The Meanderthals

Outgunned by animalia

Two weeks into our animal husbandry assignment masquerading as a house sitting gig in the south of France, I began to get a sense of how Noah must have felt.

I was lacking an ark but had plenty of beasts to manage, with two neurotic dogs and three cats of the following description taking up considerably more than their fair share of the domicile: one feline of 19.3 pounds with an unending capacity to eat; one feral and elusive that caught a bird on our second night here and brought it into the house, alive and flapping in its mouth; and one aging, jet black and insistent upon taking its meals on the kitchen table.

The lord of Comigne (from bottom): Coco, Derecha, Maizie and Blackie

The lord of Comigne (from bottom): Coco, Derecha, Maizie and Blackie

The dogs had their peccadilloes, too. One was a terrier broad in the beam and short in the snout named Derecha (Spanish for right, though I quickly learned he was more wrong than right). He was affable and cuddly inside, but turned into a snarling, barking attack monster when on our twice a day walks, attacking everything from shadows to branches blowing in the winds. A whiff of another dog and Derecha became a Tazmanian devil. Coco was coocoo, a whimpering mass of dog flesh that was probably runt of the litter and never got over a solid basis of insecurity. Coco was afraid of everything, including inanimate objects. Even plants, I think.

The animals ruled the roost, creating a constant flow of activity in and out of the animal flap installed in the kitchen door. They slept on every surface imaginable (except our bed in the guest room, and that was spared only because we declared the bed off limits and kept the bedroom door tightly shut). It seemed as though something was always coming or going from one or more of their orifices around the clock, so intake output management was high on our list of responsibilities.

Derecha and Coco were accustomed to sleeping with their owners, so when they bedded down with us the first night we shrugged and drifted off to sleep.

I was awakened at some ungodly hour by Coco’s incessant scratching and gnawing at a troublesome foot, and realized with horror that Derecha was sleeping with his butt in my face. This fact became malodorously clear when he unleashed an impressive plume of gas. Gently nudging him from the bed with a shove to the midsection, I decided that one night bunking with the animals would be quite enough.

I’m guessing Noah must have regularly retreated to the ark’s wheelhouse for a bit of peace and quiet. And I can’t fathom how he managed all that poo. I know I struggled.

Take one dreary morning, for example.

Habitually an early riser, I was greeted with whines and frenetic pacing from the two dogs outside our bedroom door before I so much as put my feet to floor. Eager walkers, these guys, and an hour in the vineyards with them on leashes left us exhausted and ready for the warmth of the fire and a hot cup of tea. That they were in full throttle before the sun rose violated my lifelong rule: Leave me alone until I’ve made at least my first cup of joe. But there they were, whimpering, their frenetically wagging tails banging a flamenco beat (must have been led by Derecha) against the wall. No return to sleep on this morning for me, so I let them into the room in hopes of letting Gabi sleep on.

Ignoring their plaintive demands for attention, food and walking, I made my way into the bathroom, where I was assaulted by the distinct odor of cat pee. I recoiled before noticing that a miniature mountain of animal excrement had been deposited on one of the bathmats. This is too big for a cat, I thought, and glared at the dogs.

They were unfazed, as dogs are when being met with disapproval, insensitive buggers without remorse. And these guys were spoiled rotten.

They get chicken after their walks.  I’m not talking chicken giblets, but whole first-quality legs. The owners had left 72 roasted chicken legs in the freezer for Coco and Derecha, and it was my job to defrost the chicken and rip them into shreds for the hounds’ dining pleasure. They got the big chicken bones, too, per our hosts’ instructions, defying what I had understood to be a critical chapter in the book of dog care: chicken bones, like chocolate, will kill them.

Turns out they had a diversified diet that would be the envy of many a human, let alone canine.

“You can give them some of this from time to time,” our host told me before leaving, opening the freezer and pointing to what appeared to be several packets of meat that rested in the only space not occupied by chicken legs.

“It’s dog meat.”

I stared at her, horrified. She and her husband had turned their lives inside out to offer safe haven to five rescue animals, I thought, but they turn them into cannibals as part of the feeding frenzy that occurs several times a day?

She realized her misspeak. “No,  I mean it’s beef..specifically for dogs.”

I felt better.

Trouble was, these dogs refused to eat raw meat, so I had to microwave it to give it a bit of glow. Being in France and all, I thought about sautéing it with a bit of garlic and topping it with a bit of béarnaise. But I came to my senses and thought, “Mais non, mon chien, you’re getting it slightly warmed, and you’ll be damned glad for it.” But they sniffed at the chunks and headed out the door to bark at the wind.

The cats got a twice-a-day dose of cat food, and it was a yummy-looking mélange of salmon, turkey and chicken that honestly looked good enough for human consumption. Every other day they shared a fish filet from the freezer, carefully microwaved and divided into digestible chunks and served on their own plates. And Blackie (remarkably named for his color) got his served on the kitchen table. The others would fend for themselves on the floor, often squabbling over each other’s portions and snarling at a dog that would happen by.

There were bowls of munchies to be replenished throughout the day, and the circus of dogs eating cat food, cats defending their turf (Black snarled and took a swipe at Coco one day, sending the wussy pooch scampering for the hinterlands even though Black was on top of the kitchen table and a good five feet out of reach) and the cleanup that goes with all this coming and going of food was a legitimate part time job.

I’m no Biblical scholar, but I can’t help but wonder how Noah survived come feeding time, not to mention how he kept a clean Ark underfoot.

I’m betting that Noah kept his sleeping quarters off limits to beasts. And one thing’s for certain: there was no roast chicken for the dogs on board.


  • Ramon

    There you go. You have now been selected to a small group of highly experienced animal sitters that would one day be allowed to take control (read: obey to their ruling habits) of my feline flurries, whenever I am in need.

  • William Castle

    This reminds me of the Jewish folk tale, maybe from Hungary, about the peasant who complained to his rabbi that he and his wife hardly had room to turn around in their tiny one-room hut. They bump into each other all the time, they have no privacy, no rest, they are miserable. What should they do?
    “You have a cow, right?” the rabbi says. “Take the cow, tie her inside the hut, and after a week, tell me how it’s going.” A week later, when they meet up with the rabbi, they’re even more miserable… etc. So it goes with a goat, chickens, sheep, and so on.
    Finally the rabbi says, “Take all the animals out of the hut, try it for a week, and let me know how it goes.”
    Problem. I’ve truncated this long and detailed story, but you can see how it goes — details of cow shit, clucking hens, noisy roosters, intrusive goats, etc. Finally, bliss.

  • Loved this story featuring your animal house guests and all of their antics…. the “dog” food and the chicken bones. The owners are lucky to have you watching over their pets and their home!! By now, I think you are on to another spot, so keep the stories coming…. love, Roberta

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