Letters to Jennifer
Part Two

By Suzi Schmidt

January, 2017 

Dear Jennifer,

Thank you for an amazing letter. I enjoyed it very much. I shared it with a friend, also a pet sitter, whose only comment was, "Why didn't I think of that?"

It's no surprise that your pet sitting business is a resounding success. Congratulations! I am happy for you. Mazel tov. That's Yiddish for "Well done. I'm proud of you. Good Luck!"

Are you feeling an unusual "rising sensation?" I may know why. Your great-grandmother Alma was like you. She was honest, smart, kind, always tried to do the right thing, loved animals.

Once she and grandpa invited the entire family to their home in Wisconsin at blueberry-picking time. We all went out, young and old, with the same size bucket. I remember how small that bucket made me feel. When I came in with it filled to overflowing, Grandma gave me a big smile and said, "Well, the cream rises." 

Grandma always helped displaced or homeless animals if they were lucky enough to find their way to her home. She would have seen her kindness in you and been very proud. Picture yourself eating a huge slice of grandma's blueberry pie.

Advice that helped me:

  1. You need a backup. Two is better. Look for professional pet sitters working in your area that are bonded and insured. Meet these people. (It's not easy.) Work with them. You really do need a backup at times and so do they. Find good people who can cover for you when you can't get out of the mess you got yourself into. Giving and receiving a good, thorough job report over the phone with your professional peers is a skill you must acquire. Actually, it's a lot of fun.
  2. The hardest lesson to learn is to Rest when you are Tired. 15 minutes' rest can give you back your "A Game." That's not much time. So sleep fast. Keep a small pillow and a blanket in the car. Do a wakeup call even if you just think you may need one. Lee Child describes it as military training: Sleep when you can because you never know when you're going to sleep again. Because "tiredness causes more foul-ups than carelessness and stupidity put together." As some wit put it: "Sleep faster. We need the pillows." 

To answer your question, Flower is doing wonderfully. The sixth and last chemo treatment was finished 2 weeks ago. Labs are good. Sonogram is good. Everything looks great. He is so happy. He and his irrepressible playmate Rosie are celebrating with their family. He'll be two soon. We wish him all the happy years he is fighting so hard for  - to spend those years playing with Rosie.

If you can, donate to

For pictures of Flower and Rosie, visit

My love to you, 

Aunt Suzi



Sammy & Petunia


Henry & Sophie*


February, 2017

Dear Jennifer,

Yes, let's do it. I loved your story about the snakes. And I accept your charming proposal to share our stories with one another. Sounds like fun. "Share What You Know." Annie Dillard said it best: "Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes." 

My snake sitting job was, like yours, a classic "bait and switch" con. It began when I fell in love with six bulldog puppies. The moment I did, the question was, "Oh, by the way, would you be willing to look in on our snakes for us?" (To myself I said, "For those puppies...") To her I said, "No problem."

I didn't feel faint until I saw their room full of breathtakingly beautiful pythons, each in a brilliantly lit case, each wrapped around a tree bough. In a most considerate tone, she said "there really isn't anything to do. Just check that they have water. You could spray some water on the mulch if it looks dry. Just, you know, make sure they're all there." It was probably a psychotic break.

The following Monday I found myself taking care of the six adorable puppies. I heard reality fracture when I walked into the snake room and one of them said, "George, stop frowning. You'll scare away the new pet sitter. And I'm out of water. Smile, George."

"I can't. I lost my smile a long time ago. As Aristotle said about infinity, my smile 'is both necessary and impossible.'"
"Hey, you two! Enough philosophy! The pet sitter is shaking. She'll spill my water. My mulch is wet from the last one. Everybody quiet down...hey, what if she's crazy enough to hear us?"

"The odds are eight-to-five you never come back." 

"You people have no manners. You 'ooh & aah' over Max all the time and compare him to me, right in front of me, like I'm deaf, like I have no feelings. I wish Max would sell already. But whose gonna pay eighteen grand for a python?"

Too soon the puppies and the pythons were gone. Their people eventually moved too. Once I saw Max in a movie. He was on display with eerie lighting and sinister music, wrapped around a tree limb. He looked absolutely, jaw-dropping gorgeous. I was happy to see him. But an elegant prison is still a prison. So I was sad too. Max was definitely not smiling.

