Virtually every one I know in my age group-the fifties-still has babies at home. But these babies aren’t human. No, the babies of our middle ages are four footed (or winged) ones.
Despite that a cat, a horse, a dog, a bird, all are animals and thus, have no legal rights, they hold an enormously powerful sway over our lives. Even if we DO have real, bipedal human children, once they’ve legally fledged, they soon learn that they are most definitely at the bottom of your priority list. They’re even outranked by grandchildren. Pets outrank grandchildren, especially because grandchildren go home after the weekend, leaving a mess and ringing ears but at least, leaving us alone.
Our pets rule us.
How many women do you know who will tell her 25 year old son, “What you think I am, made of money? You want money, you go get a job!” And yet she’ll turn right around and spend $125 bucks on a new ‘do’ for Max the poodle. Dogs get to ride in the car. Dogs have their own parks to play in. Dog owners will celebrate the dog’s birthday with a catered party and a jeweled collar, and give their spouse a gift card to Starbucks.
Horse people are by far the most willing to spend money on an animal that can’t even be housebroken (although my Arabian came pretty close). Horses need huge trucks to pull huge trailers in order to get anywhere. Their doctors come to them. The meter starts ticking at $48 just to watch him park in your driveway. Horse feed comes in trucks, not bags, and it doesn’t take long before that hay at 16 dollars a bale for second cut is now nothing but high priced fertilizer. And yet, we horsemen do it out of an indefinable madness.
Cats are given rights even humans don’t receive: walking on the counters, using non-flushing toilets that you need to clean, waking you long before the alarm goes off to feed him, sleeping in the middle of the bed, turning up her nose at Copper River king salmon. To dogs, we are gods. To cats, we are staff.
Parrots are allowed to shriek at the top of the avian equivalent of lungs, throw trash all over the carpet and poop whenever and wherever the mood strikes him, to include your shoulder. Additionally, he can speak, so if he doesn’t like your spouse, he can say so and get away with it.
By the time you’ve reached retirement age, your children are grown and you have time to go places and do things you had to put on hold to raise them. But you now have a pet, an animal that has unobtrusively but decisively crept into your heart. This is when you learn that there is one thing more important to keeping a pet than anything else:
A babysitter. Otherwise known as a ‘petsitter’.
You thought finding a sitter for the children was hard? Pfft. Finding a teenaged girl to babysit your children for a couple hours on Saturday night is easy. There’s always a teen out there responsible enough not to drown your kids (no matter how deserving) for the four or five hours you’re going to be gone. The downside is a teenager can empty your refrigerator and pantry in half an hour. But at least the kids are still alive when you return and the Sheriff and CPS isn’t waiting for you.
The importance of your pets hits when you’ve saved and planned and are about to embark on that 14 day tour of Europe, and suddenly realize you need someone to take care of the babies-the horse, the cat, the dog, the bird while you’re gone. You aren’t going to put them in a kennel. No way.
A decade ago, you could find pet sitting services everywhere, but they seemed to have disappeared. I believe this is because most of us are unwilling to allow a total stranger into the house, no matter if they’re licensed and bonded.
Nor are the animals happy about it. Your German Shepherd isn’t going to be able to differentiate between the girl coming in the daytime to feed him from the burglar breaking in after dark. Nor, if your cat needs emergency care, is she going to allow a stranger to drag her out from under the bed and stuff her into a kennel for the trip to the vet. Hell, she won’t even let YOU do that without an argument. At least she lets you keep your hands.
No, you need someone you can trust, someone who knows your animals, and most importantly, one who loves your animals as much as you do. This is why you don’t want to totally estrange yourself from your adult children. They may make tolerable pet sitters. However, the best one is your neighbor. If you get along with your neighbor, you make a working deal: you care for their animals, and they care for yours. Usually, you become as attached to their animals as much as your own, with the added bonus being that you needn’t pay for them. My neighbor has a dog that satisfies the very little amount of time I want to spend with one. I care for her pets when she’s gone, and vice versa.
This trust is so very valuable. This is why you should treat your neighbors like you would want to be treated.
If you find someone you can trust to care for your babies, treat them well. One of these days you may need them. They will be the type of person who you can call at midnight and say, “We’re broken down in the middle of where the hell am I Arkansas, can you watch them for another couple of days?”