I'm having a crisis of pet ownership. If you're not in the mood for a long-winded story about cats and/or cat poo, this is not the post for you. But if you, too, have struggled to find a decent pet sitter or have worried about what to do with your furry friends when you leave for that vacation you've been aching to go on, stick around.
The woman who lives above us has two cats. When we first moved in we could hear the cats running from one end of the apartment to the other and occasionally sounding the war cry of feline engagement. At some point, I met the woman in the elevator and mentioned to her that we knew she had cats and would be happy to cat sit if she ever needed it. She told me thanks, but she already has a cat sitter. I considered my neighborly duty done and thanked her for reciprocating the gesture. I was hesitant to take her up on her offer to visit our cats, but I finally broke down and called her one weekend (that's right, I used the phone). As it happens, she wasn't available, but she recommended her own cat sitter, who for the purposes of this post we shall call Wanda.
I called Wanda, and immediately knew she was a little...different. She answered her phone while riding her bicycle and proceeded to have a conversation with me while talking to the cars driving around her. I used to talk (sometimes yell) to other cars while I was driving so I wrote it off as stream of consciousness. Wanda said she would be happy to come by and meet the kidz (as she later referred to them in our email exchanges). Great! A last minute arrangement that will keep Fatty from gorging herself in the first hour of our departure and thus starving the stressed out Petey while we go away for a weekend.
Wanda was opinionated, to say the least. She rides an aging bike that has a seat made of hot pink duct tape. She frowned upon our use of dry food. She was against calling our more rotund cat "Fatty." She had several welcome suggestions for vets. When she left I felt like I had been reprimanded by my mother, but I also felt relieved that someone who seemed knowledgeable and experienced was going to be visiting the hairballs in our absence.
Jump ahead 6 months. After several trial runs of different brands, we've switched the cats to wet food. Wanda now visits them twice a day instead of once a day while we're out of town - a concession that I made after a particularly heinous shit storm of a weekend where there were explosive butt problems and a snow storm that stranded us in MD, much to Wanda's amazement. Backstory: Wanda was convinced the cats were sick. I, after checking out the manufacturers website, was convinced that they (mostly Fatty) had eaten too much food at one time because they were only being fed once a day. Ironic that "organic" "healthy" food can make them crap all over the world if they eat too much of it. I appreciated Wanda's concern and explained the transportation situation (nope, our Amtrak train was cancelled. yes, there really aren't any flights. um, if Amtrak is cancelled, I'm not about to book a bus that's probably not running to drive up a snow blitzed I-95). She was appalled at my inability to return home and proceeded to make me feel terrible for not walking 300 miles to see about some explosive diarrhea.
We recovered from the shit storm and vowed to have Wanda come twice a day to space out the rich food. I asked her not to feed them treats. We came home to find a treat on the desk, evidence of either her spilling pockets or her completely ignoring my request (I'm going to vote for the latter given that her email response to my treat-free request was "HA!"). After our most recent trip of 4 days, there were shit smears on the carpet, litter blobs scattered across the apartment, a nice squishy surprise on the bathroom floor, and the rogue treat left on the desk. In an effort to find out just what happens when she's here -- so as to avoid accusing her of overfeeding the cats or not paying attention to whether fatty eats everything -- I sent Wanda an email asking her to describe how the visits play out. The response I got was less than informative. In fact, it was infuriatingly vague.
Is she overfeeding the cats? Hard to say. Does she give them treats? Probably. Would there be butt smears on the carpet anyway? Quite possible, considering there was one waiting for us when we got up this morning. Do I feel well informed and confident that Wanda will comply with my requests? Not in the slightest.
Needless to say, I would like to discontinue Wanda's services. I have snooped around the interweb looking for a replacement (currently waiting to hear back from ProspectBArk!), and just yesterday I asked another woman that lives in my building for recommendations. I ran into this woman picking out cat food at the local pet supply store, so I figured it was safe to ask for her advice. She rattled off Wanda's name and started fiddling with her fanny pack to see if she had Wanda's phone number with her.
I almost let the woman give me Wanda's info without telling her that I would prefer to never call Wanda again, but I decided to be honest. I told the woman that I actually use Wanda now, but I'm not very happy with her. The woman nodded in agreement and we proceeded to have a conversation about how she doesn't have very much confidence in Wanda either, but she's been using Wanda for so long that she couldn't think about finding someone else. The woman has an older cat that needs to be medicated and instead of asking Wanda to do it, the woman has arranged for her sister to come down from Massachusetts to take care of her cats.
Does anyone else see something wrong with this picture? Why in the world is this woman loyal to a service provider that is not providing good service?? She said outright that Wanda is not good with her female cat. She agreed that Wanda does not have good communication skills. But "she's reliable and I've used her for so long"...
If Wanda is reliably bad, who cares if she shows up when you need her? If your car mechanic continued to do a mediocre repair job, would you say "yeah, he doesn't really fix my car, but at least he works on it every time I bring it to him?"
Yes, it's uncomfortable to sever a long standing business relationship. I've only been using Wanda for about 10 months, and I feel weird about having to see her everywhere (she cat sits for like half of our building and walks/shuffles with 2 jack russell terriers that live on the corner of our street). But we're talking about the welfare of your pets here. I'm willing to put up with the awkwardness of seeing someone I've essentially broken up with in order to feel good about the kind of care my cats are receiving while I'm gone.
Maybe I'm overreacting. Maybe I'm on the precipice of dealing with an older cat that is just going to poo on things when I'm out of town (or when I'm in town and sitting on the couch). I can't say for sure until I try out another cat sitter and see what happens. What I can say for sure is that I don't have a good feeling about Wanda, and sometimes that's enough to say "No, thanks."
*Today's picture is of Fatty and Laura, the best neighbor/friend/cat sitter in the world. Sadly, she lives in Atlanta and we live in Brooklyn.