Taking on the responsibility of looking after someone else's pets can be intimidating at times. It also provides a different kind of travel that brings about a lot of fun and bonding, but the inevitable challenges can’t be overlooked; there is far more to taking care of an animals needs than just feeding them and providing a roof over their heads.
As I write this article I am sitting in Senglea, Malta, one of the three cities opposite the nations capital of Valletta. I have a fresh cup of coffee on my work table, and Angel is sitting on the floor relaxing after the hour long walk I took her on this morning. Angel was rescued in Thailand by my new friend Sarah, and while I’ve only been here a few days it’s been a very unique travel experience.
Caring for animals can also provide a unique set of travel experiences all of their own.
What is house and pet sitting?
My partner Stephanie and I are currently using a website called Trusted House Sitters, which specializes in housesitting for animal owners and lovers. In exchange for the love and care of the homeowners animals, travellers like myself are able to gain free accommodation, often in some idilic locations.
The process of becoming a sitter with Trusted House Sitters looks like this
Request sits that are suitable to your skills as a sitter and animal lover (more on this later)
Wait for confirmation of sits, then finally;
Make your travel arrangements.
Think of it like AirBnB, but instead of paying for your stays with money, you pay with love and care of someones pet.
Motivations for house and pet sitting
From the home and pet owners I’ve met so far no one expects you to be doing it just for the animals, but this should really be a strong factor in your motivations for house and pet sitting. Ideally you want to be someone who loves spending time with animals, it’s not only better for the pet but you’re far more likely to enjoy the experience yourself.
Another potential motivator is having access to unique travel experiences. It can be really exciting to book flights, hotels, day trips and spa days, but if you’re a long-term or frequent traveler it can be even nicer to slow down and experience a city more fully. Most house sits aren’t going to be in tourist areas, so you’re far more likely to get a local experience that is hard to get on a more traditional holiday. See my article on living like a local.
Finally, the most obvious motivator is money. For 16 days in Senglea, Malta, the living expenses for my partner and myself are flights and meals, many of which we’re making ourselves in the kitchen. Other than this we will enjoy a few meals out at local restaurants, a walking tour in Valletta, a scuba diving day trip, and that’s about it.
Drawbacks and challenges
When taking care of someone elses animal there are definitely drawbacks to be mindful of. The time commitment required in pet care can be quite extensive . Unlike house plants or other belongings, animals need daily feeding, cleaning, and emotional interaction. I’ve found that 1-2 hours a day minimum of exercise time seems to be appropriate for most animals, and they require at least a similar amount of time of affection and generally having someone around.
Animals can be unpredictable, and emergency situations may arise that require immediate attention, making the task more time-consuming than initially anticipated. Moreover, looking after an animal can bring emotional challenges. It's common to develop a strong bond with the animal under your care. Saying goodbye when the owner returns can be a heart-wrenching process, sometimes leading to feelings of loss and emptiness.
What owners want
This is by far the easiest part to answer - the owner wants three main things from a sitter.
Cleanliness and care - take care of their home, leave it all as you found it.
Love and affection - actually take care of the animal and all their needs, and enjoy spending time with them.
Being kept in the loop - this is the most important thing for most owners, and the other two are magnified tenfold by this one tip. Discuss with the owner how much they’d like to be kept in the loop and live up to those expectations. A photo and a message morning and night is a very small price to pay to make the home owner love you and give them the confidence that things are going well.
Some extra quick tips
After a handful of successful five star house sits, here are some of the tips I’ve found helpful for successful house sits.
Keep the owner in the loop — this is already mentioned but it’s worth mentioning again. Unless the homeowner wants to be left alone, this is super critical.
“It is what it is” — most animals are incredibly unique, and while you’re most likely going to love taking care of the pets, there will also be habits that you may not like. My advice is to learn to love it all for the time you’re there.
Go slow when you can — house sits can be for a single night or weeks at at time. It’s my personal preference to do sits of more than 1 week to really have the time to slowly enjoy the area, the sit, and get to know the pet I am taking care of.