Pet Parenting
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I’m a Pet Sitter, and I Lost My Client’s Dog

My worst nightmare came true when one of the dogs in my care, a Chihuahua named Nikki, ran away and was gone for more than four days.

Wendy Newell  |  Feb 11th 2016


I’m a dog sitter, and one of my charges ran out my back door and into the big wide world. Nikki was lost for four days and 12 hours, and it happened on my watch.

Sweet Nikki

Sweet Nikki. (Photo by Wendy Newell)

In my role, I’m entrusted with a huge part of someone’s life: their dog. Private dog sitters like myself are not employed by people who see their dog as just a dog. These are dog owners who consider their dog to be their baby.

I know these kinds of dog owners well because I’m one of them. My baby boy, Riggins, is my life. I don’t have human kids, I have him, and I love him with ever fiber of my being. If he ever ran away, I would be absolutely devastated. There are no adjectives strong enough to describe the grief I would be feeling. I simply can’t imagine the pain and helplessness Nikki’s mom felt during her “vacation.” I simply can’t.

Nikki on her last visit with me. (All pictures by Wendy Newell)

Nikki on her last visit with me. (Photo by Wendy Newell)

When you leave your dog with someone, there is a possibility that something can happen. Something as innocent as a dog getting hurt while playing. Things can happen no matter what precautions are taken. You assume that risk and weigh it with the positives of your dog staying with a caring human in her house. There are adventures to go on, other dogs for play, and a human to snuggle with in bed. For some dogs and dog owners, the perks far outweigh the possibility of a problem arising.

In my two years and 10 months of being a professional dog sitter, I’ve only had one other dog lost while in my care. “The Runner,” as he is referred to by the friends who spent hours helping me search for him, was gone for about a day. During that time, we would get calls of sightings in a certain neighborhood, which allowed us to narrow our search and eventually find him. He was finally located, kicking back on a porch and most likely watching our search team wander back and forth below his perch.

Nikki on one of our hikes.

Nikki on one of our hikes. (Photo by Wendy Newell)

Nikki’s disappearance was different. The Runner was a medium-size dog, and I felt like his bolting was beyond my control. I found out later he had run away a number of times. It was just who he was. Nikki is a very small Chihuahua. She has stayed with me before and, that time, did very well. She got along with other dogs who were 20 times her size, was happily carried around the dog park, and even went for hikes with the pack.

Like many Chihuahuas, Nikki is skittish by nature. When she came over last Wednesday night and her mom handed her to me, she was shaking like, well, like a Chihuahua being dropped off at the pet sitter’s house. It didn’t take long before we were besties again. She sat on the top of the sofa, practically on my shoulder, while we watched TV and then happily jumped up into bed and snuggled all night.

Nikki back in her spot on the sofa after her long adventure.

Nikki in her spot on the sofa. (Photo by Wendy Newell)

The next morning, Riggins needed to go outside, and I had to get up for two dogs who were being dropped off by their dad. I got out of bed, where I had been lounging most of the morning with my sweet Nikki, walked to the back door and opened it to let Riggins out. I had assumed that Nikki was still in my bedroom and on my bed. Never assume. Never. I know that. If only I hadn’t assumed.

Once the door was open, she came up behind me quick and was out the back door and on the lam. I saw her a couple times in the next hour as I walked barefoot around the neighborhood, calling her name. She would look up at me as if to acknowledge that I was the nice warm lady she had pushed her butt up against all night, and then she would turn around and bolt away from me again.

Nikki knows who to come to for treats.

Nikki knows who to come to for treats. (Photo by Wendy Newell)

Nikki wasn’t safely back in my arms until 108 hours later. That is a long time for a such a little munchkin of a dog to be out in the wild.

During her absence, I spent the majority of that time walking my neighborhood. My activity tracker has an impressive spike for the mileage and steps taken for those days. Every second of every minute of every one of those 108 hours, all I could think was, “I’ve lost someone’s baby. I’ve destroyed someone’s world.”

I didn’t get many calls about people seeing little Nikki while she was out and about. I think she ended up spending most of her time on a hill that is above a freeway just blocks from my house. Monday morning, I was walking around and got a call from a woman that her husband had seen Nikki from the freeway. That started a full day of friends and I walking, hiking, crawling, and hopping fences on that hill. I saw her once! I had laid down and been still for a couple hours when she showed herself before taking off again. I left when it got dark, leaving a crate with her pillow, food, and water in it. Around 9:30 p.m., I thought I’d go check one more time before her mom’s plane landed at LAX.

Hanging on my lap after being rescued.

Hanging on my lap after being rescued. (Photo by Wendy Newell)

My flashlight hit the crate and there was something inside, then I heard the clinking of dog tags and froze! SHE WAS THERE. SHE WAS IN THE CRATE. After a quick internal debate on whether to approach the crate or lie down and hope she came to me, I tiptoed closer, closed the door, and carried the entire thing to my car. I was shaking and in tears. Nikki, on the other hand, seemed fine and happily sat in my lap on the ride home.

Nikki happy in her mom's arms when she got picked up.

Nikki happy in her mom’s arms when she got picked up. (Photo by Wendy Newell)

Now Nikki is with her mom. Where she belongs. Safe and sound!

I’m sharing this story with you as my weekly Pet Parenting column because I think it’s important. The time Nikki was on the run came with a number of lessons. Never give up faith. Caring friends and family are amazing people to have in your life. Humans are good, and coyotes who don’t eat little teeny tiny dogs are even better!

Have you had a dog run away from you? How did you handle it? Let us know in the comments!

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About the author: Wendy Newell is a former VP of Sales turned Grade A Dog Sitter. After years of stress, she decided to leave the world of “always be closing” to one of tail wags and licks. Wendy’s new career keeps her busy hiking, being a dog chauffeur, picking up poo, sacrificing her bed, and other fur-filled activities. Wendy and her dog, Riggins, take their always-changing pack of pups on adventures throughout the Los Angeles area, where they live together in a cozy, happy home. You can learn more about Wendy, Riggins, and their adventures on Facebook and Instagram.