I’m a pet sitter. That’s not my full time job, but it’s an amazing part time pastime which allows me to see different parts of the world and meet new people. I’m pet sitting at the moment in an extremely picturesque part (are there actually any other parts?) of rural New Zealand.
I have been welcomed into the local community – walking club, yoga, gym sessions in a neighbour’s boat shed – and people are trying to help me make connections as I’m here for a couple of months and it’s relatively isolated.
This is how I find myself setting up a blanket to cover the back of the car and herding my two canine charges into it so we can go on a play date. Yep. Someone knows someone who is also pet sitting in the area, and she’s invited me and the pups over for coffee.
So, despite my misgivings about taking them somewhere new with dogs they don’t know, I’m being sociable and going.
Finding the right driveway took two turnarounds on a narrow winding road.and a little bit of swearing. Thank goodness for laybys and rear sensors. It wasn’t until I got round the second hairpin of the drive and incline reached about 40%* that I remembered my fellow pet sitter saying something about it being pretty steep and to leave the car at the top if I wanted. The road wound down and the gradient increased in approximate proportion to my panic level as I thought about trying to drive back out…but let’s repress that for later.
The drive plateaued to a little parking area about 100m above the main house. The dogs bounded out of the car and started investigating the brand new delights of assorted ferns, grass and mud. I rang the doorbell and bizarrely tried to get the dogs to sit nicely as if they were children and I was trying to get them to make a good impression. When the door did open, of course with the dogs heedlessly running amok behind me, I met a lovely older lady and her dalmation Remy.
This is around the time I realised one of the dogs definitely has a sense of devilment. Both of them are dithering a bit, Molly is giving me a speculative look as I stand on the doormat taking my shoes off, but I’m distracted by social niceties and don’t think anything of it. Until, exactly at the point I get my second shoe off and place my socked foot on the mat, Molly turns tail and takes off up the steep (did I mention it’s steep) driveway which opens straight onto a rural road. So I’m hopping and shuffling my feet back into my well worn Converse, calling Molly’s name, telling Hettie to go and get her sister (she ignores me, naturally) and thinking what an inauspicious start to the play date this is.
Luckily, I found Molly circling the car as if she was contemplating breaking in, and looking at me suspiciously. I cajoled and nudged her back down the hill and eventually got her into the house. Hettie, it should be noted, had no such misgivings and as her sister made a bolt from the unknown she was already halfway up the stairs and snuffling for treats like a well-trained truffle seeker.
Situated with coffee and muffins it was a nice afternoon of chat and relaxation. Remy took to me straight away which weirdly provoked jealousy and strategic placement of bums and muzzles from my two charges. One of whom spends most of the time under the coffee table at home and the other who huffs and gets off the sofa if I get too close.
So, the dogs didn’t so much have a play date as wander round the sofas and glare at each other from across the room. I was quite impressed with my two as one took Remy’s attention by going to sit by his Mum, leaving the other free to sneak in and lay claim to my feet.
The only one unfazed by these shenanigans was Dan – a 16 year old blind, deaf, grey-jowled black Labrador – who at one point I retrieved from the kitchen where he’d come to rest sitting facing the wall with all the patience of a glacier. Apparently his usual position is in front of the pantry so he doesn’t miss out on dinnertime. When he was coaxed back into the living room he stretched out on his beanbag and set to snoring loudly, ignoring the youngsters completely.
As dusk fell across the spectacular view my thoughts turned to dragging myself back up that driveway and I made my excuses. My new friend’s parting words were, ‘if you get stuck, don’t worry, I know someone who can pull you out,’ which set the tone for the ordeal ahead.
I have driven in quite a few places now. I have mastered and been able to anticipate the ‘Doha drift’ – four lanes of traffic cut up in a gliding, heartstopping 5 seconds; found my way round Hollywood in rush hour after a long travel day, explored mountain roads in New Zealand and California…but this? This. Was. Awful.
It was tight bends, a drop on one side, rocks on the other, gravel and mud under the tyres and a steep rise into pitch darkness. With two dogs in the back doing that adorable *we’re going to run to each side of the car because we can tell you’re stressed* thing.
I’ve never bargained so much with a car in my life. Had my wheels spinning, then rolled back while praying nothing strays over an edge, started again trying to get the tyres to bite and a good angle to get up the next section and around the bend. I was so relieved to get to the top, even though I was shaking by the time I got there.
I think, all things considered, any future play dates will be hosted by me.
* My understanding of the percentages in gradients is this:
20% meh, bit of a climb
30% find another gear
40% f*eck why don’t cars come with crampons, I may die