Shake, sit, cry: The dark side of dog-sitting

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As a broke college student, sometimes you have to do things you’re not proud of. The type of dirty, non-taxed, under the table type jobs that leave you exhausted, emotionally drained and reeking of desperation.

I’m referring, of course, to dog-sitting.

A variant of house-sitting, the typical supplemental income of choice for poverty stricken college students, dog-sitting presumably came about when some dog owner decided to go on vacation while leaving poor Spot in the hands of a naive neighborhood kid. In theory it’s a great arrangement; the owner can escape the obligations of keeping another being alive long enough to get a much needed holiday, while some entrepreneurial teen or twenty-something can make a quick buck.

In terms of house-sitting, this is always a great trade. Provided the owner leaves something edible on the premises and the house sitter doesn’t throw a party large enough to necessitate a visit from the local authorities, everyone leaves happy. However — much like buying a used car from the lemon lot — you’re forced to rely solely upon the word of the owner to evaluate whether the dogs are worth the trouble.

Here’s something I’ve learned during my years of dog-sitting: Some dog owners are dirty liars.

As context for my lack of appreciation for dog-sitting, my girlfriend just house-sat for a lovely couple that, for some reason, decided to own five diaper wearing rat-dogs that were afraid of food, water and their own shadows. They couldn’t fetch, shake or roll over. They offered no form of companionship and required at least two full-time jobs in order to clean up after them.

Despite the diapers, these dogs were advertised as “house-trained and loving,” which leads me to believe that dog owners must have some vocabulary deficiency that renders them incapable of conveying how much work their pets require.

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I once house sat for a family who, five minutes before leaving, informed me that they had meant to have their ancient black lab put down before they left, but had run out of time. What this meant was that when that giant dog laid down and stopped audibly breathing three different times throughout the job, I was left with nothing but an illegibly scrawled number for the vet and the WebMD dog edition on my phone.

Another time I was left with three dogs, who I had been assured would be no trouble at all, just “a bit finicky with their diets.” Expecting nothing more than to have to buy something along the lines of gluten free, non-GMO, organic, free range hippy kibble, I gladly accepted the job to keep my bank account from losing yet another digit. However, apparently “finicky diet” was meant to be interpreted as “Dog #1 will eat nothing for three days, then have some sort of episode due to self induced starvation, Dog #2 will primarily subsist upon twice ingested table scraps, and Dog #3 will only eat cheese and the occasional ice cube.”

It’s really the bait-and-switch that makes the offer of dog-sitting such an insidious request. Most times it’s not even malicious. It’s easy to see how over many years a dog owner can grow accustomed to the fact that his or her precious companion can only be coaxed outside by speaking in certain tone of voice, by a person (preferably brandishing some sort of treat) that has passed the dog’s rigorous background sniff check.

Before you conclude that I’m just bad with animals and prone to complaining, keep in mind that I’ve worked some bad jobs. I was forced to fire someone three times my age while working my second day at Carrs, only to have the person break down and cry — and I was only seventeen at the time. I’ve had to set up weddings for a vicious, drunk mother-in-law who I’m pretty sure was plotting to kill the groom the second I left the property. Hell, last summer I worked as a “landscaper,” which is really just a euphemism for “guy who pulls junkies’ needles out of bushes in grocery store parking lots” — but even that is preferable to caring for someone else’s untrained mutt.

So I guess if I have to throw a useful recommendation in amidst all this complaining, it would be that resources exist to care for your furry best friend while you’re away. While you may hate the idea of a leaving your dog in a day care or boarding kennel for a week, at least those establishments are better equipped to care for a living creature than some high schooler whose work experience starts and ends with lawn mowing. You could even leave them with a dog-owning friend to save money and unnecessary stress. Just don’t leave town and entrust all your worldly processions and four-legged friend to a stressed college student with no idea what they’ve just committed to.

Alternatively, you could just train your dogs well and reward me handsomely to care for them. The choice is yours.