If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? I never really understood that exercise in basic philosophy — of course it does, I scoffed — until I found myself thinking along similar lines: If a pet sitter is taking good care of your dog but doesn’t communicate that fact to you, is it really good care?
My answer: I don’t think so.
A bit of background. I was away this past week in Portland, OR, on a travel writing assignment, and left Frankie, my insulin-dependent dog, in the care of Ruth (not her real name). Ruth, who had worked for many years as a vet tech, had come highly recommended by a friend. During our initial interview, she had seemed extremely responsible. Nevertheless, I made it clear that I expected daily communication from her about Frankie.
Or I thought I made it clear.
Ruth didn’t phone the first night at the time we’d agreed upon, and when I called her, she didn’t answer her cell phone, but she did phone me back within half an hour. The next night she returned my call within a few minutes. But the following night…
As several of my Twitter pals who were privy to the drama that unfolded in the wee hours of this past Saturday morning know, I could not get hold of Ruth on Friday evening. I called and left messages on her cell phone until late into the night. I called my home land line — which, unfortunately, keeps its messages private, so I couldn’t shout at her to pick up the phone if she was within earshot.
I couldn’t sleep all night, worrying that something had happened to Ruth and picturing Frankie all alone, hungry and in need of insulin. I tried Ruth’s cell again at 5:30a.m. the next morning, which is when Frankie usually gets his first insulin shot. No answer. I then called my house and let the phone ring and hung up four times in succession — a clear sign of distress, I figured. Nada.
So finally, with the encouragement of my wonderful Twitter community, I called a friend at 6am — the one who had recommended Ruth as it happens — and asked her to go over to my house to check on Frankie.
When the friend got to my house, she phoned immediately to say that Frankie was fine. She handed her phone over to Ruth who, in contrast, was not fine. In fact, she was furious at the early morning intrusion. She’d left her phone at her home, she said — no biggie, she implied — and couldn’t believe that “I hadn’t trusted her” even though she’s a vet tech. I tried to explain that it had nothing to do with questioning her ability but that I was worried that something had happened to her, as a result of which she wouldn’t have been able to provide Frankie with any care, excellent or otherwise.
She wasn’t having it.
And although I was vastly relieved that Frankie was fine, my trip was ruined. I was exhausted because of lack of sleep, upset that I was being blamed for what had been, from my perspective, a clear mistake on her part.
Our final communication, which took place yesterday, was less than pleasant. I phoned to say I was coming back early, though not in time for Frankie’s evening feeding and shot. I asked her to stay afterwards, so I could pay her and she could return my keys. She said she couldn’t stay. I asked her to leave my keys. She said she wouldn’t — given how “things were between us,’ that she would give me my keys when she got my check.
I came home last night to find a full bowl of soggy food — including bits of cheese, which Frankie is not supposed to eat. This suggested to me that either Ruth gave Frankie his insulin shot without making sure he had eaten or that she had not given him his insulin. Her rather cryptic records indicated that insulin had been administered… who knows when. I decided to monitor Frankie’s water intake rather than trying to get an answer from Ruth who had indicated she wouldn’t be available.
This morning, I’m happy to report that Frankie is fine, and back on his regular food and insulin schedule. I’m still upset however, and tempted to change my locks rather than pay Ruth, who is holding my extra house keys hostage.
I’m a bit too close to this whole thing to impart much takeaway wisdom, except to add to my earlier post about finding a good pet sitter: Make sure to stipulate — in writing — exactly when and how you expect communication about your pet to occur. It won’t guarantee anything, but it will provide clarity.
P.S. Several of my aforementioned Twitter pals were pet sitters who were very irate on my behalf. And I’ve had excellent experiences with Frankie’s caretakers in the past. I consider Ruth an anomaly — but one who gave me the opportunity to make it clear how important communication with a client is.