Dogsitting: Part I, Michael

Sometimes, crazy looks a lot like stupid.

To be honest, sometimes I look like both.

During the summer after my first year of college, I was living with my parents and working a couple of jobs to save up for the next year. One was delivering pizzas for Papa Johns. Life Advice: NEVER deliver pizzas. This job may be worse than shoveling elephant poop. No offence meant to anyone who shovels elephant poo for a living.

The other was working with my church’s youth group as the “intern,” a position which involved organizing trips that like, three people signed up for, running devotionals or Bible-studies on Wednesdays, and playing lots and lots of freecell in the office. Guess which job I liked better?

Well, one of the families at the church was heading to the beach one weekend, and they asked if I would take care of their dog and keep the house from being attacked by ninjas or whatever. “Sure thing!” I said blithely, innocently, foolishly. “When are you leaving?”

Turns out they were leaving Thursday morning, so after Wednesday night church I headed over to their house and got the run-down. “Here’s our dog. He’s a Jack Russell, so he behaves as though he recently ingested the entire Columbian cocaine supply for the last five years.” (Ok, I added that part, but it is an accurate description. At night, the dog ran laps around the bedroom, all night, in the following progression: run up to the bed, jump on the bed, run across Michael trying to sleep in the bed, jump off the bed, run around the bed, jump on the bed, run across Michael trying not to commit atrocities that would make the entire PETA membership spontaneously combust or grow frontal lobes, whichever is less likely, and so on.)

“Here’s the key,” (this is important, pay attention) “it only works on the front door, just so you know.” After giving me some cash for food and a quick hug, they ushered me out the door to finish getting ready for their trip.

Thursday was a nightmare. It was pouring down rain, I was closing at the store, people were foul-tempered and stingy all night long, and more or less I hated humanity and life in general by the time the shift was over. Just wanted to crawl into bed and fake-die for a full 8 hours. So I get to the house, pull into the driveway, gather my bag of crap and my khaki power combo for Friday’s stint at church, and brave the deluge, running up to the front porch only to find…


They locked the [expletive deleted] storm door!


I can’t get to the door. Which means I cannot use my key. Which means, subsequently, that I cannot let the dog out to pee, take a shower, and collapse into a coma, as I so desperately wanted to do.

After grumping back to the car (apparently, “grumping” is a word according to my spellchecker—and not a just a made-up word appropriate to my situation) and preparing to just head the heck home, I calmed down a bit and thought, “If it was my dog, I would want me to at least try not to leave it alone all night…”

Images of the poor dog, trying desperately not to pee and failing miserably, gnawing on doorknobs and houseplants in hunger, made me feel like an ass for wanting to leave. So I got back out of the car and went to the back door.

Now, “went to the back door” did not involve “walking around the back of the house to the door facing away from the street.” Oh no, no, no, nonono. My life cannot be that easy.

They had a fence.

The fence was locked.

The fence was also adorned with barbed wire! We are in the suburbs of Birmingham, Alabama, in a hilariously nice neighborhood where a “crime spree” involves two whole houses being TP’d in one month, and they have BARBED WIRE surrounding their back yard?!? Not the spiral razor barbed wire, mind you, but still, the pointy stuff!

At this point, between the locked storm door and the barbed wire, I am starting to question the sanity of these people. Perhaps even their morality. They’ve isolated their dog (is it even theirs, I wondered?) from companionship and comfort, and presented me with innumerable obstacles for taking care of said dog. Maybe they were videotaping my struggles, studying my behavior, or just getting off on my irritation. Sadists? Mad scientists? Who knows?

Well, I would be damned if I would let any mad scientist get the best of me! (Please remember, it had been a very long night by this point, and I was only nineteen. Everybody is some kind of idiot at the age of nineteen. Yes, even you.) Remember the liposuction clinic scene in Fight Club? Yeah, I did that thing with the rug they did. Only I used the welcome mat from the mad scientists’ front door! HAH! Take THAT!

Pulling my bulk over the fence was one thing. One thing for which I was extremely proud!

