I am in Canada with/on an open work permit.

Please send me a message if you’d like me to look after your home and cat(s).

Hi. My name’s Madolline.

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

My winter and spring cat sitting adventures in Canada

My winter and spring cat sitting adventures in Canada

I spent the last three months cat sitting in Calgary, Montreal and Victoria before returning to Vancouver for another two sits.

Calgary

The first of the house and cat sits was in Calgary. It was a relatively short one—only four or five nights—but it filled a gap in my itinerary. Calgary also happened to be a city I was keen to return to after spending three nights there last September. I was expecting an average daytime temperature of around -15°C and a few snow days. The coldest it got to was -20°C, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as it sounds.

The two cats I was tasked with looking after were called Birdie (tortoiseshell) and Tank (ginger). Birdie is the older of the two and she was adopted before the couple got Tank. While Birdie and Tank get along just fine, Birdie preferred to spend her time sleeping in the basement. Tank, on the hand, would rather be with/near you. Or sitting in the shoebox I kept for him.

The owners warned me Tank would wake me up very early to request his breakfast, but they didn’t tell me how just cute the whole thing was. That first morning, at around 7am, Tank jumped on my bed. He rolled around on it for a minute or two, and let out a quiet meow before positioning himself against my legs and falling asleep. That was Tank asking for breakfast. If only all cats were as polite as Tank.

Birdie, despite spending most of her time downstairs, would resurface every couple of hours to meow at me for food or follow me into the bathroom. I found out that her owners refer to her as ‘Scraps’ because she’s always trying to steal people’s food, but Birdie’s fondness for the bathroom remains a mystery.

Montreal

I was originally meant to arrive in Montreal at 3.30pm on a Monday. The night before, WestJet emailed me to say my flight was cancelled (it actually wasn’t (it ended up flying out about 30 minutes later than scheduled)) and they’d be putting me on one that left Calgary just before midnight. The red-eye flight would see me land in Montreal at around 7am on Tuesday. Not ideal, but, thankfully, my friend’s sister—the person I was cat sitting for—didn’t leave Montreal until Wednesday evening.

My friend’s sister’s cat’s name is Tango. Tango is an indoor–outdoor cat, with most of his time spent wandering the neighbouring alleyways. Even if it was raining or snowing, Tango would prefer to be out in it. Sometimes he’d just chill on the balcony-like space out the back. Then there were times when he’d be gone for more than 12 hours. I was told not to be too concerned if that happens, but my sister’s friend has fretted over his whereabouts in the past. She has taken to attaching an AirTag to Tango’s collar so she could get a better idea of his general location.

Tango was a real character. He preferred to drink from one of the vases scattered around the apartment. He would also drink from my glass if I had one at the dinner table. He liked to sploot, nap in a cardboard box, and creep on the birds and squirrels from the kitchen window. In the evenings, he would position himself against my laptop as if to say ‘Please stop looking at your laptop and look at me’.

Victoria

I’d seen more snow in Montreal than I’d expected, but I was now on my way to Victoria, B.C., just as the city’s cherry blossoms and flowers were starting to bloom. Victoria was somewhere new for me, but it was a city I heard mentioned plenty of times on my previous trip to Canada. I was able to book a ticket from Montreal-Trudeau International Airport to Victoria International Airport that ended up saving me a lot of time. Most people who visit Victoria get the ferry from Vancouver, but I didn’t care for 1.5 hours on public transport and another 1.5 hours on the ferry after a spending five hours on a plane.

Nahlah, the cat I was spending the next 25 days with, is a COVID kitty. She had become accustomed to having humans around 24/7, but hasn’t always been a fan of them. Nahlah’s owners told me it took her weeks—if not months—to feel confident enough to leave the couple’s office/spare bedroom. It took just as long for her to let them pet her. The office is still kind of a safe space for Nahlah and it’s where I chose to sleep during my stay.

Nahlah is a very unique-looking kitty. The first thing you notice is she’s ginger. Yes, a female ginger cat. That’s pretty rare. When I first saw photos of her, I thought she may have been a Bengal. After I met her, I started to think she was part Abyssinian. No-one knows for sure. But what I do know is Nahlah loooves to be brushed, enjoys keeping warm under the range hood (the couple leave the lights on for her) and is a big fan of going on walks. The couple use a harness and cat leash to take her out at least once a day, and they’ve got one of those space bubble backpacks for her to see out of. Nahlah has even been to Mexico. Her owners spent four months on the road—living out of their van—and Nahlah accompanied them on the trip.

Nahlah’s home is central to almost everything anyone visiting Victoria would want to see or do. The Dallas Road Waterfront Trail was two blocks away, Beacon Hill Park was 10 minutes in the other direction, and the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia, Royal BC Museum and Fairmont Empress hotel were buildings I walked past most days.

