Tag Archives: house sitting

10 Ways to Be a Great Pet and House Sitter

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Congratulations! You used some of my tips for getting a house and pet sitting job and you’ve been hired. Now you’re wondering what you can do to make a great impression, get a good reference from the homeowner, and maybe even get asked back next time the people go out of town. Here are ten tips for setting yourself apart from the house sitting crowd.

Person in Brown Cable Knife Sweater Holding White and Black Puppy#1 Make the pets your top priority. This should go without saying, but I frequently hear stories of people coming home to pets who have been mostly ignored by the pet sitter. Care for the pets exactly as instructed. Feed them on schedule and make sure they always have plenty of water. Walk them as often as you’re supposed to, at the times that are normal for them. Give the pets plenty of love and attention.

Pet owners don’t want to come home to pets that are stressed out. Pet owners hire people to stay with the pets in the home so the routine of the animals is not disrupted. Pet owners want to come home to pets who are behaving as if the owners never left.

#2 If possible, check in with the home owner frequently. Let the homeowner know all is well. Send photos of the pets through Facebook, text, or email. A photo of the cat curled up on your lap or the dog sitting next to you will go a long way to let the homeowner know the critter is content.

#3 Don’t have any parties. In fact, don’t have anyone over who might break anything or disrupt the household, Yellow, Pink, and Blue Party Balloonseither by accident or on purpose.

#4 Stay on the good side of the neighbors. Play your music so it can’t be heard outside the house. Pick up any messes the dog in your care leaves on the neighbor’s lawn. Don’t park in the neighbor’s spot, even if it’s on-street parking and you can legally park wherever you want. If there’s an emergency, you want the neighbors on your side. You don’t want the neighbors saying anything negative about you to the homeowner for whom you’re working.

#5 Use the utilities conservatively. Yes, the homeowner expects you to use water and electricity and propane if that’s what powers the stove, but that doesn’t mean you should go hog-wild. Use the utilities as if you were paying for them. Turn off the lights when you leave a room. Make sure you don’t leave the faucet dripping. Don’t take 30 minute showers.

White Toilet Paper#6 Don’t use up all the supplies. Again, the homeowner expects you to use some things, but no one wants to come home from vacation and find there’s not a sheet of toilet paper in the house. Don’t leave the homeowner without toilet paper, paper towels, laundry soap, dish washing liquid, hand soap, or shampoo. Either bring in your own or replace any supply you’ve used up.

#7 ‘Fess up if you break anything. Homeowners have been very understanding when I’ve confessed to breaking drinking glasses and cereal bowls. To save yourself grief, be extra careful with anything you know or suspect is expensive. Better yet, don’t touch anything fancy.

#8 Use coasters and don’t use candles. I got these two bits of advice from a very wise woman who’d been house sitting for years. She learned the hard way how nerve-wracking it is to run around on the day before the homeowner returns trying to remove water stains from the coffee table or scrape candle wax from the nightstand.Two Pillar Candles

#9 Alert the homeowner to any change of plans as soon as possible. My dad died while I was house sitting. As soon as I found out when the service was being held, I called the homeowner and let him know my situation. He was very understanding and planned to return home the night of the day I had to leave.  The dogs only had to be alone for a few hours, and the homeowner told me how to set up the backdoor so they could get into the backyard as necessary.

#10 Before you leave, clean up after yourself. I take a “leave no trace” attitude when I’m getting ready to go.

Vacuum the floors. Wash and put away any dishes or pots and pans you used. Wipe the counters. Wash, dry, fold, and put away any towels you used. Wash the sheets you slept on and remake the bed. Make sure the kitchen and bathroom sinks, bathtub, shower, and toilets are clean. Take all of your belongings with you.

Leave the house in good condition so the homeowner would be to ask you back.

Blaize Sun has been house and pet sitting since 2012. She’s mostly sat with dogs, but has had an occasional cat client. She appreciates all the people who have allowed her to exchange her time and energy for a stay in their home.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/person-in-brown-cable-knife-sweater-holding-white-and-black-puppy-129634/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/yellow-pink-and-blue-party-balloons-796606/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/white-toilet-paper-191845/, and https://www.pexels.com/photo/two-pillar-candles-754062/.

 

10 Tips for Getting House and Pet Sitting Jobs

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I cared for these two sweeties while staying in their house for free.

During my life as a nomad, I’ve often used house and pet sitting as a way to get all of the amenities of living in a home without all the expenses. I’ve had gigs as short as a couple of days to as long as three weeks, and I’ve sat for friends and friends of friends and strangers.

People often want to know how I get my house and pet sitting jobs, and folks with no house and pet sitting experience want to know how they can get started. Today I’ll share ten steps you can take to get house and pet sitting gigs. Some of the tips will apply mostly to absolute beginners, but others will be helpful to people who have sat a time or two but want to expand their businesses.

#1 Tell your friends and family that you are available to house and pet sit. Let them help spread the word. Most of the gigs I’ve done have been for my friends or for close friends of my friends.

#2 Get access to ads from people looking for house and pet sitters and/or post your own ad. I’ve had success with House Sitters America. (I wrote a previous blog post all about my experience using the website.) Rover is a website where house and pet sitters can post ads for their services, including their daily fee. I’ve heard about, but never used The Caretaker Gazette which bills itself as the “only publication in the world dedicated to the property caretaking field.”

