The holidays for many people were filled with mirth, merriment and the magic of the season.
Mine was occupied with the shoveling of kitty litter and the opening of can after can of cat food.
The holidays this year gave me a newfound appreciation for the professional enterprise known as pet sitting.
My girlfriend Shelly owns and operates one of the longest running pet sitting businesses in San Francisco.
It’s called Tales of the Kitty, a playful take on Armistead Maupin’s legendary novels about life in San Francisco, “Tales of the City.”
Shelly went to Maupin before she launched her business more than 15 years ago to see if he was OK with her idea for the name.
The esteemed author gave her his blessing after she spotted him at a book signing and bounced the idea off of him.
The holidays are Shelly’s busiest time of the year. Scores of people flee San Francisco for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years.
Many of them have pets that need checking on, feeding, etc. That’s where Tales of the Kitty comes in.
As you might guess from the name, her business only cares for cats. Leaving out dogs hasn’t hurt her business.
On the contrary, Shelly struggles during the last six weeks of the year to keep up with demand.
Even with 10 employees — some of whom will take on 20 visits in a single day — the demand is so great that Shelly finds herself pressed to do a lot of visits herself while also managing the company.
That’s where I came in. Not wanting to see my girlfriend wiped out and frazzled, I agreed to visit some cats during the Christmas and New Years weekends, including the actual holidays.
One thing I learned is pet sitting is more draining than you might think.
First, we’re talking about San Francisco, a metropolis famous for its hilly streets. Visiting someone’s residence oftentimes requires climbing a sidewalk that feels like it’s going up at a 45-degree angle.
Many of her clients live in apartment buildings, and that means climbing lots of stairs.
In some cases there are elevators. In others there aren’t, or the elevator is so old and small that riding it gives you pause about stepping inside the thing.
The visits themselves consist of cleaning food and water bowls, putting out fresh food, cleaning out litter boxes, and giving the cats some quality time.
That’s the official job description. The last part — about playing or petting the cats — is entirely dependent on the feline’s personality.
Some cats greet you at the door and are happy to see you, even if you are a total stranger.
Others greet you at the door, and want to shred your flesh.
The rest fall somewhere in between. I visited one home with three cats who, without fail, were always hiding under a blanket on the bed.
It was something of a crapshoot finding the one cat out of the three who was friendly.
When I guessed correctly, it was Bodhi, a sweet, loveable orange tabby who had a very calming energy. It was no wonder he shares the same name as the famous tree under which the Buddha reportedly found enlightenment.
The other two cats in this home would hiss and growl if I guessed wrong and lifted up their portions of the blanket.
Many homes have only one cat, and some of those really struggle being alone without their owners.
One cat who was less than a year old, and still very much a kitten at heart, was so intent on spending every second with me that he walked into the kitchen sink while I washed off his food dish, without any care whatsoever for the water pouring down his back.
I had another cat, an orange tabby who was friendly but also aggressive if he suspected I was leaving his apartment.
Just walking to another room to check a water bowl or the cat box could result in the cat pouncing on my lower leg, claws extended.
The same cat tried very hard to keep me from exiting the premises once the visit was over.
He first wrapped himself around my foot, howling for mercy for me not to go.
Then, he leaped at the door knob over and over again, trying to prevent me from opening the door.
I had to gently use my backpack as a shield to carefully extricate myself from that apartment.
Most of the cats were a joy to care for, with fun names that matched their personalities, such as Itchy and Scratchy, Frodo Baggins, and Fuz Lightyear.
These four-legged clients make the job enjoyable, and help me to endure the more mundane aspects or the exhaustion that can come from doing 7-8 visits a day, my average during the long Christmas weekend.
Next time Shelly says she’s spent from a day of pet sitting, I’ll know exactly what she means, and I’ll empathize.