Without any sign, suddenly all four dogs pulled hard their leashes. With all their strength they pulled to the right into the field. They almost entangle my shoulder wrist and I had to put all my strength to not the dragged with. The little piglet and his mother fled deeper into the field grunting loudly. “Calm down all four of you”, I said and quickly changed over two ledges into my right hand. “You guys know that’s not what the farmers like”, I talked to Po, Ty, Lo and Mo, pulled them back in line, straightened my pose and walked back to the house. Done I thought and sighed deeply after I’d closed the gate behind me. Po, Ty, Lo and Mo stood relaxed in the drive way waiting for me to unleash their gears. Po and Ty came first because of the muzzles they had to wear. I can imagine that it sounds as if they really were dangerous dogs. Truth is that they just were natural hunters and had not had a properly trained while young. Which I wasn’t wondering about because this particular house sit was the most strange and energy consuming experience I’ve had, since I started. So here is my story.
My very first official house sitter assignment brought me to India or more specific to Goa and was kind of a quick shot just after I had registered on a house sitter website. Frankly spoken, I only choose it because it promised warm and sunny weather naturally. After six weeks in the German cold of winter, I just felt the need to get back into a warm country. After living almost all past year in the Caribbean, it certainly knew by then that I’m truly my best self when living in a tropical or at least stable warm climate.
And although I’ve been a house sitter before, this was a bit different because I neither did know the owner nor the pets. So while looking for my first official house sit, I looked at the actual offers and this particular offer had an “urgent” banner on the right upper corner. I clicked on it and a few pictures, a short description as well as the requested time popped up on my screen. Requested was a so called “long term” house sit in a tiny village on Goa, a property with a guest house, garden and four dogs. Well I thought, after I’d been frequently travelling last year from The Netherlands to Aruba, back to Germany, back to Aruba, again back to The Netherlands and then again to Germany, I just got a bit tired of it and the idea staying a bit longer in one place attracted me. Therefore, this might fit I thought and also would create some much needed time to reflect and continue writing. Beside that, I never had been travelled to India before and this would add another country to my list of countries I’ve been visiting. I read the description with nothing unusual in it, to take care of the four dogs and maintain the house. Open for a stay up until one year, but this was optional. Sure it has to do with visa regulations as well I figured. The urgent banner implied though that the owner desperately was looking for a person to help out. So I wasn’t surprised to find an email response right the next day in my inbox after I’d applied. The owner, a woman, was thrilled that I am German as it turned out that she was too, but had been living in India for more than a decade. Right away she asked me when I could be there. Oops this was quick I thought. Then I remembered the “urgent” banner and it made sense to me then. However, I still hadn’t applied for a visa neither booked a flight, because I didn’t had decided yet if I wanted to go at all. I first wanted to see some more pictures of the house and animals and also requested a phone call discuss some more details. No problem and with the different time zones in mind, we set up a call the next day. Until then she wanted to send me some more pictures of the house, me asking especially for the bed- and bathroom.
By the next day I had received pictures and from what I could see it looked ok, considering that we talking about India. Relatively modern in a sense of the 80ths, no dishwasher or other nowadays appliances, but an build-in system for clean water – which is of great value as you probably can imagine -, washing machine and even a dryer. Which the owner explained to me was mostly used in the rain season when humidity was high and clothes never really dried up. It looked relatively clean as far as you can say that from a picture. The connectivity during our call was not that good but considering the distance doable. The owner explained that she had taken on an assignment as nanny in Germany and that she had to leave in about two weeks. Right now she was busy to let repair some things on the house, so that everything would be fine when I arrived. I told her that I’m not really sure if I wanted to stay longer than 3 months because of visa regulations and also because of my book and in which direction it would develop. It seemed to be no problem for her and at that point I didn’t realize how urgent she was looking for someone to take over, so that she could go away working. At that point I wasn’t aware that she urgently needed the money and she couldn’t care less who was coming if just anybody would do. By the end of the call she told me that she’d prefer me – a single person – rather than a couple, with whom she was in contact as well, but I had to decide. I agreed to take the assignment, but only if I can get a visa in one week. We closed the conversation with the understanding that I’d call her as soon as I’ve the visa and flight booked. Or inform her otherwise, but not later than a week so that she also would’ve enough time to contact the couple she had been in contact with as well. Fair enough I thought and started organizing.