Other days were spent relaxing at the apartment, with Nahlah close by. Her little cat bed had been left on the fold out couch and I’ve never met a cat who was so attached to their cat bed. Most cats I know prefer to sleep on the human’s bed. If I stayed in, Nahlah would spend the entire day in that cat bed. And the majority of the photos I sent to the couple were of Nahlah snuggled up in it.

Nahlah’s owners were beyond generous and great sources of information. They picked me up from the airport and drove me to the ferry terminal when it was time to leave. The drive to the Swartz Bay ferry terminal would’ve taken close to an hour and a half on the bus, and it wouldn’t have been fun with a 23kg suitcase, carry on suitcase and heavy backpack. They were so knowledgeable about Victoria and Vancouver Island, and other parts of Canada I am hoping to visit.

Back to Vancouver

After saying goodbye to Nahlah’s owners, it was time to board the Vancouver-bound ferry. I had no choice but to use public transport to get from the Tsawwassen ferry terminal—where everyone heading to Vancouver gets let off—to downtown Vancouver unless I wanted to fork out around $100 for an Uber. Due to a medical emergency on the previous Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay ferry, my ferry was 30 minutes late which meant I missed the 3pm and 3.05pm buses to Bridgeport Station. I had a bit of wait for the next bus, but I eventually made it to Vancouver’s West End to commence the first of two cat sits I’d organised after arriving in Canada.

My second time house and cat sitting in Vancouver

My second time house and cat sitting in Vancouver

I decided to return to Canada (with my open work permit) after spending three and a half months there (using that same open work permit) last summer.

Last year’s trip started with a house and cat sit in Montreal which meant an additional five-hour flight to the other side of the country. I remember having just under two hours to pass through immigration, sort out my work permit and provide immigration officers with whatever paperwork they wanted to see, collect my suitcase and re-check it in, go through security, and be at the gate ready to board my 8:55am flight. While all Air Canada luggage is now sent through to the traveller’s final destination, it’s a lot of stress I could do without and that’s why I was hoping to start off in Vancouver this time. Turns out the lady I sat for in September needed a sitter for 10 days in February. Her dates slotted into my draft itinerary almost perfectly so I told her I’d be happy to take the sit.

The lady shares her West End apartment with two Ragdoll cats from the same litter. They’re 1.5 years old, and their names are Jaws (girl) and Killer (boy). While ‘Killer’ might seem like an odd name to some people, it makes perfect sense when you know their owner. Some of my friends thought Jaws may have been a biter/chewer, but she was named after Steven Spielberg’s film Jaws. Jaws’ owner is fascinated by sharks and went swimming with them on one of her visits to Australia. Cat Jaws even has some shark Jaws toys.

Despite their scary-sounding names, Jaws and Killer are gentle and affectionate. The only ‘violence’ you’ll see these majestic-looking kitties inflicting is upon their toys. And, boy, do they have a lot of them. I don’t think I’ve ever met a cat(s) who plays with their toys as much as these two do. One of their favourite things to do is bring their ‘catch’ to you in bed, or drag it into the shower and continue thrashing it around. Sometimes I’d wake to find an assortment of toys strewn across the bed. Or still in the shower the next morning. Then there was the time one of their toys fell out of my backpack as I went to pay for something at Winners.

It’s interesting to see their personalities are still developing and how they’ve changed since I was here last. Their owner also commented on how she’s noticed the cats’ colours deepening. Jaws has a lot more grey/taupe to her and Killer’s ginger points might be a little more prominent.

I recall Killer being the needy sibling and Jaws mostly keeping to herself. It could’ve been that Jaws is—or was—a bit more reserved around strangers. This time ‘round, Killer is content to be alone (except for when he demands five minutes of your time every evening) and Jaws is the one who wants all your attention. Jaws will now position herself next to me and still be my side when I wake up. Both cats do like to involve themselves in whatever you’re doing and this can sometimes include running into the shower as soon as you’ve turned the water on. Jaws will try to catch the water drops from the other side of the glass door while Killer sits in the bathroom sink. They also like to welcome you home and Killer is the first one to dart out the front door. He’s allowed to walk around in the building’s closed off hall area, but must be supervised for the minute or two he’s allowed to roam. Jaws is a bit more hesitant about venturing out, but she’ll take a quick peep from behind the door before deciding whether or not it’s worth the effort. If she does venture out, she’s usually quick to return. Killer, however, likes to be chased back into the apartment.

Things to do

I didn’t expect to like Vancouver as much as I did, but I guess that’s why I was so keen to come back. English Bay and Stanley Park are within walking distance from the West End apartment, and you can be at Coal Harbour or downtown within about 20 minutes. Here’s some of the things I enjoyed most and these can be done/visited/seen at any time of year.

