what you mean about the whole small-talk thing. I've improved, but it can still be rocky.

  4. We have a dog, and I find that we have so few good options for his care when we travel. I haven't explored pet sitter yet. My best to all three of you.

  5. Thank you Karen and Karen for your comments and Karen Austin, you may find as I did, that calling upon objective help makes it even easier to travel guilt-free. They are amazingly inexpensive from my experience as well.

  6. I do everything I can to avoid small talk with random people who do things in my house. It's creepy enough that they're here in the first place. Guess I'm a little anti-social?

  7. I love this! I have had a few cats myself - I never thought I was a cat person, but they always seem to find me. Most of the time, they show up on my doorstep. One time though, my daughter called me hysterical from her friend's house where a cat had been hit by a car and was still in the road suffering. She knocked on neighbor's doors and no one claimed him. So, I drove a half hour to her, wrapped the poor thing in a sweater, and proceeded to drive my daughter, her friend, and the cat another hour to the local humane society, where they charged me a $30 surrender fee. He had an abdominal wound. I'm not sure if they had to put him to sleep or not, and I don't want to know either. Either way it's heartbreaking. I do know that he didn't die alone suffering in the middle of the road with two 13 year olds standing over him crying. And that's all I need to know. Guess I have my own drummer too.

  8. Sharon, I don't think you're anti-social. I think you might be doing them a favor. Often people working in my house look like they really hope I don't make eye contact and start a conversation. I usually do anyway though. "So..."

  9. Stephanie, you're my kind of marcher. I would have done the same thing.

  10. This is one of your best! I love it when Alfie responds to something serious I have said to him by deciding it is the perfect time to take care of personal hygiene.