I am in Canada with/on an open work permit, and am available to house and cat sit from the end of May 2024. 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.

An unfortunate start (and end) to my most recent cat sitting holiday

An unfortunate start (and end) to my most recent cat sitting holiday

I’ve been pretty lucky to spend a considerable part of the last four or five years travelling around by way of house and cat sitting. I’ve house and cat sat all over the US and across Australia, and Canada was next on my list. I’d organised back-to-back sits in Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa, and I was returning to the US for sits in New Orleans and Baltimore before going home.

TrustedHousesitters homepage

I wanted to save an extra few hundred dollars so I ended up booking a flight that went via the USA instead of going from somewhere like Sydney or Melbourne to Vancouver. All I had to do was pass through immigration at LAX—something everyone has to do—before getting on another one of two flights. Immigration lines at LAX can be ridiculously long, but I’m usually in and out within 45 minutes. This time was a little different. It took almost two hours to make it to the front of the queue. The immigration officer who called me over started with the standard “Where are you going?” (Montreal) and “What are you doing there?” (holiday) questions. He seemed annoyed I couldn’t produce a boarding pass for Philadelphia or Montreal, and that’s because I wasn’t given one at Brisbane Airport. The Qantas worker who checked me in even called someone about it. Whatever information was relayed must’ve been OK’d by someone higher up because I was given my BNE–LAX boarding pass and baggage receipt, and sent on my way.

The Qantas baggage receipt had my connecting flights listed on it and I even offered to show the immigration officer an email copy of the booking. He wasn’t interested in looking at either of these and went straight to asking what ‘stuff’ I brought with me. I asked him to clarify what he meant by ‘stuff’ before telling him I had things like clothes, toiletries, cereal and biscuits/cookies in my suitcase—nothing unusual for someone going on an extended holiday. That’s when I started to have an uneasy feeling about where this was going.

My Qantas baggage receipt

I suspect my most recent house and cat sitting adventure triggered something in the system when the officer scanned my passport. He started asking things like why I spent so long in the US, where did I go on that trip and why was I back again so soon. I said the January–April trip was spent holidaying around the country. That only confused him more. It’s as if he was like Why would anyone spend that long vacationing in the United States? I told him I was able to get around to so many places because I looked after people’s cats—unpaid, of course, and through a legitimate house sitting website—in cities and towns I wanted to visit. I said these trips are taken in between paid contract jobs back home, but ‘contracting’ seems to be a concept a lot of Americans can’t quite wrap their heads around. This immigration officer—and he wasn’t the only one—had hard time understanding why I’ve had so many different contract jobs, and why I only work three or four months at a time. My last lengthy contract job finished in December 2021. I then spent the next month cat sitting in Sydney before heading off on an extended trip to the US. It’d been close to two years since I was in the States and I wanted to get to as many places as I could within the 90 days granted to tourists travelling on an ESTA. After my final sit in Portland—which finished on the morning of 4 April 2022—I returned home to Australia where I worked until the end of the financial year (i.e. 30 June 2022). The immigration officer now wanted to know where I found these house sitting opportunities. I tried to show him the TrustedHousesitters app hoping it’d reinforce it’s a legitimate way for budget-conscious travellers to get around. He wasn’t interested. He said someone else would look it over. I was told to step aside and another Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer would take me in for further questioning. As I was waiting for whatever was going to happen next, I thought back to a story I read where a young Australian guy was detained upon entry into the US. This guy was strip and cavity searched, spent 30 hours in jail, and was sent back to Australia as soon as he could get the money together for a ticket back to wherever he flew out from. This guy’s final destination wasn’t even anywhere in the United States. He was going to Mexico.

The next CBP officer instructed me to follow him to a closed off part of the immigration area. My passport was taken and I wasn’t allowed to use any of my electronic devices—no-one being held in this area was allowed to. All I could do was sit and wait, and hope I’d make my flight to Philadelphia. The officer told me to take a seat and wait until my name was called. Twenty minutes later and I found myself dealing with a much younger immigration officer. He said he ‘got’ I wasn’t being paid, but house sitting went against what’s permitted on an ESTA. ESTA—which stands for Electronic System for Travel Authorization—forms part of the Visa Waiver Program enabling “nationals of certain countries to travel to the United States for tourism … for stays of 90 days or less without obtaining a visa”. The officer said cat owners would have to pay someone—I assume he meant an American—to look after their cat if it wasn’t for me. He then asked me to detail what I do for work in Australia. He wanted to know how much cash I had on me, where I had intended to go on the trip, what I do on these trips, how long I’d been doing this for, etc., etc. He seemed particularly interested in what I did in New York City: “How did you spend your time there?” While I couldn’t remember every single thing I did in February 2022, I told him I liked to walk around all the different neighbourhoods. I went to a Broadway show, a few galleries and museums. The next thing I knew, he wanted access to my savings account. Then he wanted to see the transactions I made using the credit card I had with me in NYC. The transaction history mustn’t have been sufficient because now he wanted bank statements for the January–April 2022 period. All the additional information he requested was skimmed over. I don’t think he even knew what he was looking for other than international deposits for my house and cat sitting ‘work’.

