Many people are fortunate enough to spend their winter breaks on a vacation. For the third year in a row, I spent mine watching animals that don’t belong to me.
From my friend’s mom’s spaniels to my cousin’s tabby cat, I’ve grown comfortable with the concept of staying alone in someone else’s house, eating someone else’s frozen pizza, hanging out with someone else’s pets and getting paid to do it.
This year was a new challenge: my cousin Joey asked me to watch over his three boxers–Beans, Basil and Baxter–while he and his partner, Charlie, vacationed in London for the week. I got to stay in his Victorian style, Holabird & Roche residence, giving myself a post-holiday green tea detox and regrettably watching season two of “You.”
Hanging out with the dogs was the best part. As any pet-sitter knows, when you spend that much time away from the human world you start talking to animals like they’re people, and in my mind, Beans, Basil and Baxter each had a unique personality I fell in love with.
Beans walks with the grace of a freshly born foal, clomping his way around a wood-plastered Victorian house when he should be galloping through a field. His prickly brindle coat covers his entire form like prison tattoos and his tongue is too big for his mouth, so it hangs out and flops around like Ed the Hyena from “The Lion King.” Suffice to say, he looks like he’s been around the block more than a few times.
Basil is the most put-together of the three, and the natural leader. She has sleek, soft, model-quality fur and a gorgeous underbite that shows off her pearly white chompers, though she’ll never accept a compliment. She shreds chew toys to pieces in her freetime because she’s a proud feminist who will accept nothing less than the Kong she deserves.
Baxter isn’t a boxer at all. He looks like a miniature version with his cropped tail and short snout, but there’s not a drop of boxer blood coursing through his veins. He took a DNA test, turns out he’s 100% nothing. Rather, he’s a mix of shiba inu, dobermann, pug and terrier. He’s a boxer imposter. He enjoys long walks to the fridge and barking at his siblings when they get too rowdy.
Two days into my stay at La Casa de Joey, I hopped out of the shower to find the dogs in the bedroom. My purse had been rifled through, and its contents were sprawled across the floor. A crime had been committed, and the only suspects were standing in front of me.
In that moment, Beans was the obvious suspect. He looked guilty as a sinner in church and was the closest to a bag of my homemade honey candy, which had been ripped from my purse and lost a few pieces in the process.
“Beans!” I said, picking up the bag of candy. “Did you eat these?”
Beans farted in response.
“If you get a tummy ache, it’s not my fault,” I said.
The following day, I came back from a post-Christmas family celebration with a bag full of gifts. In that bag were three individually wrapped Lindt truffles. That night, I once again stepped out of the shower to find the bag disheveled, and the truffles had mysteriously disappeared, wrappers and all. It was my fault for leaving it in on the floor, but I was still a little peeved.
“Beans!” I shouted. “I know this was you! You are the naughtiest dog!”
Beans just stared at me, his floppy tongue devoid of regret.
I immediately called my mom and told her there was an emergency. She’s a nurse, so she knows things.
“This dog just ate three whole truffles with the wrapper on,” I said. “Is he going to die?”
“He’ll probably just have some diarrhea,” she said. “He might throw up if his stomach can’t digest the wrappers.”
I breathed a sigh of relief. I could handle diarrhea. I could clean up a little vomit. I was just glad I wouldn’t have to drive this dog to the hospital.
The next day was the day before New Year’s Eve. New Year’s Eve Eve, if you will. The week I was watching the boxers, I also happened to be making daily trips to Lincoln Park to take care of my other cousin’s cat, Odie, while she and her fiancé were in Disney World.
Before leaving to go give the orange tabby dinner, I put the dogs up in their room, leaving Beans and Basil in their respective crates. Baxter doesn’t have a crate and is allowed to roam around the room, as per his dads’ request. After I fed Odie that evening, I picked up a burger and fries from Five Guys to feed myself, and headed back to Joey’s.
Upon arriving at the house and opening the door to the dogs’ room, my jaw dropped in a mixture of surprise and relief. On the white linen sheets of the bed were a few puddles of bile. In those puddles were three Lindt truffle wrappers, undigested.
I couldn’t believe it. Baxter had been the true culprit all along.
“Baxter!” I exclaimed. “How could you let me blame your brother for what you did?”
In a fit of shame, Baxter ran out of the room. I went to let Beans and Basil out of their crates, profusely apologizing to Beans for my mistake all the while.
“I’m so, so sorry, Beans,” I said, holding his head in my hands. “Can you ever forgive me?”
He gave me a kiss on the nose. I gave him one back.
The three of us marched downstairs to catch up with Baxter, take a potty break and eat dinner. Baxter was two steps ahead of us.
Stepping into the kitchen, we found the boxer imposter had gotten into my purse yet again. This time, he had already eaten my fries and was making his way through my cheeseburger with sauteed mushrooms and onions.
“Baxter, no!” I shouted in disbelief.
This dog. This smelly dog. I picked him up where he stood and he licked cheese off his snout right in front of my face. Cheese which was supposed to be mine. Mine! I looked deep into those black eyes only to find a regretless stare. There was no shame. His only remorse was that he hadn’t finished the burger before I had found him.
Had Baxter been born a human, he would have been a burglar or a con man or a supervillain. A fearsome criminal who’s deathly afraid of fireworks. He’s the physical incarnation of a morally gray Scrappy-Doo.
But that’s what makes him special. Perfection is overrated, and obedience isn’t a measurement of intelligence.
The food thievery stopped after that night, and Baxter didn’t hold it against me for putting a stop to his crimes. He normally slept on the edge of the bed, but the following night was New Year’s Eve. After I coaxed him out from under the king-size frame, he cuddled right up to me as I protected him from the sky booms.
If there’s anything to take away from all of this, I suppose it’s that I need to be more careful when jumping to conclusions. Just because someone looks like a criminal doesn’t make them guilty. Especially if they have a mastermind for a brother.
What’s more, a cheeseburger is just a cheeseburger. And it doesn’t hold a candle to the love of a dog.