#3 Get yourself a business card. I use Vistaprint because I find their prices reasonable and their design tools easy to use. On your cards, include your name, the name of your business, your phone number, an email address, and the website or Facebook page of your business. (It’s easy to set up a Facebook page for your business, which allows you to keep your personal profile private. Do you really want potential customers looking at pictures from your childhood or your best friend’s bachelorette party in Vegas?) Include “pet and house sitting” right there on the card so people will know why they’re saving it. Hand the cards out! They won’t do you any good sitting in the bottom of your bag.

#4 Write a great ad you can use on Craigslist or as your profile on House Sitters America or Rover. You can use

I’ve mostly sat for dog, but I did spend three weeks caring for this kitty cutie.

some of the text to make an eye-catching flyer to hang on bulletin boards around whatever town you’re in. Stress your strengths. Have you owned dogs or cats before? Do you have the Pet First Aid by the American Red Cross app on your phone? Have you ever gone through positive dog training with a pup? Have you volunteered at an animal shelter walking dogs or playing with kittens? Are you a neat freak? Include all that info in your ads.

When I write or answer an ad, I point out that I’m a middle-age woman who doesn’t drink, smoke, or party. I say I may be boring but I’m able to focus my sober attention on the pets and home under my care.

#5 Make a list of references and have it available for potential clients. If you haven’t had a house or pet sitting gig, use friends, co-workers, and employers who can vouch for your honesty and trustworthiness. Be sure you let folks know you are going to use them as references so they can have a plan of nice things to say about you if they get a call. As you sit for people, add them to your list of references. Include phone numbers and email addresses so potential customers can make contact.

#6 Talk to pet professionals. Introduce yourself to pet groomers, receptionists at veterinary clinics, the clerks at pet supply stores. Maybe you can hang your flyer at one or more of these places. Maybe you can leave your card. Maybe these folks will refer you when one of their clients mentions needing a pet sitter. Check in with the professionals periodically to let them know you’re still accepting clients.

#7 Take your dog to the dog park. If you don’t have a dog, offer to take a friend’s dog to the dog park. You want dog owners to see you interacting with a dog in a responsible, loving way. (Do not try this with a poorly-behaved dog that will make you look incompetent.) While you’re at the dog park, talk to dog owners and tell them you’re a pet sitter. Hand out your card.

#8 Patronize other dog friendly places. Lots of restaurants, coffee shops, and bars have outdoor seating areas where dogs are welcome. Bring your dog (or your friend’s dog) and hang out. Talk to people. Hand out your card. If you’re able to frequent dog friendly places, your face will become familiar, and people will be more likely to trust you with their homes and pets.

#9 Consider house and pet sitting at no charge. If you’re living on the road, it might be worth it to you to pet sit for free if you can stay in a house for free and use the electricity, water, and WiFi for free. At times I didn’t get paid for house and pet sitting, I considered it an exchange between me and the home owner.

#10 Don’t be afraid to ask for payment if you’re doing something special. I got paid when I had to give an

I got $10 a day to care for this elderly dog.

incontinent spaniel a pill hidden in peanut butter. I earned $20 a day when I cared for four Rottweilers with a complicated feeing routine. Recently when I agreed at the last minute to sit for an elderly Chihuahua with no teeth who ate wet food, I asked for (and received with no hassle) $10 a day. If you’re doing extra work, you deserve to be compensated for it.

I hope these tips help you find great gigs house and pet sitting so you can get out of your rig when you need to and maybe put some money in your pockets as well.

I took all of the photos in this post.

Blaize Sun has been house and pet sitting since 2012. She’s mostly sat with dogs, but has had an occasional cat client. She appreciates all the people who have allowed her to exchange her time and energy for a stay in their home.

Madame

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Madame was a very small dog, although not the smallest I’ve ever met. While she was extremely cute, I didn’t immediately realize she was the traffic-stopping kind of adorable.

The job hadn’t originally involved a dog. The job had started out as a favor, or, more accurately, a mutually beneficial situation. My friend and her family were going away for the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, and I was welcome to stay at their house while they were gone. I was welcome to luxuriate in their heat and their running water and their WiFi and their multitude of television options. In exchange, I’d make sure their cat had food and water and a tolerable litter pan. I wouldn’t have to leave the house for days at a time if I didn’t want to.

I was sitting on my friend’s couch when she got the email that brought Madame into my life. I was working on my blog and my friend was doing her paying job even though it was supposed to be her day off.

What does this woman want? she asked aloud in exasperation.

The woman in question was a former co-worker. My friend said the woman only contacts her when she wants something. This time she wanted my friend to care for her dog while she was out of the country for the holidays.

My friend said her family had kept the dog once years before. She was an old dog, my friend said, and not much trouble.

I’ll be here anyway, I told my friend. If you don’t mind the dog being at your house, I can take care of her. But tell your friend I want $10 a day.

Caring for a dog meant taking it for walks, which meant I couldn’t stay in the house for days at a time. I wanted a little monetary compensation for my trouble.

My friend said the dog had no teeth and ate wet food. I definitely want $10 a day if I have to feed her wet food, I told my friend. Picking up dog feces is bad enough, but a combination of feces and wet food is a lot of grossness to deal with. Yes, if wet food was involved, I definitely wanted monetary compensation.

