THE OTHER PART OF THE STORY

TrustedHousesitters—the app I was using when I was refused entry to the US—won’t update their advice for international house sitting.

The company continues to say it’s OK for their paying members to house sit on a tourist-type visa (e.g. ESTA) because they “don’t regard house sitting as work”.

In their opinion, what happened to me was all a “misunderstanding” because US immigration didn’t get “the concept of house sitting”.

Hi. I’m Madolline.
And I’m seeing the world One cat at a time

My long-awaited international cat sitting trip has come to an end

My long-awaited international cat sitting trip has come to an end

I’ve spent 74 of the past 75 days house and cat sitting my way around the USA where I co-existed with all kinds of cats, including former street cats and purebred Ragdolls.

I’ve looked after 15 cats and nine different homes in seven cities across the country. I started out in Seattle before making my way to Austin, New York City—where I got sits in Chelsea, South Park Slope and Prospect Heights—Salt Lake City, Denver, Chicago and Portland.

This was the first trip I’ve done where I’ve picked up additional sits while travelling. I usually have them all organised before leaving Australia so I was a bit nervous about having a 16-day gap between sits in Salt Lake City and Portland. While I was checking TrustedHousesitters, House Sitters America and housecarers.com every day, nothing suitable came up on any of the websites until I arrived in Salt Lake City at the end of February. The two last-minute sits just happened to be listed on TrustedHousesitters at the same time and they lined up almost perfectly with my existing travel plans. Both ladies proved to be super accommodating of my schedule and offered me the sits.

Some of my favourite cats from the trip were ones I didn’t end up blogging about. I stopped writing after New York City for a few reasons:

  1. The sit in Salt Lake City was relatively short.
  2. The following two sits weren’t part of my original plan so I spent most nights researching what to see and do while I was in town.
  3. I really didn’t have it in me [to write] after being out all day and still dealing with a bacterial sinus infection.

Introducing the other cats I cared for

Bones, the Salt Lake City cat, will be remembered as the most affectionate and needy cat I’ve cared for. Bones liked to be on me at all times and he loved to sleep under the covers. Getting a good night’s sleep in Salt Lake City was a bit difficult as I didn’t want to accidentally squash or suffocate Mr Bones during the night. He’s pretty small and fragile so it’d be easy to do without realising.

Bones is estimated to be around 20 years old, but vets aren’t 100% sure because Bones has no teeth. He’s doing well for an older guy—he can still jump up onto the bathroom vanity, and had no problems following me down to the basement and back up again. I was a little worried about how he’d hold up during my stay—being 20 and all—but we didn’t have any dramas.

I then spent the next week or so looking after a former street cat called Aldo in Denver. Aldo’s half Maine Coon and it shows—he’s a bigger guy and he has the strong, solid build you see in Maine Coons. He was another super affectionate cat which surprised me because he used to live on the streets of the Bronx. Aldo enjoyed weaving in and out of my hair, and rubbing his head against my shoulders when I sat at the dining table. He was also real fond of sitting on my laptop.

My next two cat friends were also rescues. Biological sisters Ares and Olivia were adopted as kittens from a lady who runs a shelter out of her house in Chicago. Ares is bigger than Olivia, but she’s a lot more reserved. She startles easily, too. Olivia, on the other hand, is very outgoing and playful. She enjoyed sitting in the bathroom and kitchen sinks, and spending some alone time on her jungle platform. Michelle, the owner, let me stay in the apartment even though she’d returned to town for two separate overnight stays. Michelle is a flight attendant and is used to what she described as ‘the [travel] lifestyle’ so she was more than happy to offer up her space in exchange for good cat care.

Chicago was somewhere I really wanted to get to on this trip. I did consider spending a couple of days there during my 16-day house sitting gap, but I wasn’t keen on paying between $300 and $400 AUD/a night for a hotel. Thanks to Michelle, I got to spend 10 days there without spending a cent on accommodation. I didn’t know much about any of the neighbourhoods before I arrived, but her Lake View location was a great place to be based. It was central to several bus stops, the Sheridan train line, cafes and restaurants, and a Whole Foods.

The final house and cat sit of the trip took me to Sellwood in Portland, OR. Sellwood’s a very cute, very American-looking neighbourhood. It reminded me a lot of ‘the suburbs’ you see in American movies despite only being about 10–15 minutes from downtown Portland.

This sit was actually the first one I secured for the trip and I remember doing a Skype call/interview for it when I was house sitting in Sydney. I was told the Sellwood kitties are on a very particular diet because the male cat, Frido, experienced a life-threatening medical situation back in December. He was unable to pee because his urethra was blocked by struvite crystals. Since then, owners Sophie and Johnny switched Frido and Pippi from a dry food only diet to a much healthier one. They get thawed out turkey meat twice a day.