Main Street, Mount Pleasant

It’s actually called Main Street and isn’t just the main street in Mount Pleasant. I’d recommend walking from about E Fifth Avenue all the way to down to E 32nd Avenue and back up again. The area is known for its vintage and antique stores, but I found it had a lot of good homewares, stationery and ‘things’ stores. Some of my favourites were Front & Company, The Storehouse and Welk’s. Lots of street art in the area, too.

Granville Public Market

From where I’m staying in West End, the trip to Granville Public Market is a scenic one. I walk down Denman Street, past the A-maze-ing Laughter sculptures, and along English Bay and Sunset beaches to get the False Creek Ferry from the Aquatic Centre. It takes less than five minutes to get to Granville Island.

Warning: Seagulls steal snacks by the seashore

I’d say Granville Public Market is one of the best markets I’ve been to. It’s got its fair share of food, but it has just as many stores selling handmade (and not handmade) goods.

Shop Makers

Shop Makers is a “celebration of local artistry and entrepreneurship” and they’ve got stores all over the country. Everything is handmade by a Canadian artist and each artist gets 100% of the money made from a sale of their goods.

'I can't read' sticker

I’m not sure how I originally learned about Shop Makers, but I must’ve stumbled across a store in Gastown or Kitsilano when I was here last. My favourite Shop Makers store would have to be the one in the Park Royal mall because they’ve got so much cat stuff (stickers, keyrings, etc.). North Vancouver is pretty good, too, and definitely one of the bigger stores.

Lynn Canyon Park and suspension bridge

Lynn Canyon Park offers a significantly cheaper—i.e. free—alternative to the Capilano Suspension Bridge. And there’s 617 acres of forest and several hiking trails to explore. I did some of the Baden Powell Trail before turning around to get the bus back to downtown Vancouver before it got dark, but I’d be keen to come back in the summer.

Stanley Park

I’d never heard of Stanley Park until I got chatting to another Australian on my Niagara Falls tour. She told me it was one of the first places she visited in Vancouver and that it’s bigger than Central Park.

A popular walk within Stanley Park is the 10km seawall loop that forms part of the world’s longest uninterrupted waterfront path. It takes between two and two and half hours to do, and you’ll pass Siwash Rock, Lions Gate Bridge, Brockton Point Lighthouse and the Totem Poles.

Next stop

I’m at Vancouver International Airport waiting to board a plane to Calgary. I spent three nights in Calgary last year, but that wasn’t nearly enough time to see everything I had on my list. This time I’ve got five nights in town, and, unlike my last visit, I will be doing a house and cat sit.

Getting back to international house and cat sitting

Getting back to international house and cat sitting

One year later and I finally made it to Montreal. This time, however, I wanted to ensure I had the correct paperwork—i.e. a work visa—so I could house and cat sit without issue.

The working holiday visa I applied for forms part of the International Experience Canada (IEC) program that’s designed to give young people from participating countries the opportunity to live, work and travel in Canada for up to two years. For Australians interested in applying, you must:

  • be between 18 and 35 years old
  • have a valid passport
  • receive an invitation from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) to submit an application. Receiving an invitation to apply does not mean you’ve been approved for a working holiday visa.

Australia seems to be one of the only countries without a cap on the number of invitations sent out so I think it’s safe to say almost all Australians who register with the IRCC will get an invitation to apply unless they’re deemed inadmissible to Canada.

The application process

I received an invitation to apply a few days after registering my interest.

We are pleased to invite you to apply for the Working Holiday (IEC) work permit under the International Experience Canada program.

The letter said I had to do one of two things:

  1. Apply online and do this by 19 January 2023, or
  2. Decline the invitation.

I was given 20 days to submit all my paperwork and pay the fees associated with the application. It’s $161 CAD regardless of which IEC stream you’re applying for—working holiday, young professionals or international co-op (aka internship)—plus an additional $100 CAD for those who are after an open work permit.

The IEC application form required me to upload several forms of identification, a police check, a traffic history report and my resume. I had to provide my electronic travel authorization (eTA) number; print, fill in and scan a form about my family (things like names, date of birth, citizenship); and declare if I’d been deported from/refused entry to another country.

Have you ever been refused a visa or permit, denied entry to, or ordered to leave Canada or any other country/territory?

This is something that’d been weighing on my mind a lot—how being deported from the United States would affect future visa applications. I wasn’t sure if telling the truth would result in an instant rejection, but, thankfully, there was an option to attach a letter outlining the particulars. I wrote a two-page letter and included a screenshot of the email I received from TrustedHousesitters community manager Angela Laws saying international house sitting is allowed.