The dog’s person was a little desperate. No one else she asked had been able to care for the dog, so she contacted my friend. I don’t know what she would have done if I hadn’t been available. I suspect she would have paid a kennel more than $10 a day. I suspect Madame would have been miserable all alone in a tiny cage.

I said I would care for Madame.

I met her on the morning of Christmas Eve. I arrived at my friend’s house early, while she and her family were still packing and preparing for their trip. Finally, they headed off to the airport, and Madame and I were alone.

Madame was a tiny chihuahua, black, although I’d imagined her as tan and looking more like a pug. I don’t know how old she was, but her muzzle was quite grey. She had big chihuahua eyes and big chihuahua ears, and her mouth was a little twisted due to her lack of teeth. She had stick-thin legs and a large pink bow on her collar.

When it came time for our walk, I found her comically thin leash and hooked it to the metal ring on her collar. She walked well on the leash, didn’t pull, altough I’m not sure if I would have noticed if she did. Like most dogs, Madame liked to stop and sniff. Sometimes if I was ready to move on and she wasn’t, she’d plant her feet and give me an ugly look. I could have easily picked her up and whisked her away, but instead I tugged gently on the leash and talked sweetly to her until she came along.

We were almost back to my friend’s house, walking on the sidewalk, when the car stopped in the middle of the street. It wasn’t a busy street, which is probably why the driver felt it was safe to stop, but still. Most people don’t stop their cars in the middle of the street.

That’s the smallest dog I’ve ever seen! the driver called out to me.

She’s pretty small, I agreed.

The driver and the passenger, both women with grey hair, both women who looked quite a bit older than I am, were gushing over Madame’s cuteness.

Is she full grown? the driver asked me.

Oh yes, I said. She’s actually quite elderly.

There were more declarations of cuteness, and I was polite, but I was ready to move on and get back to my limited-time house life.

She’s just so small, the driver said again. And she’s full grown? The driver was having a difficult time believing Madame wasn’t a puppy.

Oh yes, I said. She’s an old lady dog!

I’ve walked cute dogs before, but none of my other charges have ever brought traffic to a halt.

Is this dog cute enough to stop traffic? I took this photo.

In Praise of Dry Shampoo

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I was between house sitting jobs, spending my days working on my blog at Panera and my nights sleeping in my van at a truck stop. It had been a few days since my last shower, and while I didn’t think I smelled bad, (thanks to vigorous wet wiping), my hair was flat and looked rather greasy. My next house sitting gig was in a gated community, and I wanted to make a good first impression on the homeowners. What to do with my hair?

When I was a teenager, I remember my mom telling me that when she was a teenager, she’d use baby powder to soak up the excess oil in her hair between shampoos. The problem, she said, was the white baby powder left her dark hair looking grey.

Although I already had plenty of grey in my hair, I didn’t want to trade limp hair for powdery, weirdly gray hair. I rejected my mother’s baby powder solution.

One evening, I decided to spend the night in the local Wal-Mart parking lot. I went into the store to utilize the restroom before bed and ended up aimlessly walking the aisles. Eventually, I found myself in front of the dry shampoo.

Does this stuff really work? I wondered.

Would it lift my flat hair? Would it leave a powdery residue? Would it leave my hair sticky? Would it be a waste of money? I was skeptical and ended up not buying any dry shampoo.

I met my house sitting clients a few days later, and they seemed to like me despite my flat hair. Thank goodness they were more interested in my substance than my style.

I told The Lady of the House all about my limp locks and my dry shampoo temptation. She’d never used dry shampoo and didn’t know much about it either. She had no advice to give.

Fast forward to Christmas. The Lady had a seasonal job at a large department store, and she’d bought me presents from the health and beauty department. In addition to a giant bottle of Dr. Bronner’s liquid peppermint soap, she gave me a can of Suave dry shampoo.

Suave Professionals Refresh & Revive Dry Shampoo, 4.3 Oz

She said one night she’d been restocking in the hair care aisle while two young women were browsing there. The two young women stood in front of the dry shampoo. One sighed, pointed to the dry shampoo, and said to her companion, This stuff changed my life.

Very interesting… The Lady thought, and decided to see if the stuff would change my life too.

As soon as I’d unwrapped my gifts, I was ready to test the dry shampoo.

First, I read the directions, which were pretty simple. Shake the can vigorously before and during use. Lift a section of hair and spray. Massage the dry shampoo into hair. Shake the can; lift another section of hair; spray; massage. Repeat. Repeat. The instructions on the can also said to brush hair after spraying and massaging, but I’d never do that because I don’t brush my hair; brushing destroys curls, and I want all the curls I can get.

The Lady and I went into the bathroom and stood in front of the mirror over the sink. I shook the can of dry shampoo, lifted a section of hair, and sprayed the product on the roots. I immediately rubbed that area of hair with my fingertips. When I took my hand away, both The Lady and I could see it really worked. The area of hair I’d sprayed looked fluffier!

Now for the ultimate test.

I sprayed and scrunched sections of hair on the same side of my head. I left the other side of my head alone. Then I went into the living room where The Man of the House and The Boy (now nearly 19 years old) were watching TV. Believe me, these two have no knowledge of or interest in ladies’ hairstyles, so I knew they would not pretend to know what was going on in order to spare my feelings. Both easily identified the side of my head I had sprayed

It really works, the four of us told each other in amazement.

