6 Jack Russell Terriers in an Apartment Part Two: The Van
“Hi, this is Carlos, I hope you can help me, I’ll appreciate it!” Oh God, no, not him again. A month had passed since I had cared for his dogs, and I was eager to forget about the whole experience. I hesitated before calling him back, planning how to politely refuse service. My plans were foiled as he begged and pleaded for my help.
Upon his return from South America, he had had a confrontation with Bob the landlord. Instead of finding new homes for the dogs or moving, he was putting them in his van and taking them to work every day. The only problem was, dogs were not allowed at his office, so they had to stay in the van all day. He was understandably concerned about them in this situation, and wanted me to come every afternoon to take them for a walk and to make sure that they had enough water. Picturing the dogs dying of a heat stroke, against my better judgment, I said okay.
It was a surreal experience picking up not a house key but a car key for the daily walk of Jack and Jill. Carlos asked me to meet him at the Kentucky Fried Chicken near his work. When I walked in, he was already seated and smiling at me.
“What would you like to eat?” he asked, and I hesitated, not realizing he’d wanted me to join him for lunch.
“Sorry, I can’t, I’m in a hurry,” I replied.
Carlos was disappointed, but thanked me over and over for helping him with his beloved dogs.
On the day of the first walk, I approached the van and was greeted by snarling terrier faces. Then suddenly, the dogs recognized me, and they started to wildly wag their tail stumps. “Hi, guys,” I said, “Interesting situation, eh?” They wagged their tails in agreement as I attached the leashes.
The first few weeks were relatively normal under the circumstances. The dogs enjoyed their walks around the rail road tracks and they seemed to be OK in the van. That all changed when I arrived one afternoon to find Jill nursing four newborn puppies.
“What?!” I shouted to Carlos on the phone. Somehow, I had blitzed on the fact that the dogs, a male and female, were not altered. 99% of my clients’ pets were altered, so it had not even occurred to me that they could be breeding. Carlos seemed concerned about the puppies, and agreed to leave work early to check on them. I told him that keeping adult dogs in the car was bad enough, but keeping puppies there was just asking for a tragedy. Something had to give…
Two weeks later, my day started with a long phone conversation with Carlos. Once again, I questioned my sanity in getting, and staying, involved with this client. I wanted to get away from him, but I was so concerned about Jack and Jill and their puppies that I knew this was not the time.
I patiently explained to Carlos the benefits of spaying and neutering, responsible pet ownership, and flea control. I suggested that he either work something out with his landlord about keeping the dogs in the apartment, or consider moving someplace else. I stressed that finding pet-friendly housing with two dogs was difficult enough, so he should really start looking for homes for the puppies ASAP. Just as I thought I had gotten through to him, he asked, “Do you know where I can take them to cut the tails?”
Not feeling very hopeful, later in the afternoon I drove to where his van was usually parked. I parked my truck, got out, looked up, and … no van. Hmm. I looked up and down the street and, seeing nothing, I phoned Carlos and asked if he went to work today. He assured me that he did, and his van should be where it always is. “Well, it isn’t,” I assured him. He sounded really worried and said he would find out what happened and call me back. I drove to my next pet sitting visit, shaking my head.
That night, I came home, threw down my coat, and collapsed on the couch. Like most pet sitters, I was lonely, spending most of my time with animals and seldom socializing because the most work is to be had on evenings, weekends, and holidays when everyone else is getting together and going out. Since money is tight in this profession, one hesitates to turn down work in order to take time off for social activities. As I was sticking a frozen lasagna in the microwave and clicking on the TV, the phone rang, and somehow, I knew who it would be.
“Hello, this is Carlos, I will tell you what happened to my car.”
“Okay, are the dogs all right?”
“Yes, they are at the pound, and my car has been towed.”
He went on to explain how, for some complicated reason, the recently acquired used van did not come with a pink slip and so was not registered. Noticing the expired tags, the local police had run a check on the license plate number and called a towing service to take the vehicle away/ That was when they noticed the canine occupants, and called animal control.
Apparently, the fees to reclaim the van were over a thousand dollars, and it was still not registerable, so Carlos had no intention of picking it up. When the conversation turned to the dogs, he begged me to go to the shelter and see that they were okay, and said that he would make arrangements to bring them home as soon as possible. Before I could think better of it, I agreed.
Because I continued volunteering after quitting my paid job at the local animal shelter, I was still a familiar face around there and no one gave a second look when I let myself in and went into the employees-only area. I found Jack in a regular small dog kennel in the stray dog area, and Jill and her brood in an indoor cage in the medical area. As I entered the room, I immediately noticed a sheet covering the front of the cage and a red sign with the word CAUTION on it. I pulled back the sheet, and Jill jumped to her feet, did a happy dance, and whined. A vet tech doing her rounds did a double take, and said, “Is that your dog?”
