Secrets of a Pet Nanny: A Journey from the White House to the Dog House

Secrets of a Pet Nanny: A Journey from the White House to the Dog House

by Eileen Riley


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781909653221
Publisher: Elliott & Thompson
Publication date: 11/01/2014
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 923,295
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.70(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Eileen Riley is a professional pet nanny and journalist.

Dara Rosenberg is an accomplished voice-over artist who has been recognized nationally for her extensive work in audiobooks and commercials. She has a BFA in drama from NYU's Tisch School of the Arts and studied at Interlochen Arts Academy, where she majored in drama and musical theater. Dara lives in New York City.

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Secrets of a Pet Nanny

A Journey from the White House to the Dog House

By Eileen Riley, Jay French Studios

Elliott and Thompson Limited

Copyright © 2013 Eileen Riley
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-909653-23-8


Blame it on London

It's 5:30 in the morning and I am standing amidst the chaos of my newly decorated kitchen, eyeing the jumble of food and crockery scattered across the floor, considering all the suspects before me like Miss Marple. The fat one in the corner may have that 'Who me? I just got here' look on her face, but I'm not buying it. She's got plenty of form. The skinny one looks fairly innocent, until you notice that strand of last night's pasta hanging out the side of his mouth. He's chewing, slowly, hoping to get rid of the evidence without drawing any attention to himself. It's not working. Meanwhile, the enormous brown one with his back to me is studiously contemplating the cookbooks, apparently trying to decide if he's a Delia or a Jamie fan. Much of this stuff used to be up on the counter, far too high for his companions to have reached by themselves.

No one moves. They continue ignoring me, until the creaky grande dame, who sleeps outside my bedroom door, finally makes her way down the stairs and around the corner to join us. She shakes her head, gives me a 'Teenagers, what do you expect?' look, plops down, and nudges her bowl forward to remind me that it's never too early for breakfast. And so begins another bewildering day in the life of a Pet Nanny.

A Pet Nanny?

Yes, a nanny. For pets. Well, for dogs mostly. We're here when their owners can't be. Or, to be more accurate, they are here when their owners are elsewhere, usually somewhere either very sunny or very snowy. Why, you might ask, would someone who spent four years at university earning a degree in Anthropology, another two studying international relations at graduate school, and ten years building a promising career as an international diplomat, want to devote their life to caring for other people's dogs? This was certainly not what my career advisors had in mind.

I come from New York City – not Manhattan, of course, but fairly close to it. Growing up in such a multicultural place can make you go one of two ways: you either enjoy seeing hyphenated American life (as in Irish-American, Italian-American, Martian-American) or you want to go out and see the real thing. I enjoyed the St Patrick's Day parade down Fifth Avenue, in the days when they still painted the white line down the middle green, but I really wanted to know what the parade in Dublin would be like. Chinatown was great, but I suspected that Hong Kong was better. Michelangelo's Pietà looked beautiful at the Vatican Pavilion in the World's Fair, but how did it look in St Peter's in Rome? You get the idea. As you can imagine, I was enormously difficult to live with.

Until, that is, Jimmy Carter decided that he really did need me in his diplomatic corps and so, after some training at the State Department and some liaising with the White House, much to my delight and everyone else's relief, I was off to explore the world. I became an American diplomat and served in Cameroon, Washington and Papua New Guinea. I trudged through the jungle with astronaut John Glenn and helped boxing legend Muhammad Ali in his search for warm water ports. I fled mutineering tuna fishermen in the South China Sea and snakes in an African shower, and I greeted American warships putting into harbour at dawn and missionary planes landing on rock-strewn fields at night. My diplomatic passport brought me respectful nods from customs agents and my security was assured day and night by the United States Marines.

Eventually I ended up in London. Disembarking at Heathrow during the dying days of the Reagan administration, I was headed for a wonderful two-year posting. A busy embassy in a major European capital perfectly balanced out my earlier posts in more remote regions. I was now perfectly positioned to clear the glass ceiling. My next station would be a senior job in some hot, humid, totally unpleasant little backwater that was hard to pronounce. My name might even end up on the door to the Ambassador's office.

I had high expectations for London, after a central casting stint in Washington. Just a few months earlier, I was tapped to work with the White House on special projects down the hall from the Oval Office. Suddenly I was dropping phrases like 'My counterpart at the White House and I think ...' and 'I can't make the 2 o'clock meeting, I'll be over at the White House.'

Much as I had enjoyed opportunities to work in the White House, I was thrilled to have crossed the Atlantic. Who wouldn't want to be young and single and living in London, the home of Big Ben and the Beatles; red double-decker buses and black cabs; castles and cathedrals; fish and chips and country pubs; Wimbledon tennis and cricket.

I spent the next few months solving key problems, like helping a Florida high school marching band that had lost both their money and plane tickets find their way safely home. When senior citizens accidentally lost track of their tour groups, I was happy to help them reconnect. It was also my job to educate bewildered tourists on the meaning of 'tea time' and how it affected pub-opening hours. I loved them all; even the woman searching for a church her friend had recommended, the name and address of which she had forgotten, but it began with 'Saint'.