Please write soon. I want more.

I Love You,

Aunt Suzi 

*Sophie passed away recently and sorely missed by all who knew and loved her. Sophie's mom said about this picture, "we were on the Oregon coast, and she had never been in the ocean before - she literally beamed all day!"

March, 2017

Dear Jennifer,

Please do not tell me another snake story.

If that was your "guardian angel" she was less than diligent. She should have said, "Good Luck. Don't Die." Your only mistake was accepting that job in the first place. So, you weren't hurt, but you could have been.

I know we agreed to share our stories. But that creeped me out, so this may not appeal:

I had an interview with a man who had a huge Doberman named Rocky who was lying very still on the sofa and had a large white bandage wrapped around his right front leg. His dad explained: 

"A snake got in and bit him."

Me: ""

Dad: "But you don't have to worry. I found the snake and killed it."

Me: ""

Dad: "And I found the hole and I plugged that. We're good now, but it was poisonous and Rocky doesn't have long." 

Picture a black dog on a black sofa, if you can, with fearful, questioning eyes.

I felt the hairs rising on the back of my neck. I wanted to stay and fight that man with my bare hands. I wanted to deck him over and over again. I hated his thoughtless, reckless, stupid face. He was so lucky my feet backed me out of that house.

I'm sorry to say that I only wanted to scream, "You Idiot! How do you know there was only one snake? And only one hole?" My exit was so graceless, I'm embarrassed to remember it.

That night, still too upset to sleep, I reread May Sarton because she so often helps me. She wrote about a letter she got from a friend who said, "I believe that diligence is important but it is grace that matters most."

Years ago, when I quoted that line to an oncology nurse friend, she laughed at me and said, "Grace doesn't work here anymore."

I'm so grateful that we are both surrounded by good books and funny friends and happy animals. 

And by people who love us. 

Aunt Suzi




Ruger, Oreo & Mauser




April, 2017

Dear Jennifer,

Your "Pet Sitter's Gratitude List" was delightful. Thank you. Yes, I would be honored to share mine with you:

Personally, I'm most grateful that my dear son is happy and healthy. (He's in Hawaii. He doesn't write and he doesn't call.)

Professionally, my closest dog friend, Flower Jackson, finished chemo in January and all the monthly tests are still normal. I am so happy for him and his family. He is almost two and may get to have his whole life after all. He is learning to salsa (in my lap) which is fun. "Suzi, you lost the beat." Rosie prefers the mambo. Me too.

For the latest news about him, visit the website

My pet sitting career has passed a milestone: I love what I do and I now have to turn down more jobs than I can accept because my dance card is full - a dream come true.

I'm so glad to have found a fun way to write when I need to. Also a way to be published - on my own website - which is now solely the work of a genie with magic fingers who calls herself Peter Pan. She reminds me of anthropologist Margaret Mead's "I was wise enough to never grow up while fooling most people into believing I had." I was stunned to watch "suzi dog" pull up the website instantly.

I'm happy that finally Child's Return, my houseboat, is as renovated as she will ever be. (She says, "Me too.") So a major shocking expense is over. Have repaired and replaced, shined and polished every inch. I'm very proud of her: Log of the Child's Return,

I'm grateful for the solitude, which I need to write, so I'm content with our quiet berth in this small live-aboard-friendly marina. I am surrounded by beautiful boats and people who love them. Compared to my life at sea level, living on land is boring. But, though I was sick about it, I didn't hesitate to abandon ship before two killer hurricanes hit. During Isabelle I had six mooring lines out. One last line held. I cried when I saw it.

I've become a one issue voter. I rejoice loudly as I find more and more groups fighting the causes of global warming. My worst fear is that we are close to the tipping point, where there is no turning back. All because the greedy billionaires who profit from burning fossil fuels will have the answer their favorite question: "Who was earth's richest man?"

I've often read that we should "save the money" we spend on space exploration. If there are extraterrestrial civilizations, they could easily be way more advanced than we are. They could be watching us in horror, wanting nothing to do with us, seeing us humans turn earth into a dangerous rogue planet. One astronomer said, "If so, their firewalls would have firewalls."

