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

Cat sitting amidst coronavirus hysteria in New York City

Cat sitting amidst coronavirus hysteria in New York City

I arrived at Clare’s Brooklyn apartment after my bus from Baltimore was not only 45 minutes late, but made four stops along the highway because the engine was overheating. After stopping for a fourth time, another Greyhound bus pulled up to let us on.

I was then successful at navigating my way around Port Authority, where the bus terminates, until it came time to find the correct subway platform. Little did I know there was four floors of trains at this station. I did, however, work this out after five minutes of only 7-line trains passing on either side of me.

When I eventually got to Clare’s, I was greeted by one of her cats. Little Hans. He’s very social, but Clare later told me he can be funny about the company he keeps. We went on to discuss Clare’s travel plans. Clare was booked to go to Italy, but she decided to change her plans last week. She was now going to Spain. We ran through most of the things I needed to know about the house and cat sit before I showered and went to bed. We ran through the other stuff—like rubbish, the several keys and mailbox—the next morning.

Day one

Clare left for the airport on Wednesday evening and was sitting on her Barcelona bound plane, waiting for it to take off, when Donald Trump announced the European travel ban. She said half the plane got off and she followed not long after. Clare messaged me to say she’d be coming back home that night. She returned to the apartment at about 11.30pm and we discussed what we were going to do. She was considering rebooking flights to somewhere in Mexico, but we decided to chat about it again in the morning. This was the first time coronavirus had affected my plans all trip. I went to bed thinking I didn’t want to be in her space after her travel plans fell through. I was prepared to leave and return home earlier than expected, but I was hoping it didn’t come to that.

Day two

The next morning, Clare read US citizens and permanent residents would be allowed back into the country if they chose to continue with their European travel plans. She rebooked her flight for that night. Clare then looked at the CDC website where they’d changed the status to red—‘Widespread sustained (ongoing) spread and restrictions on entry to the United States’—for most of Europe. Spain was off. Her plans, and mine, were uncertain again.

I left for the day and told her to message me whatever she decided to do. I said I could leave as early as Friday if she decided not to bother booking something a third time. I didn’t want to leave because I was having such a good time in New York. But, in reality, I wouldn’t be needed as a house and cat sitter. Clare messaged me while I was on my Tenement Museum tour and said she was now booked to go to Mexico on Friday morning.

Clare left for the city of Merida on Friday morning.

The cats

Enough about coronavirus. Both of Clare’s cats are former street cats. Little Hans, the older of the two, was found in Clare’s mum’s yard while I’m not 100% sure about Bonnie’s story. I do know she was pregnant when she was originally taken in by someone else.

Hans is very friendly. He likes to sit on the bed with you and knead into your chest. He’ll sit with you—on the same chair—when you’re at the dining room table. He’d place himself under the covers most nights, but would jump off the bed only to return about half an hour later.

Bonnie, the black and white cat, is a lot more reserved. But she’s very vocal. It took her a day or two to warm up to me. And even then, she was still a bit wary of me. Bonnie loves to be petted and her favourite spot is on Clare’s bed. She’s super special because she has one stumpy leg. That leg doesn’t have any toes. If you think of a pirate peg leg, that’s what one of her back legs looks like. It doesn’t cause her any pain, or interfere with her day-to-day living, and Clare thinks she was born like this.

Little Hans and Bonnie don’t really interact with each other—they just do their own thing. They don’t fight over food, or for attention, but Bonnie did hiss at Hans a few times.

About a week later

I was checking news.com.au each day to see what was happening with coronavirus in Australia and the US, and I learned I would have to self-isolate upon my return to Brisbane. That means spending 14 days at home. I then got a notification on Facebook about the US potentially stopping all incoming and outgoing flights within the next 48 to 72 hours. I thought it’d be best to leave as soon as I could. I called Delta on Monday morning to change my Thursday flight to Tuesday. I’d be flying out of LAX at 9.45pm on Tuesday.

Places to go

I have been to New York before so a lot of these recommendations wouldn’t necessarily appeal to a first timer. And some of the things I had planned to see where either closed, or non-operational, because of coronavirus. It was strange to see the streets, subway stations and trains empty, but it made getting around a lot more pleasant.

I wanted to see more of Williamsburg and Clare’s neighbourhood, but I guess it wasn’t meant to be. Clare’s neighbourhood offered a convenient base for my time in New York City. It was close to several subway stations, and there were food options aplenty on nearby Nostrand Ave and Fulton Street.

Brooklyn Bridge Park

I haven’t walked across the Brooklyn Bridge, but Brooklyn Bridge Park was good enough for me. It gives you a great view of the Manhattan skyline and it was a short, direct train ride away from Clare’s place.

