“We’re going out of town for a wedding. Any chance you and Maggie could come down and doggie-sit for us over the weekend?”
It was a simple enough request, especially considering that the person asking was my friend and Maggie’s breeder. Janet had given Maggie to me as a very generous house-warming gift the prior year, so I was more than happy to help her out. Besides, the five dogs were Maggie’s parents and littermates, so it would be a nice visit for them all. I was sure I could handle six Scottish Terriers …
A 45-minute drive down the beautiful central California coastline and then inland for a dozen miles brought us to the house. Maggie became more and more excited the closer we got, shoving her nose against the car vents to breathe in the familiar scents of her birth hometown. I pulled into the driveway, opened the door, and she dashed up to the house, sniffing the door crack and dancing in eager anticipation on the welcome mat.
Our arrival was chaotic, with the expected cacophony of loud barking following the ringing of the doorbell. Upon entering the house, Maggie was mobbed by all the other dogs, each having to sniff her thoroughly in greeting. She sat contritely and suffered through it all, showing subservient doggie etiquette to the pack. I hadn’t a clue that this was all an act on her part, because she was always contrite with the cats at home as well. Of course, it was probably their sharp claws that kept her in place, as her nose had occasionally been on the receiving end of those.
Janet and her husband left early the next morning, and I was faced with the first of my three-day stint. It can be quite boring sitting around someone else’s house with nothing to do. There are only so many old movies a person can watch, and the lighting was so dim at night that it was difficult to read. Wine helped, but how many glasses were too many?
It was a challenge at first to tell the dogs apart, seeing as how they were all black and rarely sat still long enough for me to get a good look at them. By day two, I’d managed to be able to identify each of them if I looked carefully while they milled around my feet. I had to be able to tell them apart so as not to overlook or over-treat an individual when passing out vitamins and dog biscuits.
All of the females in the group had one ear that tipped. It obviously ran through the bloodline of Rhianna, the bitch, whose left ear flopped over at the tip. Her female puppies had right-ear tipping as well, including my Maggie and her sister, Piper, so the girls were identifiable. (Piper’s ear eventually did go up, but Maggie’s never did.)
MacClaren, the stud, was a sturdy fellow and slower and wider than his puppies. He also sported a wider blue collar. The male offspring also turned out to be easy to identify, as Whizzard’s ears stuck straight up while Bear’s remained down in permanent puppy stage, even though he was well over a year old.
Now that I had them all straight, I could settle in and enjoy their individual personalities. It was about this time I realized that my Maggie was the true ringleader of the group. No wonder Janet had gifted her to me! If there was mischief going on, my sweet little girl was right in the thick of it. After a day of sitting on the couch watching the antics of the pack, it was clear to me that we could all use some serious exercise and a change of venue.
“I should take them for a walk,” I thought. “Even better, why not take them all at the same time since there are double leashes available?”
I love a challenge, especially if it’s a good one, so I hooked all six up in pairs like a dog sled team and started out.
Scotties weigh around 25 pounds, so I didn’t think this through very well. Six of them would be 150 pounds of stubborn dog on leash, pulling a 135-pound, 5-foot-2 woman. Add to that the possibility that each would try to go in a different direction — what could possibly go wrong?
We hadn’t gone very far, about 100 feet in fact, when one of the middle dogs pulled off to the side to pee. Easy peasy. Continuing down the block, we rounded the corner, and a second one pulled over to poop. That was a bit challenging, as I had to pick the deposit up with a plastic baggy while hanging on to six wound-up dogs.
Another 30 feet and, at the next corner, one of the boys wrapped his leash around the stop-sign pole. As soon as I got him untangled, Rhianna slipped her collar and ran across a wide street toward a man walking his dog. Luckily there were no cars coming.
I yelled at the guy to grab Rhianna while I hung onto the rest of the dogs, who were all barking and trying to follow their mother/mate. The man ignored me!
At just that moment, an animal-control truck happened to come down the street. What were the chances of that? Seeing my dilemma, the officer pulled over and, without a word, grabbed Rhianna and put her back in the collar. (There is a maximum number of dogs one is allowed in the city, and since I was over the limit, I was blathering about them not all being mine, but that I was just walking them.) Anyway, he just got back into his truck and drove off, still without saying anything.
Naturally, after less than two blocks, the walk was over for me. I turned back around the corner and headed toward home.
Just as we did that, the man and his dog from the other side of the street crossed over to go down the same short block. Rhianna slipped her collar AGAIN and ran after them! Unable to follow her, I made the decision to continue back to the house with the rest of the dogs, repeatedly yelling “COME!” to Rhianna over my shoulder the whole time. Since we were now in a quiet subdivision rather than on the wide boulevard, I figured it was safe enough. I had to get the rest of the dogs back to the house before going after Rhianna.
If matters couldn’t be more embarrassing, we had to pass by Janet’s mother’s house with all this commotion going on. I was afraid her Scotties would bark, and she’d see me. I loved her “r”-rolling brogue and the way she talked to me on the phone, beginning each call with, “Hello Marrry, Marrrci, whatever the hell yer name is …” but I wasn’t looking forward to hearing it at that moment.
We made it past mom’s house and, to my great relief, Rhianna came running up just as we got back to Janet’s. By then, all the leashes were twisted together. One at a time, I unhooked the dogs and shoved them into the house. Then I threw the whole tangled mess of leashes after them; I’d sort them out later. It was time for a glass of wine.
The walk had lasted about 20 minutes, but I was exhausted. I spent the rest of the weekend on the couch, reading, sipping wine, and watching movies while the dogs tore around the backyard or napped at my feet.
When Janet and her husband returned, I fessed up to what had happened. Janet told me that, due to chafing, Rhianna’s collar was intentionally loose! I wish I’d known that before they left, but then neither of us thought I’d take them all for a walk. At least the dogs and I had a great adventure that ended well!
Author’s note: Sadly, Maggie passed away this July from sudden and acute renal failure. She left such a hole in my heart and in the house.
Read more about dog walking:
About the author: Marci Kladnik, her four rescue cats, and one rescue dog live in a small town with no stoplights or mail delivery. A retired graphic designer and technical writer, she turned her talents to championing feral cats in 2007. Involved in TNR and feral rescue, she sat on the Board of Directors of Catalyst for Cats from 2007-2013 and in her spare time, trapped and fostered local feral cats and kittens. Her award-winning bi-weekly cat column ran for seven years in three newspapers, and she is an award-winning photographer and President of the Cat Writers’ Association. Past columns appear on www.catalystforcats.org.