Adventures in Dog Sitting

Sometimes things go wrong

LORI OSIECKI ILLUSTRATION

It is so hot I’m keeping my underwear in the freezer so I can wear it cold. But my mother-in-law, Ms. Larda, has already started her Christmas shopping. She likes to be prepared.

Me, I’d rather spend my days in front the air conditioner vent.

Then my daughter Gumdrop asks me to stay at her house up near Folsom for a week to “feed the animals,” while she and her little family go to Disney. She tells me about their new aboveground swimming pool with its own deck and her new margarita-maker. “Say no more. I’m there,” I tell her.

Now, by “feeding the animals” I assume she means her cats, Rocky and Carlos, and Dorothy, the hamster, and maybe Audrey, the Venus flytrap she got in her window. She don’t mention the new dog.

Not that I got anything against dogs. They ain’t no worse than babies, even though babies generally don’t chew up your high heels and lift their legs at the coat rack.

I don’t find out about Lucky Dog until I get there. He ain’t a weenie dog like you might think; he’s a shaggy dog that wiggles all over when he wags his tail. Gumdrop almost ran over him one day at the gas station, and when she stopped to see if he was hurt, he jumped in the car. Nobody at the gas station knows nothing about him; nobody in all of Folsom knows nothing about him. Suddenly he’s Gumdrop’s dog.

My friend Awlette got a theory about dogs that appear like that. She thinks they’re reincarnated relatives come back to complete whatever unfinished mission they had in this life. (She don’t explain why this includes drinking out the toilet and licking their private parts.) I got to admit, this dog reminds me of my Aunt Gildamae – with them bushy eyebrows and hairy ears.

Anyway, Lucky Dog ain’t “quite” housebroken, Gumdrop informs me, and their backyard don’t quite have a fence. This means he stays in the kitchen, where there’s a baby gate, unless he’s out being walked on a leash. It also means I stay in the kitchen, too, because he gets upset when he’s in there by himself.

Gumdrop bought a dog-training book and she says it explains what I been doing wrong with all the dogs I’ve put up with in my life. Housebreaking don’t mean throwing the dog in the backyard whenever he starts relieving himself on the floor. No, it means taking him out on his leash when he whimpers, and repeating the special “password” (I mispronounced that at first) until he answers nature’s call. You are supposed to pick a “password” that you would not normally say inside.

Lucky Dog’s password is “Stella.” I am standing outside in the rain at 4 a.m. yelling “Stella!” “STEL-LA!” when I realize that Gumdrop probably thinks this is funny. I pity her if she ever takes this poor dog to that Stella-calling contest they got in the French Quarter every spring.

Next day I call Ms. Larda. She bought a portable doggy pen for her Chihuahua, Chopsley, when she was getting her fence fixed. I promise her pool time and margaritas if she’ll bring that doggy pen here.

She comes that evening. We float around the pool, sip a couple margaritas and she decides to spend the night. But first we set up the doggy pen outside the back door, and leave the pen gate open so I can put Lucky Dog in there in a hurry. I forget we’re out in the country.

When I hear Lucky Dog squeal at 4 a.m., I race to the kitchen, grab him by the collar, rush him into the pen, slam the gate and yell “Stella!” I am padding back to bed when I hear another squeal.

That was quick. He is pawing at the gate already. I bring him inside. Then I inhale. Me and him are both gagging when Ms. Larda stomps in and proclaims “Skunk!” One must have gotten in the pen and sprayed poor Lucky.

Ms. Larda grabs a bag of kitty letter and rubs him down with it. I heard tomato sauce helps, but there ain’t none, so we use ketchup. Then we use Bloody Mary mix. (I hold back enough so we can each have a Bloody Mary.) Nothing works. I start looking up stuff on the Internet. Baking soda and vinegar. Vanilla. Dishwashing liquid. He still smells awful.

By this time we’re all pretty pungent. He will have to sleep in the garage, and Ms. Larda and me drag in patio lounge chairs and sleep there, too. The next day, when I go to the hardware store for Skunk-Off, the clerk asks me to step outside and she hands it out the door. “Come back and pay later,” she says.

Finally Gumdrop comes home and we leave. Lucky Dog, after a couple hundred baths, gets promoted out of the garage and back to the kitchen.

But my social life ain’t so hot for a while. Even though I live in the French Quarter, which ain’t especially fragrant in the summer, my aroma is noticeable.

Ms. Larda got the same problem; she said she had to leave the Wal-Mart halfway through her Christmas list.

Finally my gentleman friend Lust treats the two of us to a day of aromatherapy at Uptown Ladies Spa. We get scrubbed with sea sponges, wrapped in herbal wraps, massaged and manicured and then left to soak the day away in a perfumed whirlpool with rose petals. By the end, we smell wonderful. We are limp as dishrags and happy as larks.

“If I was any more relaxed, I’d be dead,” Ms. Larda says. “And we owe it all to that dog.”

Thank you, Aunt Gildamae. Enjoy your toilet water.

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