Immigration update from Angela Laws, Social Media & Community Manager at TrustedHousesitters

This email highlighted how TrustedHousesitters members are misled about visa requirements and don’t realise the huge risk they’re taking when they accept an international house sit. Work visas are required to house sit in the US and UK, but TrustedHousesitters continues to argue “TrustedHousesitters is for tourism” and “not for arranging house sitting as work”.

Biometrics

IEC applicants must also book an appointment at a biometrics collection services centre to get photographed and fingerprinted. The Canadian Government won’t assess your application until this is done. You’ve got 30 days to give biometrics and they’ll be valid for the next 10 years. Applicants need to be mindful not all cities have a biometrics collection centre(s) and there mightn’t be much flexibility with appointment availability.

Waiting for a decision

It was a nerve-racking few weeks because I really wasn’t sure how the Canadian Government would view being refused entry to the USA. I know I’m not the only person who’s been deported/refused entry, but I’m yet to learn how other countries treat visa violators.

Google didn’t have any answers, but it led me to this Working Holiday Visa Canada IEC 2023: Ultimate Application Guide blogpost. I reached out to the author, Gemma, a Canadian citizen as of 2018, asking her if she knew of anyone with a similar set of circumstances. She said she was aware of a few “relatively similar situations” where someone had been refused entry to another country. Like me, they included a detailed letter explaining what’d happened and ended up being granted an open work permit. Gemma gave another example in which someone was asked to leave Canada because they overstayed whichever visa they had. They were also successful with their working holiday visa application. Her email made me a bit more optimistic, but it ended with: “Again, though, it’s all to the discretion of the actual processing agent so it’s hard to say.”

Two weeks later and I got an email saying my application status had been updated. I logged in and scrolled down to see my work permit had been approved. This was pretty exciting because it meant I was able to house and cat sit in Canada, and I could get a paid job if I wanted to.

Your application to work in Canada has been initially approved by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. The final decision to issue you a work permit and allow you to enter Canada is made after an examination by an officer in Canada. At that time, an officer will assess if you still meet the requirements of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, its Regulations and any other Canadian legislation.

The “requirements” included things like showing proof of:

  • funds (minimum of $2,500 CAD) to support yourself
  • health insurance to cover the two-year period granted to working holiday visa holders
  • a return ticket to Australia.

Good to go

Now it was time to think about when I wanted to go to Canada. My original plan was to head over in September/October, but my employment contact was finishing up at the end of June. I started looking for house sits in the cities I was meant to visit last year. Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa, but I was open to pretty much anywhere as long as the person’s place was close to public transport.

It didn’t take long for a house and cat sit in Montreal to come up. It started on 5 July, with an end date of 27 July. I applied and received a message back asking if I could do a quick phone call with the owner. We scheduled a WhatsApp call for my Saturday morning/Friday afternoon Montreal time and I was offered the sit a few minutes into the call. The sit’s start date coincided with the cheapest airfare available for the entire month of July. If it had started on any other day, I would’ve been looking at paying an extra $600–$700 AUD for my ticket. I booked with Air Canada and flew straight from Brisbane to Vancouver.

Arriving in Canada

Even though my work permit had been initially approved, I knew it didn’t guarantee me entry to Canada. It didn’t guarantee anyone entry to Canada. I was fretting about the Canadian immigration officer seeing the stamp at the back of my passport and the possible interrogation that’d follow. And while I still met the requirements (money, insurance, return ticket), you just never know what kind of shitty human you might get at immigration. As Gemma said: “It’s all to the discretion of the actual processing agent.”

Passport stamp: Refused in accordance with INA section 217

My flight touched down at Vancouver International Airport just after 6am. I think it was one of the first flights in that morning because there was no-one around. This was both good and bad. Good because I was in and out of the eTA line within a few minutes. Bad because the immigration office—where people wanting to sort out their visa paperwork go—didn’t open ’til 7am. I was passed around a bit before being told to head toward the “Sortie” (exit) sign and speak to an officer in there.

This particular section of the airport reminded me a lot of the secondary screening facility at LAX. It was quiet and seemed a lot more serious than the area where most passengers pass through. I kept thinking back to that night at LAX, but I was trying to remain positive. I went up to the only officer on duty and said I was here to activate my work permit. I was expecting a whole lot of questions, but all the officer wanted was my passport. He said to take a seat and wait for my name to be called. I didn’t know what the next steps would entail, but my work permit was printed within 10 minutes. It’s valid for two years from 5 July 2023 and comes with three conditions:

  1. The work permit is not valid for employment in businesses related to the sex trade.
  2. I must leave Canada by 4 July 2025.
  3. Unless authorised, I am not allowed to attend “any educational institution” or take “any academic professional or vocational training course”.