Frido was the more outgoing of the two cats, but Pippi was the braver one. Pippi hid from me on the first night, but she had no problem navigating the new butterfly toy Sophie ordered for them. Frido was a little scared of it and didn’t attempt to swat the butterfly for a couple of days.

Next stop

It’s now time to head back to Australia after two and a half weeks in Portland. This trip saw me house and cat sit in several cities I’ve been to before as well as cities which have been on my house sitting bucket list for some time. I’m not sure when or where I’ll house and cat sit next, but I’m always on TrustedHousesitters thinking about how I can make it work.

House and cat sitting my way around Brooklyn

House and cat sitting my way around Brooklyn

I was able to extend my stay in New York City by picking up two house and cat sits in different Brooklyn neighbourhoods.

The first Brooklyn sit—found through TrustedHousesitters—was in South Slope and the second was in Prospect Heights. The South Slope house and cat sit started the day my Chelsea sit ended, and the sit in Prospect Heights commenced the day I finished up in South Slope. Back-to-back-to-back sits in New York City saw me save about $4,000 AUD on accommodation costs.

Kiki (calico) and Paco (tabby) were the first cats I looked after. Kiki, the more dominant personality and a bit of a bully, was born in Belize. Paco, on the other hand, was a gentle soul who was found on the streets of Brooklyn as a kitten. I was told Paco would require a bit of extra work because he’s incredibly shy. Paco—much like Coffee, one of the Chelsea Ragdolls—was actually easy to win over and that was without treats. It was Kiki who proved to be a lot more work. Kiki needed mental stimulation and didn’t like not being allowed outside for the first few days I was there.

My next two cat friends were also rescues. Monty (grey and white) and Rosie (black and white)—two-year-old littermates—are probably the shyest cats I’ve cared for in the four and a bit years I’ve been doing this. Monty was intrigued by my presence, but you could still sense he was fearful. Rosie was a lot more wary of me and would hide under the couch each time I entered the apartment. However, by Tuesday morning, she decided I wasn’t all that bad because she jumped on my bed and we slept in until 11am.

The Prospect Heights sit happened to be my first ‘word of mouth’ sit, and was brought to my attention by a lady I house and cat sat for back in 2020. The Prospect Heights apartment was directly across from the Brooklyn Museum and down the road from Grand Army Plaza, and provides an ideal base for anyone wanting to experience everything Brooklyn has to offer.

I was pretty lucky to score an extra week and a bit in New York City thanks to these guys each needing a house and cat sitter. While I preferred the location of the Prospect Heights apartment, I think the South Slope sit offered a unique experience with the apartment’s railroad-style layout. It’s something I haven’t seen before and probably won’t see again. I did, however, miss having a washing machine and some extra space, but I was rewarded with these  NYC luxuries in Prospect Heights.

Things to do

I probably had a few too many rest days in Brooklyn thanks to an ongoing sinus infection and not wanting to leave the apartment(s) because of the negative temperatures outside. But when it wasn’t snowing, or raining, or really windy, here’s some of the things I enjoyed doing/visiting/eating around Brooklyn.

Vanderbilt Ave from Grand Army Plaza to Atlantic Ave

This part of Vanderbilt Ave was recommended to me by Kiki and Paco’s owner when we caught up for coffee. The stretch of road is mostly restaurants, cafes and bars, and some fun street art (Atlantic Ave end). I had intended to get coffee at Caffè De Martini, but the Little Cupcake Bakeshop shopfront caught my eye. Little Cupcake Bakeshop had heaps of delicious-looking cakes and slices, and they made a good iced caramel latte.

Prospect Park

Prospect Park was central to both apartments I looked after, but I visited while I was house sitting in South Slope. The Boathouse is a good place to start. Walk up to the Endale Arch and you’ll end up at the Brooklyn Central Library.

Green-Wood Cemetery

Green-Wood Cemetery was on my itinerary, but I randomly walked past it on my way back to the subway station. It’s a very peaceful place and the snow that had fallen earlier in the day made it even more serene.

House of Wax

The House of Wax bar was something I read about on Atlas Obscura. I love the more morbid and peculiar attractions, and House of Wax was definitely one of them. The bar’s drawcard is its collection of medical and anatomical wax works.

The Social

The Social had the first decent ice cream I’ve had on this trip. I wasn’t too keen on Chinatown Ice Cream Factory or the Van Leeuwen Ice Cream tubs, but I did really like The Social’s butter pecan pie crumble and ‘ooeyer and gooeyer’.

