Sometimes, being a pet sitter makes me feel terrible, especially when I’m forced to betray the trust of longtime cat friends. I’ve known Birdie (and her feline roommate Goose) for about three years. Little gray Goose is shy but spends a little bit of time with me on each visit. Orange-and-white Birdie is always up for playing with one of her many wand toys, rolling around on the scratching pad I sprinkle with catnip or accepting pets while I sit on the floor next to her and read magazines. Occasionally I annoy her and she swats me with a paw, but our friendship is solid.
Then Birdie developed an eye condition and her people went away for a whole week, leaving me to give medication to her: two different eye drops and an ointment, each to be administered twice a day. Our visits started like this. Birdie would wander into the kitchen as I prepared her meal — she lives for food and treats of all kinds. I would scoop her up, cradle her in my arms as she growled and give her the first drop. She’d enjoy her half can of food and then came drop two, with more growling. I’d clean the litterboxes, say “Hi” to Goose under the bed, then snatch up Birdie one more time for the ointment.
After a couple of days, Birdie started avoiding me in small ways, sitting under the low kitchen table as I portioned out her food and accepting pats but moving away whenever I moved closer than an arm’s length away. Her sad howls each time I grabbed her got a little more heartbreaking with each visit, but I didn’t have much trouble catching her until, of course, I did, and she ran under the bed when I still had one drug left to administer.
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That’s when I embarked on the ultimate betrayal, using her own weakness against her. I tossed one treat under the bed and then created a two-treat trail that she could only enjoy if she emerged. She gobbled the first treat then stuck out a paw to snag the second one. It was just beyond her reach, so she slid just far enough to grab it, with most of her body still beneath the bed. The third one came at a price, though, and I watched her eyes dart from the treat to me and back again several times. Finally she did what she and I both knew she had to. She got her treat, but I was right there with it and I grabbed her as she crunched. Days later I still feel bad about that, but by the time our week together was done I could see a definite improvement in her eye. Unfortunately, I hear it’s a chronic condition, so the treatment is likely to continue. I just hope cat memories are short, so when she next sees me she won’t remember that trail of treats.