While we had more or less a complete menagerie when I was a kid- including a well loved mystery breed dog, a pony and visually impaired cat and his helper- I haven’t had to take care of a pet in years. So I was excited when Miguel and I agreed to dog sit for a month over Christmas. As could be expected, taking care of a dog in the center of Madrid was completely different from having one in the Hawaiian boonies. It also required a slight lifestyle change.
After living here for three years, dog sitting has allowed me to see my adopted city con otros ojos. Puppy dog eyes, that is.
Madrid is great for walking.
Before dog sitting, I felt like I knew the Madrid city streets fairly well. I enjoy walking and after so many hours of commute time, I have the Metro lines more or less memorized. However, walking was always a means to get from A to B. I rarely went on walks just for the sake of it. Unless it was for a specific reason, I seldom ventured out of my usual neighborhoods.
I noticed that my habits began to change once we started taking care of Curry. Since he had to be taken out two, three times a day, I would put in my earbuds and we’d wander around the neighborhood and beyond. There were days, particularly over the holidays, when our strolls would last two hours and would often take us from one end of the city to the other. Most streets in Madrid are flat and there aren’t very many noticeable uphill climbs, which made our ambling a lot less strenuous than if we had been in Seattle or San Francisco. I ended up getting to know streets and parts of Madrid that I wouldn’t have otherwise.
They can go (pretty much) everywhere.
Until we started watching Curry and we began canvassing Madrid on foot, I didn’t notice how many eating establishments had perros buenos bienvenidos stickers on their doors (however controversial they may be) or how many stores set out water bowls on the sidewalk for puppy passersby.
Curry quickly became a coffee shop favorite. We learned which ones had baristas who kept stashes of treats for canine customers. At restaurants and bars, the dog would get his own bowl of water and, sometimes, his own food bowl, too. While out for cañas one night (with Curry in tow, of course), we sat near a group of three middle aged couples with more dogs between the six of them than people at the table.
While out for lunch one day, a waiter told me that he prefers attending tables with dogs than families with kids because “se portan mejor que muchos niños.” They behave themselves better at the table than most children do.
It appears that Madrid hasn’t ranked as one of the most dog friendly cities in Europe (yet). As an American, allowing dogs into restaurants, clothes shops and on the Metro strikes me as being extremely permissive.
Your small talk threshold will increase.
It wouldn’t be hyperbole to say that I have made more small talk with strangers at crosswalks in the past month than I have in my life. Since Curry would go out around the same time each day, we would run into a lot of the same individuals out on their daily constitutionals or walking their own dogs. He has an incredible ability to make even people who aren’t fond of dogs fall in love with him.
Inevitably though, the conversations always follow the same script. Yes, it’s a boy. His name is Curry. He’ll be 10 soon. Repeat ad nauseam.
Thankfully, if the other person also had a dog with them, the conversation would often be cut short by growls and whimpers from both parties.
So many new words.
As expected, there is a wealth of pet-related vocabulary, which I had previously never had any use for. Some words were completely new to me, such as bozal for muzzle. Others were common words that gained new meaning when applied to animals. In addition to truffle, trufa also refers to a dog’s nose. Croquetas aren’t just people food. Turns out they’re also dry dog kibble.
Most dog breeds have the same or similar names in both English and Spanish, though here are a few, like galgo (Greyhound), that are completely different. I learned quickly that teckel is Spanish for Dauchsund. Curry is a Dachsund/Cocker mix and his heritage came up more often than not during those crosswalk chats.
Pets are also great for grammar practice. Had I been a beginner learning Spanish, a month of dog sitting would have been the perfect opportunity to get the hang of using el imperativo.
Clean up is easier than you’d think.
If you’ve lived in Madrid for any length of time, your feet probably know how to swerve automatically to avoid stepping in messes. The streets are literal minefields.
The local government has invested a lot of money into combating this epidemic. The latest efforts: advertising campaigns and an app to find the nearest trash can with baggies. Even some more drastic measures have been taken.
Before watching Curry, I didn’t have any sympathy for offenders. How difficult could a five second clean up be?
After a month of dog sitting, I have even less sympathy. It’s definitely not difficult.
Working from home is more fun with a buddy.
Since UCM doesn’t have a designated space for PhDs to work, I’m a veritable nomad and rotate between working at home and at coffee shops. I’m currently in a phase where a lot of my work is done individually. Literature reviews are solitary endeavors. I could spend hours falling down a JSTOR rabbit hole without changing position.
Thankfully, that wasn’t possible with Curry around. Even though he’s older and doesn’t have the constant need for attention like a puppy does, I nonetheless discovered that I was getting up and taking breaks more often with him around than when I work from home alone. Important things had to be done: heads needed to be patted, water bowls needed to be replenished (which also reminded me to hydrate), fetch needed to be played.
I looked forward to the midday walk because it not only forced me outside and away from the computer, but it also gave me time to contemplate what I had been working on.
A few times, I even tried bouncing ideas off of him. He wasn’t the best conversationalist but his listening skills were unmatched.
I’m not ready to be a dog mom yet.
Curry’s mama came back a week ago and I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t going through doggie withdrawals. Reading on the couch isn’t the same without the comforting, silent presence of a dog curled up at your feet. I felt happier and more productive with him around. The walks were a welcome break in the day and together we explored new parts of Madrid.
Even so, the consensus is that we won’t be getting one of our own any time soon. Having Curry around was equal parts enjoyable and limiting. There was an adjustment period in which we had to actively remember that there was someone else at home to take care of; someone without opposable thumbs who needed to have his food poured for him and taken out at regular intervals. We couldn’t take off for a few days at a moment’s notice. There weren’t any travel plans in the works, but even the thought required a change in mindset.
So for now, I’m going to enjoy being a fairy dogmother.
Have you ever dog sat? Did you learn the same lessons I did? What do you think of dog-friendly Madrid? Let me know in the comments!