I stepped out of the plane at Frankfurt airport. After another long haul flight in less than three months I got a bit tired of it and was happy to stay for the next three months in Europe. First I visited family and was staying with my aunt for ten days. From there I headed back to The Netherlands were I’d assigned to a house sit in Amsterdam. With some days left before that new house sit started, I used that opportunity to visit my friends there and with whom I usually only stay in touch via WhatsApp. It really is such a difference to only have video chats or meet in person, we enjoyed seeing each other and I also think it is very important to renew the bond you share.
Back to house sitting, this time I had to take care of a nine year old Husky female named Gewsha. I arrived early afternoon on a Tuesday and Sonja – the host – picked me up from the train station. The timing was very tight and my train connection crossed a bit with their flight schedule. We quickly headed back to the apartment where her husband already was waiting. They literally were on the go already and we only had time to briefly introduce each other. Sonja’s husband gave me a quick tour through the apartment before he handed me the key. Then on their way out, they pointed out the storeroom where I could find the bicycle, and gone they were. Don’t wonder this is “Holland” and having a bicycle or – in fact – several is just as normal as brushing your teeth in the morning. Ever heard the expression Dutch bike? No joke, a Dutch bike is a brand and a certain type of bicycle which only has a backpedal brake, mostly is black and usually with no gear shifts, very good to use when drunken.
So there we stood in that tiny hall looking at each other curiously. Gewsha a quiet and introvert husky lady and I the meanwhile experienced house- and pet sitter. I gazed friendly at her and looked around then I started to inspect the place which I’d call home for the next two weeks a bit closer. Luckily they had filled in that welcome guide from the website thoroughly so I did not have to worry about that much. Now the interesting part of being a house sitter definitely is all those very different houses, flats and surroundings you find yourself in and this time it was a typical but modern and clean city apartment. A 4×4 square meter living room with an open kitchen separated by a small diner table. The bathroom with a spacious shower but no bathtub, the washing machine and dryer had been installed separately in a tiny space next to the bathroom, with a door that opened into the corridor. If you wouldn’t know you probably would guess there’s another room behind the door. Left from the entrance door at the rear end of the corridor was the toilet as often in Holland separated from the bathroom. And then the two bedrooms or better a master bedroom next to the toilet and another room in the opposite of the entrance door what seemed to be set up as a temporary bedroom equipped with one of those air mattresses beds, a cabinet filled with sporting tools and a shelf. The whole apartment was laid out with laminate. The heating was off and I was instructed to only use it if really needed. Well, giving the fact that it was winter in Holland and they are usually quite cold, with regularly minus degrees, storm and lots of rain if not snow, I turned it on right away. Although I am not a big fan of heaters, because the air gets so dry me wasn’t willing to freeze or – even worse – catching a cold. After my first inspection I went back to my bedroom and opened my suitcase to unpack. Gewsha meanwhile had walked back into the living room not really interested in what I was doing. This didn’t really surprise me cause from what I know Huskies aren’t really a bonding breed. That done, I checked the fridge so see what left overs were there and what I’d need to buy. They hadn’t left much and the fridge was almost empty so that meant I had to go to the grocery store that same day or early next morning to buy some basics such as almond milk, oatmeal, water, fruit and vegetables. The closest store was a fifteen minutes bicycle ride away near to the highway. There was no rush in doing so because in Holland because – as well as in most other cities these days – food stores are open until late at night. Time to do what I like most I thought and took Gewsha out for a first walk to see how she behave outside and with other dogs. Later than I thought I’d go grocery shopping and see how she reacts on being left alone in the place. As soon as I took her gear and long leash she got excited but instead of barking she made some yowling subtle sounds. Interesting I thought and wondered if this was normal Husky behaviour or semiskilled? Fun thing is that owners tend to explain detailed how to handle their beloved pets but my experience is that you just have to observe the dog and you’ll see how much they are conditioned to their routine. Gesha was no different as I opened the door she straight away walked to the elevator waiting for me to lock the door and follow. Once outside I decided to walk to the nearby canal you find everywhere in Holland. It is after all the country of water and as far I remember one third of the Netherlands lies below sea level. So we walked down that pedestrian path and it was obvious that Gewsha knew the area well. We passed other dogs which she mostly ignored rather busy sniffing around. As a female dog she doesn’t have the urge to mark every corner she passes but still – as for all dogs – it surely is important for her to sniff around to know all the news and happenings. In a chat before my arrival the owners had told me that she isn’t always friendly with other dogs and a bit of loner, typical Husky style I guess. That suits me pretty much because I am not that chatty dog owner kind of person who wants to talk to each and every other dog owner who passes by.
