Pet sitting isn’t for everyone — I love it.
I am seeing the world via four-legged furry creatures. No, I don’t ride them — I feed and water them, walk them, and play the role of companion. I pet-sit.
Although I’ve often taken care of the pets of my friends and neighbors, only recently did I begin sitting for individuals, whom I did not know and who lived in locations around the world.
And as I pet owner, I’ve taken my elderly cat with me on a car trip and know I appreciated having the alternative of a pet sitter available.
Multiple internet sites (Trusted Housesitters, Mind My House, and House Sitters America, among others) provide domestic and international pet-sitting opportunities. For a membership fee (each site varies in cost), they link individuals, who are traveling for vacation or business, with others, who wish to spend time in that area.
Through the website filters, potential sitters select the location, dates, length of sit, and type of animals for which they’ll sit (from guinea pigs through llamas, but mostly cats and dogs). The sitter writes a letter of introduction and the site includes the sitter’s bio and various levels of security checks passed by the potential sitter.
Those pieces help the houseowner select from those who apply. That number could be a few or, with popular locations, many. Homeowners are often specific in their needs — “only couples need apply” or “this sit is for an older dog that needs daily injections.” Those with gardens appreciate sitters who know a weed from a flower. And others want proven experience managing a house — not only do you know how to avoid plugging up a garbage disposal; but in worst case, you know how to get it going again.
Each Arrangement Differs.
The houseowners provide the place to live. Usually, they do not pay for the pet-sitting transportation but they usually pay for the internet and utilities used. Sometimes they offer a car or a bike. For this sit in Colorado, I drove my own car and the houseowner offered a much-appreciated pair of snowshoes and good directions to the trailheads.
Also, the owner defines the sitter’s primary job done in exchange for that lodging— usually, to take care of the animals. All pet-sits differ. I applied for one in which the owners’ real concern was the maintenance of their home in Hawaii from which they were away nine months of every year.
This sit near Breckenridge, Co., is all about the three Springer Spaniels — King, Princess, and Alabama. In addition to written directions, I arrived a day early and the homeowner gave me on-site experience for the animal’s walking, medicating, and wiping of paws before house entry. She left the next morning, having provided me with a really good sense of what would make the exchange successful.
The first morning I was on my own, the three dogs (two of them from one owner and the third from a second) and I prepared to venture out. The snow, pristine; the air, crisp. The three canines sat quietly, while I leashed them — two on a split and one alone. We exited the garage onto the snow-clad street. They ran the leashes to the end and then crossed over one another, catching King, who trotted forward, around the left leg. I called them all to me, and expecting treats, they obliged. The lines of the leash enveloped me in the web and the four of us were tangled so that when one moved, we all moved. It took some moments to unsnarl us, but we didn’t get very far before it happened again.
By the next walk, I renovated the leash design, adding the third lead to the other two. Now I had one master tether with a split of three. It worked perfectly as long as we walked quickly and directly. The moment one dog ventured curiously to the side of the road, we returned to our tangled mess.
Friends living in southern Spain told me about pet-sitting. They own a bed and breakfast on a small farm that requires a high level of quality care for the property as well as their three dogs and two cats. They found over the years one specific website provided the proper calibre of sitters for their annual month on holiday. They encouraged me, reminding me of how many times I’d been involved with neighbors and their pets and how much my apartment management experience could help. I wrote my bio and began applying. It took me a while to get the process under control. Sometimes I’d apply for a sit only to apologize and back out the next day when I realized Australia or New Zealand really didn’t fit my travel schedule or budget.
Pet-sitting demands clarity: When my partner and I went to Eastern Europe for 11 weeks, we were the homeowners in need of sitters. We used the services of a young couple to take care of our elderly feline, our priority. The two sitters doted on her as requested. But they didn’t know gardens, and I hadn’t been specific about some details of our property. We came home to flowers mixed with weeds shoulder high, a mowed-over rose bush, and a decimated stack of firewood. The wood would have lasted us two seasons but was burned during many evenings of large and lengthy campfires.