All worked out just fine and a week and a half later, after twelve and a half hours flying and 2 transits I landed on Goa. Masses of travellers tired and moody from a long flight searched their way to the luggage belt, passing by plenty of security check points with armed guards and police, unfriendly looking and all up guard. After 16 hours travelling I meanwhile was used to wait in long lines, shuffling my hand baggage and suitcase from one to another security check points, while listening to the chit-chat around me. An hour later I finally walked out of the airport building, looking for a shop to buy cigarettes and a lighter. Luckily there was a little kiosk which sold international cigarettes and finally I lit up my first cigarette. Having a cigarette has become kind of a ritual for me, as it gives me a moment to feel the vibe of the country and observe the new environment I am in. While searching for my pick-up, I looked around. But beside families with loads of bags, suitcases and cap-drivers walking around looking to get themselves a passenger, I didn’t see much. All seemed a bit unorganized. Cars stopped shortly on the street, people hastily stepped out of the car and packed their belongings to quickly melt up in the mass. In second line cars slowly drove by on their search for new arrivals to pick up. That whole scenario reminded me on my arrival in Egypt a few years back. Kind of similar confusion, but as I’d learned back then, it just looked like chaos to a foreigner. Certainly there is system, what a new arrival just can’t see or understand. As I couldn’t see my pick-up yet I checked my phone for connectivity with no success. After I finished my cigarette I started walking to the driveway hoping that someone finally would turn up. Indeed, about ten minutes later a woman stepped out of a white van and waved at me. Ok, white as white in original colour, now more like dusty grey and it looked pretty much used to its limits. She quickly moved towards me, looked a bit stressed for my liking and already called my name I nodded in agreement and started walking her direction. She turned and hurried back to the van gesturing me that I’d to move fast because – so I learned later – private cars only had 5 minutes permission to stop on the sideway. Finally we were seated in the back of the car next to each other driving out of the airport. The driver and another guy on the passenger seat said Hello, turned their heads away and went on with their conversation. Same did the owner, she started talking right away, telling me that Goa in particular was different to the rest of India and the locals where much friendly, open minded and talkative. That’s why the guy had asked her to be allowed to bring a friend, so that he’d had someone to talk to during the one and a half hour drive back to the small village of Calvin, where she lived. Just arrived and still dealing with the time difference, climate change and long hours awake, I’d have preferred less talk and more time to look around. But right away she told me that she had to go to the next village this afternoon running some errands. “I think it is best you just jump on the back of my scooter, because the jeep – which surely was a model from the very first series of jeeps ever manufactured –, is not driving that well and is dirty because Mo – one of the four dogs – had vomit in the passenger seat the day before” she said. A bit overwhelmed with all that talking she did and astonished by what she just said, I nodded and decided to follow and see, would be the best strategy for the moment.
“No time to refresh”, she said and jumped out of the van, as we stopped in front of a wooden gate at the end of a sandy little road. The driver heaved the suitcase out of the trunk, but refused to go inside and so we had to haul my 30 kg suitcase into the yard and further to the rear end of the premises to the guest house. The dogs barked wildly as we arrived and the owner cautiously opened the gate, just so far that we could slip through.
Once we were inside, all four dogs came close and did what dogs do, sniffing on me and my suitcase and followed us through the grass to the so called guest house. To my surprise her comment was, “This went well, they like you it seems”. Surprised I looked at her and said “why wouldn’t they?” And again that was the start of a thirty minute blast of hers about other house sitters she had, whom the dogs aren’t ok with. And generally local workers, such as a gardener, refused to come over! What left me with the thought, that it really must be hard and a huge task for that owner to find reliable house sitters that take care of her dogs, four dogs I’d just met and they did not had acted strangely to me at all – so far -. Or did I miss something here?
The wooden guest house turned out to be a single spacy room, no air condition or water supply, just a room with four windows and a small terrace in front, at the outer end of the premises. I didn’t bother me much as I was supposed to move into the main house once the owner had left in a few days from now. I only asked where to shower and she led me to a small tiny shack halfway between the main house and the guest house, made out of stone with a wooden door. In there was a showerhead with drain, which also functioned as toilet and a small sink on the right side next to the door. Not often used, the whole shack was taken over by insects, ants, frogs and other insects. No light, just the flashlight you’d bring with you and which you would hang on a spike in the wall. Nature pure, almost as camping I thought to myself. I realized that I was in India not in the Caribbean. So sure there were differences, especially because her property was located at the end of the tiny village next to open fields and walkways. Nature pure, wasn’t that what I was looking for? I got interrupted in my thoughts by hearing my name and saw the owner had been walked to the gate already, gesturing me to hurry up.
She handed me a helmet and jumped on the scooter. Although I am not a big fan of wearing other people helmets mostly for hygienic reasons, afterwards I was glad that I used that one. This lady was driving the same way as she was talking all the time, fast, stressed and reckless. And if you think she would stop talking while driving, no way. She managed to talk that 7 km drive to the next village, without a break! I barely could hear her, with that helmet on and the sound of the scooter, but she didn’t care at all. Bla, bla, bla, bla, bla I started to feel a pain in my neck from holding my head skew. So I told her that I couldn’t hear much of what she was saying her because of the noise and wind and turned my head and looked to the side. Well, for a few moments it worked but on the next corner she could not help herself and started talking again, I just gave up. By the time we arrived all shops were closed due to the usual extended lunch break, usual for warm countries, because it’s just too hot to do anything between noon and 4 pm. She said that we had to wait until shops were open again and I wondered why we had to hurry and drive down here in the first place. But o.k. her turf, she should know what she is doing, I thought. I asked if we then can have lunch and we ended up in a typical India diner, simple but from what she told me good food and the quality – which really is a point in that country – was ok. To my great relief finally some time to relax. The waiter welcomed us and we chose a table. While she placed the order I noticed that she wasn’t really friendly and hadn’t has good manners. She just was rude and bossed the waiters around. Much to my dislike, although I know from experience that in some countries being woman demand a bit of a different approach to be accepted and threated respectful. But it seemed a bit over the top for me. Especially because she had told me that Goa has been a place for foreign tourist for many years and that the locals here where open and respect to different cultures. I didn’t care and I stayed true to my friendly and well behaved self, ordered butter chicken and a lemon soda, which for my feeling was pretty much welcomed by the waiters as well. During lunch she started telling me that she hadn’t been in her house for some time, living in Mexico with her son. She just had been back for a few weeks, finding her house unclean and her dogs neglected. Oh, was the only thing I could say as I didn’t feel responsible in any way, why would I? “What about the former house sitters”, I asked? “They had left without telling her”, she said. And another rant about this couple started. I frowned, wondering why every time she talked about something or somebody it was negative. I guess she then sensed that I wouldn’t buy all her stories and also would not have any problem at all, telling her what I think about all that, because she suddenly stopped complaining and turned her attention to the food in front of us. After lunch and listening to all her troubles and sad stories I felt a bit wiser but not really happy. We did some errands and arrived safe at the house just as darkness had fallen. With a sigh and happy that I still was alive I opened the gate and welcomed the dogs. They needed to get fed and she wanted me to watch her doing it, so I could learn how it has to be done. I gazed a smirk and said: “I’m tired and need to shower first”, but she insisted that it would be best if I at least would stay and look over her shoulder, so that I know that already. “I certainly can do that tomorrow, now I am going to have a shower”, I answered shrugged my shoulders and walked away to the guest house. There I took my towel and soap and walked in the light of the flashlight to the shack where I finally had a shower.
