posted by Jeanne Munn Bracken

We have these really good friends who have been part of our lives since 1977. So when they said they were going to Hawaii for three weeks and would I like to pet- and house-sit while they were gone, I said sure! I have borrowed their house in the past when they were away, since I can set up my current writing project, leave it spread around, and tackle it whenever I have time without all those pesky home interruptions. What could go wrong?

Evil laugh here: BWA-HA-HAAA.

Our friends actually have four dogs. Their large back yard is now contained within a six foot stockade fence, so the dogs have lots of room to run. No leashes would be involved. Good. Two of the dogs, purebred labs, always visit their breeder for a few weeks instead of going to a kennel. The other two dogs, though, don't do well in kennels of any kind. Hmmm.

Before they left, I stopped by for instructions. The cat can go out during the day but must be in at night, because there are coyotes in the neighborhood. We tested their Ethernet with my laptop, and it worked fine. We agreed to keep the outside light off to discourage Halloween trick-or-treaters. I could lower the front room blinds to fake "nobody home." All set.

The dogs had certainly met us before, and their exuberance was reassuring. I didn't realize then that every arrival, every mealtime, every opportunity to go outdoors, every opportunity to go back inside, every ring of the doorbell, every knock, every alarm clock, every falling leaf--got the same reaction. The "boys", as they are collectively called, are a boxer (full-sized) and some Heinz-57 hybrid consisting of a chihuahua's head, possibly the body of a brindle whippet, and the shape of a dachshund. They have a great deal of energy. As a result, it was unlikely I would see much of their tabby cat, who has been terrorized by the boys enough already.

My husband helped me haul my project, clothes, and lots of reading material into their house. Then I was on my own.

We settled in fairly well--as soon as I understood that we would be working on their schedule, not mine. No snooze alarms for them. Up and at 'em. I learned to get their breakfast set up while they were outside barking. Every entry into the house involved a major scramble, nails clacking on the tile floor, sliding around corners, lunging, diving, barking, bouncing off walls and finally a moment's peace as they settled into their respective cages for a biscuit. Frankly, it was exhausting.

During my stay the "boys" and I watched the Red Sox grand season finale curled up on the couch, and even the elusive cat appeared the first night, sitting on the back of the couch and then on the arm and then on my lap. The "boys" didn't chase her away. She liked that.

I was looking forward to having a queen-sized bed all to myself without the usual gurgling and snorting from my spouse. Right. I had no objection to the dogs sleeping with me, as was their custom--our dogs always slept with us, which was a bit crowded but cozy.

It turned out that, to the "boys", sleeping is a contact sport. Which means that no matter where I settled on the bed, I ended up pushed over to the edge and more than once I awoke with my feet actually on the floor. Shifting them was impossible. Besides which, the cat decided it was safe to sleep with us, too--on my pillow.

I decided that the cat should just stay inside and then I wouldn't have to worry about her. That policy worked fine until my friends' local son accidentally let her out. I didn't miss her until bedtime. It's a big house, so I didn't worry. Around 2 am, though, when I realized I still hadn't seen her, I went looking. Not indoors. I stepped out onto the deck. Nothing. I went back to bed, then felt guilty. Back down and outside. I heard "meow" from somewhere. Oh, crap. On the porch roof. So there I was, middle of the night, in nightgown. No window upstairs to let her in. No ladder. After half an hour and various attempts on my part to lure her down, she finally leaped to the deck rail and then sauntered into the house.

Okay, after that we were all set. The cat made no escape attempts. The "boys" and I became buddies. All was well.

Until Halloween. Lowered lights didn't daunt the trick-or-treaters, and the blinds got stuck in the open position. So the goblins came. They rang the doorbell for 30 seconds at a time.They knocked. They pounded. I ignored them--but it wasn't easy. With each goblin arrival, the "boys" went into action--tearing from room to room, barking, howling, nails clacking. I felt like I'd moved into Baskerville Hall.

We survived. A couple of days later our friends came home, rested and tanned. Next week I'll explain why nobody will ever go barefoot around their house again.

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