Next stop

My next house and cat sit is somewhere totally new for me—Salt Lake City in Utah. It’s a short sit, but I didn’t want to miss an opportunity to stay in the state’s capital.

Returning to New York City to cat sit two Ragdolls

Returning to New York City to cat sit two Ragdolls

Landing a house and cat sit in New York City can be very competitive, with some ads getting more than 20 applications in less than 24 hours.

The more desirable the location, the more responses the owner gets. And for sits over a week, you could be competing against 50 or so other sitters. So when I got a listing notification about this sit, I wrote to the girl, Emily, straight away. I knew her Chelsea location would be much sought after, but I was hoping my experience with the Ragdoll [cat] breed would get me over the line.

While I’m not sure the Ragdoll experience is what did it for Emily, it didn’t matter because I got the sit. We organised for me to head over the night before so I could meet Coffee and Cookie, and we could run over a few things in person. Coffee—the more anxious of the two cats—was the first to greet me. I asked Emily if she got Coffee and Cookie at the same time, or if they were from the same rescue. Emily said they’re biological sisters and she’s had them since they were kittens. It’s hard to believe they’re biological sisters because their Ragdoll colours are so different, but I guess it happens all the time with moggie litters.

My first full day in Chelsea was spent at Chelsea Market and exploring other nearby attractions. Chelsea Market was about a 15-minute walk from the apartment and you could walk back via the High Line (the High Line’s literally behind the apartment). Emily’s building was really close to Hudson Yards, and just far enough away from Madison Square Garden and Penn Station to escape the crowds. You could see the Empire State Building from Emily’s window and the rooftop offered a more comprehensive view of things surrounding it.

More about the cats

Cookie is the confident sister, and she’s more demanding and causes more trouble. She liked to chew on all my plastic bags even if they were hidden under layers of clothing in my suitcase. Cookie was the one who’d remind you breakfast was late or if she wanted dinner a little bit earlier. She was also a little bit of a bully, but I think that’s because Coffee is so reserved. Coffee, if you can’t tell by now, was the well behaved one. She took a liking to me straight away which surprised both Emily and me. Coffee would sit outside the bathroom waiting for me to come out and she liked to laze at the end of the bed when I used my laptop at night.

Emily had really gone all out on cat furnishings for her apartment and I just wish I got a better photo of the setup. The cats have their own ‘cat wall’, with a walking bridge, hammock and scratching post. They’ve also got a few other things they can sit/sleep on, but the hammock is the only one I saw them on. Cookie gets the hammock bed thing during the day and Coffee gets it at night. I’m not sure how they came to this arrangement, but this is how it worked every day for the nine days I was there.

Things to do

A few of the things I found myself doing were things I missed out on seeing last time I was in town. It was nice to be based in Manhattan, but I did miss the quieter, more chilled vibe of the Brooklyn neighbourhoods.

Little Island at Pier 55

This one’s a very unique attraction—it’s a manmade island across from Chelsea Market. There’s a few little walks you can do, there’s some art on display and it looks like there’s an amphitheatre as well.

New York Public Library: The Stephen A. Schwarzman Building

I don’t think I knew about this building until now (well, until I started planning what I’d do in NYC).  I know there’s public libraries all over the city, but I didn’t know such a beautiful one existed in Midtown. The architecture is amazing and I just wish we had somewhere like this in Brisbane where we could go to study.

Strand Book Store

Candace, a girl I house and cat sat for a few years back, said I had to visit the Strand Book Store. I thought Powell’s Books and BookPeople were pretty big, but the Strand’s slogan is 18 Miles Of Books. In addition to three or four floors of books, they’ve got lots of fun cat merchandise.

The Morgan Library & Museum

The Morgan Library was one of the things I was looking most forward to last trip. The personal library part is amazing, but I just wasn’t sure about everything else. Maybe I should’ve read more about it before I went. At least the ticket was free—they offer free tickets after 5pm on Fridays, but you’ve got to book in advance.

Philip Williams Posters

The Philip Williams Posters store sells all original prints. They have a section for New Yorker covers and some of them date back the 1970s. All of them are available for purchase.

Moulin Rouge on Broadway

I got my Moulin Rouge ticket for $50 USD through the TodayTix app. You don’t get your exact row and seat number until the day of the show, but you do get a general idea of where you’ll be sitting when you book. Overpriced cocktail(s) aside, I enjoyed the show.

Next stop

My next house and cat sit is back in Brooklyn. It’s in South Slope, and close to Prospect Park and Green-Wood Cemetery. This time I’ll be looking after two rescue cats called Kiki and Paco.