Tenement Museum

Turns out the Tenement Museum is close to where I stayed the first time I visited NYC. I even went to the gift shop on that trip, but I didn’t realise it had a museum attached to it.

A workmate actually recommended several of the tours, but I ended up going with Under one roof. It was interesting to hear about the different families who lived in the tenement (‘tenement’, as I learned, pretty much means ‘apartment building’) in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, and how they’d come back as guests on the tour. I learned there was a Chinese Exclusion Act that was repealed in 1943. This then meant the US granted visas to up to 200 Chinese people each year.

Chelsea Market

The first thing I saw at Chelsea Market: ‘We have decided to close our store’ sign at the entrance to Anthropologie. I had a feeling this meant most things in Chelsea Market would be closed as well. But this was not the case. Thank God. My favourite stores in Chelsea Market were Posman Books (reminded me of Kinokuniya bookstore) and Pearl River Mart. Pearl River Mart sells a lot of Japanese things—Gudetama staff, Japanese sweets, etc. And I found a good Thai restuarant, Ayada Thai, inside.

The High Line

The High Line is directly above Chelsea Market. It’s a public space/park built on a former rail line. It goes for about 2km, and offers nice views of the Hudson River and Lower Manhattan. 

Smallpox Hospital ruins

I found out about the Smallpox Hospital ruins on Atlas Obscura. It’s located on Roosevelt Island which lies between Manhattan and Long Island. The island’s meant to be overrun with feral cats, but I only saw one. While the hospital ruins mightn’t interest everyone, if you keep walking down to Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park, you’ll get a different view of the city. The park is free and wasn’t overrun with tourists (coronavirus could be to blame for this).

Museum of Sex

This one probably isn’t for everyone, but the Museum of Sex had a very interesting abortion exhibition. One of the ladies I learned about on the Witches of Old New York tour, Madame Restell, featured in it. Madame Restell spent 40 years performing abortions in New York City.

The museum also details the history of pornography and there’s a lot about webcamming.

Chinatown and Little Italy

I feel parts of Chinatown and Little Italy kind of overlap, but it’s a fun area to walk around. Street art everywhere you look, fun shops, and plenty of restaurants, bars and cafes.

World Trade Centre

I did a 9/11 memorial tour and museum visit (highly recommended) when I came in March 2017. As I was walking to Target on my first day, I happened to pass through the World Trade Centre site again. I could see there was all this new artwork, and they’d added tables and chairs. It offers a nice space to just sit back and people watch.

Williamsburg

I spent my last day wandering around Williamsburg. Mainly to look at street art. Williamsburg’s known for its street art scene. Candace, from my Charleston sit, also gave me a list of vintage stores to visit, but—of course—these were all closed because of coronavirus. I was really hoping to check out Catland, a curiosities-type store. But, again, it just wasn’t meant to be this time ’round.

Next place

My stop next is home where I, like everyone flying into Australia, must self-isolate for two weeks. I’m not complaining about spending the next two weeks at home with my cat, but it does suck not being able to leave for a snack or coffee. Or groceries. And I’ll miss documenting all the coronavirus craziness in New York City.

I’m not sure when I’ll take off again, but let’s hope it’s sooner rather than later.

Charleston: Cat sitting two cats with two very different personalities

Charleston: Cat sitting two cats with two very different personalities

I spent the last 10 days cat sitting two rescue kitties, Jasper and Mia, in one of the cutest homes in downtown Charleston. Owner Candace is incredibly kind and sort of like a Charleston icon, or at least that’s how I see her.

Candace offered to pick me up from the airport after my 30-hour journey from Brisbane, Australia. We hadn’t actually spoken or Facetime’d prior to my arrival, but when she pulled up in her Prius, it felt like I was being picked up by a friend. We’re about the same height and both have nose rings, but Candace is way more arty.

We drove straight to Candace’s place where she showed me around, and introduced me to her husband, Will, and one of the neighbours. Sarah, directly across from Candace and Will, is an African American lady who’s lived here forever. Turns out it’s Sarah’s 85th birthday soon. Candace said she wrote Sarah a ‘Happy 58th birthday’ card. Sarah laughed, did a little dance and said she feels young on the inside. Candace said Sarah’s always there to keep an eye on what’s happening and not much gets past her. I was then introduced to Jasper, the tabby-looking cat, and Mia, the petite Siamese, before calling it a night.

Despite living together for six years, Mia doesn’t like Jasper at all. They eat in separate rooms to avoid Jasper scoffing down Mia’s serve. And when you open the door to check how Mia’s going, Jasper barges in to lick whatever’s left behind. I’ve never met such a food-driven cat before. It’s entertaining, but it can get messy when you’re trying to scoop the cat food out at dinner time.

