I’m going on my fifth year of pet sitting in Southeast Asia. I wasn’t even aware that such a thing as pet sitting or house sitting existed in a ‘professional services’ category, until I read a blog about it on the 1 Dad 1 Kid website. I signed up immediately and was an official pet sitter within the month. The idea of being away from my own home and having a pet to keep me company was more appealing than simply watching an empty house, so I focused my efforts in the pet sitting direction. I got very lucky with my first sit in Kuala Lumpur as the pet owners were extremely diligent about printing detailed information about their pet as well as their home. I in turn supplied them with the necessary information about me. The who, what and where, so to speak.
There is a learning curve in pet sitting and house sitting. And I have learned a lot in the past few years. But it was just recently that I learned one important factor, and that is that both parties should be accountable. The easiest way to achieve that layer of protection is for both parties to be registered with a pet sitting/house sitting service. Preferably with the same company. In fact, it will be my main criteria for choosing any future pet sits or house sits.
I have heard a few odd stories about pet sitters. I’ve also met some unusual pet owners. But I would consider myself a bit of an unusual pet owner, so I can relate. Pet owners can be very particular about their pets’ needs and I don’t blame them, because I am also very particular. In fact, all 6 of my cats and rooster-hen combo are spoiled rotten due to my over indulgence of their dietary and schedule whims.
But it was one of my recent pet sitting experience which really put things into perspective. I had failed at ensuring a smooth pet sit by accepting vague answers. I also assumed the pet owner was following through on the basic steps of preparing for any stranger to stay in their home as well as watch their little bundles of fur. Unfortunately, I was probably the very first ‘stranger’ pet sitter to grace this household. Ironically enough I had been recommended to them by a previous client, who had recently become their friend.
This is where things got sloppy and the lines of communication became blurred.
There was plenty of quiet time, during that pet sit, to mull things over as well as gain some insight. So here’s what happened and where I went wrong.
I was initially contacted by my previous client, in Thailand, who mentioned a new friend needed a pet sitter for about 10 days. I was interested and briefly met the potential new client via Facebook message. I recommended she register with Trusted Housesitters, as I wasn’t sure if I could commit or not. She never got around to registering. I had sent her my Skype contact so we could set up a Skype interview, which also never happened. I asked about the area she lived in and I was emailed a google map and a few photos of her house and a pool ‘just down the street’. I was told that the house was “not as remote as it appeared”.
Brief conversations went back and forth via Facebook message and time slipped by. The actual sit date was looming and basically nothing appeared to have been done by the pet sit family in six-weeks. The woman, who was also an expatriate from my homeland, was very likeable and genuine, and I was looking forward to meeting her in person. She had also sent photos of her beautiful house and her cute pets, but any pertinent information had not been emailed to me. Yet, I committed.
And again, I reminded her of the need for information including local contacts, veterinarian, etc. But two weeks or so after I had committed my gut was telling me something felt off and that this pet sit was not a good idea. I wasn’t even sure why, but in hindsight I think it was the lack of typical communications that my subconscious was more alert to that than I actually was. I contacted the referring client about a possible alternative pet sitter, but I was told that I was it. Airfare was expensive and it was also suggested that they (the pet sit family) would help with some reimbursement. I decided not to cancel.
How was my pet sitting experience?
I spent 9 days in an isolated gated community full of houses which were seemingly absent of tenants. I also had no long-distance transportation options and a serious heat wave to deal with. Information left for me consisted of a small sheet of paper with the vets name and number on it. And blessedly they had left me some fruit and instructions to ‘Help yourself to any food”.
I had said no to my renting of a scooter because of the daily cost and again the distance to anywhere I might actually need a scooter to get to. The main highway from the gated community was a busy one, with a lot of speeding vehicles. Three Uber taxis would not even bring me to this house initially, although the family apparently had no problem getting an Uber to drop and pick up (so they told me). A bicycle would be adequate to reach the small store a half a mile away. I did finally realize that there were four bicycles at the house. All of which unfortunately had flat tires. No one had bothered to make even one usable for the incoming pet sitter. It took me 4 days to finally find a bike pump stashed in a plastic bag.
