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

House and pet sitting questions answered

House and pet sitting questions answered

People are always intrigued when they hear I house and cat sit my way around the world, and they usually have a few questions about it. I’ve compiled a list of the more frequently questions I get and I hope my answers shine some light on what it’s like to do this.

How do I get started as a house and pet sitter?

I’ve already done a post on how I got started as a house and cat sitter, and it includes some advice on how you can get started. But it’s really not that hard. Pick a house sitting website to join, add photos to your profile and talk up any relevant experience you can bring to the sit, and then start applying for ones that interest you.

Do you get paid to house and pet sit?

I don’t get paid to look after people’s homes and their cats, but there are websites out there where you can get paid for your time. The websites I use operate on an exchange model where the sitter provides care for the person’s home and pet, and the sitter gets a free place to stay.

How much time is spent looking after the pets?

I can only comment on cat care, but it takes no more than half an hour out of your day. Feed the cat, change their water, clean up after them and play with them. You’ll probably be asked to replace the litter every few days, vacuum around the litter box once a day and hand out the occasional treat.

Does the home/pet owner pay for your airfares?

No. It makes me laugh that people think someone in the US is paying for me to fly from Australia to look after their cat. Domestic airfares aren’t subsidised either. None of my travel is paid for.

Are you ever tempted to go through the person’s belongings?

Also no. That’s their stuff and it’s of no interest to me. Sometimes the person I’m sitting for will offer me space in their wardrobe, but it’s easier to keep my clothes in my suitcase.

Are there cameras?

There might be. I’ve never been told someone had cameras and I’ve never asked. I do feel like the owners should probably disclose this at some point though.

Do you pay for stuff like toilet paper and washing powder?

This stuff is almost always provided. I will, however, purchase more toilet paper if I use the last of theirs.

Do you get a car as part of the sit?

I think I’ve been offered use of a car for one sit. So, in my experience, a car is not usually part of the deal. I’ve seen listings where a car is included, but I think this also presents a lot of problems. What if you crash or damage the car, or get a speeding ticket?

Is it weird sleeping in someone else’s bed?

It’s no weirder than sleeping in an Airbnb or hotel bed. The owner puts fresh sheets on for you, and I make sure to wash and change the sheets before I leave.

Have you ever had a pet emergency?

No pet emergencies in the three years I’ve been doing this. TrustedHousesitters is the only house sitting website I’ve used where the owners have to list a preferred veterinary practice (a good thing) otherwise I guess you’d take their pet to the closest one.

What happens if the owner cancels on you?

A cancellation isn’t something I’ve experienced, but COVID-19 has made things a lot more uncertain. I’ve had to change my flights to arrive earlier or later than originally intended, but I’ve never had to seek alternative accommodation because a sit fell through. This is something that plays on my mind a lot, especially when I’m travelling to the US to house and cat sit.

How do owners know they can trust you?

Some of the house sitting websites have security checks in place and sitters can pay extra to have a police check/clearance visible on their profile. I think you start to become more ‘trustworthy’ after getting your first positive review. Other people can then see you did a good job (and didn’t steal anything (or cause any trouble)) and you can probably be trusted with their home and pets.

Isn’t house sitting just for older, retired people?

Nope—anyone can do it.

What’s your favourite thing about house sitting?

There’s many things to like about house sitting. These include:

  • seeing how other people live—what products they use, how their house is decorated, etc.
  • having access to a proper kitchen and washing machine when I’m travelling
  • getting local recommendations from the owners
  • all the cute cats I get to look after.

And it saves you a lot of money. Sometimes up to thousands of dollars in accommodation per sit.

What’s your least favourite thing about house sitting?

Garden maintenance is my least favourite thing when I’m house sitting. I’m not a gardener and some people’s gardens have been very… heavy on the upkeep side. A place I cared for in Launceston had the most beautiful garden, but there was no mention of how much work was required. The lady didn’t upload photos of it either so it was a bit of a surprise when I arrived.