I used to laugh at Lily Tomlin's "Remember we're all in this alone." (It's not funny anymore.)

I no longer want to live forever; I couldn't bear to watch it happen. Which reminds me, Lola, if you're listening, I take back my offer. Remember when you were at the hospital and I was your nurse and I asked you, "If I could give you a pill that would keep you alive forever, would you take it?" And later you said, "Nurse, about that pill. I'll take one if you will?" Lola, we need to talk.

I am grieving the death of stand-up comic Mitch Hedberg. I love his always-kind jokes: "My fake plants died because I did not pretend to water them." It's hard to get me to really laugh about death, thinking about it often now in my seventies. My book friends are not as fun:

Helen Keller wrote, "Death is no more than passing from one room into another. But there's a difference for me, you know. Because in that other room I shall be able to see." (I want that for her, more than I can say. I want her writing about it. I want Mitch telling me jokes.)

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross: "People after death become complete again."

Bob Dylan said, "I'm just glad to be feeling better. I really thought I'd be seeing Elvis soon."

J.K. Rowling, who doesn't believe in magic, wrote, "Anything's possible if you've got enough nerve." She believes death is "just life's next adventure."

I'm in the Margaret Mead school of thought: "We have nowhere else to go. This is all we have." I just hope I don't get dragged out of here kicking and screaming. If I do, I'll be channeling Richard Pryor yelling "Help!" in the great movie Stir Crazy. (I can't think of a funnier way to go.)

I'd like to die writing - as Robert B. Parker did - preferably writing this book-in-progress. I'm trying to get my own obituary written before I need it.

Decision made: The epitaph on my tombstone will read, "Wake me up if there's disco".

More later, I hope,

Aunt Suzi

May 2017

Dear Jennifer,

What a surprise and such great timing! Thank you. You always were the funny one in the family. But these jokes are really very courageous, and quirky. A copy is going into a bottle, which I'm sending to Florida with a friend, who will toss it into the sea. 

Jennifer, I didn't think anyone could make me laugh again that hard and that often. I wish I had such talent. Your art makes people laugh and change

I know it's hard. Writing anything is work; comedy must be especially difficult. Do it anyway. Our laughing at such quirky humor is like imagining another galaxy's idea of fun. Surely there is some kind of law that "If you can do it, you must do it." Because laughter helps people change. Also because we really do want to believe that, as J.K.Rowling put it, "Anything is possible if you have enough nerve." (Harry Potter)

I love to read what funny people write about writing:

Carol Burnett: "I think the hardest thing to do in the world, show-business-wise, is to write comedy." 

Lucille Ball: "I'm not funny. What I am is brave."

Chelsea Handler: "I didn't become a comedian to work this hard."

Ernest Hemingway said, "I rewrote the ending to 'Farewell to Arms,' the last page of it, thirty-nine times before I was satisfied." (That is hard to believe.) "When I have an idea," he wrote, "I turn down the flame, as if it were a little alcohol stove, as low as it will go. Then it explodes and that is my idea."

He sounds like you. I'm envious; writing for me is more like a slow-dripping, wide-open faucet that I can hear just over my shoulder, which can flood my houseboat without warning. All I am is ready. I use up a lot of pens this way, as you can imagine.

Your twists of logic may be what Groucho Marx meant by, "Humor is reason gone mad." Your cadence is like Mitch Hedberg's, which is my highest compliment. My favorite of his is "I bought a seven-dollar pen because I always lose pens and I got sick of not caring."

I have a new hobby too - pet photography. A friend said, "Now, Suzi, I don't want you to take offense, but you absolutely have to get a new phone." I was dragged into the 21st century where I bought an iPhone6. I am continually stunned by it. Journalist Nancy Gibbs: "A typical smart phone has more computing power than Apollo 11 had when it landed a man on the moon."

I'm posting pictures of my animal friends on the I ♥ Pets! page of my website. Also photos of the interesting things I see while walking with dogs on my Four Seasons page. I invite you and other pet sitters to send pictures of the things you enjoy as you walk with yours to me at I will share the fun.