While walking around and getting accustomed to the area, suddenly I registered that Gewsha had a rather strange habit. First it looked like that she just liked to stick her nose deep into the ground sniffing for mice, so I thought. But then I saw what she really was after and it was really disgusting. Every time she saw a tissue or kind of a human dirty something on the ground she ran for it and ate it up. First time I didn’t really believe what I just had witnessed but immediately said: “Gewsha, what the heck are you doing? That’s really not ladylike.” I pulled back the leash and tried to take that tissue out of her snout but with no success whatsoever. She turned her head away chewed quickly and swallowed it down, urg…still I get the chills if I think about it. Ok, I thought this really is disgusting because what if she eats other things too? Is she eating all dirt or only tissues? I surely had to have an eye on her when walking to prevent any harm, not knowing if the area was poison free or else. To be sure, I later text the owner and he confirmed that this is her habit and I just had to have an eye on it while walking. Fine for me I thought, if the owner isn’t worried why should I worry? We came back as dawn felt around four thirty and as I mentioned before it was winter, freezing cold and wet, so I didn’t feel much to leave the apartment again and cycle in the windy, wet weather to the grocery store. Instead upon arrival I’d passed by a snack bar at the subway station and this was only five minutes away. And here I go again living the life of a travelling writer eating fast food on the first night of my new stay. But it just was the easier option that evening considering that I was freezing all day and there was no bathtub to warm up my body. After having a chicken burger, fries and soda I felt much better and a bit warm from the inside. Around 10 pm Gewsha and I went for the last walk of the day and as we came home I took a hot – really hot – shower and went to bed while Gewsha had laid down on her blanket in the living room.
On the second day just back from our morning walk I looked around and to my surprise felt that the place seemed very small. Not only because I’d been living in big houses for the last few months, had I felt more for the dog in that matter. I mean here you are a Husky breed known to be very active and a work dog. Living in a small apartment in the city going out for a walk only three times a day, never is able to really run free. In that moment I realized how great it is for a dog, living on a property or in the country side where the dogs can run freely, just chasing birds like Sir Bentley or hunting for piglets like Po, Ty, Lo and Mo. And it appeared to me that city life for a dog is kind of boring, isn’t it? By then I hadn’t much background about the couple only that they came from South African and moved to Amsterdam about a year and a half ago. He had got a good job offer and she didn’t had found a job yet, still looking for something she’d like to do. Their Dutch language skills surely needed some improvement but that’s just normal. It took me about two and a half years to really be able having a conversation on a corporate level. But back to me and Gewsha, the next thing I noticed was that she didn’t really eat properly. In the welcome guide was written that she preferred one over the other brand of chunks. It therefore hat to be mixed to avoid wasting food. It really appeared to me that she not liked dry chunks at all. But then that’s just an observation and it might be because her family of two were away. Twice a day I filled her bowl with food and called for her to come she obeyed but did not eat much and then walked back into the corridor. Beside her blanket the corridor was her most favourite place in the apartment. With nine years of age she still liked to play and was in very good condition, she pulled strong on the leash and always wanted to go for a run. I remembered that Sonja briefed me about Gewsha while we were walking from the station to the apartment. She had said that Gewsha wants to play inside but because of the laminate floor she was slipping. So to prevent any injuries the only area where they throw her toy was around that tiny dinner table with a carpet underneath.
During my time with Gewsha sometimes we played and then she got excited and ran on the laminate, but because the space was really small I then stopped tossing the ball because of the remarks her owners had made. Also she didn’t really seem to miss her owners, which I guess is because she stayed in her known environment. Generally is my experience with house sitting that all animals get pretty fast adapted to a new person feeding them and taking them for a walk and that proofs the whole concept I guess. I quickly establish a daily routine, which is one of the things you learn when living temporarily in a country. Here in Holland it was a bit different because being back here also meant for me that I’d have to visit friends all over the country. Yes, I know it is a small country so it shouldn’t be an issue to travel around in a short time. But opposite from previous house sits, here I had to walk the dog three times a day and that meant that I only could go away for approximately eight hours a day. The place was about 45 minutes away from Amsterdam Central station and my friends where living another hour or hour and a half from there. So I first had to go to Central station with the subway and from there further with the train. A lot of travel but as I said before, I hadn’t seen my friends for almost a year and this just was the opportunity to catch up. I scheduled to walk with her early in the morning, late afternoon and before bedtime. So I could do my things and take good care of her at the same time. Sure these two weeks would be very different from what I’ve had been doing with my previous house sits, and here it was winter. Sure with her thick fur she certainly didn’t feel much of the cold but the city is dirty so her paws and fur got wet and dirty. And that meant every time we had been walking outside, I had to dry her fur with an old towel I found in the laundry space. She didn’t like that much and showed her unease with those howling sounds but eventually got used to it. We did get along very well and considering the fact that we only had two weeks together I thought we did very well. Once or twice she even came in the evening sitting next to me, when I was writing. It just worked out fine and the days passed quickly.
