“We’re going to New York for ten days, has your son mentioned it?”
No, of course not – not yet. It has probably slipped his mind.
“When? If I am free, would you like me to stay at your place to feed Alfie and the cats?”
“Oh would you? Yes, please.”
This is the third summer that I have looked after Alfie, a flat-coat retriever and Bramble and Pebble, Burmese Blue cats. Dog and cat sitting should be so easy, but all those of you who live with animals know that, with the best will in the world, life with pets does not always go smoothly. Alfie is walked every day for a couple of hours, so my daughter-in-law arranges a dog-walker for when she is unable to walk him. He is very well-behaved and I can do a “town walk” with him. This time I decided to be more ambitious and take him to the local recreation ground to let him off the lead. We played “fetch” with partial success – he was easily distracted and would drop the ball half way back to me and wander off across the grass. Luckily I had taken him out so early that there were no other people about. And thankfully he reappeared after exploring the bushes. However, I have decided that I would not risk of taking him off-lead in the vast expanse of Bushy Park.
Pebble is a sweet- natured, cuddly cat who likes nothing better than to curl up on a human lap – or failing that, to creep into a bedroom and nestle in their bed. But Bramble. Well, he is a demanding character who insists on sitting right where you are working. And he hates being shut in at night – but if allowed to roam free, always returns the worse for wear after some fight or other. I strongly suspect the other creature usually comes off worse!
It has taken me three years to really appreciate that I am the boss and I just have to be firm. During my first stay Bramble made my nights a misery. My fault! I felt sorry for him, knowing that he hates being shut in the kitchen so I left the door open. Fatal! At four in the morning he would decide it was time to get up and scratch on my door to go out. No sooner had I got back to sleep then I would be awaked by his yowling to come back in again. Took me ages to track him down: he was not at the back door. Nor was he at the front door. He was on the wisteria outside the master bedroom window!
Anyway, this time I have perfected the bedtime routine. Since it is summer, when I want to retire to bed first I have to shut and lock the patio doors. While I am doing this Alfie and Pebble appear from wherever they have been dozing and make straight for the bottom drawer in the kitchen where the cat treats are kept. Next I shut and lock the back door and lock the cat flap – then I have to locate Bramble. I open the front door and call and, lo and behold! one black cat emerges from the darkness racing up the drive with his tail erect. And, yes, he heads straight for the drawer where the other two are waiting. They each are given two cat treats then they are shut in the kitchen. Not sure whether it is my imagination, but sometimes I awake to the sound of Bramble pawing at the kitchen door but I ignore him.
By the time I reappear in the morning the cats will be waiting so close to the door that I almost fall over them. I unlock the back door and fling it open. The cats look at me in disdain, “You haven’t fed us.” I quickly refill their bowls. Meanwhile Alfie is still sitting patiently by the back door. Oops! I have not instructed him to go out. I step outside into the garden and call Alfie. Whoosh! A bulky mass of black hurtles itself through the door and down the garden. Now you’d think that the cats would exit through the garden door as well, once finished eating? No way! They insist on using the front door – and they will miaow persistently until I open it for them. Peace! The pets are outside. Now I can read the daily paper and enjoy my morning cuppa in solitude.