Other questions

Please comment—or email me—if you have any other questions about house and pet sitting. I’m sure there’s a million other things people might want to know, but these are the questions I find myself answering most often.

How to become a house and pet sitter

How to become a house and pet sitter

A lot of people have asked me how they can get started as a house and pet sitter, and it’s really not that complicated.

I managed to get the first house and cat sit I applied for despite having no house sitting experience. What’s crazier is I was in Australia and the sit I applied for was on the other side of the world. What made the San Franciscan couple pick me? I’m not sure, but I’ll share what I do know applying for sits.

Please note the house and cat sitting ‘jobs’ I take on are not a form of paid employment.

Sign up to a house sitting website

I’ve signed up to several house sitting websites over the years, but remained loyal to TrustedHousesitters. Aussie House Sitters has become a recent favourite largely because Australians still can’t travel overseas. This doesn’t mean it’ll be your go-to, especially if you’re not looking to house sit in Australia, but it got me a sit in Darwin last Christmas.

Have a look at each of the websites before you decide which one to sign up to. TrustedHousesitters is good for those looking to travel to multiple countries while country-specific house sitting websiteslike Aussie House Sitters and House Sitters Americamight be a better option for those looking for something closer to home.

Work on your profile

Your sitter profile is like your resume. It’s where you should highlight what skills and attributes you possess, and talk up any house sitting experience you have. If you don’t have any experience, don’t worry too much. TrustedHousesitters has a ‘References’ section where people in your life (e.g. an employer) can comment on your character. I asked about three or four people to leave me a reference, and I think they helped a lot.

Personalise your preferences

Owners can search for sitters without putting an ad up hence why it’s worth specifying the places and pets you’re interested in when you create your profile. You can select more than one pet type and as many locations as you like. You can also select no pets, but that seems like a strange thing to do.

Upload photos with pets

Most people on house sitting websites have pets which is why it’s a good idea to upload a few photos of you with the animals in your life. If you volunteer at a farm or animal rescue, or foster animals in your home, these are other photos you could include as well. Remember to mention you volunteer or foster on your profile, too. If you don’t own a pet, it’s OK to upload a photo with someone else’s so long as it’s an animal you’re comfortable with.

Start applying

Once you’ve found a sit you’re interested in, respond to the ad. I think your initial communication to/with the owner is just as important as your nicely-worded sitter profile so keep it short and sharp.

Don’t send the same message to every owner you reach out to. Personalise the message. Mention their pet’s name, tell them why you’re keen to house sit in that location. If their pets have special needs, let them know if you’ve administered injections and/or are confident in medicating animals.

Be prompt

You’ve got to be quick. I’ve found some owners give the sit to the first person who responds to their ad. Others start reviewing applications after they get three or four responses. If there’s an ad that interests you, message the owner as soon as you can because it might be taken down by the time you get home.

Other things to consider

These are a few things I’ve learned on my house sitting journey and I thought they’re worth touching on.

  • You’re not going to get every sit you apply for. I’ve been unsuccessful many times.
  • Half the people I’ve sat for have wanted to Skype or Facetime before confirming me as their sitter. Others felt my application letter, profile and reviews were enough to make a decision.
  • Owners might suss you out on social media—make sure there’s nothing inappropriate on your accounts. Or at least make them private.
  • Even though most sits are more about pet care than home care, some sitters will be asked to maintain the pool, mow the lawn or weed the garden. Most ads touch on what chores are required and more detail is provided at a later stage.
  • Sitters need to be flexible. You can’t ask to arrive a few days earlier or leave halfway through the sit because that works better for you. You need to work in with the owner’s schedule.
  • Things can go wrong. Appliances break, pets can go missing, get sick or die; pipes burst, you might accidentally start a small fire. You need to be prepared to make yourself available to have these things fixed or take the person’s pet to the vet. This can put a damper on your holiday, but it’s all part of being a sitter.

Final bit of advice

It’s really not that hard to get your first house sit. You just have to be able to sell yourself and back up those claims with experience (or kindly worded references). It’s like applying for a job. Don’t overthink it and just go for it.