Category Archives: house sitting

Stuck in the storm

Brisbane CBD about to get hit by the Supercell

Brisbane CBD about to get hit by the Supercell

It was absolutely bucketing down two weeks ago here in South East Queensland. We had days of rain and flash flooding. Nearby Caboolture got 330mm of rain in 12 hours.

This was a pain for two reasons:

Firstly: I’m taking care of animals who live outdoors so i have to go out and interact with them, consequently getting wet myself. Also the dogs walk mud in unless I laboriously wipe their bloody paws every time.

Secondly: on the day in question I was catching up with some class mates in Deception Bay (normally a short drive away) to do some course work. Even early in the morning there was a lot of water everywhere, including the road. The ocean was ALL choppy waves and grey skies. We finished our course work about 3.30pm. Drew headed off for work and I headed to Burpengary. “Be careful driving!” said Brooke, and I thought ‘yes must be careful on my quarter of an hour drive home. Drive slow and get under cover to enjoy the storm.’

Map of the Supercell. Red bit is the worst part. Guess where I was?

Map of the Supercell. Red bit is the worst part. Guess where I was?

What a drive. Over an hour I think; not sure, lost track of time. First thing to go wrong was the road I came in on now had a huge ‘detour’ sign barring my return. Bugger. Never been in Deception Bay before! Pulled over, checked Google maps and noticed my phone was under 10% power. Oh great, just when I might have an actual emergency going on my phone is about to die!

I found an alternate route and it was shared by every other car shunting along on the wet roads, trying to get out of here. Good conditions for an accident.

The roads were completely covered in water at points and  sometimes it was up to the axle of my little yellow car! “Please don’t break down!” I begged my 4-wheeled inanimate object. I used to read about people who drove into flooded roads and yes it’s dumb but actually being in a bastard of a storm I can see how it happens. Half the time I couldn’t tell how deep the water was; and I was desperate to get home. Somewhere warm, with food and my partner to tell my adventures to. I did NOT want to be stuck in my cold car, with nothing to eat and wet clothes to sit in. And the longer I stayed out in this rain the more water would be on the ground and on the roads, making being stranded a distinct possibility. Forge on, I decided, in lieu of any better idea. (I was right to be apprehensive about being stranded. Drew ended up “stuck in a petrol station somewhere, can’t get to work, can’t get home”!)

"It doesn't look THAT deep!"

“It doesn’t look THAT deep!”

I told myself that everything was fine just as I braked for some amber traffic lights – and the car just aquaplaned (ie “slid”) right through! It came to rest in the middle of the intersection as I held the steering wheel with white knuckles and made some strange whimpering noises.  I took a deep breath, pressed the accelerator and went off with a little fish tale wiggle. Lots of lightning, thunder, cars sploshing waves of water over my windscreen. I was simultaneously aware of what I had to do (“stay calm, focus on what’s in front of you, not too fast, KEEP GOING!”) as well as the adrenaline buzz of a nervous body.

There were more detours and all the roads still working were crammed. Tried to drive as close to the centre of the road to avoid the water on the edges. Except that meant i was closer to oncoming traffic in conditions that made a ‘wobble’ quite likely. Aaaah!

Waiting and watching the water rising...

Waiting and watching the water rising…

When I finally arrived at the street I was staying on, it wasn’t full of water or blocked by downed trees, which felt like a victory. The ditches either side of the road were absolutely full of water though, and I wondered how longer the road would be clear? Forge ahead! I made it to the driveway so happy to be alive and home that I really didn’t care about getting out of the car and getting wet to open the gate. Everything felt great, even patting the imbecile dogs as they stood there wagging their tails with their big vacant eyes. The alpacas were all crammed together underneath a shelter looking wretched, one or two dispiritedly chewing cud as they stared out on a world gone mad with water, thunder and lightning.

Kerry had the dogs inside and they were dry, which was good news for me. Towelling down two soaked dogs is hard work. Particularly Oliver, the sweet but IQ-challenged golden retreiver. Thunder is one of the few things that get through the Ollie-bubble. Normally he’s happily oblivious to most of his environment (with the exception of food) but with storms he gets wound up with lots of pacing around, whimpering and looking scared.

Oliver in a happier moment

Oliver in a happier moment

As i was sitting down on the lounge next to Kerry Oliver jumped up and sat beside me. First time he’s even tried that. He was obviously distressed so I cut him some slack and let him stay there. I leaned back into him just to give him some touch and connect to him through the fear. The pressure of my back leaning on him seemed to calm him a bit. I could feel his breath as his ribs pressed into my back, he was breathing fast and hard, poor bugger. Scared out of his wits. So we sat there, me lying back against him and his head on Kerry. He stayed there for a good 20 minutes. Even when the thunder cracked overhead he stayed still, so being able to wedge himself between me and the lounge seemed to help.

Apparently this one is the 'clever' dog.

Harry; apparently he’s the ‘clever’ one.

Harry – the adorable narcissist – was a contrast. Happy to be inside and sharing the room with some humans, he played on the floor with one of his toys and even fell asleep for a while. He had a whale of a time while poor old Ollie quivered on the lounge. It really is all in the mind…

We were going to watch some Babylon 5 DVDs until a big bolt of thunder reminded me to unplug everything. So we sat there, bereft of electronic distraction, and listened to the storm, leaning on a terrified Golden Retriever while a labradoodle played with his stuffed green fly.