The only other thing the officer said to me was I’d need the work permit details to apply for a Social Insurance Number (SIN). A SIN is required before I can start working in Canada, and, apparently, it gives me access to certain government benefits.

My immigration experience in Canada was totally different to what happened in the United States. Those entering Canada on an eTA (i.e. most visitors) don’t have to provide an address for where they’re staying and the only immigration official they deal with is the one they hand their slip to in what seems to be a very casual interaction. No-one asks how long you’re staying for or where else you’re visiting on your trip. I find it hard to believe house sitting would ever come up because there is no conversation to be had as you enter and exit passport control. Remember, though, you always need to read up on what is and isn’t allowed on the type of visa you’ve got because it’s not just the United States ruining house sitters’ travel plans. An American TrustedHousesitters member was taken in for secondary questioning at a Canadian land border crossing and was told “staying for free [as a house and pet sitter] is still considered work”. They were let off with a warning, but not everyone is as lucky when it comes to international house sitting with the incorrect paperwork.

Spending the festive season cat sitting ’round Australia

Spending the festive season cat sitting ’round Australia

Each Christmas is the chance for me to house and cat sit somewhere new, and this year wasn’t going to be any different. It just wasn’t going to be overseas. I’d organised sits in Perth, Adelaide and Melbourne, and I got to spend a few days in Busselton before being reunited with Little Dolly Parton. The bulk of the trip was spent house sitting in Perth, with Christmas Day celebrated in Adelaide and the days leading up to 2023 in Melbourne. This Christmas break actually marked five years since I started my house and cat sitting journey. Harvey, the former street cat from San Francisco, was the first cat I looked after and subsequent Christmases saw me care for Nika in Boulder, Colorado; Jaspurr in Brisbane, Australia; Pepper in Darwin, Australia; and Pixel in Sydney, Australia. And while I would’ve loved to be house and cat sitting in a cooler climate, I was just grateful to get back-to-back-to-back sits in Australian cities I wanted to visit. Perth, the first stop on the trip, was the first house and cat sit I booked. I’d been to Perth once before, but I didn’t get to see anything other than the Rio Tinto office building and the hotel room I was staying in. Because of my ongoing drama(s) with TrustedHousesitters, I’ve chosen to steer well clear of them and all my Christmas sits were found on Aussie House Sitters. I signed up to Aussie House Sitters in 2019 and have continued to renew my membership each year. An Aussie House Sitters membership ($84 AUD) is about half the cost of what sitters pay to use TrustedHousesitters ($149 AUD) and, as you’d expect from an Australian house sitting website, they’ve got hundreds of listings for homes all over the country. I arrived in Perth on a Sunday afternoon and was introduced to Rio, one half of the brother–sister duo I’d be spending the next 20 days with. Rio and his biological sister, Luna, who I met the next day, have very different personalities. Rio wanted to spend ALL his time with you, or on you or on your things. I even have a photo of him sitting on my pizza box that’d been placed on the table for a few seconds while I locked the front door. Luna spent her days and nights outside, and preferred the independent lifestyle. She did, however, like to sit with me after she’d eaten her breakfast and dinner. My first night in Perth took an interesting turn when another cat appeared in the backyard. I messaged Rio and Luna’s owner asking if she was okay with the other cat being in her yard. Some people don’t care if it’s one of their neighbours’ cats, but they’ll feel differently about a random cat being on their property. The lady I was house and cat sitting for replied saying she’d never seen the cat before. I remember thinking: “Of all the days for this cat to appear, it makes itself known on the day I arrive in Perth?!” The kitty was extremely friendly, but I couldn’t keep him/her inside because it wasn’t my house. Pixel’s owners, who I’m in regular contact with, suggested I post a picture of the cat to a Perth lost and found Facebook group. Within a few hours, five or six people thought the kitty was theirs. One particular lady kept getting tagged by different people and she was adamant the cat was hers. Her cat, Boo, went missing one week earlier. This lady lived 10km away from where I was staying and it didn’t seem probable Boo had walked that far in seven days. The woman described Boo as shy and reserved, and a bit jumpy. She told me her cat wasn’t very trusting of others. The cat in the courtyard was none of those things—he/she wouldn’t leave me alone. In the end, as I always knew, the kitty wasn’t Boo. A kind stranger from that same Facebook group came by to take this cat to a 24-hour vet clinic to get a microchip scan. I was told the kitty didn’t have a microchip and would be taken to a local cat rescue. The kitty was held for seven days before he/she was put up for adoption. The rest of my time in Western Australia was spent exploring places like Rottnest Island (home of the quokka), Nambung National Park and the Pinnacles, Cervantes, York, Busselton, and Margaret River. I probably had a little too much time in Perth itself, but there’s a lot places outside the city I’d still love to see. Quokkas on Rottnest Island I was meant to arrive in Adelaide just before midday on 22 December, but my flight was cancelled. Virgin couldn’t (or wouldn’t) put me on any other flight despite Google showing two or three Virgin flights out of Perth at a cost of $1,200. They chose to re-book me on a flight scheduled for the following morning and told me to head to a hotel that they’ll reimburse me for. In all the years I’ve been flying, this was the first time I’d had a cancelled flight. A cancelled flight is a huge inconvenience for anyone, but I felt really bad about it because I was responsible for someone’s cat. It’d been an exhausting few days and I couldn’t wait to do nothing with Little Dolly Parton when I finally got to Adelaide. I’d also been dealing with another dreaded sinus infection so lazing around the house sounded like the perfect way to spend Christmas Day after getting up at midnight and 3am the past two mornings. Dolly was just as cute and comical as I remember her being. She’d run to the front door to investigate any noises coming from outside, chill on her cushion and jump on the bed to demand your attention. She’d then request you stop patting her by letting out a little meow. Our Christmas Day was spent in the air con eating all the things I’d bought at Adelaide Central Market. My trip to Adelaide was a quick one and now it was time to head to Melbourne. Melbourne was recently named the world’s friendliest city, and it was somewhere I hadn’t been back to in about five or six years. I spent the next week caring for a low maintenance kitty called Willow. Willow’s family owns a very comfortable, nicely renovated three bedroom home in Northcote. Their house was decorated with art, ornaments and things from their travels, and it’s probably one of only a few homes I’ve stayed in where you got a real sense of the people living in it. Willow—like Rio and Luna—was another mostly outside cat. All cats in this local council area, however, have to be inside by 7pm or the owner risks being fined. Willow was good with her 7pm deadline and never ventured outside the family’s yard. She spent her days lounging on the deck and evenings were for snuggling up against me in bed. The unexpected warmer weather in Melbourne made it difficult for me and my sinus infection to want to do anything, and my first day in town was re-allocated as a rest day. I’d intended to venture straight into the city, but I decided it was best to do this the next day. I definitely didn’t expect it to be 37°C when I arrived, but I should’ve remembered the “Melbourne: Four seasons in one day” phrase. Despite most days averaging 35°C, I got out to Fitzroy and Collingwood. I also enjoyed walking along High Street in Northcote and stopping in at all the boutiques. I went to the National Gallery of Victoria, walked along the riverfront at Southbank, admired at city’s street art and explored the many laneways in the CBD. New Year’s Eve came and went which meant my Australian house and cat sitting holiday was almost over. I flew home on 2 January 2023, and I’ll probably stay put for a good four or five months before travelling again. I’m not sure what I’ll be doing this year, or where house and cat sitting will take me, but I’m still pushing for TrustedHousesitters to update their international house sitting advice.
Immigration vs TrustedHousesitters: Unpaid house sitting on your travels