I was pleased to see the dry shampoo left no powder or other residue in my hair. Unlike with my mother’s baby powder solution, I did not have to trade flat hair for weirdly grey hair.  My hair didn’t feel sticky either.  All the dry shampoo left behind was fluff.

Dove Detox and Purify Dry Shampoo, 4 Ounce
After going through the can of Suave dry shampoo gifted to me and purchasing a can of Dove brand, I’ve learned a thing or two about dry shampoo.

First, while the Dove dry shampoo was cheaper at Wal-Mart (and cheaper is why I bought it) and it certainly works, I like what Suave has to offer better. I like the smell of Suave more, and I think it gives more fluff.

Secondly, the dry shampoo does not work like hairspray. It lifts and fluffs, but doesn’t hold my hair high. I’m a gal of the 80s, and I like big hair, but dry shampoo is not going to keep my hair poufy for hours. The dry shampoo does eliminate the greasies and makes my hair look better between shampoos.

Finally, neither the Suave nor the Dove dry shampoo has left my hair feeling sticky or gummy. Neither has left any residue that I can see or feel. When I use dry shampoo, my hair does not scream “product.”

I’m a pretty low maintenance gal, but I’d rather vain about my hair. Sometimes (often times) van dwelling means not being about to wash my hair when I want to. Dry shampoo allows me to fluff up and make a first impression that doesn’t include limp, greasy hair.

Plans

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When I was traveling with Mr. Carolina, I’d sometimes ask him about his plans. Whenever I’d utter the word plans, he’d throw back his head and laugh uproariously. Mr. Carolina knew we can plan all day long, but the Universe does what it wants when it wants and our schemes mean nothing.

These were my plans for 2017:

Attend the RTR

Spend a few weeks in the Arizona desert

House and dog sit in MegaBabylon

Work on writing my second book

Spend a few more weeks in the Arizona desert

House and dog sit again for the same woman in MegaBabylon

Work some more on my second book

Get paid to score student responses to standardized tests

Head to California to spend my summer working as a camp host and a parking lot attendant

Those plans were supposed to get me through the middle of October 2017.

I made it to the RTR, but after that, the Universe had other ideas for me.

At the RTR I hit it off with a very nice man (who has a very nice dog companion). We up and decided to go to New Mexico together, where we both came down with terrible colds. I still managed to do two readings from my book, Confessions of a Work Camper. I sold ten copies of the book, as well as some jewelry and shiny rocks. Life was good, even though the man and I were sick.

I had a lovely birthday in New Mexico. The man and I soaked in hot mineral water, then joined two more friends in the park for ice cream and pie. It was a wonderful day.

The next day I was scheduled to leave New Mexico and head back to MegaBabylon for my house and dog sitting engagement. Saying good-bye to the man was bittersweet, but I’d decided to travel back to New Mexico to see him again between my two house sitting gigs. He’s a carpenter by trade and had offered to transform wasted space in my van into storage space. I was going to borrow power tools from my host family and work with the man on a van project. I was excited about the project and excited about seeing the man again.

When I got into the van that morning, there were no messages on my phone. I looked out of my side-view mirror and watched the man watch me as I drove away. I listened to Old Crow Medicine Show sing “Wagon Wheel” and tried not to feel sad. I’d known this day would come. I’d known all aspects of life are fleeting. I’d known all we have is the present moment, and I’d done my best to enjoy each moment I’d had with him to the fullest. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t already miss him.

Before I got on the interstate, I had to stop at Wal-Mart. I was still sick, and the sickness had settled in my lungs as a cough. The coughing had kept me up the night before, so I really wanted to be able to take a big swig of cough syrup when I arrived at the free camping area I’d decided on as my stopover. I thought my best move was to get some cough syrup before I left town.

When I stopped the van, I checked my phone, as is my habit. The screen showed a notification saying I had three messages. Three messages? What was up with that?

I went to my messages and saw they were all from the woman I was supposed to house and dog sit for starting the next day. She said she’d hurt her back and was just leaving the hospital. She’d had to cancel her trip. She didn’t need me until April.

I was reeling. What to do? Head back to MegaBabylon anyway? Stay and spend more time with the man? Something else I hadn’t even yet imagined?

It took me a couple of days and a couple of long conversations with the man to figure things out, but I made some decisions. I could tell you my plans, but what’s the point? The Universe is going to send me wherever it wants me to be.

 

 

House Sitting Savings

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People often ask me if I get paid for house and pet sitting. The answer is: usually not. House and/or pet sitting is not going to pay my bills. The most I’ve ever been paid for my pet sitting duties was $10 a day (which doesn’t sound like a lot, but when I sat somewhere for two or three weeks, I ended up with a little pile of money).

Instead of thinking of house and pet sitting in terms of what I earn, I started thinking of it in terms of what I save.

#1 I don’t pay rent while house sitting. According to the Department of Numbers (http://www.deptofnumbers.com/rent/us/),

Median monthly gross residential rent in the United States was $934 in 2014 according to the Census ACS survey.1

That’s $233 a week. In 2016, I house sate for approximately eight weeks, saving me the $1868 I would have paid to rent a house. Of course, four of the weeks I house sat were in California where the Department of Numbers (http://www.deptofnumbers.com/rent/california/) says

The median monthly gross residential rent in California was $1,268 in 2014 according to the Census ACS survey…1

so I would have been paying approximately $317 a week there. I would have probably paid more to rent a motel room–even a cheap motel room–for that period of time.

