Confessions of a Florentine Pet Sitter

Top Dog

Trina, a King Charles Cocker Spaniel, is black and white and rust colored, with big floppy ears and wide-open dark brown bulging eyes.  Trina  hungers to hear “You’re a pretty dog, Trina, yes, a very pretty dog. Yes you are.” When she hears those words in that sugar daddy tone, she rolls over to a sexy pose on her back expecting a tummy rub. Her eyeballs disappear under her eyelids. She is in heaven. She normally is underfoot, always wanting attention.

One day, in the quiet stillness of the morning, I crept to the edge of the living room to discover why Trina was so quiet on this day. I wanted to catch her off guard. I enjoyed the covert observation of the cats and dogs in my charge. With wonderment, I recognized some of myself in their behavior. We have a lot of emotional and physical responses in common.

My life had come down to this: I had become a stalking, peeping, sighing, humphing pet sitter. There I was spying on poor Trina. I discovered her sitting trance-like on the floor next to Belle. Usually, she spent her time vying for my attention or begging for food, not off somewhere in quiet meditation. Standing off to the side of the living room entrance, trying to be invisible, I watched Trina as she sat staring at Belle’s glimmering white back.  She looked like she was pondering the question: Should I or shouldn’t I?

Belle reclined on the living room carpet, holding her head up, watching the road through the front windows, waited patiently for her folks to come home. It had been a long eight weeks this time.  I liked to call her BlueBelle because no matter what, she wore a sad countenance. Her folks told me it was her look of hunger, but I think it was her look of depression; she missed her people. She is a good loving, patient, non-demanding dog who is fiercely loyal to her masters and amazingly, she puts up with Trina’s annoying activities without a nip or a growl of irritation.

This day, Belle paid no attention to Trina. She focused on the windows. When Trina could no longer stand it, when she could no longer resist the urge, resist the temptation of Belle’s beautiful back, she rose, walked over to Belle’s head and used her own head as a tool to force Belle’s down to the floor. She raised one foot ready to climb on Belle’s back when she sensed someone else in the room. She turned and saw me standing there, watching. She sat back with a humphy sigh. With a how-dare-you indignation claiming a bit of embarrassment, Trina barked once at me.  I had foiled her plans.

On another day, with full knowledge that I was watching, Trina climbed on Belle’s back to ride her. She moved her hips rhythmically back and forth, over and over again. When she got off, she stared at me with quiet defiance.  So determined to ride Belle, she didn’t care if I watched.  After a few seconds, she circled around Belle and climbed on her back again, riding she was riding a bucking horse. Trina, bucking power and domination.  I’ll show you, I can do anything I want. This is my house, my sister-dog, and if I want to hump her, I will!  Hump! Hump! Hump!

Several weeks went by until I saw Trina on Belle’s back again. This time she looked like she had fallen asleep. Too exhausted from her humping to climb off Belle, she lay there for a short time, quiet, restful, then she began to ride again, licking Belle’s ears and brow while rocking back and forth. She stopped, rested her head softly against Belle’s cheeks. Relaxed into a trance-like state, her body like putty in blissful orgasmic nirvana, she was not aware I was spying on her.

Suddenly she bucked and rocked a few more times only to relax into a big embrace with her front paws encircling Belle’s fluffy neck. While like this, she lolled her head back and forth in slow movement across the back of Belle’s head.  It was a moment of Grace, a moment of one dog showing love for another, an instance of warm fuzzy human-like cuddling.  As she slowly turned her head in my direction, she opened her eyes a sexy sleepy crack and in that instant, saw me watching. In utter shock, she jumped high off Belle’s back, straight up like a tarantula, landing on all four feet with her body convulsing in spasmodic barking. She was so angry to have been caught again, but it also seemed like this time she was even more embarrassed by her behavior.

Of course, I had little restraint and broke into a loud belly laugh which turned her bark even more indignant. How dare you laugh at me!

I’m a firm believer that dogs and cats experience emotions and some of those emotions—like love, anger, frustration, longing, and embarrassment—seem to require a bit of thought process. Otherwise Trina wouldn’t give a hoot if I saw her antics with Belle. She wouldn’t jump off of Belle, she wouldn’t react with such vigorous indignation when caught, she wouldn’t bark at me.  Did she know she was not supposed to hump Belle? Was it instinct that told her it was wrong, or had her folks told her No each time she tried to do it?

My fascination with cat and dog behavior grows. And in this family of creatures, I realized soon enough who the alpha dog was…and it wasn’t me! Recently, a dog expert confirmed my suspicions that their attempts to hump another dog, whether female or male, and/or to hump a human’s leg or foot, is, in fact, their desire to maintain dominance over the pack and  a dog’s human family is a part of its pack.

For eight long weeks of pet-sitting, Trina disobeyed me. She walked me, rather than me walking her. She would not let me pet the three cats or Belle without horning in on the action, reminding me it was she who was to be loved and petted, not the others. We struggled every day. She both surprised and disappointed me because I had seen that she was so good with her owner. Just tell her No when she’s bad, her owner said. She’ll understand.

Humph! Not so.

Trina liked to sit in front of the kitchen stove when I cooked. I worried about tripping over her, about spilling hot oil or hot water on her. I worried that  if I dropped a veggie or a piece of chicken, she was on it, charging from her sitting place like the slashing whip of a lizard’s tongue catching flies and ants. Give her a treat and send her to her bed when she gets underfoot in the kitchen—as she was wont to do every single meal no matter how many times I sent her to bed. Tell her and she’ll go to her dog bed.  Humph! Not a chance! Never never-never happened!

Trina’s behavior with Belle was a blatant symptom of “top dog” syndrome, as was her stubborn disregard for my stewardship. Belle took it all in stride, good-natured lab that she is. As for me, I didn’t want to be handled by a dog or anyone else, so I found it frustrating and wandered the house with much humphy sighing.

Note:  My pet clients have told me that both Belle and Trina have since passed away from  doggy illnesses. They are now a house ruled by cats.

© 2011  Susan Canavarro. All Rights Reserved.

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