Immigration vs TrustedHousesitters: Unpaid house sitting on your travels

It’s been a long, very frustrating few months following my deportation from the United States. United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) says unpaid house sitting is work, and tourists need a work visa to do it on their travels. TrustedHousesitters says US immigration got it wrong and international house sitting is OK for tourists to engage in because they’re visiting the country to holiday/vacation.

TrustedHousesitters has known about what happened at LAX minutes after it happened. I emailed them to say I’d been refused entry to the United States because I was told I had the incorrect visa to undertake unpaid house sitting on my sight-seeing holiday/vacation. TrustedHousesitters responded to this email within minutes—their community manager said she was sorry to hear this and asked for details. There wasn’t a lot of time between when I got my phone back and having to switch it to airplane mode, but the last email I received on the evening of 30 June 2022 said: “It really is about who you get on the day [at immigration] and how they CHOOSE to interpret the traveler’s purpose.”

Passport stamp: Refused in accordance with INA section 217

I didn’t hear from TrustedHousesitters again until I went to The Guardian. The Guardian story was published two or three weeks after I told TrustedHousesitters I was being deported, but, now, all of a sudden, they really wanted to talk about it. Their community manager tried calling me. She texted me. She tried to call me on WhatsApp. She even messaged me from two different numbers on WhatsApp. Then I saw an email come through: “We became aware of the full facts of your recent border situation just this morning through the Guardian article.” Were they reaching out to see how I was faring? I don’t know. As the weeks went on, they’d email me each time a new story came out. “I’ve just picked up the Mama Mia article and would really like to assure you that we did respond when the story first surfaced, we provided the SMH journalist with a statement which she did not publish, in it we expressed how appalled we were at your treatment etc.,” one of their emails read.

