House Sitting: My first steps
By Jim Selig
My First Steps: Up to the task?
House Sitting… Sounds like a lovely concept. Go off to exotic places, experience different cultures and save yourself the cost of hotels. What a perfect plan!
However, like all plans, it comes with some responsibility. You are there to keep some furry (or scaly or feathered) creature healthy and happy as well as maintaining a house, lawn and perhaps a pool.
There are questions that should come to your mind right now. “How to get started” is one? And “is this right for me” is another. I’d like to address the latter question.
After all, you are taking on A LOT of responsibility. You are agreeing to look after someone’s loved one. Something so precious to them that they are willing to provide you accommodation in return for their care. And that loved one is completely dependent on you...for food, water, and entertainment and exercise.
You are also looking after what is likely the most expensive investment your host will likely ever own.
Something they likely take a lot of pride in. And for a certain period of time, you are in charge of both...the house that they value and the pet that they love. That is quite a responsibility.
When Cheryl and I decided to house and pet sit, I think we had realistic expectations. We knew that when you House Sit dogs, you are going to go for a lot of walks, throw a ball a million times and you are going to pick up a lot of poop. When you Pet Sit cats, you’re going to get snuggles when they want you, ignored when they don’t want you and you’re going to be cleaning kitty litters. You need to be home every evening for walks, feedings and snuggles and be there every morning for more feedings, more walks and playtime. You are their sole provider, playmate and pooper scooper.
Even without pets, when you House Sit, you can expect to mow lawns, maintain pools, and keep a house is tip top condition. Our philosophy is to always return the home back to the host in better shape than it was given to us. And some people have the bar set pretty high.
So when asking yourself “is this right for me”, you need to know that your schedule will revolve around the house and the 4 legged creature (or fins or wings) that reside in it. Being out all day and night is not living up to your responsibility.
My First Steps: Comfort zone
You need to ask yourself another question. How comfortable are you living in someone else’s house, sleeping in someone else’s bedroom, perhaps in someone else’s bed. How comfortable are you cooking in someone else’s kitchen? On a recent pet sit by myself in Prescott Arizona, I was woken in the middle of the night by the dogs frantically barking at someone outside. I got up in this strange house to investigate but saw nothing. It is a very lonely and ominous feeling to realize that you don’t know the house, the neighbors or community. Was it a cat, javelinas, a mountain lion or Freddy Kruger? Are you ready for this?
My First Steps: Pleasures & Heartbreaks
Another reality that you will have to deal with, if you decide to Pet Sit, is you have to become good at saying goodbye. This one was an expected challenge for us. In Querétaro Mexico, we were put in charge of two furry happy dogs who immediately took to us. They were our constant companions. They snuggle and cuddle with us every night and every morning. They jumped with enthusiasm at the very mention of a WALK that we did 2-3 times daily. And they were our protectors from unseen (and purely imagined) threats. After 5 weeks of daily interaction with one another, we had to say goodbye. It was not easy. So when you ask yourself about whether Pet Sitting is right for you, remember you have been warned. You will fall in love and it will be sad to walk away.
But however challenging Pet Sitting can be, it does come with its rewards. Some obvious and some unexpected, at least for us. The obvious are that you get to crash in a great house in a location of your choosing (otherwise you wouldn’t have applied) for free. It’s better than a hotel suite. You get a bedroom, kitchen, living room and often a backyard or balcony. And you get a companion as well. All these are the obvious benefits to Pet Sitting, but I soon discovered that there are many other benefits that aren’t so obvious.
My first experiences in House Sitting proved to be so much more than I ever expected.
For instance, I did not expect to find so many hosts that were unbelievably open, caring and friendly. I suppose I should have. After all, they are willing to open up their home to you to make their 4 legged family members life more comfortable. That says a lot about the type of person right there. But I have met some of the nicest people ever while Pet Sitting. I have had meals cooked for me, invites to stay extra nights, offers to use their vehicles, and encouragement to take some time to relax in their pools and hot tubs. These hosts did not have to do any of these things and yet they did.
My First Steps: Becoming a local
The next unexpected gift comes in the form of the host’s friends and neighbors. Often the owners will introduce you to their community of people. That way, if you have questions during the sit, you have someone on hand to ask. But what I got was so much more than help and casual conversation. I have been taken out shopping to the local outdoor markets, invited to their homes for dinner, and told much about the local customs and culture. I have eaten tacos in a Mexican market where I watch the tortilla being made by hand right before my eyes. They have shared with me tips of where to go to eat and what to order. And not the overpriced tourist hot spots but where the locals all go. I have been invited to local festivals and celebrations. And again, I get it explained to me, with considerable pride the history behind it and what the event means to them. I get to experience these events through their eyes. I have often said when I travel, I don’t want a tour guide to read a script and show me around. I want to see it and feel it as a local. Meeting the friends and neighbors of the host has meant so much more then I have ever expected.
Lastly are the unexpected gifts of nature. A couple weeks ago I came across a squadron of javelinas while driving around in Arizona. I have never seen one before and was surprised to see them in groups. In Mexico, I went outside to catch an Uber and witnessed hundreds of monarch butterflies all fluttering past me in the same direction. Our House Sitting assignment happens to be on the migratory path of these beautiful pollinators. They are heading to one of there winter sanctuaries to hibernate for the winter. To think that these erratic flyers can fly thousands of miles each year is amazing to me. And I feel grateful to bear witness to it.
My First Steps: Just the beginning
It seems each day along with the challenges, I am gifted with new people, new perspectives, and new experiences that would not happen if not for traveling and Pet Sitting. As seriously as I take on the responsibility, I am appreciative for the benefits.
Jim, alongside his wife Cheryl, decided to give House Sitting a try after hearing us rave about it over and over again during the last few years.
Suffice to say they are now hooked, having started off with a House Sitting assignment on a ranch in Mexico all the way to now Spain, where a series of Sits will take them across Western Europe, caring for cats, dogs and horses until next spring.
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