A Mission of No Return

By Carolyn Hayes

One thing most people don’t know about me is that I used to be a professional pet sitter for over 20 years. For some reason, it seems longer. In all those years, there is one story that stands out in my mind and a great lesson learned. It’s entitled: A Mission of No Return and I dedicate this to all the pet sitters out there!

Mike is a dog I’ll never forget. My story begins when my friend Robin gave me a pet sitting customer referral. It was a gal from her office and she was going on a cruise with her family and needed a pet sitter. Well, that's me! They left me in charge of their cat (which was no problem) and their 16-year-old deaf and blind mixed-breed terrier, Mike. I thought he too would be an easy one, but he was more unforgettable than easy!

On an afternoon before the big snow storm hit, my customers left on their cruise to a nice, warm tropical location. When they left that afternoon there wasn’t much snow, the real blast arrived right before my first scheduled visit. By the time I reached their house, which was out-in-the-country, the snow drifts were high in many places. Fortunately, the driveway didn’t drift and I was able to pull my car in without any problem. However, the snow had drifted on the walk and stairs leading to their front door. All I had was their front door key. Snow was up over my knees on the stair path and even higher on both sides of the stairs, making it almost impossible to walk. 

With their house on a hill with lots of stairs and lots of drifts to overcome, I trudged upward slowly and fell many times, but was determined to make it. "Carolyn, you can do this! Carolyn, you can do this!" I kept repeating to myself. Having to crawl the last few feet, I reached the top and made it to the front door! Although my fingers were numb, I did manage to unlock the door. Completely out-of-breath, I stopped to gather my wits about me. Then I went to the kitchen where I found Mike and touched him lightly so he knew I was there. Mike could see just enough to know where the door was and I fastened him onto his chain, right outside the back door. I proceeded to check on the cat. She was skittish, but was fine. I scooped her litter box, made sure she had fresh water and food. 

Per the customer instructions before leaving from the first visit, I was to retrieve the garage door opener from their SUV in the garage so I wouldn’t have to use the front door key again until the last visit. I was so happy I didn’t have to climb and crawl up those front stairs again. Since the stairs were not steep, going down would be tolerable. 

On the next day visits, the snow was still high in places and ice topped the freshly fallen snow. All went well until the night visit, when unbeknownst to me after turning the back light on, I decided not to put Mike on his chain. I thought that leash was so cold and he couldn’t possibly wander off as he was so slow. Well, this is when the nightmare began. I thought I could watch him and make sure he stayed on course as he couldn’t wander too far from the back door. What was I thinking? Just as soon as he did full duty, I thought he’d automatically come back toward the house. But he didn’t. He headed in the opposite direction traveling quicker than I imagined he could move. Seeing this made me panic and then I tried to move out, stumbling with every yell: "Mike! Mike! Here Mike!" The more I yelled the farther he got. He wandered about 50 yards toward the neighbor's house. Although I used a snow shovel as a staff, it was no help. I tried to gain traction, but the snow was just too deep. My legs felt like they weighed 50 pounds a piece. I didn’t make much leeway and the snow slowed me down until I was completely exhausted. I looked up and saw Mike walking on top of the snow as it was capped with hard ice. I tried so hard to reach him, but just kept falling and couldn’t move anymore. “Help! somebody, help me!” No one could hear or see me and Mike could not hear or see me. Oh Lord, help me, I prayed! I cried out, “Help! somebody help me!” I thought there is no way I can rescue Mike. I was so afraid he’d become lost. 

My only hope was the neighbors. Even though everything was so quiet and no one around, I kept yelling and finally I saw car headlights. The neighbors arrived home! I remember thanking the Lord right at that moment! After a couple more yells for help, the neighbors came to my rescue and brought Mike home. Thank the Lord! I was so grateful and certainly learned an age-old lesson, “always follow your customer’s instructions!”

Often these uncertain moments flash back into my mind like a “mission of no return”. And really that’s what it was as it was a one-time pet sitting assignment, but I certainly didn’t want a missing dog to go on my record. Thank the Lord, everything turned out fine. The owners got home safe and sound, and, unless their neighbors told them, they never found out about all the hardships I faced.

I’ll never forget Mike! He’s at Rainbow Bridge now, but what a lesson I learned from him. I always follow instructions to a tee and don’t waiver one iota. I often think about that episode with Mike and how “the customer instructed: 'don't let him out without him being on his chain!'”  That’s something I learned the hard way! I laugh now when I tell this story, but I wasn’t laughing then!


NOTE: Dog picture posted is not of Mike, but looks similar to him and maybe a bit faster! 

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