How It Started –
As we often have overlapping house sits, I left Jim in Sonoma a day before that stay ended to start our next one two hours south in Los Gatos. I arrived at 7:00 am, a few hours after the homeowner’s departure for their flight to Hawaii.
I was looking forward to caring for this house and the three sweet dogs. Since we had visited a couple of days prior, I knew who was waiting inside – one Pomeranian and two Staffordshire Bull Terriers, think Pit Bull.
I parked the car and walked to the front door centering myself a bit so I wouldn’t be exuding any fear when I entered – they were big dogs. I knew they were sweet, but we had met them only once, and their owners were home that time. Now they were all alone in an empty house. I turned the knob and nothing; it didn’t open! Oh, my God, immediate panic!
What an Entrance
Try again; you’re just not doing it correctly. The dogs were barking and probably needed to pee, and the door wouldn’t open. I walked back to the car and called Jim. “Well, did you try all the other doors?” “No, I don’t want the neighbors to think I’m a criminal.”
We agreed I had to go and try both side doors and look for a hidden key. At our visit a few days earlier the owner had shared that they always leave their doors unlocked. She didn’t give us a key, and we didn’t think anything of it. Big mistake.
I went to one side of the house and tried the door – locked. Okay, the one on the other side had to be unlocked – nope. I looked all around the front door in all the places someone might hide a house key, no luck.
Back to the car and getting panicky I sent a text and left a phone message for the owner, assuming it would be hours until they responded since they were on an airplane.
What to Do
Wow, by myself in an unfamiliar town, with three dogs locked in the house. The owners couldn’t help; they were on their vacation. Oh, my God! A few minutes later a text message from the owner! “Look for the garage door opener in the car in the driveway.”
Thank God, at least there was hope. I walked over to the car filled with trepidation and self-consciousness, again feeling that the neighbors had all been staring at me and deciding whether they should call the police. “First, she was trying to get into the house; now she’s getting into their car.”
I had to do it; there was no other choice. Oh, the relief when that car door opened and I saw the garage door opener! All was well. What an entrance!
Our Charges – The Mom
In our initial conversation, the homeowner had just oozed about how sweet the two big dogs were – a mother and son duo. I believed her – that’s why we took the sit. They were gentle and loving dogs, and after the first five minutes with them, we were in love. Now we know from personal experience, that this breed of dog can be as gentle as lambs (if trained correctly).
The mom was a gentle soul beautiful and peaceful. She was eight-years-old and seemed to have clear and separate behaviors. When she was in a cuddling mood she was irresistible; begging you to keep caressing her, lying on your lap (as best she could since she was quite large) and getting a tummy rub. Always ready for more love. When it was playtime, she was the instigator and fierce: she played all out!
The dogs were free fed, and it seemed food was not a big deal for her. She never came in the kitchen to watch for droppings. One of her favorite daytime sleeping spots was out on the balcony stretched out in the sun. At night she slept with us part of the time and then wandered off. What a well-behaved, sweet girl, we loved her!
Her six-year-old son was the human follower also calm and peaceful. He didn’t seem to be following out of fear or anxiety: he just loved company. He often sat at our feet showing that he wanted attention and loved having his ears scratched. If we stopped, he would turn his head around and say, “Oh, please don’t stop.”
He was the food lover of the group and always watched carefully when we were in the kitchen. He also sat next to us when we ate. Never begged or became intrusive, just looked at us with that face!
He loved to snuggle on the people beds (he slept with the daughter of the family). He slept under the covers with us for the first part of the night and then usually left. At one point on the second morning, we noticed he wasn’t downstairs. I went up as quietly as I could and found him snuggled under the blankets with just his head peeking out from the master bed. Oh, my goodness, it was the sweetest sight ever.
Dog Number Three
What a character he was! He was the newbie and the baby at two-years-old. He was also the ruffian of the group. Wary of strangers and new people and willing to snap when approached. It did take him a day or two to feel calm and carefree around us.
Since he occasionally had accidents in the house, his nighttime sleeping spot was a crate in our bedroom which he willingly entered. He was very sweet but high-strung compared to his bigger housemates.
It’s Walk Time
Getting ready for a walk with this trio was quite the experience. The homeowner had explained that the large male had to wear a muzzle during walks. A dog had once attacked him, and he had lashed out.
I knew he had to wear it and of course, we put it on him. Being the gentle soul he was, he gently pushed his muzzle into the hard material and off we went. It was tough for me to deal with the fact that his mouth was clamped shut, but such is life, right?
Grab the collars and leashes, grab the muzzle and the bags, meet everybody at the front door and strap them in. They are more than ready. The two large dogs had a tandem leash, a first or us. It worked well as it cut down on the tangling and allowed each dog to move around, cut in front, or switch sides all while staying with the pack.
