Pet Sitting in Arizona

one cactus in the hills of Arizona

Yes, we did find cactus plants!

Marana, Arizona!

That’s where we were headed. The map said it was 20 miles northwest of Tucson, so we were expecting a city. However, we couldn’t find it or even a small town anywhere.

The sun had set, it was dark, and we were in the middle of nowhere. We were on the interstate a couple of hours south of Phoenix, and it was desolate with nothing but desert on every side.

a clay gecko on a wall

No live ones, though

Eventually, we found what we thought was the right exit and took it. There were no street lights, no house lights, no stores, and no houses, for that matter. We just had to follow the map lady’s directions and pray.

We kept going farther and farther away from the highway to the west into nothingness! It was a bit unsettling. We didn’t want to be late, but where in the world was the house?

four-foot cactus plant

Just for atmosphere

Finally, We Found It

At last, we saw a few houses on a street off the main road, and just then my phone said turn right. We did, and there it was, wow! The homeowners welcomed us, and we met all the critters, two dogs, and three indoor cats. The most critters we’ve cared for so far.

We had a tour through the house and went over the medication schedule for the one dog with a seizure disorder. Since it was late after all that, we said goodnight and retired to a lovely bedroom all set up for us for the night.

painting of a man and woman examining an agave plant

The owners departed early the next day after showing us the ropes on walking the dogs. We were also able to see that the house was in a small subdivision in the middle of nowhere. There were about ten houses with nothing else in sight. No stores or anything else just the desert and hills to the west and south. 

We had a large comfortable home and a gigantic screened in porch. There was also a big walled-in backyard with a few trees, and a few rose bushes in barrels but no grass, of course. We didn’t need to water anything while we were there! Since five animals lived there, it was great that they had plenty of space to roam. 

colorful painting in southwest style of two men sleeping by a fire

No campfires for us.

Our Surroundings

We moved to the master bedroom for the remainder of our stay (nine days) since that’s where the kennels were. It was our first experience putting dogs in a kennel for the night. They were plenty large, and the dogs were happy enough to go in at bedtime. I didn’t like putting them in there, but it had to be done. 

On the positive side, if our friend was going to have a seizure we would hear it since she was five feet away from us. Thank goodness she didn’t have any during our stay.

colorful painting of men harvesting agave

Does Agave grow here?

Supposedly this was a town with 35,000 souls: we didn’t see more than 50 people while there. Where is everyone? Usually, deserts create mirages, things that look real but aren’t. This was the opposite: something was real but couldn’t be found. Maybe it was the heat: it was the strangest place in some ways. But even phantom people have to eat and so did we.

Getting to a grocery store was a trip as there were none close. Go down the road and out of town, then back in town somehow (on the same road) and then either over the hill and far away on the local road, or around the hill to the interstate headed towards Tucson. Careful now: take the right exit or go five miles to the next one before you can turn around! 

drawing of a mother tiger and her cubs

Three Cats

The cats were a bit different from most of the cats we’d cared for – they were all rescues, and two were shy, to put it mildly. To lessen the chances of someone getting more food than their pals all got fed in separate and distinct locations. They did not sleep on the bed with us or even in the same room with us, to our knowledge.

Two of the cats roamed the inside of the house and the one female, who was almost feral, stayed for the most part in the large screened in patio. She was a beautiful seven-year-old Siamese, but not interested in humans, except as a food-delivery system. 

The second cat was a gorgeous seven-year-old, black and white Ragdoll who hid for the first couple of days. After that, he came out and checked on our whereabouts frequently and eventually allowed a bit of human touch. The third cat was a 13-year-old Main Coon. This guy was very friendly and liked human interaction. We have no idea what happened to our photos – they were beautiful cats.

medium sized black dog being pet by a woman

He was a good boy, and sweet as can be!

The First Dog

The dogs – one male, one female were both rescues with difficult backgrounds. The male, a three-and-a-half-year-old black lab mix was very sweet and followed us everywhere, except when we were out in the backyard. There he seemed freer and could move away, walk the perimeter, play and be fine on his own. He loved playing ball outside and when inside he loved trying to herd the cats. Something else he loved – attacking the television!

He would sit and watch the screen waiting for a creature to appear, then rush it, wildly barking and jumping at the screen as if to eat the poor animal! If the animal moved or made a sound, the barking was even more intense. He would lunge at the tv and touch it with his nose; we were afraid he would break the screen. This fellow was larger than the dog we cared for in Ojai, who also attacked the television, and he was louder too.