traveller.com.au story: Warning over house-sitting after Australian denied entry at US border, deported

When I finally called TrustedHousesitters back, that same community manager began with a story about the time she encountered an immigration-related inconvenience driving from Canada to Washington state. Despite the incompetence of border patrol staff, our experiences aren’t similar at all. The TrustedHousesitters community manager was granted entry to the USA. I wasn’t. I was detained. She wasn’t. I would think her ESTA—offered to citizens/eligible nationals of a Visa Waiver Program country—remained intact. My ESTA went from approved to “Travel Not Authorized”. The conversation began to move away from her experience to mine and that’s when I said I didn’t blame TrustedHousesitters for what happened. TrustedHousesitters weren’t the ones who refused me entry to the United States. It was US immigration who sent me straight back to Australia.

Customs and Border Protection paperwork: Subject states she was house sitting last trip under the site listed. States she is in transit for this trip

That’s how I felt four months ago, but now I’m mad at TrustedHousesitters. I’m mad at TrustedHousesitters because they haven’t done anything to address the underlying issue. They’re actively promoting international house and pet sitting as a win-win-win situation, but most members don’t know they’re breaking the law*. US immigration doesn’t care no money changes hands in arrangements facilitated through TrustedHousesitters—it’s what the traveller’s doing that’s the issue. Feeding a cat, as I have learned, is a form of ‘productive activity’ and any kind of productive activity requires the traveller to have a work visa.

TrustedHousesitters October 2022 newsletter: 10 reasons why pet sitting is the best way to travel Europe

TrustedHousesitters attempted to draw attention to the problems I experienced at LAX with Our Australian member’s story. “Madolline is a hugely valued member … we feel it’s important to give additional background to Madolline’s story and international travel.” TrustedHousesitters wasn’t in any position to give context because they didn’t know anything other than what I emailed them about while waiting to board my 15-hour flight to Sydney. “The Information on abortion is new and has only come to our attention as a result of this article … we will of course offer our full support, as we do to all of our members.” The abortion element is irrelevant here—paying members need to know they can be deported/refused entry for using TrustedHousesitters on their travels. This thread was locked (closed) by TrustedHousesitters after two days.

Post by Goodboyjakey: Maybe [TrustedHousesitters] should change the title of this post to “Are you travelling to the US to house sit?” so that people are aware. Truly shocking. Admin Notice: Post Moderated

It was early August when TrustedHousesitters wanted me to hear about their “immigration update”. I remember thinking maybe they’d fixed this mess for me. They hadn’t. The “immigration update” isn’t going to change anything for me or any other TrustedHousesitters member who finds themselves in airport detention. TrustedHousesitters threw some letters together for sitters to show to UK, US and Canadian immigration officials. These letters don’t have anyone’s name, position title or signature attached to them, and I’d be too embarrassed to show this letter to any of the officers I dealt with at LAX. The phone number provided in the letter—the one TrustedHousesitters advises immigration calls for further clarification—is one that seems to go unanswered at the best of times. “The immigration specialists have concluded that members can travel internationally to sit and that they are not in breach of any visa conditions,” their email dated 8 August 2022 read.

news.com.au story: Cat sitter questioned about abortion because of basic error at Brisbane airport

I started to get annoyed because TrustedHousesitters had managed to escape the bulk of the media attention my story was getting. Using TrustedHousesitters as a visitor to the United States (even though Montreal, Canada, was my final destination) was the reason immigration wouldn’t let me enter the country. I wasn’t sent back to Australia because of anything to do with my abortion status despite how some people were choosing to interpret stories they’d read online. traveller.com.au hit the nail on the head when they ran Beware: Simple mistakes that can get you deported or refused entry to other countries, but it wasn’t something I was allowed to discuss on the TrustedHousesitters community forum. Two different moderators—on two separate occasions—stopped me from talking about my experience. Most discussions on the TrustedHousesitters forum get locked when the company starts getting painted in a bad light, and every thread and reply posted by a new member must be manually approved by one of the moderators.

TrustedHousesitters community forum: Your recent forum post will not be published as it goes off topic. This topic is about house sitting adventures not immigration issues.

That’s when I took to posting about what happened to me on the TrustedHousesitters Facebook page. Paying members have a right to know this could happen to them and TrustedHousesitters wasn’t doing much to educate them about it. TrustedHousesitters hid all my comments and ended up deleting one of their own posts—one where they had to acknowledge a member’s dog died while in the care of a TrustedHousesitters sitter whose account ended up being suspended—after I bumped it. I got the impression this was another problem TrustedHousesitters didn’t want getting out back then and they didn’t want people being reminded of it three years later.

