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.
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.
The 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.
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.
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!