Adventures in Cat Sitting

Sometimes harrowing, often hilarious, cat-sitting offers many life lessons.

I am a pet sitter. I work for the company whose name came almost immediately to mind a few years ago when I got called into a meeting and learned I’d be out of a job in 90 days. I’d no longer have to pay my favorite pet sitter to watch my cat, Fergie, on the business trips I’d no longer be taking. Turns out, this company was hiring. Now, when I’m not working on freelance projects from home, I spend my workdays visiting many of my neighborhood’s dog, cat and other animal residents, who’ve taught me quite a bit.

Lesson 1: Patience is a virtue.
To steal a line from The Supremes (and lots of cover bands since), you can’t hurry love. Cats P and T (I’ll use initials to protect their identities) taught me this. From the start, I had T’s grudging respect. He’d watch me scoop his cat litter and fill his bowls, and he occasionally let me pet him. P, on the other hand, was a mystery. My routine for a year was to take care of the chores, then get down on my knees to peek under the bed to look for the cat-shaped object I’d always find curled up atop a box. I’d hang out on the floor and read to him from whatever ebook happened to be on my smart phone, play music and programming from the local NPR station, and even blow catnip bubbles at him in hopes of luring him out, failing miserably every time. And then one day, while tidying mail and newspapers, I looked up to see a handsome Siamese cat sitting in the living room staring at me. I froze for a moment, then sat on the floor and stared back at him. When I picked up the feathered wand and waved it at him, he extended a paw (our olive branch). By the end of that assignment I’d heard him purr and I’d even snapped a few photos of him to send to his owner.

Lesson 2: Make memories last.
Everyone (and not just Facebook and YouTube users and people who forward stuff to everyone in their email address book) loves cute cat photos and videos. My human clients go nuts when I send them images of their pets waving their paws in the air, playing, grooming or even sleeping — anything will suffice for someone who is away from home missing their cats. To make things a little more exciting for long-term clients, I take advantage of my phone’s free apps. Add a decorative border or transform a pet into a zombie and my mediocre photos become art pieces.

Lesson 3: Looks can be deceiving. (You can also call this one, “Just because your cats are cute doesn’t mean they don’t want to kill you.”)
When I met one trio of cats, I was instantly enamored. They were young (2 to 5), inquisitive, affectionate and adorable. Their owner clearly loved them, and I left our initial meeting with nothing to worry about. Or so I thought …

On the first day of my assignment, the two girl cats (a mother-daughter pair) bounded down the stairs to greet me. The boy cat was nowhere in sight when I entered the living room, but he soon casually wandered down the hallway, flopped on the rug and permitted me to scratch him. After a few minutes of play and affection I decided to get down to the work part of the job, pulled the cover off the litterbox, started scooping and uncovered a pair of kitchen scissors. A very strange discovery to be sure, but no cause for alarm: all 12 paws were injury free.  Later, a friend whose heart is less immune to feline charms than my own suggested that the scissors could have been the start of their cat-army arsenal. Oh no!

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