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In 1986, I took an English Composition class at the Saddleback Community College in Mission Viejo, CA. Our instructor was very effective, forgiving of the occasional spelling error, but death on tardiness. Her first lecture discussed this issue at length, claiming that she had heard every possible excuse for being late to one of her classes. She shared with us some of the more outrageous ones and offered a free pass to anyone with an original excuse that she had not already heard.

Early one morning, as I was driving through Camp Pendleton on the way to the college, I had to stop and wait as a herd of buffalo crossed the road. Some of our military bases serve as homes to an incredible variety of endangered or at risk species. In Twentynine Palms they host desert bighorn sheep who had suffered from poaching in the nearby National Park. Pendleton had its own herd of buffalo that, from time to time, disrupted artillery practice, by roaming across the ranges, as well as traffic, by roaming across the road. That morning they delayed my commute by a good fifteen minutes.

Knowing how Joann felt about tardiness, I really stepped on it once I hit Interstate 5, weaving my way in and out of the light morning traffic. Luck was on my side and I made it to the classroom just as she was beginning her lecture. As I slipped into my seat it occurred to me that I had just wasted a beautiful excuse that I was sure she had never heard before. I mean, how many Southern California students could claim that they had been held up by a herd of buffalo?

I resolved then and there to never again waste a good excuse. Follow below the fold for my latest.

A year ago I had planned to fly to Chicago for Thanksgiving and drive back to California with my step-daughter for the Christmas holiday. Having four cats, one of whom had chronic renal insufficiency, I decided I needed a pet/house sitter for the three weeks of my absence. Gail fell down the stairs, severely breaking her ankle on my second night in town. That extended my stay from three weeks to six. The house-sitter stayed on long enough for a new one to arrive from Canada and showed her where everything was and how it all worked. Both sets of house-sitters were obtained from the same website and I was delighted to not have to worry about how everything was going at home.

The way the pet/house-sitting thing works is that as the home owner, I post an ad outlining my location and requirements. Sitters then contact me via the website, I review the applications and references and then offer the stay to whichever sitter seems best suited to my needs. No money changes hands. In return for taking care of my home and cats, the sitter is able to enjoy the amenities my home provides, which are multiple, and can spend December in a sunny, fairly warm climate.

This year the plan was to fly into Chicago, then to Minneapolis to have Thanksgiving with Gail's step-daughter and her family. (Gail and I have a ten year age difference that she also shares with her oldest step-daughter. Which results in my having a grand-daughter 20 years younger than I am. Modern families.) After Thanksgiving we would fly to Boston and I would spend December with her and her fiancé in Buzzard's Bay.

The couple that were to be my pet sitters had multiple good references, and had run a pet-sitting business in Boulder, CO. They were between 56-65 years old and had their own car. Having sold their Boulder home earlier in the year, they were exploring options in Southern California and Hawaii. It seemed like a perfect fit.

It wasn't.

My electric bill for the first three and a half weeks of their stay is $297. The cumulative total of the three prior months was $58. (I have two sets of solar panels.) Apparently they have never had a spa and felt that it was appropriate to set the heater to 102º and leave it that way, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In December.

The landscaping is irrigated and on timers, so I told them they would not have to worry about watering any of the plants and gave them the number of my gardener in case there was any problem with the watering. All of the plants in the front yard are now dead because that timer wasn't working while I was gone and they never looked out the windows. I guess. My paper shredder has been emptied but is no longer working. A Wusthof utility knife is missing from my set. As is a dinner plate.

All of the above would have been major irritants, whose cost I would have chalked up to the price for responsible pet sitters. Had they been responsible pet sitters. What is more than a costly irritant and what I can't forgive, is the neglect of my cats.

17 year old Jasper
They told me that my oldest, Jasper who is now 17, had a problem with fecal incontinence one day. He would apparently, unknowingly, walk through the house leaving stool, some of which was diarrhea, behind him. It being Christmas, and they wanting to enjoy the sunshine, they put him into my large, enclosed, master-bathroom shower. When they went back inside, they found that Jasper had continued to suffer from incontinence and was now pretty well covered in his own feces. Instead of wrapping him in a towel and taking him to a vet, they gave him a bath and then toweled him dry.

I don't like to dwell on the logic behind further traumatizing a sick cat that way; the neglect that they showed Tinker Toy has made that easy. When I left, Tinker Toy was a burly ten pound Tonkinese "monkey in mink." Known for their soft coats, gymnastic ability, sociability and sense of humor, I consider them to be the cat world's Golden Retrievers.

CC, being looked after by Jasper
on her last day
June 26, 2013
When I returned, his weight was down to 6.8 pounds, he spent his time in one of the heated cat beds and did not have much of an appetite, although he did eat a little. Within a couple of days he urinated in his sleep. Alarmed at the weight loss, and having lost our oldest cat, CC to renal failure in June after a five year battle, I took him down to the emergency vet in Indio that afternoon. They gave him sub cutaneous fluids and did a blood and urinalysis. The vet called me the next morning (New Year's Day) with the recommendation that he be given IV hydration to flush the toxins from his system. Since she was an hour and a half away and the trip was traumatic for Tinker she felt that it could wait until Thursday.

He spent Thursday and Friday at our local vet's office which is just a couple of blocks from the house. He would receive 8 hours of IV fluids and I would bring him home at night, taking him back the next morning. By Saturday, it seemed that he would be okay to eat and drink on his own so they removed the IV catheter. He drank some water once I got him home but still would not eat anything.

Tinker Toy, on the left, and Tonka Toy
(my two Boy Toys) in front 
of the shower door
Since Saturday, I have been spending my time trying to get him to drink water, eat food, take his appetite stimulant and phosphorus binder. He stopped drinking on his own Saturday night, so yesterday I used a syringe to get some water in him every couple of hours. Late last night he spent over five minutes drinking at the water fountain on his own. Success!

Now I am focused on getting food into his stomach. I made a chicken broth yesterday that contains nothing but chicken and water, unlike commercial brands that have onion and/or garlic. This morning I mixed it with some canned cat food and used a syringe to get him to take about a half-teaspoon. Twice. I will continue to hand-feed him until he either begins eating on his own or we return to the Animal Hospital.

Okay, so it is not actually a dog that ate my homework, it was a cat and he won't eat anything. But the diary that I had planned for tonight, on Charles Todd's latest novel Hunting Shadows, will have to wait until I can focus more clearly. Tonight's mystery is how can two people watch a cat starve himself and how could I have entrusted my best friends to them?

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Originally posted to Readers and Book Lovers on Mon Jan 06, 2014 at 05:00 PM PST.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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