A bit later I walked back to the main house which had in front a small terrace with a rocking chair in one corner and a small coffee table. Right next to the entrance door was a well, covered up with a metal grid. I entered with a friendly smile and said “Hi”. She didn’t lift up her head to greeting me back, instead sitting at a tiny table staring into the screen and hammering on the keyboard of her old fashioned notebook, no dogs in sight. I had registered that the dogs mostly ran around on the property, chasing everyone who passed by. “Are you settled in now?” she asked without looking up. “Well”, I answered “that is probably a bit too early to say”. She lifted up her gaze saying to me, that she didn’t have much to eat in house as she wasn’t a big eater and also didn’t know what I’d eat. I slightly frowned wondering why – as a host – she didn’t have some bread or cheese in house at least, as she knew that I was coming. But again I didn’t bother really and answered that I still had some crackers they’d do for the night and tomorrow we could go for some grocery. “Oh I’ve plenty to do”, she answered and that she’d to leave the house early in the morning. Maybe she could make some time in the afternoon she said, but more important to her was that she quickly go through all things with me I’d had to take care of, because she also had to finalize her travel arrangements. “Just give me another 10 minutes to wrap this up”, pointing on her laptop, “and then I’ll tell you a few things already”, she added and gazed back onto the screen.
Again, I felt a bit annoyed by the way she said things. That kind of unfriendly tone didn’t sit well with me from the get going, but maybe it was only my tiredness, I thought. So I looked and started to walk around. Inside the timbered house it was darkish, not much light sources only a few bulbs hanging loosely from the ceiling. Two fans on the ceiling, an open kitchen with plenty of dirty dishes and a small window aligned to the street. On the other side – covered by a big cloth – was the entrance to bathroom and laundry. A washing machine and the dryer on the right hand side and the emergency generator on a metal shelf in the corner. At the rear end was another small window with a sink taken in a wooden cupboard. On the left side a bit behind the sink the entrance to the shower and toilet, fine I thought, here at least was a real toilet installed. Everything was tiled in green and brown with a relatively modern shower head and water tap. From the kitchen you got to another room with only had a bed under the window a back door out into garden, wooden cabinet and a huge box in it. An air condition – which turned out to be the only one in the whole house – window blowing slightly, cooling the room nicely. Next to the cabinet was the entrance to the bedroom which has two windows, a king size bed, an old wooden writing desk, a wooden and a metal cabinet behind the door. All doors were made of single, thick wooden panels hinged together and had old cast iron bars to close. The whole house was dirty and in an urgent need for a deep cleaning. Spider webs hanging from the roof, small animals as in cockroaches lying dead in the corner or were crawling on the kitchen worktop. A picture is just a picture, I said to myself and I really had to suppress my disgust and started to doubt my decision coming here. But now being here I just had to give it a try. Not being a quitter I thought after a sorrow cleaning of the house it would work out just fine, little did I know that the drama had not even began.
While I was standing in that room with air condition the owner – which used an Indian name, although German born – walked in and told me proudly this was the dog room. Yes, believe it or not, the dogs did have their own room to sleep in. Interesting I thought, considering the fact that India surely does have plenty of people with no shelter at all. She then right away started to explain little things one has to be aware of. Such as how to use the water filter system, or how to use and take care of the well and the water silo, which was located outside on the opposite of the porch not far away from the gate. After about an hour listening to her high voice my ears got tired, so I asked her where she had the welcome guide. That is a must for owners to have all instructions in written form, so that the house sitter can find all necessary information such as emergency numbers and procedures. Normally owners have to fill in a list on the website, but she hadn’t done that yet when I was looking for it back in Germany. “What?” she said. Looking at me as if I just had asked her to pay me for all the services she demanded. “I going to tell you all you need to know and you keep it in mind or write it down for yourself”, she answered. “But you know that handing over kind of a written down manual is standard” I returned, followed by “Or how do you thing I remember all tasks and little things you’re telling me? Adding that I assumed she already had one, as I am not the first house sitter. “Oh, I’ve to look it up, there must be an old book any place” she answered kind of annoyed that I’ve brought it up. “Ok then I’ll wait on that”, I answered, slowly beginning to feel that something was just not right with that owner and the whole situation. “Might we just let it go for today”, I said and she just nodded for the first time. “Do you want to have a cool beer”, she then asked and again I wondered. No food in house, but beer. “Ok let’s have a beer and a cigarette outside and then I’ll call it a night”, I answered. So we did and with mixed feelings and tired I walked down the grass with that tiny flashlight in my hands to the guest house with no water, toilet , shower, air condition or any other appliances you’d think a guest house offers.