Your brave humor is especially comforting to me right now. I am still grieving the loss of Mitch Hedberg, my favorite standup comic. I think he would have applauded your kind one-liners. I certainly do.

Thank You,

Aunt Suzi


I am more than grateful. Years ago I began keeping a pocket-sized journal of jokes that really make me laugh. Groucho Marx inspired the first notebook with:

"Well, Art is Art, isn't it? Still on the other hand, water is water. And east is east and west is west and if you take cranberries and stew them like applesauce they taste much more like prunes than rhubarb does. Now you tell me what you know."

Your jokes are in the book. I can imagine Groucho laughing.


This photograph is from "Maggie's Way: Observations from Below Your Knees" by Bill Stanton, father of an irresistible Basset Hound named Maggie. It's titled "Calculations on an approaching Cheez Doodle."



New Kitty




June, 2017

Dear Jennifer,

I have exciting news. These letters are going to be recorded for the website by Dawn H. She is brilliant, articulate, and has just retired. She will read it "probably from poolside in Florida." The audio version of our correspondence will be on

If someone had read me to sleep when I was little, when I needed to be filled with hope and confidence, she could have done it then, tucked me in with words. I'm still needy, and she has accepted the challenge: "I'd be thrilled and honored to read it." (My feet can't touch the ground.)

Albert Camus said that any authentic creation is a gift to the future. Dawn H.'s kind, friendly voice will be there for you and for me. As she says simply, "You're welcome."

That was a wonderful story. Yes, I will: "The most interesting animal I've met" was a dog named Murphy. He was a miniature poodle, an adult male, champagne-colored, twenty pounds, with high energy and a sweet disposition. His mom introduced me smiling broadly, "Murphy, this is Suzi."

After our interview, I asked her, "Is he as smart as I think he is?" That smile again," Smarter."

After our interview, with Murphy listening on the sofa between us, she said, "Murphy, go say goodbye to Suzi." He hopped down, came over to me, put his front paws up on my knees, and offered me a kiss. I'm lucky I didn't fall out of the chair.

Most intelligent dogs understand about 400 words. Murphy's vocabulary was scary, and fascinating. I can't imagine how frustrating we humans must be for dogs. We understand so little, and don't even try.

When I would pretend to ask for his sage advice, his look was all attitude, like "if you don't know by now..." or, as Lily Tomlin put it more accurately, "If you've come here for my help, you're in worse trouble than I thought."

Murphy had parents who rescue four small dogs at a time, and live joyously with them in a house near the Chesapeake Bay. They marvel at Murphy as they take care of them all. She said, "He reminds me of Jerry Seinfeld's jokes about walking his dog. Jerry said 'You know how you can be walking your dog and he stops, and looks at you, and looks back down? He's saying, "There's a quarter."'"

Murphy was always the alpha dog whose food and water nobody else touched. Even when a NASCAR pileup was inevitable, nobody ever ran into him. Everybody always knew where Murphy was.

He was the only one who wanted to walk in the rain. He couldn't care less about drizzle, but those raindrops were "calling my name." I complained, "Why, Murphy? What's so freaking interesting about freaking raindrops?" He never answered, of course, but was always excited and pleased and listened closely to something that I cannot imagine. Whatever it was, the news was good.

He wanted most of all to walk in the nearby woods, a grove of tall old oak trees. He reveled in any windy day, but he especially loved to walk in the woods when the wind was high. He walked as if it were sacred ground. I missed my chance to ask him about it, but I can imagine:

Me: "Murphy, what's with the trees?"

Murphy: "You're not listening, Grasshopper. Your nose is worthless but not your ears."

He had a long, healthy, happy life. But when his favorite playmate Sophie died, and then soon the others, he couldn't accept it and he could not be consoled. And one-by-one, their replacements died. When his entire extended pack disappeared, he couldn't understand or even accept comforting.

Knowing Murphy, he tried his best to make some sense of it. He looked like he had tried hard and failed. I wish I spoke Dog. I'd love to know how far he got.

He was buried in his favorite spot, a bed of spring-blooming narcissus, beside Sophie.

I need a hug,

Aunt Suzi

Go to Part Three