Austin, TX: Reunited with another cat friend

Austin, TX: Reunited with another cat friend

Being invited back to Austin is what prompted me to return to the United States for more house and cat sitting adventures.

Rebecca, the lady I house and cat sat for in 2019, messaged me a few months ago and asked if I’d be interested in looking after Shady again. I originally said no because there was still a lot of obstacles for Australians wanting to travel overseas, and I felt spending one month in one place (even though I just did a month-long sit in Sydney) isn’t as enjoyable as house and cat sitting in a few different cities.

I told Rebecca I might know someone who’d be interested in doing the sit and put her in touch with Clare. Clare is the the lady I sat for in New York City, back in March 2020, and she’s started to take on the occasional house and pet sit. The ladies agreed to Clare house sitting for about two and a half weeks, but Rebecca still needed someone for the final part of the stay. I was eventually able to commit to the second part of the sit after the Australian Government lifted its overseas travel ban.

I arrived in Austin at 6am after a short overnight flight from Seattle. While the flight saved me a night’s accommodation, it left me feeling shitty for the next week. I planned to get the bus to the apartment to save some money, but I guess I didn’t think about how it’d still be dark at that time. I ended up getting a Lyft instead.

Clare came down to get me and it was kind of surreal catching up with the last person I house and cat sat for when I was in the States. We spoke about how lucky she was not to have contracted COVID, especially living in a place like New York City. She said she wasn’t sure the Austin sit would even go ahead because of the Omicron outbreak just before Christmas. I know Rebecca and her partner were originally going to Costa Rica, but I’m not sure if the Omicron variant had anything to do with them changing these plans. They ended up spending the month roadtripping around Texas.

Shady was eating his breakfast while we spoke and I was reminded just how amusing it is to watch him eat. He’ll scoop the food up with his paw and lick it off, and continue to do this until his food’s all gone. He’ll then retreat to his Kirkland macadamia box until it’s time to nap on his little rug thing. Shady still has the exact same macadamia box he had last time I was here—like, literally the exact same one. Rebecca said they’ve got one in reserve (the very same Kirkland macadamia box), but they’re waiting until his current one breaks.

Shady was a little larger than I remember him being, but he’s getting old. Rebecca’s house sitting ad has Shady down as 12 years old and it also says he has the ‘uncanny ability to purr through virtually everything’. He actually doesn’t stop purring. Except maybe when he wants to be fed and he’ll let out a few little meows.

Things to do

I’ve been pretty lucky with the locations of the apartments I’ve stayed in recently and my Austin sit was no exception. Rebecca still lives in the same building—across from the flagship Whole Foods store and less than a kilometre away from the main part of downtown Austin. A lot of the things I did during my 7-day stay were walkable from her building.

East End

Following 6th Street all the way through to East End was a walk I took to get photos of two Austin murals. I continued to follow 6th Street down to Revival Coffee where I found even more fun murals and stores. It’s worth stopping in at Revival Coffee, too, for the cute pink interior.

BookPeople

BookPeople is a locally-owned bookstore across the road from the apartment. I’m not a huge reader, but BookPeople has two floors of [books and] gifts, homewares, cards, and lots of quirky Texas things. The coffee shop inside, CoffeePeople, made the best iced caramel latte I had while I was in town.

Food trucks along Barton Springs Road

I stumbled upon these food trucks after visiting the Zilker Botanical Garden (not great (maybe because it’’s winter)). There’s a lot of food trucks in Austin, but these ones seemed to offer a bit more variety. After you’ve eaten, there’s a nice walk back to West End along the Ann and Roy Butler Trail.

Day trip to San Antonio

I passed through San Antonio last time I was in Austin and I was hoping to get out there again. This time I visited Historic Market Square, Buckhorn Saloon, The Alamo and the River Walk. I’d love to get a house and cat sit in San Antonio so I can explore more parts of the city.

Next stop

I’ve been pretty fortunate to score two sits in New York City. The first one is in Chelsea—where I’ll be looking after two Ragdolls—and the second is in South Park Slope. I secured the South Park Slope sit on Monday and it starts the day the one in Chelsea ends. Both sits were found on TrustedHousesitters.

A short house and cat sit to mark my return to the United States

A short house and cat sit to mark my return to the United States

I’ve done a few house and cat sits in Seattle, but this sit’s particularly memorable because it was my first one outside Australia in almost two years.

My last international house and cat sit was in New York City in March 2020. This is when COVID-19 panic started to kick in in the United States and I thought it’d be a good idea to end the trip a few days early. But now it was time to go back. While I had been looking forward to returning, ensuring I was actually eligible to enter the United States was a bit of a process. I had to:

  • organise, download and print my international COVID-19 vaccination certificate
  • find a travel insurance company and policy with COVID-19 cover
  • print a lot of additional paperwork to fly
  • get a PCR test done one calendar day before boarding my first flight. Waiting for the result was the most nerve-wracking part.