However, getting into the house was another thing entirely. I stood on the back porch, which was at least covered (not that it mattered, I was drenched by this point), and put the key in the lock. Just in case.

Didn’t turn.

Fit the lock! Just… didn’t… turn.

Sooooooo close.

I prayed, urgently, for a way to appear – bowed my head and looked down as I did so—and guess what I saw?

They had a doggie-door.

Now, I am not a small person. I have not been a small person since I was probably about seven years old. I was closing in on 6 feet in the fifth grade, and while I never got any taller, I definitely kept growing horizontally. At this particular point, I was probably just over 200 pounds, with big shoulders designed to hold up a prodigious beer gut that I thankfully had not yet developed.

Still, I was NOT a small person.

But I was determined.

Veni, vidi, vici. Ten minutes later, after much grunting and cursing and more than a little praying, I stood triumphantly in the darkened kitchen, heroically searching for a light switch so that I could heroically let out and feed the dog and then heroically collapse into bed.

Then I heroically slammed my shin on one of their kitchen chairs, which they’d left pulled out from the table, and likewise in heroic fashion did I step on a toy of some kind that they’d left on the floor. These mad scientists were messy, I thought to myself, and reveled in my triumph for about two more seconds before I heard the radio going upstairs and everything clicked and I realized OH MY GOD I AM IN THE WRONG HOUSE.

Have you ever had that moment, where you’ve been struggling with something and it just wouldn’t fit, fighting a fight you couldn’t win, putting your back to the boulder but not moving it, only to find the world turning around and you realize why, all in one blinding flash of obvious that you never even thought to consider?

It feels like terror.

Sheer, unadulterated fear.

I was frozen (heroically? Not anymore) for a good ten seconds before my adrenal glands, annoyed with my brain’s paralysis, stepped in and jump-started my body without my conscious permission. From about five feet away, I dove through that damned doggie door headfirst. It took about six minutes to get in – but only a sixth of a second to get back through. (Amazing what a good cold sweat will do for you in a tight spot…)

Jump the fence – replace the welcome mat – get in the car – yank out of the driveway. There!

The mailbox!

It was the same mailbox!

In the pouring rain at midnight, I had just seen the mailbox! There, one house to the left, was the actual target. They weren’t mad scientists at all!

I was just an utter moron.

Not until I was safely in bed, with the Jack Russell just beginning his track meet, did I let myself wonder…

How big was the dog whose doggie could fit a 200-pound college freshman?


Turns out that the canine in question was as old as I was, couldn’t see, and had no teeth. Its owner, a 90-year-old widow living alone with her antediluvian doggie, was probably more dangerous to my health.

See, I don’t really have a soul or anything, so I can’t really be embarrassed. Given that, I told the family whose house I was in the whole story the next day because, let’s face it, it’s damned funny. They then called their neighbor and told her because, again, it’s damned funny – AND they figured she’d want to know that a not-quite-six-foot-tall-and-kinda-chubby guy can fit through her doggie door. Just a thought, y’know.



She had been INVADED!

Her privacy was SHATTERED!


These were words she yelled at me, repeatedly, for about twenty minutes the next day while I was in my office at church. I mean, it didn’t really bother me, because frankly I felt she should be grateful that her glaring security deficit was exposed by a bumbling but good-natured teenager who worked in a church, rather than, say, the Son of Sam. After about a minute or two, I just put her on speaker and continued my free-cell marathon, occasionally murmuring some variation on the phrases “I’m very sorry, Ma’am,” “You have every right to be angry, Ma’am,” and “Yes, of course, Ma’am.”

She finally tired herself out with the fruitless tongue-lashing and ended her harangue by informing me with righteous derision that she had, of course, informed the police, and I should expect to hear from them SOON.

Tee hee.

Three cheers for the Hoover PD, who gave me a call about a month later at home only to laugh at me. Seriously, the officer on the phone asked what I’d done, burst out laughing as I told the story, then called me an idiot, and told me to stay out of doggie doors.

At least he wasn’t crazy.