House sitting the alpacas

Sitting on houses is an ideal career choice for giant women

Sitting on houses is an ideal career choice for giant women

My partner and I are house sitters. We look after people’s places while they’re away, and often this includes looking after their animals. Usually a cat or a dog, occasionally some chickens. Once we had two horses. It’s usually reasonably laid back, with the odd neurotic terrier or high-maintenance feline making life interesting.

Our current house sit has two dogs, two cats and a dozen alpacas. It’s not near our home town Maleny, which is unusual for us; we like living in the hills. But it’s my sister’s place and so we’ve ventured “off the hill”. It seemed a good idea at the time. They’re off to Gallipoli for the 100th anniversary Anzac thing and we mind their menagerie at their five acres in Burpengary.

An alpaca, similar to the ones we are minding

Reports of an alpaca free house sit proved to be misleading

Initially it was going to be an alpaca free event. The strange long-limbed ones would be shuffled off to a nice farm for the month and we’d just have two dog and two cats to look after.

Complications arose and it looked like there would be a few alpacas to mind. And then it was twelve of them, and two babies.Oh and one of them is sick. As in “might drop dead any moment” sick. And another one is pregnant. As in “was supposed to give birth two weeks ago” pregnant. Gosh, what fun.

Safe to say this has been the busiest house sit I’ve ever done. Getting up early (6am – early for me) to let the dogs out (they sleep inside on beds) and then feed the cats, feed the alpacas, move them to a paddock so they can eat grass all day. Back to feed the dogs and then eat my breakfast, before going back to the bed where my partner slumbers on to get some nice bed warmth. And then it’s going out again and attending to whatever four-legged one needs patting, feeding, letting out, letting in, or cleaning.

keep_calm_by_focusing_on_being_neurotic_dog_shirt-r50e34b1dc9994ff68790aa1f366e08f6_v9iub_8byvr_324The cats and dogs are used to lots of attention and being treated as little people. I don’t treat animals as little people, I find it makes me and the animal a bit neurotic. So the furry ones are slowly coming to grips with the fact they aren’t hearing baby speak all day and may go for an hour without being caressed. Some are coping better than others. The male cat seems to be in a state of denial about being so under appreciated. The female cat has come out of her shell over the last few days. Never seen her so affectionate – maybe she likes being treated like a cat?

The dogs have varied experiences too. One is Harry a very cute labradoodle who is neurotic and doesn’t seem to cope with change very well. He spends a lot of time staring out the window waiting for his owner to come back. He’s eating though, so it can’t be too bad. The other dog is Oliver, a golden retriever who is very sweet and quite possibly the dumbest dog I’ve ever met. I’ve found him a few times just standing and staring at walls, eyes unfocused. I call it ‘Standby mode’, and Oliver’s there a lot. He has two loves, food and sleep. Doesn’t like being outside for more than 10 minutes, prefers the lounge to the great outdoors. If there was an Olympics for sleeping and general doggy inertia Oliver would win gold.

But there’s more than mentally unstable pets and medically-critical farm animals. The big thrill yesterday was chasing a blind alpaca around a paddock. Yep, they have a blind alpaca. Blind since birth. They call her Stevie Wander as she frequently gets lost in the acre paddocks and someone has to bring her back. Which – as of now – is me.

What if she gets away?

What if the blind alpaca gets away?

So there i was, in the paddock and clapping my hands which I’m told should attract her, like a homing signal. “Clap and call her name,” they said. So I did. Stevie heard my clapping, made sure she knew where i was – and then ran in the opposite direction. Did this flamboyant little jump and then sprinted off. I chased and prayed and shouted for a while and she just ran away from me. All my superior intelligence mattered didley squat. I finally conceded the battle and drooped back to home to enlist reinforcements and prepare for a fresh attempt.

My partner Kerry had her first taste of alpaca wrangling as we came back to herd Stevie into a corner of the paddock. “Herd” may not be the right word – “run around and say encouraging things and hope the bloody animal goes the way i want it to” is probably more accurate.  Finally I tiptoed up close and then seized her neck in the time-honoured ‘arm-around-the-neck’ alpaca controlling motion.

I do feel a little bit for Stevie Wander. Her life experience is of strange noises and frequently being seized by invisible hands. What a life! When I seized her she bucked and reared but there was no way I was letting go. Seeing an alpaca in an acre paddock running away from you must be one of the most dispiriting things possible, and it was getting dark too. Possible heart break right there.

So I’m holding a startled alpaca who’s leaping around manically but i managed to hook her neck and hold her still, stroking her neck and telling her it was alright as I slipped the halter over her snout and around the back of my head. I felt an immense relief and an adrenaline high.

This is what a haltered alpaca looks like. What a relief!

We walked her back to the night paddock where she could join her fellow bovine quadrepeds in munching hay as the sun went down. As I took the halter off she leapt away and then stopped, shook herself and casually trotted off. To me it was a big deal. To her, it was just another day of random grapplings and strange noises.

Then off to feed the dogs and cats and make our dinner. Life on the land!