One week had passed and I was sitting on the couch watching TV as I randomly looked aside where the fridge was I don’t know really why I looked in that direction but I am glad I did. There up on the top of the fridge I discovered a small blinking device and its “eye” pointed directly into the living room. What’s that, I thought and got up to investigate. As I got closer I couldn’t believe what I saw, a camera standing right on top of the fridge. Really, I frowned my forehead took a chair to stand on and – unbelievable – indeed there it was, a little bull eye camera which pointed directly into to room. That’s not true I thought. What were these people thinking? This is just not cool, installing a camera to spy on me? Welcome in 2018 was my next thought and then “Privacy” seems to be a word from the old days. While shaking my head still in disbelief, I looked for something to cover up that spy cam. I finally found a small paper bag and some tape and wrapped it up. But still I couldn’t get rid of the feeling that somebody is watching me and in my mind I wondered if there were more spy cams installed anywhere else in the apartment, even maybe in my temporary bedroom or in the bathroom? I slowly walked through the whole apartment looking in each and every corner and inspected every room – to my great relief – with no success. But I really thought this is absolutely unacceptable. You cannot invite people to take care of your beloved pet and then spy on them, how weird is that? Especially because the website I was on is called “trusted house sitters”. What about the house and pet owners, I then asked myself for the first time? The effect was that I lost trust in “city people” and especially in people under the age of thirty, because I realized that this “new generations” truly had lost their sense for respect and trust in humans. But o.k. what can you do?
With still a week left to stay, I focused on what I had planned to do and fulfilled my duties with Gewsha. I thought about to ask why they did that when they would be back, but then I put that idea aside, why bother? I never would see them again – which was not right, but I couldn’t know that at that point –. On the day the couple returned I had been busy in town all day and came back late, because I didn’t wanted to be there when they came home. I had asked them if I could stay that night, because I had to be at Schiphol airport early the next day and moving for one night to a friend’s house was too much of a hassle. They were friendly but not communicative and after a quick chat about how Gewsha had behaved I showered and went to bed. As I left next day around 5:30 am everybody was still sleeping. I looked around for a last time to assure that I didn’t have left anything and saw a dark blue running jacket hanging on the wardrobe. I looked again but thought that jacket couldn’t be mine, because I hadn’t doing my daily run or exercise, because it was much too cold and I hadn’t had time anyways. As I was about to open the door Gewsha came out of the living room, looked at me and touched my hand with her cool snout. “Good bye” I whispered before opening the door and left to my next house sit in England. And while I was there I discovered that this running jacket I saw on the wardrobe indeed was mine. I guess because I just had bought that jacket, my eyes and mind didn’t recognize it at that early morning. I sent a text message to Sonja and asked if I could pick it up when back in Holland, which would in about 4 weeks from now. She agreed and so it happened that I did meet Gewsha again at the subway station and she really seemed to recognize me. She pulled on her leash as she saw me and with her tail wagging she greeted me warmly. Sonja and I chatted a bit and it was then when I learned that this young couple from South Africa had left the place because it was too dangerous to life there. She told me, that after their flat had been burgled for several times and the last time Gewsha was even abducted, they didn’t feel safe there anymore. Why would someone abduct an old lady like Gewsha I asked her and she said that because she was a husky and that breed was in demand. Again, we talking about South Africa, which for me indicate heat and sun mostly all day. She continued that they would sell her or – even worse for the dog – would use her for breeding. Against all odds they got her back but by then they had already started to look for another place to life, which brought them to The Netherlands, because as South African natives they couldn’t get a visa for the U.S. easily. With that knowledge the whole camera incident appeared different to me and I was happy that I hadn’t asked them about it. All people are different and pretty much influenced by their experiences, conditions and upbringing. And that is the only source they can rely on right?
I said goodbye to her and Gewsha and went back to my friend place, where I stayed for another week before my next house sit in New Zealand.
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