The scariest moment for a dog walker
Shamontiel's Halloween-themed stories for 2023: What happened when she lost the keys to the pet owner's door?
Writer’s note: You know those people who think Halloween is lame and they’ve outgrown it? Yeah, that’s not me. Exhibit A! This month, I’ll be featuring a “spooky/scary” real-life story in each of my Substack columns. Some may be as terrifying as that gas station episode of “Luther.” Others will be more comedic like the movie “The Blackening.” And the rest will be somewhere in between. Enjoy!
Every blue moon, when I bring up dog walking as a side gig, someone will ask me am I scared to go into a stranger’s home or whether I worry about a dog biting me. The answer is “no” to both — although a Black Labrador Retriever did bite my toe one time while wrestling with his sibling. After 98 dogs (not including the three I owned) and 555 walks over the past four years, I’ve long ago bypassed the days of being “scared” of dogs. But there is one thing I am terrified of: keys.
And one dog-walking incident freaked me out so much that I almost gave up on dog caregiving altogether. Here’s what happened.
For the life of me, I’ll never understand why pet owners get copies of their keys but then don’t buy key loops, keychains or key snap hooks. The average person just doesn’t walk around with a bunch of loose keys in their pockets, and it’s far too easy to lose them. Additionally, majority of combination key lock boxes are big enough for a few keys and the chain to fit inside. And for dog walkers who are rebellious enough to not have pockets, a purse or a bag, good look. In my case though, I had all three on a breezy winter day. But the owners did something that made getting in the door especially complicated.
Although the front door had a keyless entry system, there was a separate lock to use the conventional key backup instead. (Remote keyless entry systems are solely keyless, but the first option allows people to open doors with or without a key.) I sorta understood why the pet owners wanted dog walkers to use keys; it givers owners the flexibility to not share their private, keyless combination number — and the option to change the second lock code (with keys) any time they felt unsafe.
The problem? While I was walking the dog in this freshly fallen snow, the key fell out of my pocket. I didn’t realize it until the 30-minute walk was complete. When I arrived back at the door with mildly cold feet and hands underneath a winter coat, gloves and Timbs, I reached into my pocket and realized I was also keyless.
Meanwhile, the dog, who had been perfectly unbothered during this winter walk, grew agitated, wondering why I wasn’t opening the door. I didn’t want to alarm the dog’s owners, so I retraced my steps and tried desperately to find the keys. I knew they’d probably be buried at this point, but I still tried. She strolled along after looking back at the front door a couple of times in confusion. After 10 minutes, I gave up and sent a message to the owners, letting them know what happened. Then I called. No answer.
We ended up walking an entire 30 more minutes trying to find these keys, and I still had no luck. On a summer day, this would’ve been a great excuse to go to a neighborhood dog park or dog-friendly beach. But this was a winter day in Chicago, in the evening and getting darker earlier. I looked down at that dog, at my now-shivering hands, glanced at my car and knew I was going to have to take this dog home until her owner responded. But why in the world wasn’t the owner answering?