“No,” I replied, “I’m her pet sitter. It’s a long story.”
The tech explained that Jill had been vicious with the shelter staff, and that no one could get near her or her puppies. She also wouldn’t eat, which was a concern because she was lean to begin with, and the nursing was turning her into a skeleton. “Maybe she’ll eat for you,” the tech said, handing me a can of AD, a high calorie wet food. It was worth a shot. I grabbed a spoon and scooped out some of the food, talking softly to Jill. In minutes she had gobbled up the whole can. The tech’s eyes widened. “Would you mind taking her out so I can clean the cage?” she asked. “Sure.” I scooped up the wiggling Jill, slipped a leash on, and walked her around the courtyard. When I returned, the tech implored me to return the following day, and I agreed.
“Jill bug, I’m here!” I sang out as I entered the room. A week had passed since she and the others were impounded by animal control, and I had been coming every day to check on her and feed her. She was starting to gain weight and look better, and the puppies were fat and healthy.
I had a lot of explaining to do to the shelter staff, as I was not eager to be associated with someone who left six dogs in a filthy van and was making no attempt to reclaim them. I assured the animal control officer who picked them up that I was in daily contact with the owner and that he would come down as soon as possible. Until then, the staff was happy to have someone around who could actually handle Jill, who, among strangers, apparently became a fifteen-pound terror.
That Friday, I agreed to drive Mr. Martinez to the shelter to pick up the dogs. I picked him up outside of his apartment complex, and noticed that he was wearing a nice button-up shirt. He smelled like he had just showered and applied aftershave. I marveled at these observations, wondering why he got so cleaned up when he wasn’t going to work but to pick up smelly dogs? I rolled down the window to relieve the perfumy smell.
Paycheck in hand, he asked me to stop at the bank so he could get cash for my dog sitting services and the shelter’s impound and boarding fees. I gladly did so, and as I waited for him in the bank parking lot, I contemplated how to get out of this situation once and for all. I would collect my money, get the dogs safely home, then find some excuse to discontinue service.
We chatted as I made the half-hour drive to the shelter; he talked about his home country and relatives, and his job. He said he wanted to give one of the puppies to his sister, and would it be okay to give the puppy a sleeping pill so he could sneak it on the plane to South America? “No,” I tersely replied, losing my patience, “The puppy will die if you give it a sleeping pill.” By the time we got to the shelter, my nerves were frazzled.
Six Jack Russell Terriers in hand, we got back in my truck and headed for Carlos’ home. For the trip, the puppies were in a large plastic cat carrier on the floor and Jack and Jill were in his lap. After a few minutes it started to rain and I switched on the windshield wipers; Jill leaped out of Carlos’ lap onto the dashboard and, with every tooth showing, attacked the wipers. Frustrated that she could not get at them through the glass, she growled and barked all the more. She was seriously distracting me and blocking my vision, but it was so funny I couldn’t help myself. Carlos and I looked at each other and burst out laughing. I will miss them, I thought…
As I exited the freeway and headed towards Carlos’ apartment, he asked if I wouldn’t mind stopping by the local Chinese restaurant so he could pick up some food. I really wanted to get going, but he begged me, saying he didn’t have a car and didn’t have any food in the house (except for last week’s Chinese take-out, I thought). Against my better judgment, I agreed, and once again found myself sitting in the truck waiting for him. Jack and Jill looked out the window and wagged their tail stumps, and the puppies softly whined in the crate. After about 20 minutes, Carlos emerged from the restaurant with a large brown bag full of food. (A week’s supply, I thought to myself.) As we drove the rest of the way to his place, my truck filled with a delicious smell and my stomach growled.
I was nervous as I got out of the truck, reliving my unpleasant experiences with the landlord. All was well, Carlos assured me, they had talked it over and it was okay for him to keep the dogs there. I hardly believed him, but had nothing else to go on, so I steeled myself and walked through the rain up the stairs, crate full of puppies in my arms. After the dogs were settled, I headed for the door, and Carlos said, sounding surprised, “Aren’t you going to stay and eat?” I had to admit that I was wet, tired, and starving, and that Chinese food smelled really good.
“Okay,” I said, moving a pile of clothes and mail to make a space for myself on the brown couch. He sat on a wobbly chair across from me and handed me one of the take-out containers and a fork. No plates, just the containers and a fork. I relaxed as I chowed down on the food and chatted about the dogs.
“What a situation, eh?” he said, and I had to laugh and admit that it was pretty crazy. After a while I brought up the subject of not working for him any more. I said you are out of my work area, I have a full schedule right now, let me refer you to someone else. Looking stricken, he begged me to continue service for just a few weeks until he could make other arrangements. I reluctantly agreed, and left.