So, how exactly did I start off a lowly American diplomat and wind up an exalted English Pet Nanny? That's a very good question, one that I ask myself quite a lot. Sometimes I think about it when staring at the chewed edges of the antique silk rug that Great-Granddad brought back from China, or when looking for the frozen chicken that I was sure I had left defrosting in the kitchen, or when wondering if my brand new shoes are still wearable with only one heel. Or when shampooing the carpet, yet again.

Back then I had a great career, no student loans to pay off, a stable employer, no healthcare deductibles and a guaranteed civil service retirement plan. It never occurred to me that my wonderful position with the State Department was the second best job in town. Yet I jettisoned the lot after a chance meeting at a party with a charming journalist named Tom Arms.

I became determined to stay in London, a city we both adored, and I began to realise that there was more to life than the State Department. There were other things I wanted to do, like get married and have a family without having to raise children all over the world. And I wanted a dog.

The final step in my career transformation was brought about by my beloved husband Tom, who is the leader of our local Cub Scout pack. One evening he came home from knottying and fire-starting and said, 'I told Johnny that you would be a Pet Nanny. That's okay, isn't it?' Well, it's hard to listen too closely to anything a large, bald, one-eyed man in a giant Cub Scout uniform is saying but, and I say this from personal experience, that can be a mistake. It turns out that Tom's fellow Scouter is married to Serena, who runs a little business called, appropriately enough, Pet Nanny. She matches up people who need their furry friends cared for with people who would be happy to have a guest canine come and live in their home as part of the family. Being the persuasive sort of person she is, Serena has talked just about every dog lover even remotely connected with Scouting into becoming a Pet Nanny. The latest recruit, apparently, was me.

By not paying enough attention on that fateful evening and with absolutely no idea of what I was getting into or with any intention of getting into it, I woke up one morning to discover that a new chapter of my life was beginning. Not only that, but it suddenly seemed to be a role that I had been preparing for all my life: my previous canine encounters, my travels, my diplomatic background, all combined to give me the tools required to achieve success as a Pet Nanny. So the story really begins during my childhood, when my parents unknowingly set me on my destined path by bringing home my first ever dog – McTavish.


Astoria: The McTavish Years

My journey to Pet Nannyhood started a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. Well, perhaps not that far away. Or, I suppose, even all that long ago, in the galactic scheme of things. But it was definitely on a very different planet, one called Astoria, in Queens, New York.

New York might have a reputation for being big and impersonal, but our little section of it was anything but. Everyone knew everyone else, either because they were from the same area 'back home' in the old country, or they went to the same school, or they lived in the same apartment building and sat out together on those green and white stripy garden chairs every summer night and watched the world go by. Or because they were related. For some reason, people in Astoria tended to have enormous extended families. I guess it's all those Irish Catholics marrying Italian Catholics. It must have made it easy to raise children, because everyone was always keeping an eye out for everyone else's child. It made it kind of hard to be the child though, since it was impossible to get away with anything. I had dozens of aunts and uncles and sixty-four first cousins, a depressingly large number of whom lived within watching distance of our front door. The memory of walking into the house after one particularly fun evening out and hearing my mother say, 'Yes, she's just coming in now', is still the stuff of nightmares.

I should probably confess right now that the entire goal of my young life was to get out of Astoria, New York. Looking back on it, I can't imagine why because it is actually a vibrant, colourful, fascinating place, in a weird sort of way. But at the time I just wanted to see more of the world. While everyone else worried about whether the Mets would ever win a World Series, I worried about whether I would ever see Gibraltar. Every Christmas I would ask if we could move to Montana. I have no idea why, other than that I couldn't think of a single city there.

For some reason, my parents' solution was to buy me a parakeet, named Billy.

Now, I had nothing against Billy, in fact I quite liked him, but he was really not enough to stop me from constantly leafing through copies of National Geographic and pointing out places where we could live instead. They must have noticed that most of the pictures I showed them involved children with dogs, because one night my father came home and, instead of hanging his jacket up in the closet as usual, he draped it over the knob of the door that I was sitting next to. Two seconds later, a head popped out of the pocket and stared at me. It was love at first sight, at least on my part.

McTavish (who we named after the robot in Superman, our favourite TV show) was a black, white and tan miniature toy fox terrier. Fully grown, he turned out to be less than a foot tall or long and weighed about the same as a medium-sized bag of potatoes. He was a great choice for a city apartment because miniature toy fox terriers apparently don't like the cold and prefer running around indoors. They are also very intelligent and have a great sense of humour. No, seriously. That's why they are used so often in clown acts. I am honestly not making this up. I would like to say that my father had put a lot of thought into this and decided that since we were an intelligent, funny, apartment-dwelling family, a miniature toy fox terrier would suit us perfectly, but I suspect that he just ran into someone in Conroy's, the bar down the road, who asked if he wanted a dog. Some things are just meant to be.

