By the time we get back inside, the caffeine has had time to steep in my bloodstream and I can get myself and my son dressed, feed my two perpetually starving cats, check my Pionus parrot, and get out of the door by 7:45.
I have to drop both my son and my boyfriend off at pre-school and work respectively and I get to the store usually around 8:45. Our store opens at 9:00 AM on weekdays and is run by a flock of chronically late people, myself included. Most of us would be, as they say, late to our own funerals. I do not have a key to the door, so I have to wait for one of the other chronically late people to get there and let me in. While I wait, I'm knitting, drinking coffee (ahh coffee, the succulent lifeblood) and listening to NPR.
Once I get in the door, I clock in, exchange pleasantries with my wonderful co-workers (I'm not kidding, we're pretty much one big happy family and I love these people), and make my way back to my kennel.
This is a very special time of day for me. The puppies know the routine, they've seen the store lights come on, they hear us milling about up front. They know me. I can hear them barking, and they are all excited, waiting for me to get back there and speak to them, feed them, and start their day. I love emerging from an aisle to see all their little eager faces peering through the big kennel windows at me. Let me tell you, it's great being able to go to work with puppies every day. They are ALWAYS happy to see me, no matter what is going on in the world. Think about your job for a second. When you get there, is everyone jumping and yelling with joy to see you? Probably not. It must suck.
But this is also when I look for the missing faces. Empty kennels. Before I go in, I stand in front of the kennel windows and take note of who is gone. It's such a bittersweet feeling to see a kennel that was occupied when I left at 5 the day before, now unoccupied. Food bowl hasn't been touched over night. One less happy voice in the morning greeting chorus. The now soulless kennel makes me sad, but I'm happy they're gone. I'm anxious to know where they went. I hate it when they sell and I'm not there. You get a feeling for people. Did they get a good home? Did the employee who sold the dog remember to tell them that he knows the "sit" and "stay" commands already, or that she really loves to retrieve? Am I going to see this one come back in a few days with a lame excuse as to why it wouldn't work out? I could worry about it all day if I let myself, and indeed have lost sleep over the fate of puppies before, but I can't let myself. I'd go crazy.
Instead, I go in the kennel and sing out, "PUPPY PUPPY PUPPIES!" as loud as I can when I hit the door. It's part of my routine and instantly the volume kicks up a notch, intensifies. The puppies love it that I acknowledge and join in their morning vocalizations. I hang up my jacket and the first order of business is to feed the dogs. I mix up their food (Nature's Variety Prairie mixed with one can of wet to entice consumption and help stave off hypoglycemia for the teeny pups) and I go cage by cage, one a time removing bowls, dumping out the food from the night before, and filling with fresh. I speak to each dog while I do this. I check out their cage toys and make sure they are still safe, with no pieces chewed off or major holes. Then I sweep down the kennel run - they spill food all over the floor at night. The terriers do it for the fun of watching the kibbles scatter. Pugs and pug mixes are usually digging for better morsels they think are hiding in the bottom of the bowl. Sometimes in the ruckus of a particularly good game of kill-the-Kong, bowls get dumped. Kibble all over a tile floor is a recipe for disaster, even if it didn't just look terrible to customers I'd sweep it up, because just walking over it makes an oily mess and you're bound to slip and bust your ass. (The voice of experience.)
By this time, the puppies have quieted some. They've been fed and individually spoken to, so the noise becomes less focused and intense and starts being more noise for the sake of making noise, or the noise of play.
This is when I turn the radio on. My musical tastes are eclectic so my puppies may listen to traditional Celtic music on Monday, Alkaline Trio on Tuesday and the Phantom of The Opera soundtrack on Wednesday. I need music for the nitty gritty, getting down to business.
I take every dog out of his or her kennel, put them in a clean kennel, pull everything out of the cage, and set it aside. I have a big tub in the back that I clean in. I set the grate in it, spray it with a bleach/water dilution. I put the tray on the floor and spray it with the bleach/water dilution. Then I go out to the empty kennel and spray it down with the bleach dilution. While the tray and kennel marinate in bleach and water, I go back to the grate and scrub it down. When I'm satisfied there's no more poo on it, I rinse it off and spray it down with Kennel-Sol, a disinfectant that kills just about every germ known to man and smells pleasantly of wintergreen.
Then I scrub the tray. Rinse. I spray trays with Nature's Miracle to help with odor unless I am sanitizing the cage. Wipe down the inside of the kennel with a Kennel-Sol soaked rag. Spray with Kennel-Sol. Then I put it all back together, put the bowl and toys back in, and back in goes the pup. And then I move on to the next one. Depending on how full the kennel is, sometimes I repeat this process twenty-three times before I'm done. By the time I'm done, puppies who had their kennels cleaned first have usually pooped in the meantime, and so I go through and pull all the trays, spray them out again, and give them a fresh coat of Nature's Miracle. So it goes. The poop goes on.
The poop is important, btw. It tells me a lot about the health of the puppy. So I note any unusual poop when I'm pulling trays and cleaning kennels. Soft poop is okay, but not great. Anything less than soft poop and I am not a happy kennel manager. Any puppies with runny poo have their cage tags flipped and are not for sale until things get cleared up. Even if it's just a tricky stomach, it would just be schiesty to sell someone an unhousebroken puppy that's going to make a considerable mess.
After I spray trays, I do meds, update my med chart, and check my shot and worming schedule. I work under the direction of a licensed veterinarian, who examines all of our puppies and is in the store once a week. She's great. And only a text message away! (Many of my texts are to the good doctor.)
The kennel generates an astonishing amount of dirty dishes. After the meds, I take care of those. I fill the dishwasher, and start it, mop the kennel floor, and maybe, depending on the number of puppies in the kennel, break for something to eat.
Usually, though, I just take out the puppies and play with them.
I love my job.