How Dog-Sitting Helped Kick Depression’s Ass

When my former spouse left the family home I asked him to please take our 5-year-old brown lab with him. At the time I was barely suriving the day. I had a prescription for a something-something kind of anti-depressant, and I was eating half a Xanax to secure a good night sleep. I wasn’t working and I was writing for my life. There was a lot of public crying and I lost the weight.

For months the no-pet-having-life was a relief—no water bowl to fill, no shedding, no sad “take me for a walk, please” eyes with which to reconcile. But after a few months I felt the cracks inside me deepen. Not only had my guts been scooped out by this serious human loss, but also, the warm animal had vanished. The wagging, wiggling, loud, panting, always-love-you-no-matter-what creature was just ghost. I had expected to be lonely without the man, but the grief for the dog suprised me. I would fall to my knees and wail in the hallway. Yes, it was for the man, and it was also for the dog. They weren’t dead, but they were gone.

More stuff happened: I got roommates (a handful, actually, but that’s a different story), I started working, and I finished a degree. I signed up with a company called Rover, who vets homeowners who wish to make a little cold hard cash watching dogs.

The marketing gal came to my house and recorded an embarrassing video of me sitting on my couch explaining the virtues of my lifestyle (“I have a fenced yard, we live by a park, my children love dogs, I have great neighbors, etc. etc.”). In no time I had requests for “stays” and in no time I earned all sorts of Rover “expert badges” plus a handful of five-star reviews.

We watched more sweet hounds than there is time here to describe.

Below are Paxton (left) and Lula (right), the pair that came as a family unit. Paxton was an anxious barker who didn’t like to eat, and Lula was a hog who would scarf Paxton’s portions. Paxton was a bed-snuggler; Lula was not. Paxton followed you everywhere; Lula did not. Watching them perch together on one ottoman leaving drool smears on my window while they watched the neighborhood made me…happy. That pink slobbery tongue! Those intense beady eyes!

I had so many requests in the summer I was turning clients away on the daily. It’s HARD to say no to Pay-Pal money, especially when you’ve been in the red for awhile and you have mouths to feed.

I had a tough time keeping track of their breeds. To me their genre didn’t matter, only the soft underside of a sweet little belly. And the spots and whiskers and whimpers and smiles. It was Jasmine’s first doggy daycare experience, and she was all vulnerable and needy. You see how this can change lives?

I should back up and explain that Trixie (below) was our first hound. (I had to dig around for a picture.) I do remember now that she’s part Lab and part Basset Hound. I mean, seriously—her belly skimmed the ground when she waddled, but don’t think that didn’t make her tough. The ‘ole girl has been around the block—she’s the type of cool-ass pet who simply CHILLS on your front porch in the sun. Of her front paws that are permanently twisted into a ballerina’s first-position, my son said, “the way her feet are shaped makes me feel uncomfortable.” Everyone loves Trixie, which explains why she’s aloof and prefers her own bed.

One dog is plenty, but like I said, money talks, and sometimes I had my hands full. Rusty’s (left) owner tapped me on the Facebook after seeing my gleeful posts identfying myself as an official dog sittering fool. So began my cash clients—bonus! I met with Rusty’s owner’s girlfriend to do the exchange in a parking lot of a busy specialty market in north Seattle. She gave me Rusty’s pills and snacks and ginormous bed. He is the COOLEST DOG EVER. Coat like honey-colored wheat and, though it hurts him, when you get up, he gets up. He’s just that loyal. Geriatric dogs might be my fave.

Clients vacation to places like Bankok and the Oregon Coast and Michigan and Mexico. Do I ever become jelly of their time off? Nah. At the time, I didn’t want to go anywhere. I just wanted to rest. This was me getting my shit together. This was me recovering.

One cash client came to me with a nutty pair. Thunder (below left) had lost an eye in a terrible attack when she was young, so I nurtured her routine by administering special moisturizing drops in her good eye twice a day. What a soldier she was! She liked to explore the yard and was super duper friendly. In contrast, her compadre, Moose, was a neurotic. (Check out the lip curl)

Here’s what happened though: Unbeknownst to me, the gate was open (all it takes is a crack; we’re talking about a Chihuahua here) and Moose took off on an adventure. I get a call from the client who got a call from a woman who had Moose in her care after he allegedly nearly bit three people who were trying to “rescue him” at the nearby park. I call the woman. She yells at me, saying she wouldn’t release the dog unless I could GUARANTEE I wasn’t some sort of anumal abuser. Grrr, but whatever. BFF Thunder comes with me to rescue Moose from crazy lady’s house. Moose does not bite me. Moose spends the evening licking my hand and the client forgives me, though I never hear from her again.

Shilo was an American Pitbull Terrier. I remember this because Pit Bulls can be trouble, no? My tenant downstairs had just gotten his puppy, and I didn’t want to host a dog who might threaten the little puppy when then two of them spent time together in the yard. The goal of this pet-sitting journey was to find peace, not stress. His owner assured me Shilo was mellow, in part because he was disabled. Would we watch Shilo on short notice, so the owner could make an emergency family trip to San Fransisco? Yes, yes we would. Shilo had bad hips. Shilo’s back left leg was lame. Shilo was 60 lbs of pure muscle. My boyfriend, kids and I would heave Shilo up and down the steps of the back deck so he could have a bathroom break. With great dignity Shilo attempted at walking strong, thanking us with his steady grey gaze. Look at his face. I hope Shilo is doing OK. Watching Shilo made me feel good to be a human, like I was useful in the world, which is a good thing for depression.

Some repeat guests, Like Theo (pronounced Tay-O), are so cozy they get invited for Christmas. Treats galore!

It’s a year later, and I’ve decided to let the dog business take a back seat. Poop scooping didn’t bother me, nor did the daily walks. But we’re starting to talk about getting our own dog again, maybe a puppy. Dogs are good for tweens and teens who feel lonely sometimes, and who are ready for the challenge of taking care of a live thing with needs. I still love cash and on occasion say yes to a few clients whose dogs I adore, but the doggy fund — cash in my underwear drawer — is growing. And the pharmaceuticals are on the shelf, watching to make sure I keep on taking good care of myself. It’s more complicated than that, I know. Sometimes, though, we have to seek simplicity. We must grab on to days where a face like this one, right here (Suki), can be a reminder that joy is all yours, sitting in your lap.