I’ve been a cat person all my life.
My family had a few dogs during my childhood and adolescence. Though I liked them to greater and lesser degrees, they were all so stinky and slobbery and needy. I preferred the family cats who might sit on my lap, but never put their stinky breath right up in my face.
I was afraid of strange dogs for many years. Although I’d never been bitten, the big teeth and unpredictable ways of dogs made me nervous. I tried to avoid dogs as much as possible.
Then I became the co-owner of a puppy. I guess you could say I was the doggie mama. The relationship with the man ended, and I never saw the pup again, but I’d learned a lot about dogs. Canines don’t scare me any more, although I’m still cautious around strangers. If I want to pet a dog I don’t know, I ask the dog’s person first, and I don’t like any dog’s teeth (or breath!) right up in my face.
Yes, I recognize the irony of my situation as a house sitter who usually tends to dogs. How did I go from a gal scared of dogs to one who is quite popular with the puppies? Maybe it’s because I’m loving but take no shit. Maybe it’s because I’ve got a free hand with the (dog’s-person-approved) treats.
My theory is that dogs love whomever feeds them. When I sit with dogs, the first day and night are really difficult for the critters. They look sad and a bit confused. They mope around the house. They stare longingly at the door. By the next morning, however, when they figure out I’m going to put food in the bowl and scratch bellies too, they love me. They love me! They’re happy to see me when I return. They follow me with their eyes as I move about the house. If they are accustomed to sleeping in the bed with their people, they sleep in the bed with me. Maybe dogs are fickle. Maybe dogs are opportunists. Maybe dogs simply love easily. In any case, it does make more sense to lick than bite the hand that feeds you.
And while love is important, feeding seems to be even more so. I recently met an old friend’s beloved Chiweenie. This dog was rescued off the streets of a major city and is a bit of a ruffian. My friend has done much work to socialize this doggie girl so she can (usually) go on walks without attacking the ankles of passersby . Despite my friend’s warnings and best intentions, the Chiweenie jumped up and nipped my fingers as I ignored her (as directed) while crossing the threshold into her home. Damn! Apparently she doesn’t know that dogs love me. What won her over was treats, lots and lots of treats, so many treats. I first fed her through the slats of her kennel; soon I was able to feed her more directly, once she was allowed to roam freely about the cabin. In less than an hour, she was lying next to me on the couch, offering her pink hairless belly for rubs. Oh! The power of food!
Despite all this puppy love, I’ll tell you a secret. I prefer cats. It’s true. For one, they’re a lot less trouble. Although I do know a handsome Siamese who perambulates about town on a leash, I’ve never been asked to take a cat for a walk. Although cleaning a litter pan is not a fun chore, I prefer it to picking up squishy dog feces in a little bag which I then must carry around until I find a trash can. Although I am touched to see a dog get all excited when I return to the house, I’d prefer not to have a critter under my feet every time I move. I appreciate the independent nature of cats, their live and let live (and let’s mostly leave each other alone) attitude.
In my house sitting career, I’ve mostly cared for dogs. Maybe because they need more attention, it’s easier to have someone in-house to care for them. Maybe people with cats can more easily believe nothing can go wrong if someone just pops by once a day to feed and water the felines. Dogs just seem to need more supervision, so most of my jobs have been to care for canines.
I am currently house sitting and caring for an elderly cat. Although over twelve years old, this gal is healthy. I don’t have to give her any medications or clean up any unseemly bodily emissions. Mostly she sleeps in a bed on top of a chest of drawers in the main bedroom.
My cat related chores are very few. I clean out the litter pan when it gets gross. I ensure her bowls contain water and dry food at all time. I give her wet food in the mornings and evenings, as she demands by standing in front of her bowls and meowing insistently. When she wants to go outside, I open a door for her. If I close the door behind her on the way out, I let her in again when she demands re-entrance. I make sure she is inside between dusk and dawn. Easy.
The other night, a couple of hours after dark, I peeked into the main bedroom to check on Madame. She was not in her bed! What? I thought I’d made sure she was in the house before I closed up all the doors. Had I really locked the cat out on a cold, damp night?
I opened the back door, stepped out on the deck, and called the cat’s name. No response. I opened the front door, stepped out on the porch and called the cat’s name. No response. I ran back and forth a few times, calling her name and shouting, Here kitty kitty! No response. How had I managed to fail in this very simple task?
I thought maybe she was hiding in some other part of the house. She was not in the kitchen. She was not in the living room. She was not in the guest bedroom where I sleep, nor in the guest bath. I went into the office, not expecting her to be there, and turned on the light. There was Madame, curled up on the satellite TV receiver.
You heard me calling and just sat there? I asked her.
She didn’t even dignify my question with a response.