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Cock-a-Doodle-Screwed

20 Dec

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Not all pet-sitting jobs are created equal; some of them are ridiculously easy, while others have so many obstacles you wonder what the hell you are doing there.
I was nearing the end of writing The Gyre Mission: Journey to the *sshole of the World when I took a job with a first time client, a referral from an animal hospital I have a good rapport with. She seemed normal enough over the phone, so I went to meet her. The first thing I noted with dismay was that she lived out in the boonies. Although it was beautiful out there in horse ranch country I saw I was going to have to travel quite some distance each day, sometimes twice daily over a large, gasoline-draining mountain. Next, upon meeting her and talking for a few minutes, I realized that she reminded me of Annie Wilkes from the book Misery. She didn’t use strange profanity and try to hobble me with a sledgehammer but, uncannily, displayed mannerisms similar to Stephen King’s bizarre, psychopathic character. Amazingly, considering that I am a writer, I stayed.
Now, I generally spend about an hour with a first time client, free of charge. I was there for over two before I told her I had to get going. To give her some credit, there was a lot to tell and show me, but an hour usually covers it. When I told her I had to get going she looked at me crossly and said: “I’m not finished yet.” In my head I thought: ‘Yeah? Well I am.’ To get out of there, I agreed to meet her again a month before the job started (I generally book jobs up to four months in advance). I did meet her again, and on that occasion stayed for another two hours as the lady rambled on and on. I had to tell her I had another job to get to simply to cut it short. To leave that time, I again agreed to meet with her once more, the day before she left. Normally I would have walked right there; when people act in this manner before I even start it usually means trouble. But I had the time open and wanted to make the money so I let it go.
Our third meeting lasted only an hour, but she said some things that were rather odd. I was instructed not to talk to any of the neighbors (she was feuding with a few of them) and to email her every two days with updates. She was very specific about that; not three days, not four, two. Then there were the garbage cans; with a ruler she showed me exactly how far she wanted them spaced apart on collection day. She also did and said other things that were odd, but I think you get the point. Wondering if I’d lost my mind, I agreed to these terms. But I made her sign a contract; I wasn’t going to lose money if she tried to make up some crazy bullshit and renege on my payment.
The first night of my three week stay clued me in on how all my nights spent there would go, and it wasn’t good. She not only lived in horse ranch country, she was also located next to some of the largest rooster farms in all of North County. What, you may ask, pray-tell, does this mean? What the hell do you think it means? Fucking roosters! There was one little bastard who couldn’t tell time to save his life. That little cock went off every night around two thirty, rain or shine. I’d be in the middle of a dream where I was getting intimate with Christina Ricci and suddenly I was wide-awake. One of the dogs (I realize I haven’t mentioned the pets: there were three; a year old Australian Shepherd named Rose; a twelve year old Springer Spaniel named Skippy, and Flash, a three year old cat) would sense I was awake and would want to get up. She’d jump up and down on my head with crazy abandon, irritating me to no end. It was all I could do to maintain my patience after the first several nights of this. You see, I’d try to go back to sleep but just as I did another rooster would go off, I’d wake up, and Rose would jump on my head. It was a crazy cycle.
So I tried to take naps during the day when my schedule allowed but Rose wouldn’t let me. Seriously. She’d be good until she saw me lie down, and then she’d start tearing something up or rough housing with the cat, barking her head off. The only way I could get a nap was by pretending to leave and then going outside and sleeping in my car. It was a hot summer though, so I had to have all the windows rolled down and I could hear the noise of cars and tractors and dogs and…yep! Roosters!
Sleep deprivation aside, it was a beautiful place, and the pets were sweet despite their desire to make sure I was a veritable zombie. I enjoyed the walks in the country air with Rose, and the owner had two acres covered with all kinds of fruit trees.
Which brings us back to Rose: she ate ANYTHING. The fruit on the trees was just the appetizer. One morning Skippy was copping his first squat of the day when I saw Rose watching, waiting. As soon as the shit hit the ground she put a napkin around her collar, picked up a fork and got her grub on. This has always sickened me, the eating of excrement. I was determined to stop it. So every time Skippy got into position, baking up another fresh batch of his particular morning special, I looked around to see where Rose was. She was always lurking nearby. When those turds dropped the flag was drawn and the race was on to see who could get to it first. Sometimes I beat her, sometimes I didn’t.
One morning the dogs didn’t come when I called them and I went to find them. They were eating the remains of an extremely large bird, feathers and all. I tried to stop them but they dodged around me, and just as I attempted to take them out of his mouth, I watched as Skippy swallowed a pair of legs. Later, when he crapped, those legs came out whole, with some feathers. Rose ate it. Another time it was a decapitated rabbit. I just couldn’t keep up with these two.
And on top of that there was this crazy elderly lady who showed up four days a week to water all the damn plants (at least that wasn’t my job) and she would talk and talk and talk (mostly about the owner and all the crazy shit she did) while I sat at my laptop, trying to get some work done. I’d asked her several times to give me her schedule so I could plan my day around her but she was always deliberately vague. She’d continuously show up at different times and beg me not to tell the owner. I inadvertently got her in trouble because in one of my emails I admitted I didn’t know when the woman was going to turn up on any given day, and then later covered for her, telling the owner she’d arrived on time but I hadn’t known she was there.
Despite all of that nonsense everything went fine. I’d lost my temper a few times (due to lack of sleep; I really need my sleep) but everyone was fine. The pets truly were a grand bunch, and I’d managed to do everything according to the owner’s particular needs.
As it ended I felt sad (I generally do; it’s like a Stockholm Syndrome kind of thing), but it was one of those jobs where I was also triumphant simply because I’d survived. All told I’d averaged about 4-5 hours a sleep a night, put a lot of miles on the car, and I’d gone through four tanks of gas in just under three weeks. But the book got finished and I was happy with it.
Although if you asked me if I’d ever stay there again, if I’d go through all that craziness and sleep deprivation and long drives…I’d have to check my schedule and see how badly I needed the money. I’ve always considered myself somewhat of a whore; taking a job like that proves it.

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4 responses to “Cock-a-Doodle-Screwed

  1. kanundra

    January 1, 2013 at 7:56 pm

    I tried to start my own pet sitting business when I first left college. I had three clients. One which bit me… we live and learn it was a hard start, and not enough to keep me going.

     
    • Edgar Swamp

      January 1, 2013 at 8:04 pm

      Yeah, it’s tough going but it depends where you live. San Diego is overflowing with people willing to pay big bucks for quality service. Also, the work ethic sucks here! All I had to do was show up, not burn the house down and keep the pets alive and everything was fine!

       
      • kanundra

        January 1, 2013 at 8:05 pm

        Awesome. 🙂 do you still do it now? Wish I could have stayed in animal care, but over here, it sucked.

         
      • Edgar Swamp

        January 3, 2013 at 9:23 pm

        Yeah, it really depends on location. Has to be a place where people have the extra money to spend, otherwise they’ll have a neighbor do it or have them kenneled. I have been doing it full-time for over six years now with no end in sight! Every year I wonder what will happen though, so I need to sell some books (to which you are thinking: ‘don’t we all!’). Take care!

         

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