The first six months of being Sophie’s caretaker flew by. Ken and I were constantly learning and fine-tuning our skills. But after 18 months we were burnt out. We hadn’t been out of the house together for more than a couple of hours at a time. And when we did leave home, there was always a messy surprise waiting to be cleaned when we returned. We needed a break. We dreamed of finding Mary Poppins.
The tension of 24-hour care
If you’re the pet parent of a disabled dog you understand the pressure of the 24/7 care required of you. Ken and I were always watching for new symptoms or worried Sophie might hurt herself.
We spent our days (and nights) lifting our 50lb. dog in and out of her cart or her bed or the car while also making sure to express her bladder four times a day. In addition, there was a constant stream of laundry to do as we washed soiled beds, blankets and harnesses.
At 18 months, Ken and I were mentally and physically exhausted. Our tempers flared and, sadly we began to resent Sophie’s helplessness.
We desperately needed a respite. But in order to do that we first had to find a “practically perfect” pet sitter.
Looking for a pet sitter for a special needs dog
At first it seemed like an impossible job to find a pet sitter for a dog who couldn’t walk or go to the bathroom on her own. We felt a lot like Jane and Michael Banks, from the Mary Poppins, as we put together our wish list for the perfect pet sitter.
Our list looked something like this:
- Must be strong enough to lift a medium-size dog.
- Must be willing to clean up after an incontinent pup.
- Must be willing to learn how to express a dog’s bladder.
- Must be willing to learn Sophie’s daily routine.
- Must also be willing to play with two able-bodied dogs and three cats.
At first, I tried to recruit the vet techs I knew from the Spay and Neuter clinic run by the rescue group where I was a co-founder. A vet tech seemed perfect for the job. They had the medical knowledge and they loved animals.
I soon discovered that veterinary professionals had very little free time. Most of them were already employed by several clinics.
Next, I found a retired vet tech who was interested in helping us. We met for an interview. I explained all of Sophie’s needs and she agreed to do trial pet sitting date. On the day of our first respite to go to a movie, we anxiously waited for the tech to arrive. We waited and waited. The pet sitter was a no show. She later called to say she had lost track of time when she went hiking.
I didn’t give up hope. Next, I called professional pet sitters that I found through groomers and dog food stores. No one wanted to responsibility. Ken and I even talked about boarding Sophie with our vet for a few hours, but we decided that would be too stressful.
Ultimately, we stopped looking and accepted our commitment to Sophie.
Instead of Finding Mary Poppins – she found us
Have you heard the saying that “life sometimes imitates a movie?” That’s what happened to us.
In the movie, Mary Poppins finds the torn-up pieces of the ad for a nanny Jane and Michael wrote and magically puts it together to read it. Then she comes to their home for an interview. That’s how a practically perfect pet sitter found our family.
We had torn up our ad and given up hope when Claire called to introduce herself.
At one point in her life, Claire had been married to a man who was a paraplegic. When she heard about Sophie, she knew she had to meet her.
During the next three weeks Claire came to our house to make friends with Sophie and to learn everything we did to care for her. Although she’s a petite woman, she was determined to lift Sophie in her arms the way we did to help her stand and walk.
She learned how to check for pressure sores and how to gently flip Sophie from side to side. Claire studied how we sat Sophie up to feed her and she even learned how to express her bladder.
Claire also made friends with Shadow and Cody and the cats. She learned their routines as well.
Turning over the reins
When Claire was ready, she was the one who suggested Ken and I take-in a movie while she watched our crew. Everything went smoothly.
It took us time to turn over the reins, but eventually we found ourselves staying away for longer periods of time. We even went to an all-day Art Festival in a nearby town.
Claire always gave us frequent updates and sent reassuring photos of each pet. Shadow and Cody loved her visits because she gave them as much attention as Sophie.
As Sophie’s condition got worse, poor Claire dealt with hand-feeding her, cleaning up messes and even taking her into the shower. She laundered countless soiled beds and towels and became a professional at removing carpet stains.
She did it all with as much love for Sophie as we had.
Claire has now seen our family through several generations of dogs and cats. She rescued us when we were in a crisis and remains my dear friend.
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