NEW YORK — There comes a time in every busy pet owner’s life when conflicting obligations lead you to entrust your beloved fluffball to another human.
These arrangements are often informal and largely unregulated, but they are not without risks — for both parties.
What if the dog and the sitter don’t get along? What if your best friend’s cat uses your shag rug as a litter box? Then there are the more spectacular cases. The dog who bit off the dogsitter’s housekeeper’s toe. The erratic walker who, a lawsuit charges, may have traded a dog for drugs.
All of them happen from time to time in New York City. We know. We asked. Here is what people told us.
Failing the Basics
For five years, Lauren Abramson sent her dog, Madison, to a canine day camp. The man who ran it picked up the dogs in a van and took them to parks. One afternoon, Abramson, a math teacher, got a call. “The first thing he said to me was that my dog was stolen out of his van.”
Abramson raced back to the Upper West Side of Manhattan to look for her dog. She filed a police report. A friend went around putting up fliers.
She was outside her building when the man from the dog camp called. “He said: ‘Could you just go up and check? Maybe I forgot to pick her up.’”
He told her that he had had a medical procedure that morning. “I think he might have been a little bit of a marijuana smoker,” Abramson said. She went upstairs. “Sure enough, there is my dog, lying on the bed.”
Danielle, a petsitter in Brooklyn, was hired to look after a regular customer’s guinea pig and her newly acquired cat. The owner instructed Danielle — who spoke on the condition that her surname not be used, to avoid further conflict with the owner — to keep the new cat locked in the bathroom. It was summer. There was no air-conditioning in the bathroom. Danielle left the tiny window cracked open. Flies got in, infesting the cat’s food. Then came maggots. Then a lot more flies.
The bathroom was unfit for feline habitation. Danielle said that she told the client she needed to let the cat into the rest of the apartment, and that the client said OK.
But after the woman returned, Danielle recalled, “she tells me the cat destroyed her rug and couch, and there’s flies everywhere.” The customer, also upset with Danielle’s guinea pig care, refused to pay.
Not long after Shoshana Perry and Noel Wiggins of Park Slope, Brooklyn, adopted a husky named Roxy, they left her with a sitter who seemed particularly fond of the breed.
When the sitter brought Roxy back, he excitedly showed them a heavy wood-and-metal contraption that simulated a dog sled. He had hooked Roxy up to it and made her pull it across the grass in Prospect Park every day, in the summer heat.
“He thought that all huskies wanted to do this as part of their breed,” Wiggins said. “And he thought they were answering the call of the wild to do it.”
Roxy did not seem traumatized by mushing boot camp. “She seemed to like it,” Perry said. Still, she added, “We were a little uncomfortable with him.”
Avoiding the Worst Fear
Valerie Petrov has been sitting a friend’s aging retriever for years. Now, though, the dog is 16 or 17, “not really decrepit in any way, but she’s slowing down.” Recently, when the owner asked Petrov to watch the dog for the weekend, she lied and said she had plans.
“I have no heart to say to him: ‘I’m sorry, your dog is really close to death. What do I do if something happens?’” said Petrov, an administrator at Lincoln Center. “I feel like a terrible friend.”
Where Did She Go?
On Sept. 13 in Prospect-Lefferts Gardens, Brooklyn, a dog walker was walking a Lhasa Apso named Riley and two other dogs. He told Riley’s owners that he was concentrating on one of the other dogs, and when he looked back at Riley, “it was just a collar at the end of the leash,” said Scott Van Genderen, one of the owners. Riley is still missing.
Such stories occasionally have happy endings.
Last year, Bridgid Egilmez’s babysitter was out with Egilmez’s infant daughter and dog and stopped in at Macy’s in downtown Brooklyn. She left the dog, Mirabelle, a shih tzu-poodle mix, tied up in front of the store, Egilmez said. When she came out 10 minutes later, Mirabelle was gone. After a two-month social-media campaign, a dog-rescue volunteer spotted an ad on Craigslist from someone who said the dog had been found in Bay Ridge, 6 miles away. It was Mirabelle, safe and sound.
A Sitter’s Delayed Confession
In the early 1990s, 13-year-old Caleb Sayan was growing up in the East Village and had a spotted rat named Spunky. Caleb went off to summer camp, and Spunky stayed with a friend of his mother’s.
“I didn’t find out until I got back that Spunky had escaped,” said Sayan, now 38 and a digital archivist. The rat, he was told, was never found.
Young Caleb was devastated, his mother, Andrea Aranow, said last week. “This was maybe his first experience that adults are not infallible,” she said. “He was used to thinking you turn something over to a grown-up and you can count on them.”
Caleb, it’s Andy, your mom’s friend.
Your rat died at my apartment. I’m sorry.