I didn’t grow up with animals. With a mother allergic to cats and a father adverse to dogs, we were a pet-free household for my entire childhood.
I was 13 when my brother was born, so I became skilled in soothing tantrums and changing diapers over translating barks.
Then, this summer, a friend asked me to dog-sit for his chocolate lab, Seamus, and Jack Russell terrier, MacKenzie. He and his wife had a vacation planned and would be gone eight days.
“Dog sit? Heck yeah!” I thought, imagining myself enjoying a beer on their beautiful back deck and snuggling with the dogs in their lovely, equipped-with-central-air home. I faltered momentarily, thinking I owed them some honesty: “I’ve never dog sat before. Actually, I’ve never had a dog.”
They assured me it wasn’t very hard.
9:30 p.m. Sunday — As I stumble into the house, Seamus and MacKenzie attack. I tell myself they are glad to see me, not enraged I have appeared in place of their mom and dad. I give them a treat and take them out, then give them another treat. Operation Spoil The Dogs So They Love Me begins.
10:30 p.m. — I lead MacKenzie and Seamus into the basement, shut off the light and put up the child gate that blocks the door. Dog-sitting? Easy as pie.
10:31 p.m. — Barks erupt from the top of the stairs, where MacKenzie is determined to escape the confines of the gate.
10:33 p.m. — The barks morph into whining, and I falter. What if something is wrong? What if this isn’t how bedtime goes? I let her up from the basement and she happily bounds alongside me into the bedroom, curls up on top of the bedspread and lays down.
4:43 a.m. Monday — I feel a nudge. And then I feel paws. And then the paws are pulling back the comforter and MacKenzie is trying to stand on my chest. Bleary-eyed, I get up. I feed them both and leash them to venture out into the pitch-black darkness so they can do their business.
9:45 a.m. — I have been up for five hours. I tell myself a grammar-related knock-knock joke in my head and giggle out loud. Help.
9 p.m. — I don’t even try the crate tonight; MacKenzie curls up in my bed. I can’t keep my eyes open for more than a few pages of my book.
3:45 a.m. Tuesday — MacKenzie paws. I fight back, pretending to get up but gently shutting the door behind her as she trots out of the bedroom.
5 a.m. — Seamus is ready to get up now, too, which I know because I can hear his deep barks from the top of the basement stairs. MacKenzie chimes in, and I roll out of bed to begin the day.
6:30 p.m. — MacKenzie and I set out for a walk. (Seamus waits until I return and we set out separately, because, at least for some things, I know my limits.) I forget a plastic bag for her poop, and silently pray the neighbor is either extremely accepting or not home.
9 p.m. Wednesday — My friend emails to check in and suggests I give MacKenzie a treat and close her crate’s gate to encourage her to stay downstairs. I try this. She barks. She barks so much, in fact, that I am entirely sure I don’t know how to discipline dogs and am killing her. I let her up the stairs and she hops on my bed. She throws up on the comforter.
5:40 a.m. Friday — As the dogs and I head out into the rain, MacKenzie’s leash slips from my hand. She bounds down the driveway and into the street, and I take off running faster than I think I can, with all 100-plus pounds of Seamus — who thinks this is a great game — bounding next to me. MacKenzie pauses to sniff a storm drain and I lunge for her leash. Happy Friday, everyone.
6 a.m. Saturday — Joke’s on you, dogs: I can fall back asleep today! I feed the dogs and take them out in a fabulous mood.
10 a.m. Sunday — After another 6 a.m. wake-up call and a quick nap, I take MacKenzie out for a walk. I put up the garage door and am pulling the storm door shut behind me when MacKenzie lurches on her leash and knocks over a beautiful glass vase onto the concrete floor.
10:01 a.m. — I pick MacKenzie up, terrified she’s already somehow gotten glass in her paws. I clean up the glass the best I can and write a profusely apologetic letter to my friend.
3 p.m. — Seamus demands dinner by trying to jump on me as I sit on the couch. I feed them both and let them out one last time, and I’m actually a little sad to go.
4:30 p.m. — As I settle back into my own apartment, I am pretty sure I couldn’t handle a dog on my own. But as I catch up on a few TV shows, I sort of miss Seamus’ quiet sighs — and maybe even MacKenzie, too.
Sarah Chain is the books editor and a multiplatform journalist in the features department. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.