Pet-sitting requires a certain temperament: You get what you get and if it’s a lengthy sit, it can be challenging. The animals need your attention regardless if you bond with them or not. I sat for two cats, with which I split my attention evenly. But as the first purred, the second swatted me with her claws. It was hard not to give the first the attention and ignore the second. After a few mis-starts, I realized timing was key. The first wanted attention ALL of the time; the other, just when I entered through the door. Once I adjusted my behavior to her needs, we became friends.
Pet-sitting needs a proper perspective: Sitters have a job to do, which doesn’t include judging the art on the walls or if the living room has too much furniture. One owner told me one sitter re-arranged the furniture, which she did not appreciate. Some houseowners provide a space (even a room) for a sitter’s things. Some don’t, and you may find yourself sliding perfume bottles to the right and hand lotions to the left to secure a space for your dopp kit. Even if temporary adjustments need to be made, the house should be returned to its original condition.
Pet-sitting offers immediate rapport: They anchor me to a new location in a way a hotel does not. I’m part of the community as I walk my animal charges, taking up where the owner left off. I meet neighbors who ask, “Are those Charlie’s dogs?” Understanding my role in the neighborhood, they immediately launch into a comfortable conversation.
Pet-sitting gives me unique opportunities: Owners are proud of their communities and share the local’s favorite restaurants to eat, best places for views, and local events I wouldn’t want to miss.
Pet-sitting makes me feel good: I give the owner the comfort of knowing her pets can follow their same routines and have my companionship. Plus, there’s nothing like returning to a house after a great morning of cross-country skiing to be greeted by three jovial canines, excited you’ve returned.
Trust & Communication.
There’s a hefty level of trust of the sitter as required by the owner, and a necessity for great communication. As the sitter, I’m taking care of the owner’s best friend. I have to ensure the animals stay healthy and happy.
I aim for routine, good judgement, and strong effort for each of my experiences — and yet …. When King slid out the unlatched door without a leash for his evening walk, I was a nervous wreck. I called and clapped and offered treats. I could hear another dog barking and guessed King headed that-away to satisfy his social needs. He returned some minutes later completely wet. I’m guessing he went for a midnight dip in the mountain stream after the rendezvous with his buddy. King sat contritely while I toweled him dry.
For this sit, the owner is overseas for three weeks. I can’t easily reach her by phone, but she’s given me ample emergency connections. Every few days, I send an email with a photo and update. That’s what I would want from my pet-sitter — reassurance life at home is going well.
Pet-Sitting — A Fair Exchange.
It’s a fair trade to stay at someone’s house for taking care of their pets. I recognize I’m getting the opportunity of a lifetime, staying for free in a location just down the road from some of the best ski slopes in the U.S. So I work hard to keep up my part of the agreement. I offer to pick up the house owners at the airport, stock the refrigerator to make their re-entry easier, and ensure the house is spotless upon their return.
And I enjoy the animals as much as I think they enjoy me. This morning, when my three canines heard me rise at 5:30 a.m., they pushed open the door to find me in the middle of a personal moment. They rushed to greet me, making it clear with smiling faces and wagging tails they were happy I was awake, wondering how soon I would be ready to walk, and wanting to know did I have a new design for their leash.
(Btw, if you’re interested in signing up for Trusted Housesitters, email me. By referring you, you’ll receive 20% off your first year’s membership.)
Please share and comment. Your thoughts and opinion are always welcome.
Judy O Haselhoef, a social artist who writes and travels and author of “GIVE & TAKE: Doing Our Damnedest NOT to be Another Charity in Haiti,” blogs regularly at her website,www.JOHaselhoef.com.
Copyright @2017: If you’d like to use any part of it (up to 200 words), please give full attribution and this website, www.JOHaselhoef.com.