The little dog ran to keep up, darting in and out of the big dog’s legs and leash. The tandem leash means both dogs have to agree on a bad idea before it happens, like stopping to bark or chasing after something.
Typically, one would offer up some crazy motion and could always get a second from the little dog: so that’s two. But the other larger dog usually the mom, would vote it down, and that was that: no arguments, no discussions, just keep walking. That went on throughout every walk. It was great fun to watch and made for interesting walks.
The Mock Battles
The homeowner had informed us that the when the dogs play together it could get loud and be rough. That statement did not prepare me for what I saw the first time. It sounded and looked like World War III the way they went at each other.
There they were sleeping on the couch. Suddenly one of them would get up, usually Mama. She would get a toy and signal to the other one to come and get it. The growling that ensued was ferocious. Wow, what a sight! And sound!
The funny part was when the Pomeranian would try to join in. It was like watching children playing. Then a toddler joins in and starts doing what they are doing. The little one thinks they are part of the game. However, the others don’t even notice him. Suddenly one of them has had enough and walked away. Two minutes later they are all sleeping together on the couch.
For those who don’t know, and we sure didn’t, Los Gatos is located at the southern end of San Jose (in the Bay area) about 30 minutes’ northeast of Santa Cruz. The population is about 30,000, and it is ranked the 33rd wealthiest city in the United States.
I loved the town instantly. It was one of those quaint and small upscale areas. Most of the shops were clearly above our pay grade, but it had a lovely feel. We didn’t have time to look around very much, but we did find two Whole Foods markets close by and had one dinner at an old-time diner just for the fun of it.
The house was on a small street a couple of blocks up from the main part of town. However, it was a busy little street as a great hiking trail was half a mile further up the road. There were tons of walkers from early morning to late at night.
The house was also at the base of a hill, and all the houses in the neighborhood were very close together in a narrow canyon. The hill dropped sharply behind the house down to a stream in the woods.
Click – Shit
That’s the sound, as fast as lightning and loud as thunder, which comes first from the outside as the door closes tight, then from deep inside when you see your keys on the other side of the door. So close, but out of reach. That is not a pleasant sound. It continues to ring in your ears for quite a while.
Surely it’s not come to that already – I just got here, and despite a stern warning from Angela (who just left for our next house sit) and after carefully rehearsing the door/lock/key drill, I’m locked out of the house!
All it Took?
One phone call and all my careful rehearsing went down the drain. I love getting outside early – fresh air, fresh coffee, fresh day. Here that means heading out on a great deck 30 feet above the ground overlooking a forest. Then back inside for breakfast and I’m all sorts of comfortable at the dining room table with coffee, paper, and toast.
In comes a return phone call: got to take this one. I grab the phone, my coffee, a pen and paper and head outside: yes, hands full. Let a couple of dogs through the door too. Careful: don’t spill the coffee, don’t drop the phone, don’t close the door on the dogs. Unfortunately, that was all the care I had. I step on the deck and pull the door closed behind me, still flipped to the lock position from the night before.
That little sound instantly told me what my next few hours were going to be about: finding a way back inside. It’s cold, and I didn’t bring my jacket (quick call, right?) Looking out over the railing the ground is 30 feet down. The house is on a very steep hillside.
Click, Shit, Indeed
There’s just one way out, as they say, over the railing and down the undergirding of the deck to the top of the fence, then to the ground – if I’m lucky. Abandon care and do it. Look through the cars for another garage door clicker (besides the one in the house!) Look under plants for a spare key. Look in storage cabinets for a key. Repeat. Again, repeat.
I will never be warm again. There’s nothing I can do. There’s nothing the fire department can do. Do the special forces make house calls? Think of something, anything besides calling the hosts. The mind is blank, more correctly filled with remorse and irritation. Call the hosts even though it’s 5 am where they are, which I forget, of course.
How it Ended
If I’m ever in trouble again, I’m calling these folks. They take care of everything and couldn’t have been more gracious about it. Up came an Uber driver a few minutes later who takes me to a real estate agent. Pick up a key, drive back, get inside, bring in dogs, offer apologies to dogs and a special ration of treats.
Resolve never to be in this position again for the rest of my life. Hide a key outside and put another in your pocket!
We try not to bother our hosts with troubles back home. Once in a while, you can’t avoid it. But it’s only about the pets, never about us. During this house sit, which was only four days long, we each had to call for help to get back in the house. What are the chances? It’s never happened before or since. We’ve never had to ask this much of our hosts. We don’t want to break that record, ever.