A while back, I promised to tell you the story about the dog who was afraid of flies. This golden retriever mix—let’s call her “Sugar,” because that is her human name—exemplifies how people are wonkier than Willy’s chocolate factory when it comes to training their pets. This story will butcher you; I myself narrowly evaded death, but it has a happy ending with, as you might recall, the great Kevin Spacey.
Speaking of Mr. Spacey, Sugar springs more leaks than the prematurely released third season of his Netflix show, House of Cards. Leaking is Sugar’s primary mode of communication. It’s how she indicates hunger, joy, complex arithmetic, and especially the presence of houseflies.
I first met Sugar when I was going to housesit for her masters. After I hosed off my sneakers, I asked her humans about managing Sugar’s self-expression. Their answer was, “We buy paper towels at Costco.”
I have housesat for many people and their many dogs, and therefore I have earned many insights into the nature of animal/human relationships. For instance, did you know that dogs and cats are remarkably intelligent, versatile creatures, capable of adapting to extreme circumstances? Of course you did, because everyone knows that. Everyone, that is, but pet owners leaving town. They write entire care manifestos for their animals, with itineraries and menus more prescribed than the Queen of England’s.
Take Caspar the Scottish terrier. His masters believed their dog was incapable of basic canine functions without a treat. Caspar had a “good boy, you woke up this morning!” treat, a “good boy, you came to the kitchen to eat your breakfast!” treat, a “good boy, you ate your breakfast!” treat, and a “good boy, you didn’t eat your own doo-doo!” treat. Caspar’s humans augured his imminent demise should I vary from this treat-dispensing formula.
Ever the curious scientist, I tested Caspar’s mental flexibility. My hypothesis was that, if the trials went sideways, I could just acquire another Scottish terrier, since they all look alike to me anyway.
I cannot confirm the results of my experiments, because they are still being peer reviewed in small claims court. But I CAN suggest that people ought to give me more credit for figuring out their home theater systems.
Entertainment units outshine even the biological, psychological, and metaphysical workings of these people’s pets. My clients really hope to make me swoon at all these cables, speakers, readouts, inputs, outputs, controllers, menus, guides, and interfaces. With this here setup—get NASA on the phone, quick—you can play CDs through the same device as your cassette tapes.
I KNOW, RIGHT?
But I cannot act blasé about the home theater systems, because these people are paying me to be their dogs’ friend. So I gasp and whistle when they tell me about how they subscribed to this wonderful new service that sends you movies IN THE MAIL. You don’t even have to drive to the video rental store, which is handy since now it’s a Panera Bread. The same company also offers an internet movie service that works right through the TV! The proud owners of this miracle promise to leave their teenage nephew’s phone number so he can help me access it.
I’ve learned a lot by staying in other people’s houses. Namely, that when I insist I’ll just watch pirated movies on my laptop, I receive the audio/visual tour a second time, only more vehemently.
But I’ve learned something else, too: that being invited into someone’s home is an honor and a privilege. You see, home is the only place my clients can control with no regard to societal standards of dress or aesthetics or odor. Home is the freedom they’ve yearned for ever since their parents told them, “You can dump sand on the floor all you want when you have your own house.” Home is a sacred space.
So when folks decide to vacate their sacred spaces for weeks at a time, they need someone to entrust with the care of their crotch-licking surrogate children. Someone who respects their individual life choices and preserves their unique visions of order. Someone who doesn’t gossip about their private lives. Someone, in short, who is reliable and keeps every promise—
Crikey! Our time is already up. Next time I write about housesitting, I SWEAR I will tell you about how that fly-fearing dog nearly murdered me. It’s so epic, I couldn’t possibly choose just one detail to tide you over. If you really want spoilers, you might check what Sugar has leaked lately.