A photo of Oreo my mom sent me while I was on my honeymoon.

For me, the hardest thing about going on a trip, even if it’s just for a weekend, is leaving my pets behind. It makes me feel sick. And it’s not because I’ll miss them — though I will — it’s because there’s no way for me to explain to them that I’ll return. I’m not abandoning them.

Bo and Arrow
Bo and Arrow, our house cats

So when my husband and I decided to spend 10 days on a tropical island for our belated honeymoon, one of my first thoughts was: “What are we going to do about Oreo, Bo and Arrow?” (My dog and two cats.)

When we go on short trips, we simply fill up the cat’s water bowls and food bowls, leave a toilet lid up, just in case they knock over the water bowl, and leave them at the house. We then bring our dog, Oreo, to a trusted kennel. But I think 10 days is a long time for Oreo to stay in a kennel, especially because Oreo is a “rescue dog” with some behavioral problems and confidence issues. (We’ve met with local trainers about these things.)

Oreo
Oreo, our dog

Then my mom came to the rescue — as she often does. She generously offered to stay at our house and watch all three pets for the entire duration of our vacation — throwing her own life into disorder in the process, I imagine. It was the biggest, best Christmas gift I could have received — the peace of mind that my beloved pets were comfortable at home and being taken care of while I was off on my honeymoon.

Now, my mom doesn’t live with any pets. By choice, she hasn’t had a pet for at least 10 years. Before that, I lived with her and owned a cat named Spiderman. Don’t ask.

Oreo afraid simply because I grabbed his collar to make him sit in a certain spot for a photo! Last time I grabbed his collar, he had a flea bath. So I guess it makes sense.
Oreo afraid simply because I grabbed his collar to make him sit in a certain spot for a photo! Last time I grabbed his collar, he had a flea bath. So I guess it makes sense.

So understandably, I was curious about how my mom got along with my pets, which can be a handful, even for me. My black-and-white pit bull mix, Oreo, takes a while to warm to new people. And at 3.5 years old, he’s got the energy of .. well, a 3.5-year-old pit bull mix. He’s especially fond of sprinting, jumping, tugging on rope and chewing vigorously on toys.

Then there are my cats, Bo and Arrow. Arrow is the eldest of the crew at 7.5 years old. I adopted him from the Bangor Humane Society when I realized I needed company in my first apartment. I think Arrow is the most common-looking cat I can think of. He’s grey and white. Medium length hair. Green eyes. I’ve seen his mirror image on Cats of Instagram many times.

Bo, front.
Bo, front. Arrow, back.

Bo is another story. He’s a “special” house cat called a Bengal. I purchased him from a breeder in Florida in 2011, making him 4.5 years old. He looks like a small leopard with an eating problem. He doesn’t like to be held by anyone. He spooks easily. Never purrs. And he only likes to be pet in a certain vigorous way. He also meows — a lot. It sometimes sounds like he’s dying.

So that’s what I left my mom with.

I also left her a letter that included instructions and tips on how to care for the three terrors, which you can read here.

Understandably, I wanted to know how the whole experience went. I wish I could have placed a hidden camera somewhere in my house, but I don’t think my mom would have stood for that. So I created the following survey. It’s a joke. Sort of. But if you’re an overbearing pet owner like me, feel free to use the following survey on your pet sitters!

(The following survey was sent to my mother via email. She filled it out knowing full well that I would likely post it on my blog.)

Official Pet Sitter Survey

Pet name: Oreo; Bo; Arrow

Pet sitter name: Mom

Duration of watch: From Wednesday, Dec. 30th through Sunday, January 9th (11 nights)

Location of watch:  XXXXXXXX Road, XXXXXXX – home of Aislinn Sarnacki and Derek Runnells

The following survey is organized based on the Maslow Hierarchy of Needs, a theory that was originally designed for humans but can easily be applied to pets, as many of them believe they’re humans anyway. The Maslow Hierarchy of Needs is typically represented as a pyramid, with the most basic and essential needs at the bottom. We will start with those and work our way up to self-actualization, which is admittedly difficult for a pet, especially a pet missing his or her family.

 PHYSIOLOGICAL

  1. How did the pet eat? Were there any food-related mishaps, such as excessive begging?
A photo of Oreo my mom sent me while I was on my honeymoon.
A photo of Oreo my mom sent me while I was on my honeymoon.

Oreo ate well right from the beginning, although he would stand and watch me until I was out of sight (every single time) before gobbling up his food.  Bo and Arrow also ate well, and did not beg or create havoc to get fed.  Perfect Gentlecats.

  1. How did the pet drink? Were there any water-related mishaps, such as drinking from the toilet?

All three pets drink from a shared bowl, and that went very well.  No mishaps, no playing in the water, no toilet drinking to my knowledge.

  1. How did the pet poop and pee (let’s not sugarcoat it)? Were there any related problems?

Bathroom duties were also perfect.  No mishaps.  Although I had no idea two kitties pooped and peed  SO MUCH.  Cleaning the litter boxes was a full time job.  Oreo, on the other hand, figured out pretty quickly, that it was much more convenient to do his business on the dirt road in front of the house, so he didn’t have to walk in crusty snow, so scooping poop out of the road into the snowbank so as not to fill my tire treads with dog excrement was an unexpected daily task.

  1. How did the pet sleep? Where and for how long? Did he or she disrupt your own sleep?

Oreo slept on his pet-bed downstairs.  Every night he would slowly come up the stairs, look around the corner to see who was in the bed (not HER again..), and then turn around and go back down to sleep.  He slept all night, and got up when I did at 5:00 a.m.  The kitties slept in a variety of places, from the back of the couches downstairs to the back of the couch in the sitting area upstairs.  No one attempted to sleep with me, at least not after the first half-hearted try that was met with a “not going to happen”.

