Since returning from our Camino de Santiago in June, we have been catching up with family and friends and done quite a few “pet sits”: living in family homes to look after pets while the house owners are on holiday. We use the website “trustedhousesitters.com” which is the largest global petsitting website although there are several others which specialize in particular regions or countries of the world. Now that we have been able to build a strong profile, we will hopefully be able to live in people’s homes around the world for free in return for looking after their house and pets…and as we adore animals, that’s just an added bonus. We have so far been pet sitting in interesting and beautiful homes in the UK, Belgium and France, and plan to do the same one day around the world, for example Australia and the USA. What we have realised in doing that, is that houses and pets reflect their owners so much that each one has a special story to tell. As such, from the most everyday house to the most luxurious, from the most popular pet to the rarest, each experience with animals and spaces has had something to teach us or an insight to impart. It is one of the most enjoyable jobs we could have done.
We have been pet sitting – in between our adventures – for exactly one year. This summer took us to a gorgeous old house in rural Brittany and to corners of London we had never explored before despite having spent a lifetime there.
Some of our Favourite Pet sitting Stories
We lived with Minou in a flat owned by the Canadian embassy in Brussels. Four times a day, she demanded having her food pushed to the centre of her bowl in a dainty little mound because she did not like to dirty her whiskers. She reminded us of Duchess from The Aristocats. Here she is auditioning for the next Bond film.
We fell in love so much with Scruffy! A couple of weeks after we left him, we met a lookalike Border Terrier on the streets and we both became very emotional! The dog’s walker thought we were a bit crazy. He was quite right!
This Bengal, Naobi, looked and behaved like a jungle cat. She caught and ate a mouse down to the bone and one day brought back a beautiful bird in its jaws. Only its wings were broken so we managed to splint them and then gave it a nice place to rest in the garden’s glasshouse. One hour later, we discovered that the greenhouse had a missing glass pane, so of course our Bengal managed to get in and finish the hunt!
This 10 month old Labrador, Zuma, was so strong. One day, when taking him for a walk in the forest, he saw some birds ahead of us and pulled the lead so hard that Jeff went flying, clean off the ground, and his glasses flew away too. Despite looking for them for hours, they were nowhere to be found. Replacing them cost nearly £1,000! Lesson learnt. We now remove or secure our glasses before walkies!
One of our favourite sits was in Brittany where we were looking after a cat, two chickens and a vast garden made up of flowerbeds, lawns, vegetable patches, orchards, two meadows and a wood with its own spring. There was also Sadie, the German Shepherd, who soon became an inseparable friend. She was such an affectionate and clever dog who communicated her needs and wants so clearly. Sylvie ended up adopting Sadie’s habit of turning her head to one side to express curiosity. We both miss Sadie so much!
What our experience has taught us about Pet Sitting
- Keeping the house and animals safe is always our #1 priority. We consider that we are only as good as the last review left, so losing the dog or leaving the house door open would mean the end to this “career”.
- Building and then keeping a good profile is essential as owners will sometimes receive over 50 requests for the same “gig”. Finding the very first review was not easy. It took applications to many homeowners on various dates and it was important at the start to put on the pet sitting website external reviews written by a friend or neighbour whose pet we had looked after. Then, to find the first proper pet sit, we found it a good idea to apply for less popular sits, maybe short ones somewhere out in the countryside rather than the centre of London or Paris, and to write a sincere request.
- We love being uncle and auntie for fur babies (we also like feathers and don’t dislike scales – we are not convinced we would apply to look after insects: one needs to know one’s limits!). No-one should consider pet sitting unless they love animals.
- Whenever we want to spend most or all of our time exploring a town or going about our own business, we use Airbnb. Pet sitting is a job. It is a very nice job in that most pet sits will allow 4-5 hours spent away from the pets and that can sometimes be ample especially when in a town. However, priority number 1 is the welfare of our wards and that may mean spending as much time as necessary for their welfare and in the case of multiple animals or a large garden, it may mean spending most of the day at the house or even cancelling our plans, say if the pets suddenly take ill, as happened once in London.
- Liking people is a good way to succeed. We feel awed by the trust of people opening their homes and leaving the furry, feathery or scaly members of their family to the care of near total strangers. The home owners also need their holidays, so we like them first to feel reassured when they leave and while they are away, and we try to give them a pleasant return once they are back home…coming back from holidays is such an anti-climax already, nobody wants to come back to a place that is untidy or dirty and to unkempt, unhappy pets. So, although the owners only expect to find the house in the same condition as when they leave it, we normally go the extra mile and leave it cleaner than how they left it if we can – some houses are so pristine, it is a challenge just to keep everything in the same condition! In other places, cleaning and tidying is also for our own benefit as we would not otherwise want, say, to cook food in an oven which is dripping in fat. Besides, cleaning everything makes you find out what you need to know about the place which becomes “home” pretty quickly.
We are off to India for four months at the start of October. We will spend the first two months volunteering for the charity Seva Mandir (https://www.sevamandir.org) in Udaipur (Rajasthan) – the film set for Octopussy – and the last two months exploring India and meeting up with old friends there. We are nervous and excited in equal measure!