Around 8 am the next day I woke up sweating, because to catch some sleep I had to turn off the fan as he was too noisy to let him run all night. I lifted the mosquito net up and looked around, the room quickly warmth up, so I took my towel, toothbrush, soap and toilet paper and walked to the modest bathroom. Before I left I closed all blinds to keep – at least – a bit of the upcoming heat outside. The moment I walked out of the door I heard already my name! And for the next few days I’ve heard my name as often as never before. I really got annoyed by my own, sometimes even thinking how strange he sounds. I almost got psychotic and was seriously considering to change my name if I’d survive this experience. Not enough that she thought I had to be available 24/7, from day one she overload me with information. Most of it was not even interesting for me at all. I felt a bit stressed as I had to listen to all complains about former house sitters. They all weren’t good, had just left without notice, abandoned the dogs, destroyed the house, did not clean at all, a never ending story though. But she seemed to be insensible for other people’s needs. Instead she was very keen to leave all unfinished tasks for me to follow up with!
I didn’t take me long to realise that the owner neither had a grip on the property nor of her dogs. Most of her talking was about what you had to do to get along with the dogs, gossip about the village, its people and whatever she felt bothered with.
She quickly tried to start using me as her personal assistant (could you keep this in mind, please remind me on that), cleaning lady (oh look this has to be cleaned, and generally put her own dishes dirty it in the sink for me to clean!) and property manager (you must arrange this, it ain’t done yet but you MUST do this and that and take care of that and, and, and…), while she herself ran around like a headless chicken.
What annoyed me most was the fact that she hadn’t honest in the description on the website and during our phone call. Other than in the initial description, there was no internet at all. But for me being a writer this is a necessity. I got seriously irritated and confronted her with the fact, that this wasn’t what I’d signed up for. “You can get your own internet connection in Mapusa – the next big city, 25 km away -, set it up yourself”, she snapped back at me. Now, what is wrong with that you might wonder? First of all she stated on the website that there is internet connection and second the win-win in doing a house sit is that you don’t have extra costs. This includes internet, electrical and other household bills. And in that particular case, an – unpaid – house sitter certainly does not take over repair jobs that had already been known of, prior to the house sitters arrival.
Not much changed over the next few days. We didn’t get along very much and I got more aloof. Two days before she finally was scheduled to leave, I got woken up at 6 am by a knock on my door and at the same time hearing my name, again. I opened the door, looked outside and visibly annoyed I said: “Listen”, you just can’t come here at 6 am and call me as if I’d be working for you, do you understand? Just for once, please show a bit of respect for other people. I am not stay any longer, if you don’t back off a bit.” I was done with that whole situation. The evening before I had already decided not stay longer than three months. Mostly because of all the little things the owner had forgotten to tell and what came down to a full time property management job. She had unrealistic high expectations and – for my feeling – did not understand the concept of house sitting at all. The only reason why I’d stay 3 months was because of the dogs. By then I’d figured out that the three siblings and a stray really had been abandoned by the owner. Her over driven, almost hysterical animal love she claimed towards the dogs was simply faked. You really could feel that she was keen to leave the place rather yesterday then tomorrow. And from my time working in animal shelters I know that look of an animal left behind. Exactly this was what I saw and felt while meeting Po, Ty, Mo and Lo for the first time. They were not happy, two of them had skin problems and the look on their faces implicated that they had nobody to trust and turn to. In assurance that – as soon as the owner had left – I could give them the much love and closeness they needed to become happy dogs again, I’d stay.
Much to my surprise, all over sudden that bossy women burst out into tears, asking me why everybody would abandon her. I looked at her and thought “really, come on woman”, but didn’t say anything, instead put my arm around her and led her to a bench on the terrace. After a while she stopped sobbing and asked me if might can change my mind, as she was about to leave in the next view days anyways. Telling me that she needed that nanny job in Germany badly and she could see that I did well with the dogs and all. . I said to her that I did not understand why she’d held on to the place. “Take your dogs, sell the place and start anew”, I said to her. Because I strongly had the feeling that she was done with the place and the whole country. All that complaining and her stressful demeanour over the last days had made that clear to me. But she answered that it wasn’t that easy due to some problems she had with selling the property. But before she could go into that, I cut her short. I really didn’t want to hear more of her miserable situation and overall frustration she carried along with her.
