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

Where house and cat sitting took me in 2019

Where house and cat sitting took me in 2019

My first house and cat sit for 2019 was at the end of my December–January winter trip to the United States. I spent just over a week in Santa Fe, New Mexico, looking after a feral cat called Kitty Rumi.

The Santa Fe home—like most homes in New Mexico—was Pueblo style. This is the traditional architecture of the Pueblo Indians who built most things with adobe bricks. I would describe the lady’s house as a cute clay shack. It’s definitely one of the more ‘simple’ homes I’ve stayed in, but not in a bad way. I feel it’s just how homes are designed in New Mexico.

I remember leaving the house one night to walk 20 minutes down the road to get dinner. It was the only time I’d left the house that day because I spent most of it sleeping. It was snowing on and off, it was cold, and it was nearing the end of my trip. I was tired. Anyway, I walked to Annapurna’s World Vegetarian Café where I got a Mediterranean pasta dish and stopped in at Carl’s Jr for my diet coke. I was so excited to get home and eat the pasta—I’d heard great things about Annapurna’s. And everything on the menu sounded so good.

I got back to the house and tried to unlock the door. I’d locked both locks despite the lady saying not to lock the top one. I thought this was more of a ‘I don’t lock the top lock because it’s a safe area’ rather than a ‘DON’T LOCK THE TOP LOCK BECAUSE WE CAN’T UNLOCK IT’. I tried several times. With all the different keys. The top lock wouldn’t budge. I went around the side hoping I could open the glass door where my room was. Nope. Then I went around the back hoping to unlock the back doors. I can’t remember the exact setup, but something prevented me from unlocking the screen door. ‘Well, shit,’ I thought. ‘What am I going to do?’ My phone was unable to call or text anyone because my plan had expired, and all I had was WiFi access. I was able to message (thank you, iPhone) the lady explaining what’d happened. She told me her boyfriend would be over to help out. He lived up the road. Thank god. He was eventually able to open the door and I learned never to lock the top lock again. If it wasn’t for the boyfriend, I don’t know what I would’ve done. Stuck outside forever in the cold. With my pasta and diet coke.

I returned home to Brisbane just before Australia Day. I then did my first local sit for a couple in Paddington over the long weekend in May. This coincided with my 29th birthday. I’ll be looking after Kush Kush for a third time over the next few days. Not long after, I left on my longest house and cat sitting trip yet. I was in the US from mid-June to the first week in August. My first stop was Las Vegas where I was staying in a hotel. I hired a car so I could make it to some of the state’s more interesting attractions before flying to Nashville for my first cat sit of the trip.

I made my way to 12South where I was greeted by cats Nancy and Griffin. Both ladies are quite old and I’ve learned Griffin has recently passed away. I think she was 19. The most memorable (entertaining?) thing from this sit was seeing them drink their water from a glass, not a bowl. I also learned Nashville was full of drunk tourists, but I’m still keen to go back. Just not in the summer.

I then flew out for Austin where I met the couple I was sitting for at the airport. These guys stick out in my mind because they were so… likeable? And personable. Their apartment was in a great location. Pretty much opposite the flagship Whole Foods store and in a less busy part of downtown Austin. Their cat, Shady, was another character. I remember he’d sit on the stove and I’d freak out. Even though I never used the stove, it just made me nervous.

After two weeks in Austin, where it was incredibly humid, I flew out to Seattle. I was very happy to be flying into a cooler city. One where it usually rains at least once a day. I was technically cat sitting in an area that’s not quite Seattle, but is about 20–30 minutes from downtown. I still find it easier to say it was Seattle. The actual neighbourhood is called Lake Forest Park. This sit was memorable for a few reasons. The cats were cute, sure. And the view of Lake Washington was great. But the couple were very particular. Highly strung. And I couldn’t quite gauge that from their TrustedHousesitters listing or the FaceTime chat I had with the husband. Despite it probably being my least favourite sit, I was thankful to get a five-star review out of it. 

I took an overnight flight from Seattle to Birmingham, Alabama, for my last sit. This home will be hard to beat in terms of being the most fun and artsy. Clint and Vero, the owners, have also just left on an adventure. Each room in their house was full of unique art pieces they’d made or collected from their travels. They’d even renovated the main shower to resemble (or at least in my mind) a cave/rock climbing wall. I’m not quite sure how to describe it. And their cat, Zoey, still remains the only one-eyed cat I’ve cared for.