No one in my family had ever owned a dog before and so none of us realised that the entire house was not supposed to revolve around him. McTavish turned out to be a benevolent dictator who ruled his kingdom from the comfort of his box, which was kept right next to the radiator in the kitchen. It may have been a bit inconvenient for the rest of us but, as advertised, he just didn't like the cold. My mother, who was not a whimsical sort of person, used to dress him up in the most ridiculous outfits, allegedly to keep him from getting a chill. I still remember the time she cut four of the fingers off my father's leather gloves to make boots for the dog because it had started snowing. I have no idea what my father was supposed to do in arctic conditions without gloves but I guess she figured he didn't have to walk around in the snow on his hands. McTavish also had a plaid coat made, appropriately enough, out of McTavish tartan and a little beret with a pompom on it, but being a macho sort of a dog, that was going too far for him and he never actually wore that particular get-up.

My favourite outfit of his was the one that my mother had made up for my cousin Tommy's wedding. The bride's family decided that it was going to be a black tie affair, and all the men would wear tuxedos. This was just not an Astoria thing to do; tuxedos were generally limited to the ill-fitting kind normally worn by style-challenged teenagers to the prom. That wasn't, however, what they had in mind. They wanted the real thing. My mother, who was not one to take anything lying down, decided that if they wanted tuxedos, they were going to get tuxedos. She got a local seamstress to measure McTavish out for a dinner jacket, complete with frilled shirt, French cuffs, miniature cuff links, a little black bow tie and a hole in the back for his tail. When my cousin walked out of the church, the first thing he saw was McTavish, standing on his back legs, leaning against the wall, in all his glory. Tommy literally stopped in his tracks, threw back his head and started howling with laughter. Meanwhile, his wife of five minutes looked totally panic-stricken. I'm guessing she was wondering what she had just got herself into.

She wouldn't have been alone in that. We first met my future sister-in-law, Ann, when my brother Dennis brought her home for one of McTavish's birthday parties. She still talks about the experience of walking in to find us all sat around the table wearing party hats. After dinner we sang 'Happy Birthday' as my mother carried in the cake from the special bakery we used for all of our big-occasion cakes. It had white icing with 'Happy Birthday McTavish' written in blue piping (because he was a boy) and was decorated all around the edges with miniature bones. McTavish needed help blowing out the candles but he could open the presents all by himself. Ann said she spent the entire evening wondering if we were kidding, while making sure that she never let any of us get between her and the door, just in case we weren't. Of course, she now has a dog named Presley who has an Elvis outfit, complete with cape and sunglasses, which she dresses him up in every Halloween. Dennis must have known she had it in her.

I absolutely loved McTavish, but my brother Jimmy wasn't so sure about him. For one thing, McTavish would bark whenever anyone came in the front door, which was a problem for Jimmy as he used to frequently try to sneak in hours after he was supposed to be home from some big date or other. He developed a system that involved flinging open the door as quickly as he could, thus trying to catch McTavish off guard, while throwing down a fistful of dog biscuits and then rushing in to get undressed and into bed before McTavish had time to finish them. I have to say that despite the fact that he is six feet and five inches tall, my brother could certainly move fast when he wanted to, so my mother was always wondering why the dog would suddenly start barking in the middle of the night when we were all fast asleep in bed. I have no idea what his various girlfriends thought about the fact that he used to show up on dates with his pockets full of dog biscuits, but he probably came up with some convincing story. He did, after all, grow up to be a lawyer.

Jimmy's height was another problem for him, at least as far as walking the dog went. It couldn't have been easy being young, distinctly tall, living in a neighbourhood where everyone knew you and having to walk a dog that weighed six pounds and was less than a foot high. Especially a dog with a Napoleonic complex, who took it as a challenge to make sure that, despite his size, everyone knew he was there by growling menacingly, or at least as menacingly as a dog his size could achieve. Jimmy's solution was to put McTavish under his coat, walk the few blocks to where we kept the car, drive to another neighbourhood and walk him there.

My father, meanwhile, thought that McTavish was the most intelligent dog in the world, not that he really knew all that many other dogs. This conclusion was based entirely on the fact that McTavish always barked when anyone left the house, except on Sunday mornings when we were going out to church. Dad was convinced that McTavish knew it was a Sunday because Jackie Gleason's popular Saturday night show had been on the night before.

He never explained why it was only outings to church that caused McTavish's silence, rather than those to work or school. Or for that matter why he didn't bark on those rare Sundays when we hadn't watched Jackie Gleason the night before. Personally, I was convinced that the reason lay more in his efforts to digest all those biscuits my brother had given him a few hours earlier, than in his religious leanings or television viewing preferences.


Excerpted from Secrets of a Pet Nanny by Eileen Riley, Jay French Studios. Copyright © 2013 Eileen Riley. Excerpted by permission of Elliott and Thompson Limited.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Blame it on London,
Astoria: The McTavish Years,
Washington: The Aristide Years,
PNG: The Puppy Years,
London: A New Start,
The End and the Beginning,
Elvis and Vegas,
Coco and Alaska,
Roux and Simon,
Barney and Maxwell,
A Dog for All Occasions,

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