Pet-sitter's tale title belies work
By Lou Fancher
The title of writer Lindsey Grant's new book, "Sleeps with Dogs," is a lie.
Or a half-truth at best, because the former professional pet nanny spent most of her East Bay dog-sitting days scooping monster poops into plastic bags, sopping up pee with towels, inhaling serious (bad) dog breath, chasing her ever-escaping charges and performing exotic, often exhausting rituals of care for the dogs' owners.
Despite pajamas emblazoned with "sleeps with dogs" that her sister gave her, there was little sleeping between 2004, when Grant began her pet-sitting business, and 2008, when she sold the business and completed graduate school at Mills College in Oakland.
Grant will read and sign copies of her new book (Seal Press, $16, 256 pages) at Books Inc. in Alameda (1344 Park St. at 7 p.m. Thursday Nov. 6) and Mrs. Dalloway's in Berkeley (2904 College Ave. at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 11).
In a phone interview from Switzerland, where she lives with her husband and two cats adopted from Germany, Grant says she's eager to return, but -- note to former clients -- she no longer pet-sits.
"My husband works for Google, and we leapt at the chance to transfer and live here," the 32-year-old Atlanta native says. "Because of visa issues, I knew it would be difficult to find work, so I used the time to write my blog and work on the manuscript I'd been revising for seven years."
"Sleeps with Dogs" is episodic -- telling the stories of Echo, an electric-green, biting parakeet; Larry, an ailing tomcat at the end of his ninth life; Charlie, a gaseous greyhound, and others. Often comical, consistently poking fun at pet owners without even having to exaggerate, the essays are also a coming-of-age tale.
"The person I'm writing about in the book was a younger, unfinished person," Grant says. "Writing my blog helped me find my voice. I was so comfortable, I did a complete overhaul of the original manuscript."
Ruminating over her lifelong fixation with animals with the perspective of time and the vantage point of a different country, Grant discovered parallels between herself and the animals under her care.
"It struck me how dogs can get depressed, just as I do," she said. "Only these dogs were getting treated: I wasn't."
Pet-sitting wasn't entirely lucrative, and Grant admits she was often near-broke and never assertive enough to charge the going rate. She remembers $30 for overnights and $20 for long, daily visits. Without health care, she had to drop the medication that had smoothed her anxiety and lifted her out of isolating depression. A sense of humor, her family and eventually writing became forms of escape.
Analyzing her book, she now realizes the experiential essays are more than anecdotes: the stories represent pet owner culture and human beings' complex relationship with animals.
"If you have a fussy owner, the dog loses its rambunctiousness," she says. "There are breed tendencies, but it was a hard realization to find my interactions with dogs were influenced most by their owners."
In Switzerland, she is finding a different pet world. If you want a cat, you must adopt two, because the country has a law dictating an animal must lay eyes on another animal or human one time per day.
"You're technically not allowed to leave a cat home alone over a long weekend," Grant said. "Our cats have passports, because they came from Germany. For dogs, you have to take a course and a test if you want to own one. They don't have animal shelters either; we had to rent a car and drive to a village to meet our potential cat."
Grant decided to write about her clients after she sold the business and has changed the names of streets, owners and pets to protect their identities.