#2 I don’t pay utilities while pet sitting, yet I utilize electricity, natural gas and/or propane, and water while staying in someone’s home. I take as many baths and showers as I want (although I seldom do so every day), cook on the stove, store food in the refrigerator, charge my electronics, turn the lights on, and use the heater or A/C if necessary, all with no out of pocket expenses.

#3 Of the eleven places where I’ve house sat, only three lacked a washer and dryer on site. Where such appliances were available, I was invited/encouraged/expected to use them. At most laundromats I’ve frequented recently, it cost $1.75 to $2 per load to wash and 25 cents per eight minutes to dry, which usually works out to about $2.50 to wash and dry a load of clothes. At my last house sitting job, I washed four loads of clothes (in three weeks), saving me the $10 I would have given to a washateria. I estimate doing laundry while house sitting has saved me at least $30 in laundry costs in 2016.

#4 I don’t pay for internet. I get mobile data on my phone, but I don’t do much more than check Facebook or email on it. When I’m working on the blog or doing anything else that requires internet access, I typically sit at Panera or another coffee shop with fast internet service and electrical outlets. One of my requirements for taking a pet sitting job is the availability of fast internet service in the house so I don’t have to go anywhere to utilize WiFi. House sitting not only saves me the money I’d spend on a monthly internet plan, it saves me the money I’d spend on coffee and/or food if I sat for hours at a coffee shop or restaurant.

#5 I don’t pay for satellite/cable TV either. When I’m in the van, I don’t even think of watching television, but when I’m in a house, I do partake. Of the eleven houses I’ve stayed in while pet sitting, seven offered some sort of television package. Maybe I shouldn’t count the TV I get while staying in someone’s house because I would never spend my own money on such an unnecessary (for me) expense, but I’ll mention it as I do tend to watch when it’s available.

#6 When I’m house sitting I cook instead of eating out. The simple foods I cook (beans, rice, eggs, veggies) are less expensive than the cheapest fast food and healthier too. Cooking on a camp stove is often more of a hassle than I want to deal with, but cooking in a real kitchen is no problem, so I don’t feel the need to eat out.

#7 While pet sitting, I’m usually hunkered down in the house most days while I write or read or do crafts. Staying “home” means I’m not out using gasoline. Every day I don’t drive saves me money.

#8 When I mentioned the idea for this post to a friend (a homeowner), she reminded me of the maintenance costs of owning a home. When I’m house sitting, I’m not worried about missing shingles, leaking pipes, burnt out light bulbs or broken down appliances. If something goes wrong in a house while I’m there, I simply contact the home owner and ask for instructions; I don’t have to pay for repairs.

clouds-house-mountains

I took this photo of the view from one of the houses where I sat with two adorable little dogs.

#9 I can’t slap a price tag on some of the perks I’ve received as a house sitter. One house had huge windows offering a stunning view of the Rio Grande. It also boasted its own outdoor natural hot mineral water soaking pool. Other house sitting locations have offered jaw dropping views of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. House sitting has brought me close to places otherwise off my beaten path; I probably would not have visited the Calaveras Big Trees State Park had I not been staying in a house nearby.

Of course, it’s flattering to be trusted with people’s earthly possessions and beloved pets. Few moments are sweeter than when a cat who’s been labeled aloof jumps up to sit on my lap or when a cute and fluffy dog curls up to sleep against my leg. Sometimes house and pet sitting really is priceless.

 

Update on House and Pet Sitting

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There was recently a discussion about house and pet sitting in one of the online van groups I’m in. Before I posted the two pieces I previously wrote about house and pet sitting, I reread them and found I said I’d share my experiences getting gigs through House Sitters America. I’d totally forgotten that promise, but I’ll make good on it today.

To recap:

A year’s membership with  House Sitters America, cost $30. The website’s FAQ explains the process this way:

House sitters register to list their profile on the House Sitters America database.

Here they can be seen by US homeowners via the website. These homeowners are able to contact the house sitter directly to discuss potential house sitting.

Registered house sitters are also able to contact any of the homeowners through their adverts.

Once one registers as a house sitter via the House Sitters America website, one can choose the state(s) where one is interested in working. A potential house sitter can set up alerts so s/he is notified when an job in the state(s) of interest is advertised. At that point, a potential house sitter is able to contact the home owner who placed the ad.

I’ve never had a homeowner I didn’t know contact me to ask me to sit. I’ve always been the one to initiate contact after receiving an alert or seeing a homeowner’s ad.

I got four house sitting gigs from the first $30 I spent to join House Sitters America (HSA). The first job I got through the site led to me sitting again for the same woman a few weeks after the initial time she hired me. The woman would have hired me a third time, but I was unavailable when she needed me.

I got the second two gigs through HSA for the time after my camp host job ended and before the temperatures  in the Southwest were pleasant. The first job, which lasted ten days, involved caring for two sweet little dogs. The second job lasted three weeks and involved caring for an extremely independent cat. Neither of the jobs paid any money; in both cases, I had a free place to stay (with running water and electricity and fast internet and a refrigerator and television) in exchange for tending to the pets.

From reading the ad for the first job, I figured out I’d be dealing with a guy. Through our correspondence via the House Sitters America messaging system and subsequent phone conversation, I learned he’d be traveling to Hawaii, where his wife was already living. My years of conditioning kicked in and worries started running through my head. What if this is a setup? What if he’s going to lock me in a closet? What if he’s a rapist? Please note, I had no bad feelings about the man himself. He didn’t say anything weird or creepy. I had no negative gut reactions. My instincts told me he was fine. Yet, the worries I’ve been conditioned to have were there.