Now the sad part about this is, that the referring pet sit client contacted me on my first day and asked if I needed anything. Awesome, right? Well, when I told her that I needed a bike pump she said, “Can you wait until Monday or Tuesday?”. This would be 5 days, because even they could not be bothered to drive out to the gated community to help me with this one thing. Thankfully I found the bike pump on my own. I suddenly felt like I was hired help who was at the mercy of someone who would decide when it was convenient for them to help me. Had I not had a reputation to uphold I might have considered leaving. Possibly passing my responsibility to the not-so-helpful folks who encouraged me to do this pet sit.
However, I am a registered pet sitter and I do have a reputation to protect. I also run an online business which doesn’t need bad PR. And I’m also not one to shirk my responsibilities. The temperatures were dangerously high and even the thought of leaving the cat and dog in a closed house for even a short while did not seem like a wise thing to do. And unfortunately, this new pet sit family was not registered. In fact, I had no real clue who they actually were. This is where I failed to protect myself.
Had they registered as I had suggested, they possibly would have seen the various recommendations of what to provide as well as to make sure their pet sitter had good qualifications in addition to client ‘reviews’ and recommendations. Taking a recommendation from a new friend, who they barely knew, was convenient but unfortunately that person didn’t assist with the pet sit program much. It’s even possible that I had such high accolade that, ‘Oh, Vanessa will know what to do’ was enough to satisfy everyone.
But like I said, I had 9 long quiet days to ponder this within the remote walls of the gated community. And thankfully I had a wonderful dog and cat to keep me company. I also pondered these points as I hitchhiked to the airport to catch my flight home. Their return flight was landing as I was catching my first blessed ride.
Why was I hitchhiking, you might ask? Because I couldn’t get an Uber to come pick me up and no one was anywhere near who spoke English to help me call a taxi. When I had, days before, confirmed my departing flight with the pet owner, she suggested I try to book a taxi the day before so I would have a better chance at getting someone on the phone who spoke English. Helpful, right? What would have been more helpful is to have such a taxi contact on speed dial and to have that number available for the ‘stranger’ watching their pets.
Why didn’t I reach out to the other family to help me? Because they had already failed me, and missing a flight due to my need to rely on unreliable people was not a choice I was going to make.
This may come across as a big whine, but I wanted to show how easily miscommunications can occur when it comes to pet sitting and house sitting. The last thing I wanted to do was ruin this family’s vacation or upset the pets. But an unhappy (or flat miserable) pet sitter is a flight risk. Something to keep in mind next time you consider randomly choosing someone to stay at your house, while you are away on holiday.
I strongly believe having a pet sitter is far better for any pet than to have a family leave them at a kennel. They adjust to a stranger’s face quicker than you might think and being able to keep their normal routine is much less stressful for them. Having someone in your empty house while you are away is also a great security measure. You will have peace of mind while you are away.
Pet sitting is a win-win situation for both parties and it’s affordable too.
For a pet owner the cost is less than 20USD per month for a yearly membership.
For a pet sitter the cost is also less than 20USD per month for a yearly membership.
For home owners that is a heck of a small price to pay to ensure your home is safe and your pet is well taken care of.
For pet sitters that small investment easily pays for itself in the ‘free place to stay’ category. That is of course if it isn’t an entire estate or farm, because the additional work involved may not be the win-win you had hoped for. Be sure you know exactly what you are in for before you commit.
Pet sitting isn’t a matter of having just anyone pop into your home and fill the food dish. And more importantly both parties should be accountable. Again, the easiest way to achieve that layer of protection is for both parties to be registered with a pet sitting/house sitting service. And there are now plenty of pet and house sitters worldwide to choose from as there are several websites, but you are required to register to use them. I’m personally listed with Trusted Housesitters and that’s where I also look for potential pet sits.
I won’t go into the details of how to get a great pet/house sit, because my pet sit-house sit mentor at 1Dad 1Kid has that covered, and you can read their house/pet sitting guide HERE.
But I will add my two cents with a few tips from my own pet sitting experiences:
For Home Owners:
*If possible, set up a face-to-face Skype interview and ask questions
*Create a list of household information so that no one finds themselves standing in a black out wondering where the fuse box is.
*Have emergency numbers and someone reliable for the sitter to contact in case of an emergency
Here are two free downloadable templates which may give you an idea of what information is considered pertinent.
Instructions for pet sitters
All about the house
For Pet Sitters:
*Encourage a Skype interview and ask questions (don’t be shy)
*Don’t accept vague information. Make your own list of things to ask once you get to the sit; fuse box, neighbor relationships, etc.
