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Karen B. London
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Unlikely Dog Sitters
People who come through for others
High-5s to dog sitters who come through no matter what

As a positive methods dog trainer, it’s natural for me to look for behavior that I like and reinforce it, and I don’t just do that for dogs.  The species that I personally spend the most time with is people, and lately I’ve noticed similar commendable behavior in many of them. The commonality is a willingness to take care of other people’s dogs no matter how inconvenient or challenging that may be. I applaud and admire all those who watch other people’s dogs in times of need, especially the following two who have done so when it was far from easy.

A week ago, I saw a neighbor pushing a double jog stroller and walking three dogs. After rushing over to see her 11-day old baby for the first time and offer congratulations to the new 22-month old big sister, I realized that her daughter wasn’t the only new addition.

“Did you get a new dog?” I asked, secretly thinking that of all the bad times to get a new dog, the first week or so after having a baby has got to top the list.

“No,” she replied, “It’s my sister’s dog. My mom was supposed to watch her while she’s in Hawaii, but at the last minute, she couldn’t, so she asked me.”

When I expressed surprise at the timing of this dog sitting request and offered to walk any or all of her dogs at any time, she just smiled and said, “Oh, I don’t mind. She’d do the same thing for me.”

That may well be true, but I am still impressed that she so cheerfully took on the responsibility of a third dog when she clearly had her hands full with two children under the age of two and a pair of dogs of her own.

I have a distant cousin who also deserves praise for taking on the responsibility of dogs even though her health issues and age would make a refusal completely reasonable. She is well into her 80s with a range of health issues that cause her a lot of pain and also limit her mobility. Despite that, she regularly watches the dogs of her human children, all of whom require more care than her own dog does.

In the last few months, she has taken care of four different dogs at her children’s request. She has watched a rambunctious puppy, a 15-year old dog with arthritis and a serious neurological issue who needs to be lifted in and out of the car, and two untrained 4-year old dogs who constantly make those around them feel like they are in some sort of circus fun house.

She is very caring to attend to these dogs despite the strain on her physically, and presumably emotionally, especially since she is often asked to do so on short notice. In one case, her son dropped off the 15-year old dog while she was not home, left no explanation, and my cousin only knew how long she would have the dog because of how many cans of food were left. Obviously, their family dynamics and boundaries might make an easy target for criticism, but I prefer to focus on the kindness involved in this woman taking care of the dogs. It’s easy to see that they are very happy when they are with her and that there is much adoration all around.

I’m still grateful to my neighbor Stephanie and my fellow dog trainer Shannon who took care of our dog Bugsy when I was in the hospital giving birth to my first son. It was such a relief not to have to worry about him and or about having to call before the sun came up since we had been given permission to call them “at any time of day or night.”

Is there someone who has taken care of your dogs who deserves a special thank you for extra effort?

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Karen B. London, PhD, is a Bark columnist and a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist specializing in the evaluation and treatment of serious behavior problems in the domestic dog.

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