Instead of passing up the job, I took precautions. I communicated with my trusted friend, the woman I check in with every day when I have phone service. I told her the man’s first and last name. I gave her his address and phone number and email address. I let her know what time I was set to meet him, and asked her to check in with me if she hadn’t heard from me within an hour of that time. When I arrived at the house, I let my friend know I was there. When the man turned out to be a really nice guy (nothing creepy, no red flags, no negative gut reactions), I texted my friend to tell her all was well. I guess something bad could have happened, but I knew someone was looking out for me and would at least know where to begin searching for me if I disappeared.

It’s been very interesting to me to see how different people deal with leaving their home and pets in the hands of a house sitter.

The woman I sat for in my first job through HSA was going on a cruise and would have no cell phone service for most of the time she would be away. When I asked her who I should call in the event of an emergency, she became very defensive and asked me what I thought was going to go wrong. (I think she is one of those people who believes thinking about bad things invites those things to happen.) I tried to tell her I didn’t think anything bad was going to happen, but wanted to be prepared in the event something did. She did not want to discuss anything negative and didn’t leave me with a telephone number for a vet or a plumber or a neighbor or a maintenance person or anyone. I was on my own! Luckily, I didn’t need any of the telephone numbers she hadn’t left for me.

The couple with the independent cat I sat for were the polar opposite of the woman who refused to talk about anything negative. I had both of their cell phone numbers and was encouraged to call or text them if I had any problem. They left me the phone numbers of both their vet and their next door neighbor. The man walked me through the house with a checklist and showed me how to work the appliances.  In the laundry room, he showed me  how to turn off the water input valves on the washer when not in use He told me where the breaker box was and how to shut off the main water valve and main propane valve if any problem occurred. The woman insisted on driving me into town and showing me the locations of the post office and the library and the grocery store. They were both super nice people. I enjoyed talking to them and appreciated being prepared for every situation they could imagine.

The guy whose wife was in Hawaii was somewhere in between the two extremes. He showed me around the house and explained the operation of the newfangled, computerized washer and dryer. He pointed out the magnet on the refrigerator with a phone number for a 24 hour emergency vet. He let me know I could call or text him if I needed anything, and that was that.

I have been very happy with House Sitters America. I’ve gotten four house sitting gigs through the website, all of which have turned out well. Early in November, my HSA membership was up for renewal, and I plunked down my $30 to continue with the service. I think House Sitters America is a great resource for people who want to expand their house sitting possibilities beyond family, friends, and friends of friends.

I took this photo of the view from the back deck of the house where I sat with the independent cat.

I took this photo of the view from the back deck of the house where I sat with the independent cat.

Cats and Dogs

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I’ve been a cat person all my life.

My family had a few dogs during my childhood and adolescence. Though I liked them to greater and lesser degrees, they were all so stinky and slobbery and needy. I preferred the family cats who might sit on my lap, but never put their stinky breath right up in my face.

I was afraid of strange dogs for many years. Although I’d never been bitten, the big teeth and unpredictable ways of dogs made me nervous. I tried to avoid dogs as much as possible.

Then I became the co-owner of a puppy. I guess you could say I was the doggie mama. The relationship with the man ended, and I never saw the pup again, but I’d learned a lot about dogs. Canines don’t scare me any more, although I’m still cautious around strangers. If I want to pet a dog I don’t know, I ask the dog’s person first, and I don’t like any dog’s teeth (or breath!) right up in my face.

yoshi-and-pj

I took this photo of two dogs in my care.

Yes, I recognize the irony of my situation as a house sitter who usually tends to dogs. How did I go from a gal scared of dogs to one who is quite popular with the puppies? Maybe it’s because I’m loving but take no shit. Maybe it’s because I’ve got a free hand with the (dog’s-person-approved) treats.

My theory is that dogs love whomever feeds them. When I sit with dogs, the first day and night are really difficult for the critters. They look sad and a bit confused. They mope around the house. They stare longingly at the door. By the next morning, however, when they figure out I’m going to put food in the bowl and scratch bellies too, they love me. They love me! They’re happy to see me when I return. They follow me with their eyes as I move about the house. If they are accustomed to sleeping in the bed with their people, they sleep in the bed with me. Maybe dogs are fickle. Maybe dogs are opportunists. Maybe dogs simply love easily. In any case, it does make more sense to lick than bite the hand that feeds you.

lulu

Photo of Chiweenie taken by her person

And while love is important, feeding seems to be even more so. I recently met an old friend’s beloved Chiweenie. This dog was rescued off the streets of a major city and is a bit of a ruffian. My friend has done much work to socialize this doggie girl so she  can (usually) go on walks without attacking the ankles of passersby . Despite my friend’s warnings and best intentions, the Chiweenie jumped up and nipped my fingers as I ignored her (as directed) while crossing the threshold into her home. Damn! Apparently she doesn’t know that dogs love me. What won her over was treats, lots and lots of treats, so many treats. I first fed her through the slats of her kennel; soon I was able to feed her more directly, once she was allowed to roam freely about the cabin. In less than an hour, she was lying next to me on the couch, offering her pink hairless belly for rubs. Oh! The power of food!