*Remember that no one is doing you a favor by choosing you. It should be a mutual win-win situation and one of mutual respect.
*Find out exactly what is expected of you, what is included ‘in the deal’, such as transportation. The little add-ons like flights and car rentals can add up if you are on a tight budget.
*Remember you are not the hired help and shouldn’t be treated as such. Unless of course you are ok with that. I’m not.
So next time you are looking for a pet sitter, rather than scratch your head for a list of random people who might be available, I highly recommend signing up with Trusted Housesitters or another service. You will definitely lower the chances of getting a flaky pet sitter, having a ruined vacation or worse. And hopefully it will be an agreeable win-win for all. Your pet is worth it, right?
Ryan Biddulph says
Amen Vanessa. We have been pet sitting for 3 years, on and off. All experiences were awesome because we were really clear on being picky, only choosing folks who were clear, helpful and super transparent in sharing what the sit was about.
We turned down a few folks who felt off.
Our only negative experiences were a homeowner in Nicaragua who left a scathing review – 1 point was fair, the other just not true at all – and one person in Costa Rica who mentioned the old home in the remote jungle was easy to get to. Just a 2 mile bicycle ride back and forth. Turned out it was a 3 mile hike, up a mile high with 40 percent grades, rocky mountain, with deep jungle brush, macheting away paths, wearing boots, up to knees in mud. I am not kidding. 4 jungle streams to cross which reached my hip during torrential downpours. I literally had to carry my wife across while holding 6 bags of groceries for the week. Thank goodness I am a former bodybuilder; would have been a drowned gringo otherwise.
This guy was totally insane but we just felt the need to do it, even though he felt really really off prior to the sit. Lesson learned. We actually stayed for 6 weeks – most humans would have left after the first day, because of how much he left out (aka everything LOL) – but it was one of those experiences that resonates with your experiences above.
Thanks for sharing.
Vanessa Workman says
Ryan you just made me laugh.. yup the old, ‘Just up the road’ routine. I’m lucky I haven’t traveled too far yet to get to a sit, but definitely if something feels off (even if it’s the dream location) go with your gut. Did you write any crazy pet sit story blogs? Please share here if you did.. :D
Hey Vanessa, reading through your post I was going like ‘yep, she’s got a point’ – thanks for attempting to raise awareness on both sides, pet sitter and owner. I always make sure I talk to the respective person on the phone or skype them in advance. Fingers crossed, I haven’t had any bad experiences so far.
Vanessa Workman says
Thank you Carolin, and yes count your blessings. My experience was only the 2nd one that was ‘off’, but it sure gave me food for thought.
Thank you for a great insight to pet sitting, we are in the process of setting off travelling and pet sittings on our list of income support methods. We’re leaving our cat behind and it’s a big deal,lucky enough the inlaws are having him (life long cat people)so he’s in the best hands.
Langkawi is one of our first destinations and we are so excited.
Vanessa Workman says
Thank you Nathan! I generally focus on short term pet sitting in Asia, but I see lots of lovely longer term gigs. You should do quite well. Give me a shout when you hit Langkawi.
Aleah | SolitaryWanderer says
Good tips, Vanessa. I have pet sit (cats only) in New York, Bangkok, and Tel Aviv, but I got them only through Facebook. None of us were in Trusted Housesitters and I set my own rules, like emergency numbers, among others. Maybe I’ll consider signing up, given all the potential shortfalls!
Vanessa Workman says
Thanks Aleah, Trusted Housesitter membership pays for itself rather quickly in ‘free accommodations’ and it’s so worth protecting yourself (and visa versa). You will also have access to hundreds of house and pet sits around the world.
Great article, Vanessa. We’ve used a pet sitter a few times and it’s always worked out well.
When we first rented a house on the internet, we lost our cleaning deposit to a couple going through a divorce. We learned our lesson well….don’t deal with anyone unprofessional on the internet. There are always other options.
Vanessa Workman says
Thank you Adhoc Traveller! It can be very tough sometimes, when the solution to our problem or need is suddenly available. So easy to overlook tiny signs that there may be trouble down the road. I only deal with folks who come with solid references now. And I sure as heck recommend home owners and pet owners to NOT bring complete strangers into their homes without solid references and a paper trail.:D