  1. How was the pet’s overall physical health, in your opinion? Any concerns?

All three were healthy all during my stay, although the first morning, very early, I heard Oreo retching downstairs and by the time I was awake enough to react, the unmistakable GUSH of liquid vomit hitting tile was heard.  I rushed down and searched EVERYWHERE, several times, but couldn’t find anything on the floor (or furniture).  Either I was dreaming (not) or Oreo the Gentledog cleaned up after himself.  Yuck.

Arrow also had one little upchuck during my stay, easily cleaned up and not repeated.

SAFETY

  1. How did the pet act around you? Scared or timid? Happy and secure? Did it change over time?

Oreo was definitely timid for quite some time, especially when I first came through the door each evening. He started out barking at the door and then would run to a corner and sit there shaking, until I coaxed him out or left him alone long enough to come out on his own. After a few days he would bark at the door as I was coming in, and then run to his bed and lay there with his tail wagging. Toward the end of my stay, he would just act normal and greet me when I came in. The odd thing was how difficult it was to get Oreo to go outside to go to the bathroom,,even after being in the house for 12 hours!.  He wouldn’t go out until I thought of jingling his leash so he would assume he was going for a walk; then he got smart to that trick and I had to pretend to hook it to his collar to get him to move off his bed. THEN he figured that out and I actually had to attach his leash until we got to the door.  It was only in the last 3 or 4 days that he would actually just go out with me without coaxing.  Not sure what he thought I was going to do to him if he went out prior to that….not let him back in??

The cats couldn’t care less if I was there or not.

  1. Did the pet’s possessions – e.g. toys, bed – cause any issues?

Nope.

LOVE AND BELONGING

  1. Did you show the pet affection and attention? To what degree? Feel free to use a scale of 1-10.

I alternated between making a lot of Oreo or leaving him alone, depending on what I thought would make him most comfortable. I think he knows I really like him in general, and frequently paid him attention…running up and down the road with him for exercise, talking to him like a crazy woman (I normally don’t talk out loud to myself), and petting him when he was near enough to do so.  I would give me a 7 (for effort if nothing else) on a normal scale, although if you compare me to his mom Aislinn, I would be at a -3!!

The cats couldn’t care less if I was there or not.

  1. Did the pet show you affection and attention? To what degree? Feel free to use a scale of 1-10.

Oreo was cautiously affectionate by about half way through my stay…occasionally laying on the back of the couch beside or behind where I was sitting. Once he attempted to lap my face from that perch, to another “Not going to happen.”  I would give Oreo a 4 on the affection scale..he was mostly in “waiting for mom and dad to come home” mode, and tolerated me..I think even learned to trust me.  Maybe he even likes me.

The cats couldn’t care less if I was there or not.

  1. Do you feel you became friends with the pet?

Yes, I have always liked Oreo and as skittish as he is when his parents aren’t home for him to protect, I believe he senses that.

The cats didn’t consider becoming my friend; they co-habitated with me; used me for food, water, and fresh litter.

  1. Did the pet make any other friends or connections?

No.

ESTEEM

  1. How was the pet’s confidence, in your opinion? Did that change?

Oreo lacked confidence for several days, but gained more and more as time went by.  At the end of my stay, we were each completely comfortable with the other.

  1. Did you take any actions to boost the pet’s confidence or sense of achievement?

Indeed I did.  I expressed excitement to see him when returning in the evening; I praised him every time he went outside and did his business; I made a BIG deal out of him responding immediately to my “Come here, Oreo” command, regardless of where he was; I gave him treats (sometimes for no reason…just trying to win him over); I sat on the floor and petted him when he was nervous, even pulling him on to my lap and snuggling when he was shaking, early on in the visit.

The cats have all the confidence in the world already.  No need for boosting.

  1. Did you feel respected by the pet? Explain.

Absolutely. Oreo needed coaxing to go out, but not because he was being naughty.  And his obedience while outside was perfect.  Overall, his behavior was appropriately submissive and friendly.

The cats demand respect, they don’t feel giving it even applies to them.

SELF ACTUALIZATION

  1. Did you and the pet engage in any games or activities that you found interesting or creative?

Just with Oreo…playing with his toy inside and racing up and down the road outside.  He also kept me company while shoveling snow a couple of evenings.

  1. Did any circumstances arise in which you and the pet had to problem solve?

Only getting Oreo to go outside for the first half of my stay, which is described above.

  1. Did the pet seem to show an acceptance of facts?

Yes..no back-talking or debating from any of the three of them, whether they agreed with me or not, contrary to their mother during most of her growing up years.

4. And lastly, did looking after this pet require you to think outside the box, get creative or change your thinking in any way?

Actually, it required me to think inside the (litter) box.  Just kidding.  In truth, because I don’t have pets, it required me to change my typical thought processes and think about their well-being on a regular basis….how long was I gone, did they have enough to eat, was the litter box clean, did they have water….  I would add that it reinforced my decision not to have pets right now, when I am home so little, while reminding me why people do have pets.  Oreo was wonderful company and made me feel safe (potential intruders would assume his bite was as bad as his bark!).  I miss him.

Aislinn Sarnacki

Aislinn Sarnacki is a Maine outdoors writer and the author of three Maine hiking guidebooks including “Family Friendly Hikes in Maine.” Find her on Twitter and Facebook @1minhikegirl. You can also...