by Helen Jones
My first dog walking experience was with a beautiful golden Labrador puppy called Luna, who was only 12 weeks old and very cute. It wasn’t really dog walking, but more socialising with Luna in the middle of the day.
When I first let myself into Luna’s beautiful home in July 2017, I found Luna in the kitchen/dining area. She had only just woken up, so was still a bit sleepy. But she soon showed me what antics she could get up to, while her owners, Tom & Iwona, were away. I dropped my blue rucksack down with my pet first aid certificate and first aid kit, on the floor, and went in the utility to prepare Luna’s food. During this very short period of time, which was less than a minute, Luna had been in my bag. She decided that she didn’t like my pet first aid certificate, so she had ripped that up! And had started trying to get into the pet first aid kit, which Luna found very exciting, as it was a bit more challenging, due to the protective mesh around the kit. I promptly removed the first aid kit from her clutches, and showed her where the food was. Luna was then suitably distracted for me to try, in vain, to piece chewed up bits of my pet first aid certificate together.
After Luna’s lunch, I opened the back door for Luna to go out. I naively thought I could make myself a hot drink during this period. But luna soon showed me that she had found a new toy to play with. And it wasn’t a dog toy. Luna had discovered the patio stones in the garden and was quite happily trying to munch her way through one. So, I delved my fingers into Luna’s small mouth to retrieve the stone, much to luna’s amusement. And she immediately picked up another stone, which I again had to retrieve. As far as luna was concerned, this was a great game to play. As luna was not going to give up on this new game, I had to think of more exciting distraction tactics. So, I threw a couple of luna’s toys into the garden. But luna was too young to understand “fetch”, so she just went over to the poor bunny or monkey toy and checked them over to see that they were ok and not hurt In-between inspecting the garden and luna’s future dog house, luna kept returning to her favourite game of eating the garden stones.
Finally, when it was time for me to go, I moved everything out of luna’s reach and left luna with a couple of treats, while I made my retreat from the house, without luna escaping. I was so pleased with myself that I had managed to get luna inside, lock the back door, and leave without luna being too upset. So, I thought I would just have one little peep, through the front lounge window, to check on luna before driving away. Within less than 2 minutes, Luna had managed to climb on one of the dining room chairs and then levered herself onto the dining table. And she was just about to start attacking the sugar dish!
So, I quickly let myself in the house again and extracted luna from the sugar bowl and the table, and then purposefully moved the chairs strategically further away from the dining room table. Phew! Until the next day…….
My first meeting with two collies and a whippet called Jags, Flick & Star was at “A Meet and Greet” at a house in Stroud, Gloucestershire.
I was slightly hesitant and a bit nervous before I arrived at the house. This was due to Martine, the owner telling me that Jags, who was a rescue collie, had previously ripped the shirt of a lady solicitor, who had visited the house on an earlier occasion. Fortunately, Martine advised me, that Jags would be locked upstairs in a bedroom during my visit, and gradually introduced to me. Hopefully, Jags would like me, Martine said, as Jags preferred ladies to men. So, there was a glimmer of hope for me. But I decided to wear some old clothes, just in case Jags took a dislike to me.
After meeting Flick and Star in the lounge and getting on with them well. Martine decided, after 5 or 10 minutes, to let Jags in to the lounge to meet me. So, I took a deep intake of breath in, and put on my most appealing smiley dog face. Martine came in the room holding Jags and warned him to be nice to the new dog person called “Helen”. I held on to my seat and hoped that Jags didn’t take a dislike to my shiny blue sweatshirt with a pet logo on. I made a huge fuss of Jags, which went down well with him. And, apart from Jags jumping all over me, he seemed to like me. Well, at least, my sweatshirt was intact when I left the house, which was a huge relief!
As the meet and greet had gone well along with the later walk on Rodborough Common, Martine decided to book me for a 4-day pet sitting job in September, while the family had a holiday in Spain. I advised Martine that my petfirstaid tutor had told me to always keep dogs on a lead. This was a decision that would later come back to haunt me. Martine understood, but advised me that Jags and Flick were used to being off the lead on Rodborough Common. But the whippet, Star, was not and tended to run off. Furthermore, Martine described Star as something of an “escapologist”, as Star kept finding new escape routes out of the enclosed rear garden. As Star was also under the vet for an existing hip problem, my heart missed a beat, on hearing this.
