Confessions of a Florentine Pet Sitter
Copyright 2010 by Susan Canavarro
I can remember when I was a teenager and a young woman that I always had sense of hope about life. I had unrealistic dreams that I would be cherished by someone, by a famous actor or musician; I had desires to be the light in someone’s eyes. I found the head guy in a folk and rock band and pursued him until I had him only for a few short months; I pursued a wonderful outgoing happy old artist who was a Flax’s Art Supply customer where I worked and he used to tease me about my shiny forehead. I loved it. I was 18. He was probably 45 or 50 at the time. I wanted to date him. I fell in love with Clint Eastwood and felt I had a connection with him because we both lived on the Monterey Peninsula. I know, it’s silly, but surely he would SEE me and be madly smitten simply because I existed in the same town. I fell in love with a guitar player, a second guitar player, a third guitar player, a pianist, a writer, an artist, and last, I fell in love with and married a carpenter. I would sit high on the bluff in Mendocino on a roughly-built wood bench overlooking the Woodyard beach and the wide Pacific Ocean and wait for my love to rescue me. I had hope. I had dreams. I had ambitions. I had not died yet.
I remember feeling this same sense of hope when I began pet sitting here in Florence. No, not for romantic dreams, but a desire for unconditional love from the cats and dogs I was caring for. Am I weird or what?
I wanted to pick up the cats and hold them close to my chest, hear them purring, feel the tickle of their whiskers on my cheek, kiss noses like Eskimos, and feel the warmth of their bodies and soft fur; to have them come when I called their names, sleep on my bed by my feet or head; for them to know, as they often do for their people, when I was sick and tend to me with their own brand of vigilant healing presence by my side. I wanted the dogs I cared for to wag their tails, be happy, excited, come to me for a pat on the head, play fetch with me, let me brush or groom them, and obey me when I tell them not to get under foot in the kitchen. The obeyer’s part never happened!
What they wanted was food and water, a walk, a treat, a pat on the head, a good dog, good cat, beautiful cat, hello Baby, a clean litter box. They needed and desired to be recognized and loved. They needed to be cherished while their owners were away.
I understood why these animals couldn’t love me unconditionally. I don’t love unconditionally – people, or animals for that matter. Trust has to be earned. The pets need to know I’m trustworthy and that trust takes time to build. Even after 3 or 4 years sitting with the same cat, with each visit, it took most of the pets 3 or 4 days before they realized I was “it” for a while, for food, attention and potty habits. Others, the trust never grew. But my understanding of this did not mitigate the pain I felt when one of them ignored me, or wouldn’t let me pick her up, or touch her, or ran from me when I walked in the room. Oh, woe is me.
Every now and then some of the pets would slip into their comfort zone and forget that I was not just the baby sitter. For a few glorious moments, I could feel that they had slipped back into trust and love, and I was fortunate to be the recipient. But it was oh so brief a moment. Back rub, walking up and down my body, sleeping curled up behind my legs, or on my chest or hip. Tail’s up, happy, running to me as I called their names or said hello or clapped my hands in delightful play. Those are the moments I cherish.
Now and then I was pleasantly surprised. However, I experienced the pleasure and then the consequent guilt: should this be happening?
One night Simon gave me a back rub by kneading between my shoulder blades. I wasn’t sure I should tell anyone. I felt giggly guilty at having enjoyed it so much. It felt soooo good. Simon woke me up one morning by walking the length of my body, rubbing against me, and finally settling on the pillow next to my head. He began to chew and pull at my curlers, at which point I got up! Simon had an ulterior motive: to wake me up either because he was hungry or I was snoring. Simon walked in front of the sofa when I was sitting, back and forth, each time rubbing my legs as he went, giving me little “love bites” now and then. He wanted me to know he was there. Whenever he came into a room where I was sitting, I said “Hello Simon” and watched his crooked tail stand tall. A happy cat. I knew then I was doing a good job!
Bessie loved to walk around my body, rubbing up against me. Round and round she’d go, every time I lay down on the bed on the fuzzy. She was a frantic fanatic about it. It was fun. She did not have an ulterior motive other than fun and love. Bessie also lounged on my chest for periods of time, until I had to move. Blue would lay flat on her back, all four legs splayed open, vulnerable, in a brief moment of trust, but when I bent down to rub her belly, she ran away. She enjoyed riding on the shoulders of her master, and thought once that she might enjoy it with me, but she never trusted enough to ask again.
In rare moments Knuckles a.k.a. Noodles slept next to my body on the bed, or under the covers, but Beans wanted nothing from me but her dinner or to be let outside. Rarely would Knuckles or Beans crawl up in my lap in the TV chair.
Belle (Yellow Lab) of Southview wanted to be in the same room with me.
Trina (King Charles Spaniel) wanted to be wherever anybody was, in the same room, on the same bed or chair or sofa, or at my feet.
She didn’t care who was sitting next to her, just if they would. Francis loved me when I was eating mint chocolate chip ice cream. Violet loved me when I was not in the room. Rhody loved to watch me surreptitiously while she wandered past my chair, around to the other side, tail up, energetic. She was flirtatious, wanted attention, but couldn’t hang around long enough to let me give it to her.
Freddie, Nicky (cats) and Rudy (dog) all wanted to be in the loo with me. Rudy liked to sit right up close to the toilet seat between my knees. Hm-m-mmmmm.
Tai the Terrible steals food from Brillo the Black’s dish while Brillo is still eating. Brillo simply ignores Tai, turns his head while he is chewing, and allows Tai to sneak in with his curled paw to grab another piece of kibble. The kind of symbiosis I like: Tai gets more food and he’s not hungry all night, and I don’t have to tell Brillo to clean his bowl. And no matter if I’m not his master, Tai
sits among the tall grasses in his front yard, waiting for me to get home. It’s a beautiful sight to turn in the driveway and see his big fluffy body among the grasses and flowers. The contrasting textures are wonderful. Welcome home, he meows.
When I ponder all this, I realize I am a cat person mostly, despite owning a large St Bernard for thirteen years that I loved dearly, who was my baby, my only child. And I confess, I’m thinking I should get my own cat.
But then again, I couldn’t earn a living as a pet sitter…
© 2010 Susan Canavarro ”Confessions of a Personal Sort” – All Rights Reserved. No copying or use of text or images without written permission from the author, Susan Canavarro.
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