Can you pray with our dog?
It was mid-October and very cold. I pulled my car into the stone driveway of a potential new client for a scheduled Meet and Greet appointment.
The house was old, very old. It was probably built sometime in the 1700s. The fence gate that opened to the sidewalk was rickety and squeaked when I pushed it. Across the country road was an old red barn and the closest neighbors on either side were about a mile away.
As I used the door knocker (there was no doorbell) a gust of wind hit my face and I snuggled deeper into my down coat. I heard footsteps and the door was opened by a distinguished-looking older couple with wide smiles. Between the two of them, an old tall gray Irish wolfhound squeezed her face so she could be a part of the welcoming party. My first impression was that the dog looked like the big bad wolf in the "Little Red Riding Hood" fairytale. Her fur was scraggly and her teeth, sharp and long, but unlike the big bad wolf, she had a wonderful sparkle in her eyes.
As I walked into the house, it was like walking into an old museum. The decor matched the age of the house. I saw lots of antique furniture, a large old stone fireplace, complete with the type of painting above where the portrait's eyes followed you around the room.
After greetings were done, we sat down for the nuts and bolts of the meeting - getting all the info needed to take care of this sweet old dog. Her name, by the way, was Maise. Sitting at the table, Maise was so tall that she was eye level to me. She walked around the room during the Meet and Greet, her old toenails clicking on the wide board floor, and huffing a little bit with a mix of excitement and anxiety about this new person being in her home.
After all was said and done, the couple had a special favor to ask. "This might seem strange, but can you pray with our dog? It's just that every night when we put Maise to bed", as they pointed to the large dog bed in the corner, " we take a hold of her paw and pray the Lord's Prayer with her. Would you be able to do that?".
I thought to myself, "I guess my experience as a youth minister is also going to come in handy in the pet sitting business!"
"No problem" I responded.
They also told me that Maise was very afraid of thunderstorms and they hoped that one wouldn't happen while they were gone, so I jotted that down and made a mental note to keep that in mind.
My pet visits started about a week or so later. Everything was going well. Maise was very old and arthritic and she walked slowly and it took her some time to walk around the back yard before she would do her piddles and poops. She loved hunting for the dog biscuits I'd hide around the dining room, and she loved sniffing the fresh air and leaning into me for some cuddles.
One of the last nights I did a pet visit was Halloween. It was my last visit of the day, about 9:30 PM. It was a night fit for a horror movie - a sky with rushing clouds, a brisk wind with crisp leaves fluttering everywhere, and a moon that went in and out of the clouds that resulted in some eerie shadows on the land.
Just as I was about to get out of my car to see Maise, a coyote jumped over the fence. They had mentioned coyotes being in the area. I watched as the coyote ran into the field, took a deep breath, and got out of the car. I was prepared with a large flashlight because the key only worked in the back door of this old house so I had to go around back. Of course, the home's sensor lights didn't always work so on that particular night, my flashlight ended up being the only light available.
I thought to myself "They need someone to pray with Maise, but who's gonna pray with me?" I was a tad nervous and didn't want to run into the coyote.
I always had to fiddle with the lock because, like the house, it was old, but eventually the door popped open. I was glad that I was never into watching horror movies because then my imagination would have really been going more wild than it was in that short walk around to the back of the house!
The visit went well and just as it was time to tuck Maise into her huge dog bed in the corner, cover her up with her blanket, and say our nightly "Lord's prayer" together, it happened.
Here it was late on Halloween night, and I'm in a very old beautiful but eerie house, in the middle of the country, with coyotes outside, and a painting with eyes that followed me around the room, and all of a sudden, as if on cue by a Hollywood director, a deluge fell from the sky and lightning lit up the house, followed by a huge clap of thunder.
Maise squealed a little and shook with a look of fear in her eyes. It was thundering - the thing that she dreaded most. It was almost time for me to leave, but I couldn't leave this poor old dog in such a scary house, all alone with thunder. That wouldn't be good pet care, and plus, if I left her in such a state I would never forgive myself.
So, I sat on the floor next to her and tucked her in. She looked at me with wide eyes, as if wondering what would happen next. "Maise," I said, "I'm going to stay with you until the thunder ends". I petted her and we sat together for a while, both of us enduring clap of thunder after clap of thunder.
One huge bolt of lightning cracked somewhere outside and the power went out. I just knew the guy in the painting was still staring at me and a chill went down my spine. I turned on my flashlight. "Maise," I said, let's pray! I started with the requested "Lord's Prayer" and continued on - as much for my sake as for hers! Then I sang a little. It seemed to calm both of us down.
The storm ended in about half an hour. Once she was calm and the storm passed and we were both "prayed up", I said my goodbyes for the night. As I left the house, I noticed that the storm had chased the clouds away and the moon was bright and full. Stars were twinkling and no coyotes were in sight. I sloshed through the wet grass in a hurry and plopped into my car.
I looked at the house once again, sighed, and offered up a brief prayer of thanks for getting me through this ordeal.
Just another day in the life of a pet sitter.
Reflection questions for pet owners:
1. What are your pets afraid of and have you communicated those fears to your pet sitter?
2. Does your house have a generator that goes on when the power goes out? If so, this is info to tell your pet sitter if she/he doesn't ask.
3. What, if any, are the strange quirks and noises in your home that might scare a pet sitter? (Ex: clocks that have weird chimes, an overly noisy furnace, other things that beep or squeak, etc...)
4. What words or activities calm your pets when they get anxious?