Four thousands of years, dogs have played an integral role in the day to day lives of man. They were working dogs who pulled, carried, herded, hunted and protected, constantly assisting their human companions. Countless songs have been sung and books have been written about ‘Man’s Best Friend’-even Elvis with ‘Old Shep’ and John Steinbeck in Travels With Charley added their two cents worth in lauding canine companions. Nowadays most dogs are pets, taking their rightful places as important and vital members of many households. Because of this, several of the house sits we’ve taken on include caring for these four-legged friends, something that we enjoy immensely. But it is not all dog treats and a walk in the park – sometimes it gets a little more interesting.
In July, my partner flew on ahead to our next house sit in Aurora, Ontario. The following evening, he dropped the homeowners, Aimee and Rhodri and their two daughters, to Lester B. Pearson Airport in Toronto to catch a flight to the UK. At the same time, my own flight from St. John’s came in – well timed. We drove back to Aurora arriving at what was to be my new home for the next two weeks.
The house was on a quiet street in a well cared for subdivision. I dragged my bags up the drive and through the garage. In the background, I could hear big dogs barking – two Portuguese Water Dogs, Ty and Maddy, who were going to be in our care for the next two weeks or so. We opened the door and these boisterous creatures bounded out to say hello. They sniffed and inspected me and my luggage, licked my hands, then trotted back into the house. This was going to be a cinch.
As I stepped into the hallway, I was glad to see that this was a home, not just a house. There was nothing pretentious inside these four walls. It was lived in and obviously loved, a family (and dog) home. Hung on the walls and strategically placed throughout each room were Rhodri’s photographs of his family, birds, flowers and beautiful landscapes. The, living room, kitchen and the terrace were for spending time with friends and family. I knew I was going to like it here.
The dogs followed us to the kitchen, their paws moving through what I thought was a little bit of gravel near the doorway. In the corner was a little square gauze envelope – you know the kind that tea bags are made of. Tea bags? Why were there a torn tea bag on the floor? Sliding my hands over the floor, I gathered the ‘dirt’ into a little pile, pinched a bit between my fingers and sniffed deeply like it was a Cuban cigar. It was tea leaves. Barry’s Irish Gold Blend to be exact. A quick inspection of the counter for a Ziploc bag ( holding a half box of tea bags that had been strategically placed on top of the fruit bowl pushed way back on the counter so that the dogs couldn’t reach) showed that it was indeed missing. Gone. Disappeared.
And sitting next to me were the two dogs happily swishing their tails back and forth over the floor, scattering the sparse remains of the missing tea bags throughout the kitchen and the living room. With the speed of deduction rivaled only by Sherlock Holmes himself, I knew the dogs had eaten the tea bags – every last one of them. Unlike Mr. Holmes, I did not detect that one of the dog’s tails was swishing faster than the other.
I began to panic. All those teabags – how much caffeine did that equate to? Do I e-mail Barry’s Tea looking for caffeine count or was that a company secret? Is it as bad as a dog eating a whole bag of Hershey Kisses stolen from a Christmas stocking? Taking their black furry faces in my hands, I searched Ty and Maddy’s eyes for changes in pupil dilation – couldn’t find their pupils as their eyes are too dark. I tried searching for a racing pulse (too much caffeine gives me heart palpitations, why not dogs too). Nope. They preferred licking my face and rolling around on the floor rather than allowing me a quiet moment to detect a heart beat. Who has ‘tea breath’? I sniffed and snuffled (more face licking ensued) only to conclude that all dogs maintain dog breath no matter what they’d consumed beforehand. Yuck!
Next step – Google. I fired up my laptop and punched in ‘Dog ate tea bags’ and the list of links (and questionable advice) loaded on the page. Make dog sick; Have dog drink plenty of water; My dogs LOVE, LOVE, LOVE coffee; My dog ate a K-Cup; Are coffee beans bad for dogs; How to remove fleas from pets using coffee; America’s first Dog Cafe…the list was lengthy, scary and mostly downright ridiculous.
So we waited… and watched…and waited some more. No real changes. They seemed fine. Even a quick walk down the street didn’t reveal any bizarre caffeine-induced canine behaviour – just two happy dogs sniffing and eyeing the neighbourhood cats and peeing on every tree trunk in the vicinity. We went back to the house, placed the vets phone number next to the phone and went to bed. The dogs followed us and found their own sleeping spots on the floor close by. Sweet dreams doggies!
