The Pet Sitter’s Broken Heart

I’ve been quiet here lately, in part because business was very brisk last week. Looonnng days. But also because I have been feeling rather heartbroken for the last week or so.

One of the most difficult parts of my job (and the job of anyone who works with animals and loves them) is dealing with those who care less for the animals for whom they serve as guardian that we would like. While straight abuse of animals is awful and horrifying to witness, it is also reportable. You can do – or try to do – something about it. What is almost harder to handle are the people who just seem not to care about what their dog or cat needs. The people who think of their pets as decorations, get angry when the animal actually has real needs (like play and exercise, love, health care) and find meeting those needs inconvenient. Or people who put their own egos ahead of the needs, and even the life, of the creatures in their care. I am grateful that I don’t encounter this terribly often, but there have been a few lately who have simply broken my heart.

Whenever I interview someone for a job with me I ask them about this. How will you deal with the client who doesn’t provide care at a level that we would like to see? When you ask yourself if this particular animal is better off in this home than in a shelter where they may be killed, can you live with the answer? How will you cope with the client who refuses or perhaps can’t afford tests needed to provide a diagnosis and proper care for the dog or cat in your care? Or just doesn’t listen to you when you tell them that healthy cats do not throw up one or two times daily.

There are things I will not do as a pet sitter. Activities in which I will not participate. And I have no qualms about reporting what is truly abuse. I have no qualms either, about making suggestions, about trying to help make a situation better, about hooking people up with resources if they need them. I risked alienating a very good client of mine earlier this year when he wanted to provide a potential pet with an environment that was dangerous for that creature; I told him I would no longer pet sit for him if he proceeded. And happily, he decided to provide that pet with a proper and safe habitat. Had he not, however, I would have made good on my promise. I will not participate in practices that hurt the creatures I am there to care for.

Butterscotch belly rub


But there are times when I have to live with the fact that I am not every animal’s guardian, and that I cannot make everyone care for these amazing creatures as I would. There are times when I simply want to take an animal away from their person, and it breaks my heart to leave a dog or cat with someone who does not truly value them. Confidentiality prevents me from telling the story here, but there have been a number of sleepless, tear-filled nights in the last week, and lots of prayer that all goes better than I fear it will.

There are many joys in caring for animals. Many new friends – you’ll see a couple of them on Wednesday’s post. Lots of laughter and exercise and people who are grateful for what we do for them and their animals. One of my clients, who has had a rough road for the last few months, sent me a very nice gift card to one of my favorite restaurants today just to thank me for helping to care for their animals while they were dealing with other difficult circumstances. So there is balance and joy as well as sadness and heartbreak. I am more aware of the heartbreak right now, but the joy will return.

“Compassion for animals,” writes Arthur Schopenhauer in The Basis of Morality, “is intimately associated with goodness of character, and it may be confidently asserted that he who is cruel to animals cannot be a good man.” (Or woman, we might add.) Seems right to me after living through the last couple weeks. Those that I have witnessed lately who lack compassion for the animals also seem to lack it for the people around them, and probably for themselves as well. It is a sad way to live, and a sad path to walk. Choose compassion…it is the better road.

“For me, I am driven by two main philosophies: know more today about the world than I knew yesterday and lessen the suffering of others. You’d be surprised how far that gets you.”
Neil deGrasse Tyson


14 thoughts on “The Pet Sitter’s Broken Heart

  1. My sweets I send you my hugs…the reason I cannot at the moment return to vol work..not the shelter itself but the people who leave their animals in such a state it makes you want to do them harm…all I can hope is that the ones you worry for find a better life somehow…indeed those who lack compassion for animals are always to me suspicious humans at best…loves Fozziemum xxx

    1. So true, Ellie. Luckily to good folks outnumber the bad ones, at least in my world. That helps.

  2. You hit a nerve here. The severe abuse can be reported but the people who have animals and don’t spend any time with them bothers me. I have a step relative that professes love of cats but he isn’t home most of the time. I cat sat for him once when he lived nearby. The first day I went to the house, the litter box (covered) had easily 2 weeks worth of “stuff” in it. The poor cat couldn’t even get in without stepping on something and it stank big time. I took off the lid, cleaned out the box completely and left a very nice note explaining that this could lead to litter box avoidance. He never asked me to sit again. He has since moved. His roommate had to have his cat put down because he was on a 3-month trip. He got another kitten who spends most of it’s time by itself. Breaks my heart. The question — is the cat better of there than in a shelter? I don’t know. Do young cats prefer some level of company? Alone or in an overcrowded shelter? I don’t know the answer.

    1. Oh Kate, I’m so sorry. That kind of stuff is so hard.Putting a cat down because you have a 3 month trip…seriously??? I am so grateful that most vets in my area will not do what are called “convenience euthanasias.” And the question about whether the animals are better off in the shelter or not are so hard to answer. Probably yes sometimes…So sad.

      1. The cat was ill and there was no one to care for it. I don’t know if it was THAT ill. He was a sweety and younger than my old cat. I remind my cats all the time about how good they have it. They yawn in response.

  3. I live in redneck land and my heart is broken on a daily basis. Dogs left to run loose, no vaccines, tied to a post or chained. I love our remaining dog and my George Bailey cat to pieces. At one time we had three dogs and two cats and they gave of themselves without stinting. Thank you for this post.

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