Before I knew it, the first day of the pet sit had arrived. The family had already left and were on their way to the airport. So, I knew it was not going to be easy to contact them, if anything happened during my stay. I had all the necessary feeding instructions and medication information for Star, along with the vet’s details. On entering the house, the dogs were eager to go outside in the garden. So, after making a fuss of them, I quickly unlocked the back door leading to the enclosed rear garden. I then proceeded to make myself a cup of tea. I then went to check on the dogs in the garden outside and could see Jags and Flick quite happily running around. But, to my horror, there was no trace of Star! I looked everywhere for her in the garden. But she had gone! So, in vain, I started shouting her name. Of course, it didn’t help that I didn’t know the area. As I had only previously been taken in the car to Rodborough Common to walk the dogs.
On checking the garden, I found that there were some small gaps that could be used to access the garden next door. On further inspection, I found that Star was not in either of the neighbour’s gardens. So, I was now getting more concerned by the minute, and had visions of the pet sit ending before it had even begun! So, I immediately put the other two dogs inside and crossed the road to aimlessly look for Star. I even asked people, who were walking by, if they had seen a whippet running around and described Star’s features to them. During this brief period, which seemed like hours, I happened to glimpse Star running across the road towards the house. So, I dashed into the road and managed to grab hold of Star, and took her safely inside. This was not going to be the first or the last time that Star, the escapologist, escaped. As I quickly realised that I couldn’t take my eyes off Star for even a second. As hip injury or not, she was extremely quick, and locked gates were no deterrent for her. As she seemed to be able to miraculously leap over them!
So, I decided that a good dog walk at Rodborough Common, would burn off some of the dogs’ energy. So, one by one, I fitted the dog harness on, for them to go in my car. Unfortunately, Jags was not familiar with a dog harness, and seemed to think I was trying to play with him. So, after being play bitten numerous times, I eventually got the harness on. In the car, I managed to secure the harness to the click dog seat belts and then set off to Rodborough Common. The three of them were all very excited, as they knew going out in the car, usually coincided with going out for a walk. On arrival at Rodborough Common, I got each dog out separately. But I soon realised that there were lots of other dogs at Rodborough Common, and, I was surprised that nearly all the other dogs were running free off the lead! This resulted in huge problems for me, as Jags, Flick & Star were all pulling on three separate leads, as they also wanted to run free like all the other dogs. When they realised that I wasn’t going to let them off the lead, they started to drag me in three different directions to other dogs that they wanted to bark at and chase. So, instead of me walking the dogs, the three of them were taking me for a walk on the reins, just like the husky dogs do, but minus the sledge!
So, on the next dog walking outing, I decided to devise various crazy avoidance strategies, such as walking in the opposite direction of oncoming dogs, going around in circles and walking off the main path. My final strategy, which was to be my downfall, was taking the dogs out for shorter walks in inclement weather, when fewer people were around. On this occasion, it had been raining for hours. So, it was very muddy and slippery on The Common at Rodborough. The three dogs were pulling me along as usual, with Star leading the way. A passing dog walker also asked me if I was “Mad”, due to walking three dogs in such difficult conditions. To which I replied, Yep, I am mad!
Suddenly, Star’s lead snapped, and I immediately lost my balance, and plummeted to the ground, with a thud on my bottom! Star, who didn’t normally answer to call backs, proceeded to run off ahead, despite my pleas otherwise. Fortunately, loyal Flick and Jags stayed by my side. So, at least, I didn’t have all three dogs running off in different directions! When I finally got up, I was covered in mud and sliding all over the place, as it was still raining, and the rain water was now creating a stream on the muddy footpath. I started to slowly run after Star. But she now seemed to see this as a great new game of stop, look and check for followers. And the two other dogs were now getting absolutely drenched and even they appeared to have had enough of Star’s “game”.
Just as I thought I was about to catch up with Star, I slipped again on the mud, and this time went down with an even heavier jolt on my bottom. And even Jags and Flick were now looking quite concerned. But this time, instead of chasing Star again, I decided to stay lying in the mud and shouted to Star to come back one last time. Astonishingly, Star stopped, and thankfully started walking back to me. And, after tying the two remaining pieces of her split lead together, I managed to get the lead re-attached to her collar. By now, all three dogs were looking very bedraggled and tired. So, we started to head back to the car by following the phone directions on my dog walking app. But, this was not to be the end of our little adventure.