I started tagging TrustedHousesitters on Twitter and Instagram after they blocked me on Facebook. I can still see their Facebook posts, but I can’t comment on them. They mustn’t have appreciated me highlighting the major flaw in their business model because it wasn’t long before I was blocked on Twitter and Instagram. I’m still able to comment using my cat sitting Facebook page, but my days are numbered.

Twitter: You are blocked from following [TrustedHousesitters] and viewing [TrustedHousesitters’] Tweets

Twitter: TrustedHousesitters blocked you, Angela Laws blocked you

TrustedHousesitters decided it was now time to play the “misunderstanding” card. In response to my Trustpilot review, one of their staff said CBP just didn’t get what house sitting abroad is about. For such a simple “misunderstanding”, the consequences of revealing you’re travelling on the app are pretty significant. My ESTA has been cancelled forever and I can no longer enter the United States in a tourist capacity. My options for re-entering the United States include:

  • Getting a work visa, but who’s going to sponsor someone for unpaid house and cat sitting?
  • Winning the green card lottery. Unlikely to happen and I’m not sure I’d want to permanently relocate to the US.
  • Marrying a US citizen.

I can’t even transit through the country anymore.

While it was okay to silence me in public, TrustedHousesitters has continued to email me each time they get mentioned in the media. Their community manager sought “irrefutable proof of the reason your ESTA was revoked” after I went to iNews. The iNews travel editor is the only journalist I spoke with who approached a lawyer for comment as part of their coverage and I’m glad they did. I was able to arrange a half hour call with that very same lawyer—she said the only surprising part in all of this was the abortion question.

Even though TrustedHousesitters were the ones who advised me to seek advice from a US immigration lawyer, they were quick to change their tune when one weighed in saying house sitting is “not appropriate for ESTA travel”. An email I received from the TrustedHousesitters community manager inferred our relationship had soured: “Where this is now reminds me a little bit of a divorce situation … As soon as the suits/lawyers/media step in that’s when situations are in danger of becoming toxic … which is very sad, unfortunate and often completely unnecessary.”

insider.com story: An Australian woman said she was denied entry to the US over house-sitting plans

One of my last dealings with TrustedHousesitters—aside from the very, very last email I received from their community manager where she tried to gaslight me and likened me to a monster for emailing an animal rescue they work with—is when Queen Elizabeth II died. I’d reiterated my request for TrustedHousesitters to update their international house sitting advice page. I wanted this update posted to all their social media accounts and on their community forum, and sent as a standalone email to members. “Today was a bank holiday in the UK due to the Queen’s Funeral … our team was unavailable,” the community manager stated. The one and only time I spoke with TrustedHousesitters on the phone, I suggested they put a banner across their website drawing people’s attention to the risks of house sitting abroad. The banner would link off to a webpage detailing how countries like the United States consider unpaid house and pet sitting work, and how it’s not suitable for visitors on a tourist visa. Pet owners need to be informed of the risks, too. They probably haven’t given any thought to what they’re going to do if their sitter is refused entry to the country. “Members are fully informed about the information that is available to them … There really isn’t a need to post [this information] on any external channels as this information is only pertinent to our members,” I was told. “The number of members across external channels is really very small … and posting any information would simply not reach a significant number of our members.” If the TrustedHousesitters social media following is so minuscule, why did I get barred for trying to educate such a small amount of people about the risks of using TrustedHousesitters on their overseas travels? Note: TrustedHousesitters’ take on “very small” equates to 256,000-odd people ‘liking’ them on Facebook and 100,000 followers on Instagram.

I want to make it clear I never asked TrustedHousesitters for money. Money, however, is everything to share economy companies like TrustedHousesitters. TrustedHousesitters cares more about money coming in** than they do about their “community”. The pets TrustedHousesitters sitters are tasked with caring for also take a backseat to profits as evidenced in that now-deleted Facebook post addressing the death of a member’s dog. If TrustedHousesitters cared about their members, they’d update their international house sitting advice in light of what happened to me at LAX. They’d offer support instead of hoping members grow tired of posting about their problems and they’d communicate the massive change to the house sitting application process instead of casually mentioning it on their highly moderated, not very popular community forum. Most of the 120,000 or so TrustedHousesitters members don’t know about this change and they don’t know they can be deported/refused entry either.

*Foreigners need a work visa, not ESTA, to house and pet sit in the United States. Citizens and permanent residents of the United States can do unpaid house and pet sitting through TrustedHousesitters without violating immigration law.
**TrustedHousesitters received $10-million in funding from UK investment firm Rockpool. Rockpool expects TrustedHousesitters will continue to grow their membership base in the United States, with a focus on California (the state I was deported from).