An hour later, the groans and moans and grumbles began. I wakened, startled and confused, not having a clue where I was or what was happening. Where was I? What hotel? No hotel. Do I hear dogs? This place has dogs. Bleary eyed and uncertain I jumped out of bed and hit the wall – literally, I hit a wall with my head. I tripped over a dog at the foot of the bed. I moaned; the dog groaned. The smaller dog. That’s Maddy. I looked for Ty – he was asleep on the floor on the other side of the room. How could he sleep with so much commotion? I staggered to the top of stairs, took firm grip on the railing and gingerly made my way down the steps as Maddy followed close behind, then whipped around me on the inside- her paws slipping on the oak stairway. I slid open the patio doors and she whizzed on by, immediately followed by the now awake Ty thinking we were having a back yard play session at 1:00 AM. I sat on a chair and waited – Maddy raced back in with a Frisbee in her mouth. Ty followed her, grabbed the Frisbee from her mouth and lay down on the floor, covering the stolen toy with his big black paws, just daring her to try and get it back. She ignored him and ran toward the patio door again, performed a swift turn in the doorway, nearly knocking me over. She stopped in front of me, licked my legs and barked before proceeding to trot about the kitchen like a pony before a race.
I knew then who had devoured the teabags.
This continued for the next few hours. Up and down the stairs, back and forth the hallway, in and out the patio door. And for those of you interested in the literary term onomatopoeia, “Oomph!” is the sound one makes when a plus 40-pound dog jumps on you while you are in your bed at three o’clock in the morning. It is usually followed by an expletive and a mighty lunge out of the bed. We tried to get her to drink water, and she did – some. But mostly, she kept moving and kept us up and moving right along with her. She moaned and growled, barked and whined. She’d flop on the floor and sigh, then pop back up. She wagged her tail, licked our feet and brought us her toys to play with. It was a long night. She’d settle for a few moments and we’d think we were good. Then boom – she was back up on the bed, ready to play and run and play and run some more. We tagged teamed the whole night cat-napping in between, until about 4:30 AM. According to my tally, it was my partners turn to get up. I tucked myself back under the covers and gratefully shut my eyes.
At 5:45 I woke up in a panic. Daylight was filtering in through the curtains. It was too quiet. No dogs, no sounds. Just the slight humming of the air conditioning. I threw back the covers and ran down over the stairs, expecting the worst, yet not sure what the worst might be. Instead, I saw my partner sprawled face down on the couch, the dogs’ leads clenched in his left hand on the floor, his sneaker clad feet stretched over the arm of the couch. His eyes were closed. I could not see the dogs. He must have heard me, because he raised his head slightly, placed a finger across his lips and said “Shhh!”. He pointed over to the corner. Both dogs were sprawled out on the floor, breathing evenly, sound asleep, definitely non the worse for last night. He lay his head back down, shut his eyes and I tiptoed back to bed.
No more tea bags were ever left out while we were there. Or coffee. Or chocolate. A few fresh muffins and butter, ice cream and Parmesan cheese, but only for a few moments while my back was turned. But it was just enough time for Ty to plop his big paws on the counter and snag a prize with his tongue. He was a thief, but a most endearing thief. As far as I know, Maddy never took anything off the counter or table. She just helped eat the pilfered loot. Definitely partners in crime.
Those two pooches were gentle and good. They loved lying next to the table as we ate supper and being practically on top of you while watching TV. Early morning coffee on the terrace meant canine company at my feet and next to me on the settee. Long walks in the nearby Aurora Community Arboretum were a must – morning and evening. They knew their way around and we followed their lead more often than not. They flushed out red-winged black birds and sniffed butterflies. We soon discovered that Ty wouldn’t jump if a bomb exploded in his pathway, but Maddy had a finely tuned ear and eye for cats, rabbits, squirrels and Harley Davidson’s and responded as if they were Public Enemy #1. As we walked them, neighbours and friends who knew the dogs, stopped and asked “Is that Maddy and Ty?”, then took time to chat to us, while giving the waiting dogs much loved rubs behind the ears. And boy, did they lap up the attention. Ours particularly and we were happy to give as much as they wanted.
Dogs have always been a big part of my life, every one with a unique personality and unmatched loyalty of their own. Butch, Sissy, Smokey, Julie, Scout, and Oliver. Now I can list those I’ve taken care of because they too have added that special something – Sabbia, Enzo, Doug, Lycos, Fife, Tess, Maddy, Ty, Joey, Millie, Megan, Alfie…with more to come, I’m sure.
Most dogs are easy to love and they are the only creatures I know that love you back unconditionally. They haven’t a list of criteria for the perfect human and have no understanding of financial wealth, social status or self-importance– just feed them, treat them with care, kindness and respect. Share your bacon or give them the occasional belly rub and you make a friend for life.
It’s pretty simple really. And in this life, simplicity is a great gift.
If you don’t believe me – just go find a dog to love.
Even for just a short while. Borrow one if you have to.
Your life will be the richer for it.