Later that day she handed me out a worn out book which once functioned as the house sitter manual, but was pretty much out dated now. The old manual confirmed my thinking, as there were plenty of different hand writings and various notes, obviously written down from different people. Probably all trying to do a good job, but gave up of it very shortly after and left. So my conclusion was that Po, Ty, Mo and Lo hadn’t had a peaceful live for about some years, instead no structure, not much human love, closeness or stability. No question what I first would do, show plenty of love and affection and bring back some structure and routines into their lives. We then update the manual and she explained me that she would leave money with a friend – in another village –, so that I could pay the bills and feed the dogs for another two months. After that she’d have earned her first salary and would wire some more money to her friends account. Because, although she being twice to the scooter repair guy, the scooter still was not working properly. But with no money left by now, I had to bring the scooter again to the repair shop at a later point. Fine I sighed, so I’ve to drive around with an unfit scooter, hoping that it will work until she had earned her first salary and sent some money to her friends account.
And then just the day before the owner was leaving I finally got internet connection, I was connected to the world again, my world I’ve to add. As you can expect in a third world country nothing goes smoothly. I drove to Mapusa twice, called the service hotline 24/7 and in the process they NFC my device while I was in the shop. Why I know that, because that tiny young girl fumbled on my phone, laying it on her phone while trying to figure out why I could not connect to the internet on my phone. Suddenly that same evening I received text messages from an unknown person, while the owner simultaneously received messages from me. Funny because we both were sitting in the kitchen and looked at each other, not even touching our phones before. Welcome to scam country! I immediately called that girl on her GSM and made clear that I’d come to the shop tomorrow talking to her boss and – oh wonder – the messages stopped instantly. I never succeeded to get internet connection on my phone though, but at least I had internet on my laptop.
The drama seemed to be ending as the day had come where she was leaving to catch her flight to Germany late in the evening. I felt for her, because I knew for sure that she most certainly would get a cultural shock, after living more than a decade in third world countries. While sitting on the porch having a last beer together, she asked me to move into the house right away, because the dogs would bark all night otherwise. Which was the last what I’d do, mostly because I’d discovered that there was a rat living in – but this was ok with her –, several mice behind the cabinet – ok for her too – not to mention all other crawling insects on the ground and in the kitchen. I still get chills if I think about all that dirt in there. So naturally I could not follow up on that request, but I nodded in assurance as she left and closed the gate behind me. The dogs didn’t even come to the gate to farewell her, which made it clear to me again that my assessment of the situation was accurate. For the first time that evening I could enjoy the silence of the place and having a cigarette in the rocking chair, while the dogs slowly past me and went into their bedroom inside. A bit later I said good night to the dogs, closed the doors and didn’t hear a bark all night. Well I guess that says a lot about how much of a bond that owner had with her dogs. I remember that she told me how surprised she was as Po, Ty, Mo and Lo still recognized her upon arrival, after almost 2 years away! Really, seriously?
What a relief the next morning, silence and peace surrounded me. First I walked and fed the dogs and then a deep cleaning of the house was on my agenda. It took me 4 hours to turn that place into a – what I call – habitable lodging, at almost 2 pm I finally finished with satisfaction. Drenched in sweat I showered and then plunged down on a bench outside in the shadow for a short nap. Just wonderful, such a peaceful surrounding, sometimes you heard a bird or bee flying by, but that it was. At nights however it was the opposite, you heard the freight trains pass by every hour, with a tremendous speed and noise. Not that the train tracks where anywhere near the premises, but as everywhere else the woods who zipped most of the noise were long gone. Now only open fields of grass were between the village and the train traffic, so the sound of running trains sounded through the night. Of course your ears get used to that after some time, and I remember only woke up once or twice a night.
I quickly adapted new routines with the dogs.
Po was the leader of the pack and adopted stray. Will say, he joined the other three as they had moved there. The story was that he had been hanging around the premises because of his attraction to Lo. Over time he joined the others more frequently, then they shared food with him and finally he stayed. Because of that he never got castrated which made him more feisty than Ty. Although Ty was taller and probably had much more power than Po,
Ty was second in hierarchy. The female dogs where kind of equal.
Lo was more active and also the lover of Ty what puts her more in the front light. She was a curious and playful lady and the first who came and accepted me right after I’d arrived.
Mo was the shy and less active lady with a bit of a sensitive character and the dog with the less athletic figure. She for instance loved to be inside lying on the bed, not much interested in what happened outside. Po was also the only one who slept in the bedroom together with the owner. But that changed from the day I took over. I really do love dogs, but don’t think it is necessary they sleep with you in bed, especially if they’re out all day and as a result carrying flea and ticks with them. He first didn’t like it much but got along with it eventually, as he had not choice, had he? Although they all accepted me right from the start, Lo trusted me from the moment we met. Guess she sensed that I’d doing no harm or wrong to them. Then Mo came, first a bit hesitant she greeted me in the morning. After I had been taking care of her skin with a daily ointment treat, she also listened and followed my lead without hesitance. Ty was third and probably liked the new guidance and patterns I introduced. He quickly adapted to my handling and even cuddle up to my feet when I had my daily two hours rest after lunch. Last was Ty, which made sense to me as he was the leader. And after I had understood that these dogs where partly left alone and probably not treated well, I thought that his restraint and careful approach was normal. Beside as a former street dog in India, you only can guess that he hadn’t have much good experiences with humans over his life in general.