Despite all this puppy love, I’ll tell you a secret. I prefer cats. It’s true. For one, they’re a lot less trouble. Although I do know a handsome Siamese who perambulates about town on a leash, I’ve never been asked to take a cat for a walk. Although cleaning a litter pan is not a fun chore, I prefer it to picking up squishy dog feces in a little bag which I then must carry around until I find a trash can. Although I am touched to see a dog get all excited when I return to the house, I’d prefer not to have a critter under my feet every time I move. I appreciate the independent nature of cats, their live and let live (and let’s mostly leave each other alone) attitude.

In my house sitting career, I’ve mostly cared for dogs. Maybe because they need more attention, it’s easier to have someone in-house to care for them. Maybe people with cats can more easily believe nothing can go wrong if someone just pops by once a day to feed and water the felines. Dogs just seem to need more supervision, so most of my jobs have been to care for canines.

I am currently house sitting and caring for an elderly cat. Although over twelve years old, this gal is healthy. I don’t have to give her any medications or clean up any unseemly bodily emissions. Mostly she sleeps in a bed on top of a chest of drawers in the main bedroom.

My cat related chores are very few. I clean out the litter pan when it gets gross. I ensure her bowls contain water and dry food at all time. I give her wet food in the mornings and evenings, as she demands by standing in front of her bowls and meowing insistently. When she wants to go outside, I open a door for her. If I close the door behind her on the way out, I let her in again when she demands re-entrance. I make sure she is inside between dusk and dawn. Easy.

The other night, a couple of hours after dark, I peeked into the main bedroom to check on Madame. She was not in her bed! What? I thought I’d made sure she was in the house before I closed up all the doors. Had I really locked the cat out on a cold, damp night?

I opened the back door, stepped out on the deck, and called the cat’s name. No response. I opened the front door, stepped out on the porch and called the cat’s name. No response. I ran back and forth a few times, calling her name and shouting, Here kitty kitty! No response. How had I managed to fail in this very simple task?

I thought maybe she was hiding in some other part of the house. She was not in the kitchen. She was not in the living room. She was not in the guest bedroom where I sleep, nor in the guest bath. I went into the office, not expecting her to be there, and turned on the light. There was Madame, curled up on the satellite TV receiver.

You heard me calling and just sat there? I asked her.

She didn’t even dignify my question with a response.

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I took this photo of the cat currently under my guardianship.

 

More on House and Pet Sitting

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I’ve written a previous post about how I find house and pet sitting jobs.

I have more thoughts on house and pet sitting to share before I move on to other subjects, but the previous post on the topic was already quite long, so I decided to make this a two part-er.

As I already said, most of my house and pet sitting jobs have been for friends or for the friends of friends. I recommend to folks who want to house and pet sit: share your desire for this kind of work with all of your friends. I haven’t always been able to find the kinds of gigs I wanted where I wanted them and when I wanted them, but often friends did help me get jobs when I needed them.

If I were willing to travel more to get to house/petting sitting jobs, I would get a lot more of them. I suspect people who want to travel and do this kind of work could see the country (and probably other countries) this way. I have a sort of route I do through the West, and don’t want to drive to Austin, TX (for example) to spend a couple of weeks there taking care of someone’s dog. In my House Sit America profile, I am shown as available in only three states because I currently have no desire to drive all over the U.S.

When I responded to the Craigslist ad for my first dog sitting job, I obviously didn’t have any pet sitting references to offer. Instead, I offered contact info for people in the area who knew me well, such as the friend whose guest bedroom I was occupying. (Now I can’t remember if the woman who hired me asked for references or if she even contacted anyone to ask about me.) Once I had some experience under my belt, I was able to offer previous employers as references. However, since most of my jobs came through my friend network, I was already vouched for.

Money has always been a touchy subject for me. Maybe that’s because I grew up in the South. In any case, I often have a difficult time bringing up financial issues. When I took the dog sitting job I found on Craigslist, I didn’t even know I was getting paid!

Often, I don’t charge for my house and pet sitting services. Many times, I’ve felt it’s a favor to me to have a place to stay, especially times when I was living in the van and it was cold out or I didn’t have access to a shower. When I was living in my friends’ guestroom, I felt as if walking their dog while they were away for Christmas was the least I could do. In such situations, I felt as if I were participating in mutual aid, and I didn’t ask for money.

Other times when I house or pet sat for folks I knew had money but weren’t rich, I did ask for a small daily payment. In situations with multiple pets, pets that need medication, and/or long, bumpy drives over dirt road(s) to get to the house in question, I’m more likely to ask for some money to compensate for my extra effort. Houses offering desirable amenities (WiFi, the Food Network, the History Channel, bathtubs) are more likely to get free sitting from me.

House Sitters America recommends using a house sitting agreement. The company’s website says,

…using an agreement can prevent potential problems and misunderstandings. Both parties can state what is expected and organize the terms of the house sit, and then sign it.

However, I’ve never used such an agreement, maybe because most of my jobs have come through my friend network. When I mentioned a written agreement to the woman I’ll be sitting for through her ad on House Sitters America, she wasn’t interested.

So I think that’s everything I know about house and pet sitting. Feel free to ask questions or tell about your house and pet sitting experiences in the comments.

Dead Plant, Blue Sky

Here’s another photo I took near one of the houses I sat .

How Do You Find Houses to Sit?