I’d often catch Jasper in the sink after I’d put the empty bowls in there. Sometimes he’d even go under the sink to rummage through the recycling bin. Licking the rinsed cat food cans. And he doesn’t just love cat food. Jasper enjoys human food, too. Candace and Will told me to put my food in the microwave or pantry if I need to step away otherwise Jasper will help himself to it. Just the other morning I caught him trying to rip open the plastic packaging that encased my Target cookies.

Jasper and Mia also have automatic feeders. One each, of course. But this is mainly to stop Jasper overeating. He’s on a strict-ish diet to keep his weight steady. I remember going to use the bathroom at 3am one time⁠—the feeders go off at 5.30am—and Jasper was patiently waiting beside his automatic feeder. He likes to check it multiple times throughout the day in case food has been magically been dispensed. And sometimes he’ll stick his paw in hoping for a few extra biscuits. Both cats drink from glasses, not bowls, like the two cats I looked after in Nashville.

Candace and Will’s home is in a very walkable part of Charleston. The closest cafe’s less than 100 metres down the road. You can walk to Hampton Park in about 10 minutes and the main attractions in downtown Charleston in about half an hour. There’s a bus stop around the corner and it’d probably get me downtown in less than 10 minutes, but I remember Candace saying the buses out here aren’t the best (i.e. mightn’t show up or are running late). Charleston seems to move at a slower pace, with most stores not opening ‘til 10am and even later on Sundays. But I think that’s what people like about this place—it has an easy-going vibe, and the locals are warm and friendly.

Places to go

Downtown Charleston is where most things are happening/located, but these were my favourites.

Historic Charleston City Market

This kind of market can be disastrous. Think Queen Victoria Market in Melbourne. But this Charleston one has a lot of locally made stuff and quality souvenirs. I told an older lady about my cat sitting travels while deciding which Charleston prints to buy from her.

Old City Jail

So doing the Charleston Haunted Jail Tour is the only way to see inside the Old City Jail. Kind of annoying and kind of definitely overpriced, nearly $45 AUD for a 45-minute tour, but it’s interesting.

America’s first female serial killer, Lavinia Fisher, was hanged here in 1920. Her and her husband preyed on solo travellers who stopped in at their roadside inn. The tour guide said the Fishers killed between 70 and 100 men, but it may have been a lot more. 

Rainbow Row

I think everyone would recognise Rainbow Row from Instagram. As the name suggests, it’s five or six colourful homes along East Bay Street. They’re just up from Waterfront Park (pineapple fountain). Wandering around Rainbow Row’s surrounding streets was even more enjoyable because there’s beautifully constructed homes everywhere you look.

City Lights Coffee

This is where Candace works part-time as a barista. City Lights Coffee is set in an intimate space in the heart of downtown Charleston. It’s just up from the markets.

City Lights Coffee’s meant to be a great people watching spot, but I can’t comment on this because I was chatting to Gregg, the South African owner, and Jackie, the other barista, the whole time. All their regular customers sit together and chat the day away—I’ve never seen this before. It was cute. It was very Charleston.

Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream

I remember the name from when I visited Los Angeles two years ago. I just never had the chance to make it to their Larchmont Village location. Jeni’s is located on the main strip in downtown Charleston. Two ‘half’ scoops costs $5 (and tax is included!) and their salted caramel flavour is actually salty.

Nathaniel Russell House

I got free admission here thanks to another one of Candace’s connections. Nathaniel Russell House has been restored to how it would’ve looked back in 1808. Everything in it is incredibly elegant, most likely bespoke and very European. Mary Lou, an immaculately presented lady, was my tour guide and I could imagine her living in this place. She told us the Russell family lived here for three months at a time before Nathaniel Russell returned to Rhode Island for work. Nathaniel Russell was a merchant and slave trader. He had 18 slaves living in—and working from—his Meeting Street residence.

In and around Charleston

Other places I enjoyed visiting in Charleston were Angel Oak Tree and Magnolia Cemetery. Magnolia Cemetery’s walkable from Candace’s, but a car was needed to get to Angel Oak Tree. And I did a day trip to Savannah. I hired a car because the bus was $30 USD each way and the train $49 each way, and their departure/arrival times weren’t great either. The car cost about $90 USD for the day, which seems expensive now I think about it, but I guess I’m paying for convenience.

Next stop

I’m on my way to Baltimore right now. I’m not house or cat sitting there, but it’s an in-between stop for a few days. Then I’m off to New York City for a week-long cat sit in Brooklyn.

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.

2020 plans

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

Comparing the house sitting websites

Comparing the house sitting websites

There’s a lot of house sitting websites out there. And like anything, some of these sites are great. Then there’s the not so great ones. Membership fees vary and so, too, does the usability of each site. But if you’ve been toying with the idea of signing up to one of—or several—house sitting websites, here are some things that might make the decision easier.