All in all it was not long after the owner had left, that we had established a new pack with me as leader. When we got ready for our walk in the morning I first geared up Mo, then Ty, then Lo and Po. They all needed to get geared up Po and Ty even had to wear muzzles because of the free running piglets, chicken and baby goats. Naturally they were hunters and the next door farmer told me that there’d been 6 dogs in the beginning but 2 ended up poisoned, most likely because of them hunting the smaller animals. The owner had told me about 2 dogs of hers who had got poisoned by villagers, but forgot to tell that they had hunted and killed several animals in the process. In her mind they got poisoned by other villagers just because of they had been her dogsOn another occasion the milk farmer told me that the dogs only could have hunt and kill several piglets and goats, because she had refused to take them on the leash. Now living in India, one have to understand that animals secure a families livelihood and are real money for them, therefore it’s absolutely understandable that they got angry when one of their animals got killed by the dogs. Doesn’t matter if they get paid for the lost animal or not, it’s just something you’ve to respect when living in a small village and being the rich European. For them or what they see is a European invading their tiny village, buying land and building a real house out of stone, including a wooden guest house on the most valuable land – because of the well -. No doubt, you are certainly a rich dude for them. Considering that as soon as you walked out of the property, you’re surrounded by trash. And I really mean trash as in dump, no joke. So I really had to take care that all four dogs were geared up tightly, before opening the gate. In the opposite to the owner I know one rule you always – and I really mean always – have to follow up with if you want to keep or gain control over a group of dogs and that is, never let them walk out the door before you. Each time you open the gate, they have to walk out behind you because only then they know and truly understand that you’re the boss. And yes you’re guessing right, while I was walking with the owner to see and learn how she handled them it was total chaos. I wasn’t surprised that all four dogs pulled the leash, as soon as she had opened the gate and then stormed out in front of her. She really struggled to pull them back, as you can imagine if four approximately 20 kg dogs pulling on one hand, while with the other hand you try to close and lock the gate. And it didn’t change much while we walked them. The dogs ran from one side of the path to the other, no structure at all and she barely could keep up to untangle their leashes. Let go that all four dogs dragging her more or less through the whole walk. So not she was walking the dogs, the dogs walked her, very much to my inwardly amusement. And while the dogs walked her, she explained to me the different characters and ways how the dogs doing the walk. As in Po was the leader giving directions, Ty was the slow one stopping now and then looking around before walking further, he likes to let his gaze flow into distance and the girls pretty much followed Po. Is this a poetic field trip or what? How more could she be wrong, I don’t know? My observations where quiet different, Po wasn’t leading he was sniffing around reading what had happened in the area the night before. Ty wasn’t letting his gaze flow in the distance he simply stopped to overlook the area searching for prey. And the girls, they both sniffed and looked around in order to find tracks of wild animals to case after. On our walk back I asked her why she didn’t split them up and go with just two, like Po and Lo and Ty and Mo. Not possible she said, because they’re not used to be apart from each other and cry loudly if separated. So, if you go to the vet you take them all together, I then asked? No, she answered, that is an exception and they’d cry they whole time when left behind. Well, I thought this might just need a bit of training and learning or was a result of being left alone by humans before, like she had done. But unfortunately didn’t stay that long to really teach them that, but I at least could restore their faith in humans. From the next day on I started walking the dogs on my own and things shifted because if I walk dogs, I walk them and not the other way around. As to expect all four liked my way of handling and it didn’t took long and they got used to the new rules, two on the right side and two on the left sight of the path. No dragging, no chaos enough time to sniff and marking. They even started to wait calmly on the gate when I came out of the house, just a question of repetition. And again I wondered how less that owner knew about dog behaviour in general. Or was it because of her rather strange attitude she had generally regarding animal welfare?
It would not take long for me to experience that and really did let me understand, that the love for animals by humans can sometimes be much misunderstood. It happened while I was living in that guest house. One night I heard it scratching behind the huge painting on the wall in the guest house. I hold my breath and listened, there it was again. Then silence and then it again, it seemed to come from the left upper corner of that painting. Maybe termites I thought, because the owner had told me that there have been termites before and once they have found a place to life, they usually come back again. Much too tired to get out of bed and safe under the mosquito net, I thought if it really termites, then it can wait until tomorrow. So the next morning I told the owner about it and we went out to investigate. Earlier I had checked the upper left corner of the painting, but could not see anything. But when I left the room, again I heard it scratching, it really seemed to come from anywhere behind the painting. Together we took the huge canvas from the wall and got flabbergasted when we saw a mother mouse running up and down the frame in panic mode. While running she had a little, still blind and obviously just born baby mouse in her snout. Totally trapped and confused she ran up and down the frame desperately looking for an escape route to save her nest.