In preparation for an early getaway, I thought I would just check my coat pocket for my car keys. But to my amazement, I couldn’t find them in my pocket or any other pocket, even after double checking. So, I then doubled back on myself to re-trace my steps to look for my lost keys, which I presumed must have fallen out, when I fell. The main problem with this idea was that I had fallen in two separate areas and, due to being unfamiliar of the area and no sense of direction, I didn’t really know where to start looking for them. And the amount of rain pelting down wasn’t helping either! After fruitlessly looking for my keys for another 20 minutes, I decided to make my way back to the car, and then call my husband to hopefully come and pick me up. But, when I called my husband, Andrew, his friend, Marc answered and proceeded to imitate Andrew’s voice! I could also here sniggering in the background. I informed Andrew, (Marc) of the dire situation, and Marc quickly realised that I was quite upset by their little joke, and quickly passed the phone over to the real Andrew. He then informed me that he couldn’t come and pick me up, as he was still at the football game in Manchester, which was 150 miles and 3 hours’ drive away.
By this point, I had taken my jacket and coat off to put round the three dogs to try to provide some protection from the unceasing rain. I had no clue as to what to do next, and my phone was also about to “die” on me, as it had very little battery left. In desperation, I walked up to my car to see if maybe I had dropped my keys near the car. But, deep down, I knew this was very unlikely. And then to my amazement, I saw my car keys tucked into the handle of the car door. I realised that the dog walker that I passed earlier must have spotted the keys after I fell. And, as my car was the only one left in the tiny car park, he had kindly left them there for me. My immediate sense of relief was overwhelming. And I quickly got the wet dogs in the car and drove back to the house.
On the owner’s return a day later, I decided to only tell them about selected parts of Flick, Jags and Star’s dog walking adventures. And I left out the part about losing my keys on the rainiest day of the year. Probably for the best……..
In September, I was invited to pet sit a lovely black Patterdale dog called Jenny. Due to the short notice, I had to do a “meet and greet” on the same day as the pet sit.
Jenny arrived in the kitchen holding her favourite ball and the owner said she loved having the ball thrown for her. So, I duly threw the ball for her in the kitchen and she kept on bringing the ball back. It seemed like an easy pet sit, but I was later to discover that Jenny was not the only animal in the household, who enjoyed dog walking
The following morning, I set out with Jenny on our first dog walk. But I noticed that we had an extra animal on the dog walk. And it wasn’t a dog, but the owner’s cat! The tortoiseshell cat followed us on a winding path across the green. But when I arrived at the roadside, the clever cat fortunately didn’t follow us, and thankfully retreated into the bushes. When I crossed the road into Barnwood Arboretum, I was still quite concerned about the cat’s wellbeing. But my worries were swiftly allayed, when I later spotted the same cat still waiting patiently on the same side.
In the evening, I went dog walking with Jenny again. And the cat followed me again, but this time kept its distance. However, there were in fact two cats in the household. So, I did wonder where the other cat got up to. But I was shortly to find out. As the next morning, I was joined on the dog walk by both cats. This one was a long haired tortoiseshell cat, who also began following me on the footpath to the road. On the approach to the road, I was again quite concerned about the cats attempting to cross the road. So, as a precaution, I waited very patiently until the busy road was completely clear, before crossing the road. But, when I looked back, to my horror, the cat was also crossing the road. I quickly completed the dog walk with Jenny, and anxiously looked for the cat. But she was nowhere to be seen.
I returned to the house and spent the rest of the evening looking everywhere outside and inside for the long-haired cat. But she was nowhere to be seen. So, I remained on tenterhooks for the rest of the day. The owner was due home that evening, but I had almost given up hope of finding the cat.
So, after searching the garden, I was just entering the kitchen via the patio doors. And while I was coming in the door, I almost fell over the cat that I had been looking for! And at the same time, the owner was just coming in through the front door. Phew! During our brief discussion, I told the owner about the cats following me on the dog walk and that I had seen one of the cats crossed the road. The owner said that the cats normally went on the dog walk, but they weren’t supposed to cross the road, which I clearly realised.
However, I don’t know how I could have stopped the cat from crossing the road. As, it was the dog, not the cat, that I was supposed to be walking. So maybe next time I’ll make sure that I take a cat harness and lead!