“So Hart, what do you think of dogs?”
As far as loaded questions go, this one ranks right up there with “What are you and your arms doing Saturday afternoon?” and “Hey, do you still have that station wagon?” The person asking almost always knows the answer, and the person being asked almost always knows that an honest answer will lead to a some sort of unpleasant (though happily undertaken) task, leading to a reward measured out in pints.
The positor in this case was a co-worker with a somewhat desperate look on her face, so I didn’t have much choice but to answer honestly and anticipate a grovel-induced follow-up. It would seem that her family has to go out of town rather suddenly, and is turning a chore of a trip into a bit of a vacation which will have them in need of a house-sitter. The two sitters she had managed to line up both bailed, and her usual backup will be out of town at the time. Enter our hero: the compulsive e-mail checker with curly hair who occupies the office at the end of the hall.
I should say before proceeding that house-sitting is a part of the culture up here. The fact that cold temperatures make leaving a house unattended a horrible idea for much of the year, paired with the reality that to get any sort of change of scenery Yellowknifers generally have to travel for longer than a weekend, means that there is quite a demand for unattached young folks willing to uproot for days or weeks at a time. Indeed, it is not at all uncommon in the community for people to move from house-sit to house-sit for months at a time without keeping any steady residence of their own. With the need for house-sitters comes a certain amount of trust in those in the community, which is certainly endearing and seldom if ever proves to be ill-advised.
My co-worker and her family will be away for two weeks; a length of time I balked at slightly given that I have been quite enjoying my domestic situation (this week aside) and only have three weeks left up here. That said, I could see that she was in a real pinch, and I’m always up for a change of scenery, so last Tuesday I found myself wandering over to my temporary new digs (not far from my current house, as it turns out, and almost the exact same distance from the office) to get the lay of the land before the family was to take off two days later. This was also my chance to meet Lola, the four-legged roommate who would be my charge for the next couple of weeks.
I’m a dog lover and Lola is a dog. For these absolute truths, she should be thankful, because upon first meeting her it seemed to me that the fact that she is dog was her only redeeming quality. She is a shi-tzu/poodle mix (I’m a large breed kind of guy), yaps at passersby (hardly enchanting) and bit my hand the first time I met her (call me grumpy, but I don’t like it when yappy small-breeds whose crap I’m about to be picking up for two weeks bite me on the hand). Wait, it gets better.
After showing me around the house, Lola’s doting owner took me through the steps for taking the dog out for a walk, highlighted by the placing of four dainty, matching booties on the little one’s paws. Oh, and she needs to wear a coat when it’s cold. The flowered leash was affixed and we headed out the door. Sensing, perhaps, a lack of enthusiasm in her sucker of a house-sitter as we navigated the slush and melting snow of her tame residential street, the grateful soon-to-be traveler attempted to offer some consolation. “Oh, and if this leash isn’t manly enough for you, I think there’s a black one inside.”
Apparently she didn’t think that one through. I’m going to be walking a temperamental mix of the two least manly breeds on the planet. While chastising passersby for having the gall to try and share her sidewalk, our little princess will be clad in four matching booties and possibly a jacket. There are not enough pictures on Earth of naked women holding machine guns that could adorn a leash with this dog on the end of it in order salvage even the teensiest bit of manliness from this situation. Thanks, but I might as well just stick with the flowers. At least then people might think I’m approaching the situation with the slightest bit of irony as opposed to lying to myself about what’s actually going on.
So out of town they went and I headed over on Friday afternoon – before I actually moved in – to let Lola out. I decided to high road-it and be friendly right off the bat. You know, extend the olive branch and kill her with kindness. Lo and behold, she actually seemed happy to see me, did her business in the back yard, and I ate my falafel and headed back to work. “This might not be so bad,” I thought. Maybe she understood that it was just she and I against the world for a while, and she might as well be cordial to the hand that will be feeding her and, umm, putting on her booties (a little part of me has died every time I’ve done that).
Shortest. Honeymoon. Ever.
I came “home” on Friday night to move in and found two different types of animal waste on the floor in different parts of the house. Her footwear never seems to stay on when we go out, so I’m forced to spend entire walks – exercises that are embarrassing at best - bent over at the waist trying to discern if the black booties have stayed on the black dog, and am left thinking about possible creative solutions to the adherence problem (duct tape can’t hurt dogs, can it?). Oh, and when I was at work today she redecorated the basement with the contents of the garbage can.
There’s also the issue of solid waste. (Grandma, I love you and I think it’s great that you read my blog, but for issues of language and content, how’s about you skip the rest of this paragraph? Say hello to Georgie for me). I have spent much of this winter walking my roommate’s beloved husky dog, Taiga. When Taiga makes a roadside deposit, he does it like he means it, and leaves a Texas-sized calling card which sometimes contains discernible parts of an animal lower on the food chain. Granted, picking up and transporting dog dung is never an exercise to be celebrated, but if a guy has to do it, he might do it on the manliest terms possibly and make sure that the bag is full of ten pounds of hard-earned husky shit. Lola’s delicate outputs, on the other hand, are probably better gathered with a Q-Tip than a plastic bag, and further reduce the macho factor of this strange new gig I’m holding down.
Things aren’t all bad, though. The barking has subsided and she has generally started showing excitement when I come through the door. And while I do prefer a larger dog, I would lie if I told you that I haven’t enjoyed a couple of cozy moments on the couch with my small new friend. Plus, she’s got great hair: dark and curly. A friend of mine was over the other night and said that he couldn’t tell where my hair stopped and hers started when I crouched down on the floor to say hello to her. Added to these positives, there’s a big screen TV in the basement (pretentious lefty that I am, I live most of my days without a TV, or at least without cable) which I just finished watching the NCAA basketball final on, and I’ve discovered that satellite radio may be the coolest broadcast medium ever (three favourite channels on Sirius: Jam Bands, Bluegrass and all-Springsteen).
I know that Lola is dearly loved, and there has been a lot of trust placed in me to mind the shop for the next couple of weeks, so I’m focusing on her sweet side and we’re getting along better by the day. To be honest, I just might be sad to say goodbye to her when the time comes. That said, if anyone reading this ever needs a sweater-wearing Pomeranian looked after for a few weeks, you may want to look elsewhere first. It will take my fragile male ego a while to recover from the feisty little one who will be calling my shots for the next little while.
P.S. A special shout-out to my classmates back in Victoria who are heading into exam season. I anticipate a steep spike in procrastinatory readership for the next couple of weeks.