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One of the Facebook groups I belong to is The Non-Consumer Advocate. It’s a closed group, the description of which reads, We are citizens, not consumers. It’s linked to the blog of the same name, written by Katy Wolk-Stanley (http://thenonconsumeradvocate.com/). Ms. Wolk-Stanley says about herself,

I am here to help people learn to live on less, and to do so in a way that lessens their environmental impact. I define myself not by my purchases, but by my goals and actions. I am a library patron, leftovers technician, Goodwill enthusiast, utility bill scholar, labor and delivery nurse, laundry hanger-upper, mother and citizen.

Recently someone in the group asked who was living in unusual housing to save money. I wrote,

I live in my van. I have a sort of circuit of seasonal/temporary jobs. I score student responses to the essay or short answer portions of standardized tests in the spring. In the summer I am [a] camp host in the mountains of California. The goal is to earn enough [money] in the spring and summer to not have to work in the fall/winter. I also house sit in between. House sitting gives me some time out of the van, time to have house comforts with no out-of-pocket expense. Sometimes I house sit for free if the house is in a very desirable location, sometimes I sit for a very small amount, like $10 a day.

Another member of the group asked me how I find houses to sit. After writing a long answer to her question, I thought this topic would make a good blog post. So for anyone wondering how I find my house and pet sitting gigs, I’ll give you the answer.

I’ve found house/pet sitting jobs in a variety of ways.

The most common way I’ve gotten house and pet sitting gigs is through friends. Not only have I house and pet sat for friends, I’ve gotten house/pet sitting gigs from the friends of friends. Of the 18 house/pet sitting jobs I’ve had since 2012, only two were for absolute strangers. (Both of those absolute strangers hired me again to sit their houses and dogs during subsequent absences, but by that time, they were no longer absolute strangers.) The other times, I was either sitting for people I already knew or the friends of people I already knew.

I often scour Craigslist for jobs in whatever town or city I am in, but I’ve only found one house/dog sitting job that way in over three years. I suspect most people want a little more accountability than they think Craigslist provides.

The Craigslist ad for that job was honest to the point of comedy. The woman looking for the house/pet sitter put it right out there that the sitter would be sharing the bed with the dog! (I wonder if anyone but me applied for the job.) What the homeowner didn’t put in the ad was that the dog had a tiny bladder or was a scam artist or both, and I would have to get up several times each night to let the dog out into the backyard. She also didn’t tell me the house was possibly haunted. (Read more about that house and dog sitting experience here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2015/07/01/southern-gothic-declining-gentility-edifice/.)

The second stranger I house and dog sat for, I met at a garage sale.

I was visiting a small town in the Southwest, and I decided to go to a garage sale on a Sunday afternoon. As soon as I arrived, I met the very nice dog who lived at the house. After I hit it off with the dog, the woman holding the sale and I chatted. She too had traveled in a van when she was younger, and she understood me and my life.

A few days later, I was walking just off the town’s main drag when a car passed by. Someone was waving out of the driver’s side window and shouting, I need to talk to you! I couldn’t imagine who it might be, since I didn’t know anyone in the town. After the car was parked, the woman from the garage sale emerged from it. She asked if I wanted to come back to the town in a month and house and dog sit for her while she was visiting family in California. As a matter of fact, I did want to return and stay in her house and hang out with her friendly dog. It turned out the be a wonderful house/pet sitting experience and the start of sweet friendship. Also, the next winter when I was in town, this friend referred me to her friends who were looking for a sitter; I got to spend a very cold week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve in a very nice and warm house with Direct TV and WiFi.

Last November, during a bout of what am I going to do with myself NOW? I paid $30 to join House Sitters America (http://www.housesittersamerica.com), which was recommended to me by an acquaintance who has happily used the service for some time. The website’s FAQ (http://www.housesittersamerica.com/sitter-faqs) explains the process this way:

House sitters register to list their profile on the House Sitters America database.

Here they can be seen by US homeowners via the website. These homeowners are able to contact the house sitter directly to discuss potential house sitting.

Registered house sitters are also able to contact any of the homeowners through their adverts.

Once one registers as a house sitter via the House Sitters America website, one can choose the state(s) one is interested in sitting in. When a house sitting position is posted in the state(s) of interest, a potential house sitter gets an email with pertinent information and is able to contact the homeowner.

I have a house sitting gig coming up that I got through House Sitters America. I will post an update on the gig once it is complete, but hopefully it will be a blissfully uneventful two weeks and not an interesting story. If that’s the case, I’ll just post the update in the comments section of this post.

There are other services that connect house sitters and people who need caretakers for their property. One mentioned in the Non-Consumer Advocate group is The Caretaker Gazette. According to the publication’s website (http://www.caretaker.org/),

THE CARETAKER GAZETTE is a unique newsletter containing property caretaking and house sitting jobs, advice, and information for property caretakers, housesitters, and landowners. Published since 1983, it’s the only publication in the world dedicated to the property caretaking field.

I have not used The Caretaker Gazette, so I can’t necessarily recommend it, but I did want to include it as a resource I’ve heard about.

So that’s how I find houses to sit. Any questions? Anyone do things differently? I’d love to answer questions or read about what others do via the comments section.

To read more of my thoughts on house and pet sitting, go here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2016/02/24/more-on-house-and-pet-sitting/.

Clouds, House, Fence

I took this photo of the area near one of the houses I sat.