“Sleeps with Dogs,” by Lindsey Grant. Seal Press, $16.
Sometimes zany, sometimes frantic this fast-moving tableau could have been titled “Adventures of a Pet Nanny.”
Whether it’s talking to birds, caring for cats or walking a wide array of dogs, Grant immerses the reader in her duties while introducing you to their sometimes eccentric owners who live in a wide array of settings in the Oakland, Calif., area. These people and their bizarre demands and living conditions are just as much the story here as the animals themselves.
Grant, an Atlanta native who moved to the Bay Area following college with the intent of enrolling in graduate school to study creative writing, finds herself pet sitting for $30 a day to earn spending money while staying with friends of her mother near Berkeley.
Growing up in Atlanta, she worked in a pet store, so this seems like a good fit. The pet-care path gradually grows into a full-fledged business for Grant, who utilizes some of her writing skills and organization for detailing customers’ care instructions for both their animals and their homes.
On one assignment she might be required to bring her own bedding . . . and coffee. On the next, everything would be provided. Or instructions might read: Don’t go over the fence, go around it. Or don’t use the washing machine under any circumstances vs. you’re free to treat this place like your own.
The cast of unforgettable characters includes everything from a swearing bird to a gassy greyhound. And the next assignment might be caring for a near-dying cat to a trip to a self-serve doggy wash with a cute but aged Heinz 57 pooch.
She writes, “Most of the dogs I took care of were a little nuts. It was a wide spectrum, but I could place almost all of them somewhere along the range of dysfunction.
“ . . . It all made me wonder if I was perversely attracted to clients – or they to me – with emotionally and/or mentally challenged pets. . . . Most troubling for me was the slow realization that many of the dogs I’d encountered over the past year were proving to be as opaque and unpredictable as I’d long found humans to be. When reading a dog’s emotional state or anticipating their likely reaction to stimulus, I was guessing wrong as often as I guessed right. When dogs are your full-time job, with a side of cat or fish or bird thrown in for good measure, being wrong 50 percent of the time was bad news.”
While there are numerous perks to the pet-care business, Grant quickly discovers the drawbacks, too, like owners and quirky pets, delayed payment, crazy hours, cleaning up after in-house accidents and chasing down runaway dogs.
Sharply reflective and impassioned, “Sleeps with Dogs” moves with gusto while capturing the psychological gymnastics and brief, punchy slices of life of pet-care Americana.