Not long after flying back to Australia, I discovered Aussie House Sitters. I’d check the site each morning for sits in Tasmania in the hope of finding one that:

  • was in a central enough location (so, like, Hobart or Launceston)
  • only had a cat or cats (i.e. no dogs or other animals)
  • was more than a few days, but wasn’t longer than two weeks.

I found one in Launceston and signed up.

The Launceston sit was probably my favourite one this year. The home was so homely. The cats—two young Birmans—were adorable. Literally. Their names were Dora and Abel. The lady calls them ‘The Adorables’. And the city was beautiful. My Uber driver on the way to Hobart Airport was like: ‘Launceston is a bit boring, isn’t it?’ I totally disagree. I guess if I didn’t have a car, it would have been very hard to get around and I wouldn’t have been able to visit half the places I did. But I definitely loved Launceston and would love to go back.

And now for right now. Today’s my last day looking after Jaspurr. Another Ragdoll. ‘Do you only look after this type [Ragdoll] of cat?’ my friend’s sister asked. Her question made me laugh, but I can see how she’d think that. Jaspurr’s the first cat I’ve looked after who had his nails painted. Green and red glitter for Christmas. Festive.

This sit began on Christmas Eve and was at a property in my hometown. I decided to take it as a kind of mini vacation. And it has been just that. The couple’s apartment is in West End, but it’s kind of like a community of its own here. Their street is very resorty and I keep thinking I’m at the coast. Despite apartments everywhere you look, it’s very quiet. And the pub down the road’s my new favourite. The Montague Hotel. They have $10 espresso martinis all day every day.

Next stop

What’s in store for 2020? Well, I’m sure it comes as no surprise I’d like to keep exploring the US. And while I have a list of places I’d like to visit, it isn’t exhaustive. 

House sitting for strangers: A new way to see the world

House sitting for strangers: A new way to see the world

I was chatting with my workmates one morning and found out another staff member, originally from the UK, lives rent free in Australia—i.e. she looks after other people’s homes in exchange for a free place to stay. And while I don’t care much for the house sitting lifestyle here in Australia, I thought to myself ‘If she can do it, I could probably do it [international house sitting]’. I went home that October afternoon and Googled ‘house sitting’. TrustedHousesitters was the first site to come up. It looked legitimate, was easy to use, and had listings for homes and apartments all over the world. So I signed up. I’ve also used House Sitters America, MindMyHouse and housecarers.com for sits in Washington, D.C.; Boulder, Colorado and Santa Fe, New Mexico, but TrustedHousesitters is my go-to.

After paying the annual TrustedHousesitters membership fee—$80 AUD or so back in 2017—I started working on my sitter profile that same afternoon. Like most websites, there’s the typical ‘about me’ part, and there’s ‘why I want to house sit’ and ‘my experience’ sections. But did I have any proper experience house sitting for strangers? No. I didn’t. And that’s where TrustedHousesitters makes it easier for new sitters. It lets other people leave a reference, as opposed to a review, on your profile. And that’s when I reached out to workmates, past employers and people’s parents asking them to leave a professional or character reference to help me secure a house sit.

Finding a house sit

Most of these websites let you search/filter house sits by suburb/neighbourhood, city, state or country. And you can further refine the results based on the dates you’re interested in, which type of pets (if any) you’d like to look after, and/or how long you’re looking at sitting for. For my first search, I typed in ‘United States’. A listing for an apartment in downtown San Francisco came up—it was a 10-day house and cat sit over the 2017 Christmas–New Year break. I’d been to San Francisco earlier that year and I loved it, and I was keen to return if I had the chance. This was the chance. I’d get to live in a super central part of the city. For free. With a cat. And the couple was looking for a solo sitter. No couples, no friends, no families. One person. This was perfect.

I clicked the ‘Apply now’ button, wrote my application and sent it off within the hour. As an occasional writer, and someone who likes to think they’re good at answering job selection criteria, I hoped my introductory message ticked all their boxes. A few days later, I got a response. We scheduled a Skype date for a time when we’d all be awake. To be ‘interviewed’ by people on the other side of the world about something you’d never really ‘done’ before was quite daunting. But the young couple were lovely. During our Skype chat, the boyfriend, who’s from Argentina, likened Australians to Argentinians. He said we had a similar sense of humour and were known for our laid-back attitudes, and I think that’s what got me over the line. A few days later, I got a message saying they’d confirmed me as their sitter. I was pretty pleased with myself. I’d got the first sit I applied for. And now all that was left to do was prove I was a trusted house sitter.