A shock second later I intuitively said to her, “Let us bring them outside quickly and throw the whole nest into the bushes”. Just to hear next, “No, those poor little mice, we cannot just throw them outside” and she looked outraged at me. “What?” I answered totally confused over her reaction. “Ok then tell me, what do you think is right to do? You want to just leave them here and having a whole colony of mice taking over the whole place in a few weeks from now?” I asked further, because I really didn’t understand what her problem was. “I don’t know?” “But we’have to save them” was next what she spilled out. “Sure and that is exactly what we’re doing by throwing the whole nest out into the bushes. The mother mouse will surely find and collect her young, don’t worry” I explained. She started thinking, but meanwhile the mother mouse was so in panic that she had jumped off the frame hiding anywhere in the room, leaving her babies behind. Really, does this lady understand anything about animal behaviour? I mean is it not common knowledge that instinct tells the mother to rather abandon her nest before she gets killed herself I wondered? “Ok what next”, I asked and added “The mother just left the sinking ship”, because the whole situation was so ridiculous. Imagine two women balancing that huge canvas with several blind baby mice in one corner and discussing what to do next. “I don’t know”, she answered shrugging her shoulders helplessly. “I cannot throw out these little babies”. Just as a reminder, we talking about mice here, which are usually considered a plaque. Good then, let me handle that and you go back to the main house”, I said. With much relief on her face she quickly left while I maneuvered the huge canvas to the fence, lift it up and threw all babies in the bush. Then I got back to the room looked for the mother mouse, found her – still frantic – sitting in a corner, managed to catch her by her tail and with two fingers brought her to the same place where I’d put the babies. As I let her down to the ground I said, “Go there, anywhere here is your offspring” and quickly she vanished. I am sure that she had not problems to sniff out her babies and managed to save them. That much about being an animal lover and safe all – I repeat all – animals.
Weeks went by and Po, Ty, Mo and Lo got accustomed to me. We had developed a daily routine and they did stop to bark and chase everyone who passed by the house.
They loved to ly around me while I was cooking their food and became very relaxed dogs.
So far so good, but beside taking care of the house and the dogs, I didn’t had any time at all to write or doing other things. This whole assignment really turned out to be a full time job and I reminded myself on what my first impression was. It wasn’t a house sit in the traditional way at all, indeed this was a property management to its fullest. To figure out how many hours I was busy every day and if I maybe could organize myself more efficiently. I started to write down what I did on a daily basis for the next two weeks.
6:30 am get up and walk the dogs / 7:30 am prepare dog food / 7:45 am having breakfast / 8:15 am shower / 9 am till noon doing shopping dog food. Including ordering veggies and meat, making yogurt from fresh milk for the dog breakfast, cleaning the house, remove dogs muck and other small household chores / 3 pm – 5 pm cooking dog food, cleaning the dishes from cooking / 5 pm sprinkle garden and plants / 6 pm walk dogs and feed them / prepare own dinner / 8 pm start cleaning kitchen supplies and prepare dog food for morning (milt) / 9:30 pm finished. Not included the weekly shower day, where I had to soap and rinse all four dogs with flea and tick shampoo, as well as any repair or not daily tasks regarding the house or transport.
Weeks went by and one day, I just had finished lunch and was taking my power nap on a bench in the garden, lightly shaded by a small tree, something came to my mind. I remembered about a story the owner had told me over “Those Americans”, as she referred to them. “Never, ever I take Americans again”, she complaint, “They came here with two kids and first thing they asked was where the dog food is”, and then claimed that they had stolen money from her and left all over sudden, without notifying her. While I was shocked back then, now I experienced myself, how much time and hard work it really contains and this realization shed a totally different light on that story. Not only that you had to cook almost every day for hours in that not air-conditioned kitchen, using old pressure cockers. The food to prepare included not only cabbage, carrots, rise, millet, lentils and beetroot you also had to work with raw milk and chicken gizzards. The chicken gizzards which you had to buy on a store in downtown Mapusa where not easy to get, before you could go there you had to call and place an order – to your own expense of course -. And typical for Indian day to day culture, that guy never answered the phone instantly. So after you had tried several times to finally place your order, you then had to drive 25 km to the city only to find out that he didn’t follow up properly on your order. Mostly you could not get more than 5 kg which was barely enough for a week and was three tiny pieces of meat for each dog a day. The rest of their food was all veggies and yogurt you had to make fresh from milk you got daily from the farmer next door. Not to mention that in India supply of veggies is not as diverse as you may think. Beetroot is rare, as same as cauliflower. Cabbage and carrots are easier to get, but nothing is really plenty especially if you live in a tiny village such as Calvim. Fruits are also not plenty, same for petrol. Only in the city of Mapusa you’ve gas stations and a big market with fruit and vegetables. If you run out of petrol you can get a two liter bottle from some shop where they sell fruit and veggies, but this is illegal and you better don’t get caught. Another thing to worry about really is the freshness and quality. Mainly because of the heat all fresh fruit and veggies depraved quickly and if you buy fresh meet, you better have some ice in the trunk of your vehicle to prevent it from going bad. But ice as well is a rarity.
So that afternoon I realized that I barely had have time lately to do my own things and wondered if I really could and wanted to stay for three months. There also had happened some other disturbing things that really had help me in making a decision. First I ran out of gas, although the owner had assured me that the two bottles just had been renewed. So I took the manual and tried the phone numbers that were written down, but the numbers were not active, by then no surprise for me anymore. A few houses down that bumpy path lived – so called – friends of hers. She had introduced me briefly said that I can go there for support. So I went there and told them about my problem and asked if they can help me getting some new gas. They could not, it turned out that in India a gas bottle delivery company is in need of a registration and that registration is connected to a certain phone number. If you don’t have the right phone number, you don’t get any new gas bottles delivered. And I didn’t have this number, I contacted the owner but didn’t get any response because she was busy working her new job as a nanny and had no time to answer, she replied days later. Funny part was that the couple I went to told me some inside about the owner and why she was keen to leave the country. They weren’t even her friends they said, the husband was that driver from the first day and he was afraid of her because of her bad karma as he called it. His wife also confirmed that she didn’t know her much but knew most of the previous house sitters and they all had told her the same things I did and had left quickly again. Then the last people had been tenants for a bit more than a year and when she got told that they were going to leave she came back because she had to. Those tenants were so fed up with her and how she threated people that they avoid to give a new address. On my way back to the house I thought she’s just not a good person and my brain flashes of memories of all those little signs that had warned me after I had met her. The whole situation became much clearer to me after I had talked to that couple.
