Thursday, January 27, 2011

Free Pet-Sitting

Guido the Cat
(Last year I decided January was the ideal month to discuss ways to save money. If you can manage a few cost-saving tricks during the winter, a vacation is more easily affordable when the weather turns warm. Here are the best tips for 2011.)

When David and I returned from a month in Mexico last summer, Guido the Cat let us know he had not appreciated our absence. He sat on the steps all afternoon as we unpacked and loudly meowed the entire time. Either he was bawling us out for having the audacity to leave for a month, or he was catching us up on all the cat-news he'd been storing up for thirty days. In any case, by the time it was dark, poor Guido was completely hoarse. His raspy, barely audible voice continued until midnight, though, so great was his need to communicate.

Our dog, Lena, on the other hand, was happy to see us but a little blasé about welcoming us home. She'd been at Club Med for Dogs, after all, so we could have stayed away for another month or two as far as she was concerned. Life with our wonderful neighbors meant lots of walks and lavish attention from two adults and two children. Even if she had to contend with Legos in her water bowl and afternoons dressed in elaborate costumes complete with bandanas, she had enjoyed affection 24 hours a day.

Guido had none of that.

It really wasn't anyone's fault. Our neighbors came in every day to give Guido water and food and clean his litter box, but because Guido is shy, he hid every time he heard the door open. They never saw him. Not once. No wonder the poor guy was lonely.

For the trip we're planning this spring (We're going to Italy, Spain and Morocco. We hope. Stay tuned!), we knew we had to think of a different solution. Our neighbors are great people and charge us a pittance compared to boarding kennels, but we think Guido needs a lap to curl up in every night. We had to find a pet sitter.

We checked with professional sitters, but our tightwad budget could not accommodate $60 a day. A boarding kennel was out of the question, and not just because of the high price. The first, and last, time we left Lena in one for three nights, she cried when we picked her up. I've seldom heard a dog cry, but there was no mistaking her misery.
Luckily, I remembered a National Public Radio interview I'd heard a few years ago about a company called House Carers. The website unites pet sitters with vacationers for a match that benefits both; the pet sitter gets a free vacation and the pet owner gets free pet care.

I wrote a description of our house, our pets, and a few other details and placed an ad for free (home owners pay no fee while would-be pet/house sitters pay $50 for twelve months). Within five days we had 45 applicants!

We have e-mailed a number of delightful people, checked a lot of references, and finally decided on a couple we think will be perfect for our situation. They are anxious to escape the desert heat in Phoenix for five weeks, and we are thrilled our pets will get the attention they need every day. And the price is right for all of us. They get a free vacation and we get free pet care!

We're sure Guido will still have a lot to “say” when we return from Europe, but this time we hope it will be a happy conversation that ends well before midnight.

Practicalities -

House Carers has lots of information on its site to help you place a homeowner ad.

Do a search yourself, for free, to get a feel for the kind of ad you think will be successful.

When writing your copy, keep in mind that the applicant will want to know details about your house (number of bedrooms, bath, garden), what attractions are near your home, and what his responsibilities will be in regards to your home (gardening, lawn mowing?) and pets (Are pets on special diets or medications?).

Do not hesitate to ask for and to check references. After all, you're entrusting your house and beloved pets to this person. You have a right to know she is reliable and honest.

I don't know how many responses most people receive, but I would guess more desirable locations probably get more than others. Still, even though it might take a little longer to find the right sitter, no matter where you live there is probably someone who would be willing to care for your house and pets while you're away.


  1. Thanks for sharing this with us. I've quiet enjoyed the experience of reading your blog so far. Maybe some cliff notes at the bottom would be a useful addition to summarize the lessons...regardless i will be checking back here so keep up the delightful work,your readers appreciate it...

    Pet Sitting Mckinney

  2. If you have more than one puppy, a very good boarding kennel will permit them to stay together - within reason. For instance, it's affordable to anticipate two or three dogs to be able to board together, but an establishment that could certainly accommodate five or six pets all together may be rarer. This should not be taken as an indication of a shortage of high quality of care, and a really good pet dog boarding kennel will try to let your puppies at least some time together if they are used to living together at home.