The first house sit

I’d been travelling around the US for three weeks before making my way to San Francisco for the house sit. I spent my first night at Casa Loma Hotel before getting a Lyft to the couple’s South of Market address the next morning. Before I even made it to the entrance, I was greeted by a homeless man who asked if I’d like to buy some shoes off him to give someone as a Christmas present. After I politely declined, I headed upstairs to meet the couple. They’d printed their TrustedHousesitters home information kit out for me. It included details about their home, neighbourhood and pet. I was then introduced to their kitty before they left for the airport.

Now it was just the kitty and me. For the next 10 days. The couple’s home was amazing. It was an almost new one-bedroom apartment, with a view of downtown San Francisco. It was within walking distance to pretty much everywhere I wanted to go. And really close to public transport to take me to those few places I couldn’t walk to. Valencia Street—a street of independently owned stores—was about 20 minutes from the apartment. The heart of San Francisco could be reached within five minutes. And Haight Street was a short Muni ride away. I also enjoyed just wandering any San Franciscan street to appreciate the city’s unique architecture. The city’s streets are lined with the most colourful houses and buildings. And as for the chores and responsibilities, there really wasn’t a lot asked of me. Feed the cat once or twice a day, daily cat playtime, water a few succulents and plants, and clean up after yourself. I kept in regular contact with the couple through WhatsApp throughout the sit. I’d send them one too many photos and videos of their kitty, and little updates on the progress we were making. It was heartening to know their young cat had gone from hiding from me to sleeping next to me on the bed each night.

New Year’s Day had come around quick and this meant it was time to go home. My first house and cat sit done. Nothing broke. They weren’t robbed. And no pet emergencies. Thank God. But I still couldn’t believe a couple trusted me—a 27-year-old stranger from Australia—to look after their place and cat. When I landed back in Brisbane, I saw I had a message thanking me for taking such great care of everything. I received a five-star review and a kindly-worded testimonial. “It was like leaving our kitty with a good friend,” the review read. They said I was welcome back anytime.

This whole house sitting experience/adventure/lifestyle also happened to be the first time I’d travelled alone. Now I think I’d find it very hard to travel with someone else. Being able to travel and house sit by yourself means you can do what you want when you want. You can also spend all day doing nothing if that’s what you want to do. There’s no fighting and no need to comprise. And you’re responsible for everything. But, yes, there are times when I do miss having someone I know to chat and joke with, or whinge to.

Several house sits later

I’ve been fortunate enough to go on to look after after rescue cats, feral-and-rehomed cats, Siamese kittens and purebred Persians all over America after getting that first five-star review. That’s about 20 cats all up. I’ve stayed in two waterfront apartments in Boston, a classic American home in suburbs of the Cincinnati and an architecturally designed home atop a mountain in Boulder. I’ve even kept in touch with some of the people I’ve sat for and consider them to be friends. We’ll chat on WhatsApp about upcoming travel plans, or share stories and photos of our cats. And I’ve been asked to sit for some people again. I actually went back to sit for the first couple in their new place in a different part of San Francisco.

Another thing I enjoy about house and cat sitting my way ‘round is all the fun products you discover living in—and maintaining—someone else’s place. I’ll order Mrs. Meyer’s hand soap in basil every time I place an order on iHerb. Products from the Mrs Meyer’s cleaning range have been in most kitchens and bathrooms of the homes I’ve looked after. Then there’s the Swiffer mop, Method 8x laundry detergent (works a treat on stains) and bamboo sheets. These are all things I’ve had shipped to Australia or stocked up on when I’ve returned. House and cat sitting has also taken me to some cities I mightn’t have considered going to otherwise. Cincinnati and Santa Fe come to mind. I really liked Cincinnati. I just wish my house and cat sitting ‘services’ were needed for another day or two so I could see more of the city. “We’d have her back again in [an] instant and feel lucky to have her. If she’s available to house sit for you, snap her up,” the home owner wrote in her review. Maybe I’ll get to see more of it soon.

So what’s—or where to—next? I’ll be off again in a few days. I’ve got sits in Nashville, Austin, Seattle and Birmingham. I’m starting out in Vegas and finishing up with a week in New Orleans. And while I’d like to make the international house and cat sitting a regular, every-couple-of-months kind of thing, I don’t think ‘unpaid cat sitter’ as a filler between government contact jobs would impress too many future employers. But, hey, you never know. Let’s see where this blog goes…

Try it yourself

Use RAF110780 to get 25% off the TrustedHousesitters annual membership fee. You should be able to browse all house and pet sits on the other sites I’ve mentioned without having to provide credit card details.