In that same week while I brushed the porch as I did every evening, I suddenly heard a sizzle which I’d never heard before. It was dark already the dogs inside and I didn’t had a light on, so I couldn’t really see much, didn’t think about it much and just brushed further. But every time when I brushed the pavement I heard a hissing sound. I’ve to get the flashlight to see what that is I thought. I went back inside to get the flashlight and a minute later I knew what it was.
A snake, coiled up on the little step to the house. Oops I thought and quickly got my camera to snap a picture. The only time I had seen the tail of a snake crawling away was a few weeks back, as I checked the guest house She wasn’t that big and it seemed to me as if she had just eaten some food because her belly liked kind of thicker than the rest. She didn’t really like that I took pictures of her and started to hiss in my direction. Fine I thought, but nevertheless she had to move away from the entrance. Not that she get the idea to crawl into the house at night, I thought. The farmer had told me that snakes were in the area and that I’d have to be careful if I walked the fields with the dogs, also that they sometimes find their way into the house, because of the smell of food or mice. So I took the broom again and started to brush her away. She didn’t like that at all and hissed harder, but I wouldn’t stop. So she started to do little jumps luckily not in my direction but back to the grass. I kept on brushing her into that direction and took a deep breath of relief as she slowly snaked away. Later as I went to bed I thought this could’ve been another sign why I shouldn’t stay the whole length, because I really didn’t feel much for the fact that a snake come into the house and bite me or one of the dogs. Beside the roof was with an open space between the concrete and the roof. Good to air the house, but also an invitation for all sorts of crawling animals to find their way in to the house easily. I turned off the night lamp and while I slumbering into sleep, something small and hart fell down from the roof landing on my forehead. Startled I instinctively wiped over my forehead while with the other hand I turned the night lamp on again. Searching for a bug or insect on my pillow I really got disgusted to find mice crap lying on my pillow. Really I thought and the idea that mice were walking on the wooden beam on top of me didn’t make me feel happy at all. But sure as a matter of fact they could run around everywhere, couldn’t they? I remembered that Po, Ty, Lo and Mo did chase them regularly around the house but I had not been aware of the fact, that they watched down on me while sleeping. No, I said to myself, this just is not for me.
I mean I accepted a frog living in the shower. I even amused myself thinking it had kind of a fairy tail character, referring to the frog you kiss and it turns into a prince. I kind of accepted cockroaches in the kitchen drawers, although I cleaned right up after me, never left any food outside of the fridge and thoroughly cleaned up the kitchen every night. But after that little accident it all accumulated and I had have enough, I finally decided to start looking for another place to go. Even if I felt sorry for the dogs, because they really were happy dogs again and smiled all the time, became very relaxed and enjoyed not being alone anymore. On the other side had to leave eventually anyways and at that point just didn’t want to stay any much longer. Beside I felt tired and abused by the false information of the owner about the whole assignment. For the dogs it even would be harder as longer as I’d stay as worse it would feel for them if I had to leave eventually. The next day though I started looking for another house sit in a country I knew would be more modern and more to my standards. India was just not my cup of tea and for the first time I got aware of the fact that I never had been interested in visiting third world countries. Never really had understood when friends told me how nice it was in India, Pakistan, Asia or Africa. Why would one go to a country where the majority of people have nothing? Masses so poor that they even go through your trash and will find something they still can use? And most of all one is considered rich just because you have had the money to buy an airplane ticket. I really thought about it again why I even had the idea of coming here? Probably to just learn that about myself and I felt happy that I had realized that. Luckily I quickly found an offer for a house sit in New Zealand. Four weeks over christmas and the owner was happy that I had contacted her, because her previous sitter had cancelled and they were new to the website. We only emailed a few times but her way of writing, the pictures of the house and dog, the fact that she did fill in the welcome guide in time, convinced me that this assignment was much more suitable for me. And so it happened that I assigned to become the house sitter of Sir Bentley or as it was written in the offer “The Christmas body of Bentley”.
By now, after reading that incredible story, I guess you can imagine that the owner wasn’t really happy to hear that I’d leave. As you would expect, her reaction was anger and aggression towards me through text messages and emails. And as same as all the other house sitters before, I was the bad person, although I truly had tried my best and knew that the dogs had much appreciated that time of stability and love. But at the end these are not my dogs, neither was it my property so time for me to move on. The day I started packing my suitcase, Po, Ty, Mo and Lo immediately understood that I soon was leaving and automatically our close bond started to loosen up again. I saw this as a sign that this fun loving pack had been left behind more than once by their owner. They stopped playing around and moved closer together as they obviously had done before. Still they listened to my command and on the final day as I said good bye they all came and touched my hands with their warm snouts.
A wonderful goodbye and ending of a great time with three siblings and a stray and I knew that they had much love left for me as same as I had for them.