TrustedHousesitters

TrustedHousesitters was the first house sitting website I came across. It’s also my favourite. TrustedHousesitters has listings for anywhere you can think of. And unlike House Sitters America and Aussie House Sitters, TrustedHousesitters isn’t country-specific.

Points of difference

  • New members can ask employers, friends and family to leave character references on their profile to reassure homeowners they’re a decent human.
    • If you use other sites for sits, you can ask the owner to leave you a REFERENCE after the sit is finished. Their reference won’t affect your TrustedHousesitters star rating.
  • Homeowners must complete a ‘Welcome guide’ for their sitter. This is a big winner in my eyes and it’s what sets TrustedHousesitters apart. It covers every possible thing about the property and their pet(s).
  • TrustedHousesitters has an app.
    • The app sends you a notification when a property matching your saved search criteria goes up.
  • You’ll be rated on your organisation skills, reliability, self-sufficiency, tidiness and pet care. Your overall rating is then determined by the average score you received across all the categories.
  • The TrustedHousesitters website looks a lot more modern and less cluttered, and is easier to navigate, than some of the other house sitting websites.
  • They’ve got a big social media presence and they’re quick to respond. They’re also big on sharing members’ stories.

The only downside is their membership fee is the most expensive of the lot. $99 AUD/year for sitters.

Aussie House Sitters

I only signed up to Aussie House Sitters recently. Mainly because I wasn’t fussed on house sitting within Australia. That was until I saw an ad for a home in Launceston. Aussie House Sitters—as you’d expect—has more Australian sits than anyone else. Home/pet owners can sign up for free whereas sitters must pay, but Aussie House Sitters isn’t the only site that does this.

Points of difference

  • You can import your reviews from their sister sites (House Sitters America, House Sitters Canada, etc.). I was able to bring my five-star review across from when I used House Sitters America in 2018.
  • Users are given a ‘reply rating’. This might help you work out why you haven’t received a response.
  • Search results can be refined by selecting properties:
    • near trains/trams, buses, supermarkets, etc.
    • with a pool
    • that allow you to bring your pet(s) along
    • where smoking is OK.
  • Owners can rate you on your garden care. This let me down recently. I only got four out of five stars for my garden care in Launceston.
  • People reach out to me quite a bit on Aussie House Sitters to see if I’m free to sit for them. This doesn’t happen much on the other sites.

Membership is $84 AUD/year.

House Sitters America

I had a one-year membership with House Sitters America, but haven’t renewed it yet. The website navigation and layout is pretty similar to Aussie House Sitters, but the colour scheme—or something I can’t quite put my finger on—makes the website look dated. They do, however, have a good range of sits all over the USA. I was able to get a week-long sit in Washington, D.C., through House Sitters America and often see sits I’d love to do (but can’t because of current work committments).

I just wish House Sitters America, Aussie House Sitters and their other websites had a combined membership covering all the countries. Otherwise a one-year House Sitters America membership costs $30 USD. Quite reasonable compared to other websites.

housecarers.com

I used housecarers.com to secure a Christmas sit in Boulder, Colorado. This website has a lot of member only functionality I haven’t used before. I think the membership dashboard is a bit overwhelming, actually. You can search for sits based on country and/or by date, and you can refine the search by selecting a state or region.

An annual membership is $55 AUD. Homeowners can use housecarers.com for free.

MindMyHouse

I’ve got an active MindMyHouse membership, but I don’t check the website all that often. It’s not my favourite site, but it’s by no means bad. I was able to get a sit in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in January and asked the owner to leave a reference on my TrustedHousesitters profile instead.

Points of difference

  • You can see how many times your profile has been viewed

Membership is $20 USD/year. It’s free for homeowners.

Nomador

I don’t have a paid membership with Nomador. I did, however, sign up with them a few years back to take advantage of the three free applications they let you submit. You have to pay for a full membership after that. And I didn’t like Nomador enough to warrant paying to continue using it. The search functionality wasn’t great either.

Points of difference

  • Nomador lets people list their property as a stopover stay. This means travellers—or anyone—can stay with them for one night at no cost.

Facebook

After joining the House Sitting World Facebook group, I’ve learned a lot of people find house sits through other Facebook groups (e.g. House & Pet Sitting Asia – Thailand, Japan, Philippines, Singapore and more). I’m not sure how I feel about securing a sit through Facebook. The house sitting websites give me a sense of security and I feel a lot more comfortable organising everything through them.

Discount: Save on membership fees

So now you know a bit more each of the house sitting sites I’ve used, these codes will save you a few dollars when you sign up or renew a membership.

Please let me know if these codes don’t work. I can issue you with a new one.