Two Dogs looking at a man

The light-colored one is the one with seizures

The Second Dog

The female, a six-year-old Fawn Pharaoh Hound, was heavily medicated for her seizure disorder, so we don’t know her full personality. She would often stand and just stare out into space not moving a muscle for a minute or two. Otherwise, she was very friendly and not as needy as her pal. Both dogs were incredibly interested in our food which meant we always ate at the table; not a bad thing, right? 

The feeding procedure was elaborate and to some extent merely a mechanism for medication delivery every four hours. It was an intense and important schedule. It meant we couldn’t do much sightseeing, but it was too hot for us outside after 8:00 am. At one point we spoke to a man in a store who said, “We just don’t go outside during the day.” Wow! He said this to people who had just gone outside during the day. 

two dogs patrolling their yard

Patrolling In the backyard

Jim’s Favorite Part!

Do you like snakes? I don’t like snakes. Does anyone like snakes? Not me, I really don’t like snakes. And if I were a snake I know just where I would go: to Arizona and the acres of scrub brush around this housing development. This area was as perfectly designed for rattlesnakes as it was imperfectly designed for human survival: hot, dry and rugged.

Perhaps you can understand why every dog walk was a serious thing for me. As a house sitter, I felt some guilt having the dogs on their leashes, in front where they would take the first volley. As for me, I was just as glad to follow along behind. I cringe even now. 

B&W drawing of a man crossing under an arch filled with snakes

The trail wandered through an area filled with scraggly bushes, perfect hiding places for snakes waiting to strike. The ground, dry, sandy, filled with holes, was the exact color of rattlesnakes. Unless you walked the dogs at 4:30 am, the sun was already out and hot, inviting snakes to be out and about.

My constant thoughts were about grabbing my phone and trying to describe my exact location to the folks at 911, and wondering how long it would take them to find me, with a rattlesnake stuck on my ankle all the while. 

Sign warning of rattlesnakes

Did I mention that I hate snakes, an irrational, Raiders of the Lost Ark type hatred? I felt great relief at the end of each walk, the dogs back home, no one died this time.

There’s a kind of beauty to the desert and certainly the mountains surrounding the area. But I had a hard time lifting my gaze up to the hills in appreciation thus giving some legless little bastard a jump on me! 

old fashioned drawing of a woman walking

Our Free Time

Apparently, extreme heat affects the brain and the memory: neither of us remembers much of what we did there. We never could get the wireless connection figured out and our phones couldn’t pick-up the internet out there. Not that we’re too good at that stuff. We did get the laptop working with our Ethernet cord in the back of the TV, but it still didn’t work for email or browsers. Strange. Jim, somehow, could get through to programs he uses in his consulting work.

For anything other than that, off we went to town (very early) grabbed a table at Starbucks and did all our communicating with the outside world.

Then back home, inside until 8:00 or so in the evening when the sun dipped behind the mountains. It gets rather pleasant outdoors then, and the stars put on a big show every night, with no competing lights around.

After dinner, we binge watched episodes of Justified from the owner’s DVD library. We simply can’t remember doing anything else – and maybe we didn’t: between the daytime heat and the medication schedule, we were pretty home-bound. Note to self – no Arizona house sits during the summer or fall. Well, Sedona or Flagstaff okay!

B&W drawing of a printers-ornament

A Wrinkle in the Schedule

For many months, we had a short gap in house sits after this one. Recently we found the filler – a house in Albuquerque, New Mexico. We had known it would be a bit tricky because that stay started before this one ended and the houses were six hours apart.

We spent a lot of time trying to figure out the best solution and then realized we needed to spend time with the animals here first – that would give us a better idea of who should stay and who should leave early.

The issue was, of course, that we only have one car. Renting a car would solve the problem. However, with an out-of-state driver’s license, and no major credit card, it was impossible. We looked at bus schedules next. That was a big NO and would have presented a whole other nightmare. A train ride was the next option.

B&W drawing of a man and woman on a train

The Final Decision

Jim drives to Albuquerque and starts that house sit. I take the train, and Jim picks me up. The next step was figuring out how I would get to the train station in Tucson 30 miles away. It seemed a taxi was the best and only solution. We made a reservation, and they promised to call to verify there were coming on time!

On the appointed day, Jim set off for New Mexico, and I stayed a few more days at this house. Early on the last day, the pets got food and medication, and I waited at the front door praying the taxi would arrive on time. It rolled up right at 6:00 am just as planned.

I made it to the train on time as well. Once there, I joined a long line of others heading east. Wow, glad to know some people still ride the rails. It was a hoot going through the desert in the lovely air-conditioned, food serving locomotive, far above all the…snakes!

What’s Next – Getting to New Mexico

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