I Got My First Cat-Sitting Assignment — and I Blew It


The two cats are fine. They’re fine. So don’t worry about them, okay? When I say “I blew it,” I didn’t forget the cats. (And, strictly speaking, I’m not the one who blew it. We’ll get to that.) The cats got food. The cats got water. The cats got love. The cats got their litter boxes cleaned.

Fine, okay?

I gave the cats a front-row seat at a comedy of errors. One of them — a hyperactive black “teenager” called Sway who says “I love you” by applying teeth and claws to everything in sight — watched me and my girlfriend, Daphne, from various windows. We might as well have been using that bird-on-a-string toy with him.

For hours.

Sway laughed at me. He repeated, “You big dork!” I could see the words in his face. He held that “cat look” — the look that says, “My brain isn’t big enough to comprehend why you’re out there and I’m in here, so I’ll just look at you.” But I knew better.

Here are some of the entertaining acts this young ruffian saw me perform:

  • Dial my cell phone many times.
  • Sit for hours in the hot afternoon sun waiting for people to call back.
  • Look for a place to pee outdoors, unobserved, in a big condo complex.
  • Stand watch for Daphne while she took advantage of the spot I found.
  • Scale a wall.
  • Borrow a chair from an agitated British woman so I could scale the wall.
  • Climb over a high railing onto a second-floor deck.
  • Persuade a man with a heavy Israeli accent who I could hardly understand to follow me up the wall and onto the deck.
  • Pay that man about $80 for helping me do something that looked quite illegal.

In the end, it was all okay. (And the cats, fine.) Here’s what happened.

The pitch

The assignment came from my old friend Helen. She and I go for long stretches without assembling, but when we need support (drunken catharsis, help moving, long conversations over steak and martinis) we can always count on each other. Last summer, her job was damn near killing her. She proposed a long weekend in Las Vegas with her boyfriend.

“Can you watch my cats?”

Can I watch your cats!?

Of course I could watch her cats.

The idea excited me. I’ve assisted others in kitty-sitting, but I’d never taken the lead. This would be “my first command,” as it were. (“I bet I could write about this for Catster!” Oh, if I’d only known!) The first two days went fine. I parked my car, I took care of the cats, I left.

The cats

Helen’s second cat is a sweetie named Moxie. She looks to be part Ragdoll and part raccoon. She’s older, and she’s pretty afraid of people she doesn’t know. I was very careful with her and even got to pet her some. The funny thing is (and by “funny” I mean “really not that funny when you think about it”), Helen got Sway as a playmate for Moxie after her other cat, PJ, passed away. But now she has to keep them separated because Sway turned out to be, well, Sway.

The setting

Have you ever heard stories about the Berlin wall, about the security gauntlet a person had to endure — the gates, the checkpoints, the locks, the latches — to get from East Berlin to West Berlin? The inside of Helen’s condo is worse. Moxie lives in one sector, Sway in the other. Between them is a flattened cardboard box that once held a dump truck or bulldozer or 747 or something.

To get through it, you have to move a statue, take some tape off the wall, run the box behind a bookcase, and then get it back into position before Sway gets past you. The little bugger never stops trying to get through. The box is about six feet tall, and the evidence of Sway’s sharp teeth and claws is abundant at all levels. (Eventually Helen will need a new box — I hope she knows someone at Caterpillar or Boeing.)

The mistake

Daphne accompanied me on the final day. Have I mentioned Daphne has earned extra income as a professional pet-sitter for nearly a decade? No? Well, she has.

We gave Sway and Moxie their food and love. We cleaned their boxes. We rebuilt the Cardboard Berlin Wall. Then Daphne said it would be nice to take out Helen’s trash, which contained a weekend’s litter-box debris and some cat-food cans.

“That’s something a professional pet-sitter would think to do,” I mused. I was so proud of her!

The next thing that happened? Well, not so much.

Helen had said we could either leave her keys in her condo and lock the door behind us, or we could keep the keys and she’d get them later. We chose to leave them there. (You probably see where this is going.)

Tangent: I’m slightly obsessive about things such as keys. I routinely do little self-pat-downs to make sure I have essential things. (“Spectacles, testicles, watch, and wallet,” as they old saying goes.) But I’m careful not to be a “backseat driver” in this regard with other people. So I didn’t ask Daphne before we left Helen’s condo whether she had everything.

The moment the front door closed (and locked), she realized she hadn’t. Still inside was her purse. Inside it were her car keys. So at that point we had a car, but no way to make that car get us home. We live about 35 miles from Helen. It was Sunday at about 3 p.m. Helen was due back around 8 or 9.

I called Helen. She didn’t call back for what seemed like forever. She called back. She called her landlady, who might have been in the vicinity. (She wasn’t.) Daphne called a locksmith. He arrived after what seemed like forever. (He’s the man with the accent.) He looked at Helen’s front door and said the lock was impenetrable. Only way in? Drill through it. (Not an option.)

I asked the downstairs neighbor (the British woman) for a chair to scale the wall of her deck, so I could get to Helen’s upstairs deck. There was a sliding door up there that, to me, said, “Second chance!” The locksmith scoffed, said I’d never get onto the second deck. (I did.) I asked him to follow me. (He did.) I helped him try to get the sliding door open. (We didn’t.)

The locksmith gave up. Daphne and I pondered what we’d do for four more hours. It was getting really hot.

Then … a great surprise! The locksmith came back! He’d thought of something! I don’t remember how, but he rigged a way to get past the impenetrable front-door lock.

Daphne got her purse and keys, we paid the locksmith, and we all had a good laugh.

This time on the way out, we brought Helen’s keys with us.

Disclaimer: I love Daphne, I love Sway, I love Helen, I love the locksmith. But I’m not past taking a bratty tone about them to get a laugh.

About Keith Bowers: This broad-shouldered, bald-headed, leather-clad motorcyclist also has passions for sharp clothing, silver accessories, great writing, the arts, and cats. This career journalist loves painting, sculpting, photographing, and getting on stage. He once was called “a high-powered mutant,” which also describes his cat, Thomas. He’s also associate editor at Catster and Dogster.

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