The PCR test came back negative, but making my way to Seattle was the next stressor. My connecting flight out of Fiji was delayed by an hour. The engineers were able to resolve whatever the problem was within about 15 minutes and we spent the remaining time waiting for the cabin crew. The delay meant I had less than 60 minutes to get through immigration at LAX, collect my luggage, walk to the Alaska Airlines terminal, check the luggage back in, go through security, and arrive at the gate before my flight’s 2pm departure. I did it, but the drama didn’t end there.

I was meeting Tayla, the girl I was sitting for, at the Seattle–Tacoma International Airport because she was flying out to Burbank not long after I touched down. We found each other at one of the baggage carousels, and I was given a quick rundown and the keys to the apartment. I then realised I’d been waiting at the wrong baggage carousel so I headed over to the correct one only to find two suitcases left. Neither of which were mine. The baggage counter staff told me my luggage wasn’t lost, it just hadn’t been loaded on to my Seattle flight. They gave me an incident number and told me to call up the next day if I hadn’t heard from them. I ended up calling when I got to Tayla’s apartment and was told my luggage had been sent to Fort Lauderdale. Fort Lauderdale, Florida, is literally at the opposite end of the country. I guess I should be grateful it wasn’t totally lost and was delivered to the apartment the next evening.

Tayla told me it might take a day or two for Athena (tuxedo (girl)) and Ody (Snowshoe-looking one (boy)) to warm up to me, but they took to me instantly. I think it’s because my carry on bag had Pixel’s scent all over it. Pixel would sit on the Country Road bag pretty much every day during my time in Sydney. Athena and Ody spent the next couple of hours rubbing their faces all over the bag, and climbing in and out of it. They continued to love on the bag until the sit ended.

Both cats are rescues, with one of Tayla’s friends finding Athena in a car park and Ody being adopted from a shelter. Athena’s two years old and Ody’s about a year and a half. They’re very, very playful and love to cause mischief. I don’t remember my cat, Gracie, being anywhere near as mischievous when she was that age. Ody—the cheekier of the two—particularly enjoyed chewing plastic bags, paper bags, plastic straws, and things like my itinerary and receipts. Tayla also said the cats have been known to chew power cords and advised I didn’t leave them out during the day. I’ve made this mistake once before and was sure to put my cords away as soon as I’d finished charging my devices.

Things to do

This Seattle sit was about seeing things I hadn’t got around to doing previously. The Fremont Sunday Market was on my list, but jet lag kicked in four days after I arrived.

Chihuly Garden and Glass & Space Needle (combined ticket)

I’d never heard of the Chihuly Garden and Glass museum despite it being one of Seattle’s most popular attractions. It’s right next to the Space Needle so I decided to buy the combined ticket and visit both on the same morning. A single ticket to the glass museum is $32 USD which I thought was quite steep, but it seemed a little less exorbitantly priced when you add on the cost to visit the Space Needle.

You can also head out to Tacoma—to the Chihuly Bridge of Glass and neighbouring Union Station—to the to see some of Dale Chihuly’s glass work for free.

Ferry to Bainbridge Island

The ferry to Bainbridge Island makes for a fun little day trip. The downtown area is mostly independent stores and places to eat and drink, and there’s a few art galleries and museums as well. One thing to keep in mind is the ferry doesn’t really run to schedule. The one I had wanted to get on Saturday morning was cancelled and the one I was getting back to Seattle was running 30 minutes late.

Capitol Hill neighbourhood

Tayla’s apartment is in Capitol Hill and it’s a neighbourhood I’ve stayed in once before. It reminds me a lot of Sydney’s Surry Hills (Pixel’s home) and is probably the equivalent of Fortitude Valley in Brisbane. Capitol Hill has lots of great stores, a diverse range of cuisines and coffee shops that aren’t Starbucks. Twice Sold Tales is worth checking out, too. It’s a used bookstore with resident cats.

Osara Commissary

Osara Commissary is a Japanese store within the Pike Place Market building. It has all kinds of Japanese homewares and most of the art is drawn by the store’s owner, Mikako Hamaguchi. Her husband happened to be working while I was in there and told me Mikako used to give her drawings away when they first opened the shop.

Next stop

I’m now on my way to Austin, Texas, to look after Shady. Shady’s a cat I cared for in the summer of 2019 and I’m looking forward to exploring the city without the extreme humidity.