Thursday, January 26, 2012

Free Pet-Sitting Revisited

 Last January we worried about leaving our beloved pets behind, especially our shy cat, while we toured Europe, but we certainly couldn't afford professional house sitters on a Tightwadder's budget.  Our solution was to recruit a pet-sitting couple using the website  This is the article I wrote about the process.  At the end of the article, I'll tell you how it all turned out.

When David and I returned from a month in Mexico last summer, [July of 2010] 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.

Follow Up:  We loved everything about this experience!  Joan and Bud were a joy to work with, extraordinarily responsible, as loving to our pets as though they were their own (Lena actually got two walks a day with Bud instead of the one she usually gets with me, and Guido loved curling up in Joan's lap every night.), and our house looked as tidy when we got home as it did when we left. 

They said that the packet of information we left for them came in handy.  In this packet were instructions for operating the TV, stereo, and manuals for the appliances in the house; maps indicating grocery stores and shopping malls; brochures about tourist kinds of places to visit; practical instructions such as when to put out the trash bin for the garbage collectors and when to water the plants; emergency numbers and contact information for the house and the animals (vet numbers, shots, and so on);  and anything else we thought two visitors would like to know such as favorite restaurants.

Would we do it again?  Our pet sitters have become friends, and we planned our trip this spring to coordinate with Joan and Bud's schedule.    Lena and Guido can hardly wait to see them again!

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