Retrieving the retriever: Misadventures in dog-sitting

May 21, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
May 21, 2016

On Sunday, May 15, I called my Parental Unit to discuss my impending trip to the greater New York metropolitan area. At some time during the conversation, my parent told me, “You almost lost your sister the other day.”

“Oh dear,” I replied.

My parent launched into a story about how the P.U. had set down some food to microwave for dinner and got momentarily distracted. It was then that my beloved canine sister, Lucky the yellow Labrador retriever, got hold (got mouth?) of the meal and began scarfing it down, as her breed is wont to do.

So Lucky hadn’t really gotten herself into mortal danger, as I’d initially thought upon my parent’s dire pronouncement; instead, she had annoyed her person. Midway through the anecdote, I recalled that my parent frequently used that phrase — “you nearly lost your sister” — when Lucky engaged in some irritating escapade.

I’m P.U.’s regular dog-sitter when a trip is in the offing. That was one reason why I traveled up from Durham this week.

My parent does not really enjoy flying to faraway places but does like seeing people who live there. During an anxious moment the night before my parent’s departure, P.U. turned to me and used the verb to lose in a very different context. “Matthew,” my parent told me, “when I’m gone, whatever you do, don’t lose this dog!”

I reassured my antecedent that I would not.

And yet somehow I did, despite being enclosed in a relatively small house with her.

My parent and Lucky live in the three-bedroom house where I grew up. (It was also the domicile where I resided for much of my 20s.) It’s an ample amount of space for one adult and one medium- to large-sized doggie, but it’s not a ton of space. Moreover, most of the time, many of the doors are closed, so there are a limited amount of places where one can venture if one lacks the ability to manipulate a doorknob, as Lucky does.

I spent much of Thursday at home feeling thick-headed because I’d forgotten to bring allergy medicine with me. In the evening, I noodled around on the computers — both the laptop that I’d brought with me and my parent’s desktop machine — while Lucky curled up on the floor near my feet. We went out around a quarter to midnight and spent nearly half an hour strolling around the neighborhood, sniffing stuff and relieving ourselves. (Well, she did, at any rate…)

Upon our return, I did some more computer noodling. Lucky resumed her post on the floor, the picture of contentment. I started antivirus scans on both computers, had a snack, took some fish oil and vitamin E capsules, poured myself some soy milk and water, turned off the kitchen light and, at long last, headed upstairs.

Lucky, who normally follows me when I go upstairs, especially late at night, stayed behind. Often, she’ll climb the stairs a minute or two after I do. This time, she did not.

When Lucky is left unsupervised in the house, she can only be doing one of two things: Either lying quietly somewhere or getting into trouble. So when the dog failed to appear after a few minutes, I resolved to check on her.

I descended to the landing and called Lucky’s name. There was no response.

I poked my head around the corner and peered into the darkness of the kitchen. I expected to catch her with her forepaws on a counter, scavenging for stray morsels to eat, but I could neither see nor hear Lucky. I called her name again but heard nothing.

Now I was puzzled and a little concerned. Where’s Lucky gotten to? I asked myself.

I walked all the way to the ground floor, turned on some lights and began searching for the dog. Much to my surprise, I didn’t see her in the front hall, the kitchen, the family room or the downstairs bathroom.

Had Lucky somehow wandered upstairs without me noticing? It seemed unlikely, but I went to the second floor and checked. There was no dog to be found.

Lucky, by the way, weighs about 65 pounds. She’s not a really big dog, but she’s hardly a tiny one, either. And she’s not particularly stealthy.

So now I was really confounded: Where could she possibly have gotten to?

I went back downstairs and renewed my search, confirming that I had not unknowingly shut Lucky in either the office or the laundry room. There was still no trace of her.

Now I was beyond puzzled. Was I going crazy?

Then I looked into the little-used living room and happened to see Lucky worming her way between a chair and an end table in the far corner. I stepped down into the room and chidingly called her to me. (You shouldn’t be here, I said. You had me worried that you’d disappeared! [Parental Unit] told me not to lose you and I almost lost you!)

Then, because this is what you have to do with the kind of occasionally mischievous dog that Lucky is, I turned on the lights and started looking for some damage. It didn’t take long to find.

If memory serves, a fake potted plant had sat on the end table in the far corner for many years — for so long, in fact, that it had become invisible to a relatively frequent visitor to that house and that room.

The fake plant, of course, was no longer sitting atop the table. Lucky had somehow knocked or pulled it down to the floor, in the course of which she spilled out at least half of the very real soil in which the fake plant was resting. I scolded Lucky some more and retrieved a dustbin and brush from the front hall closet. (The pesky retriever, of course, found something of interest inside and I had to order her out.)

Some of the soil was on the end table, but a lot of it was on the floor. I tried to brush everything into the pot, but it was hard to remove dirt from the carpet, especially because the carpet was flush against the wall and pinned down by various pieces of furniture. It didn’t help that after putting the potted “plant” back on the table, my attempts to funnel soil back into the pot resulted in scattering more dirt everywhere.

Eventually I gave up. On my way out, I closed the gate to the living room that the Parental Unit had started leaving open last year. The two of us would have some cleaning up to do once the trip was done.

But at least I found that darn doggie!

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