Screenshot of the TrustedHousesitters app

A lot of the questions he asked me could only be answered with a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’, and no explanation allowed. I was cut short on several occasions and reminded I could only answer yes/no. “Do you know it’s illegal to obtain employment while on an ESTA?” Yes, I know that. But is feeding a cat, changing its water and tending to the litter box really considered employment in the United States of America? I told the officer TrustedHousesitters operates on an exchange model where both parties pay an annual membership fee to use the platform. No money is given to the sitter, and my flights and transport aren’t paid for by anyone other than myself. He laughed and said these kinds of websites can say whatever they want* to get customers in. He’d clearly forgotten the part where I told him I’ve been using house and pet sitting websites for about five years. I thought if I likened it [house sitting] to couch surfing, he’d come around. He didn’t. He said couch surfing isn’t permitted on an ESTA either.

The immigration officer said he was going to speak to his supervisor about my situation and that I’d be questioned by another officer later on. I was then told to:

  • Leave my backpack and carry-on down the hall.
  • Take off my sneakers because shoelaces aren’t allowed in ‘detention’. I could either remove the shoelaces from my sneakers or get another pair of shoes out of my carry-on. The officer told me I had to be wearing some kind of footwear so I asked if gumboots were OK. He looked very confused by ‘gumboots’. “The shoes [gumboots] people wear when it rains…” I said to him.
  • Put any of the physical cash I had on me on me. The dress I was wearing didn’t have pockets so I had to get my parka out. Cash had to be carried with you wherever you went.
  • Wait for a female immigration officer to show up so she could pat me down in private.

What annoys me most about all of this is I had all the relevant documentation—a valid passport, a completed passenger attestation, an approved ESTA, my international COVID vaccination certificate—needed to travel. I also had a return ticket back to Australia for 11 September 2022. The very detailed itinerary, with the addresses of where I was staying and for how long, was in my backpack. No-one asked to see any of this. Not once. Not the first officer in the general processing line and not the last officer I spoke with. They could’ve called any of the people I was house and cat sitting for, and asked about the ‘arrangement’.

On time: LAX to Philadelphia flight; On time: Philadelphia to Montreal

It didn’t take long for a female immigration officer to signal at me to head towards her. I followed her into another room where we were joined by a second female immigration officer. The second officer would witness the pat down. The first officer—the one who told me to follow her to the pat down room—started by asking if I was pregnant. I wasn’t sure whether to be offended by this question or cut her some slack because I was wearing a loose-fitting dress. I was, however, going to be travelling for 30 hours and began to wonder what other women wear on their journeys to the other side of the world. The next thing I remember was being asked to hand over my cash. The first female officer counted it in front of me. I then had to initial some paperwork saying I agreed with the total amount and quantities of each of the notes/bills I had with me. I was told to hold the $1,000 CAD in one hand while putting both hands up against the wall. The first female immigration officer told me my hands were not far enough to the right. Then they were too close together. My feet needed to be farther apart. The pat down part took less than five minutes.  The first officer told me I was now allowed to sit. “Tongue up,” she started yelling. I thought she was saying “Thumb up”. I realise “Thumb up” doesn’t make much sense, but neither did “Tongue up”. She failed to mention the next part of the process was having my mouth looked at. She got annoyed each time I misunderstood her instructions or asked her to (politely) repeat what she said. The same officer told me to take my nose ring out. “No jewellery allowed in detention.” She got even madder when I tried to put the nose ring in my purse rather than just throwing it in my backpack.

At some point between speaking with the first immigration officer and being patted down, a Qantas worker was called in to sort out my luggage. Someone in Homeland Security must’ve dismissed her the first time because she was called up again about 10 minutes later. One of the immigration officers asked her when the next flight to Brisbane was leaving. The Qantas worker told the officers there were no flights tonight, but one was leaving for Sydney in a few hours. I found it interesting all of this was discussed pretty much right in front of me before I’d been given a second interview. It’s like the second interview was just to tick a box rather than consider—or even do some research into—what I was saying.

Detention and my second interview

As I was being led to the ‘detention’ area, the first female immigration officer asked if I was pregnant. Again. This time, however, the pregnancy question was followed by “Have you recently had an abortion?” This line of questioning seems totally inappropriate to most people, but my first thought was something like: What has abortion got to do with my immigration status? You guys think I’m here taking unpaid employment opportunities away from Americans. I gave a verbal response of “No”. Nothing else was said and we kept walking. The officer told me I could help myself to the assortment of chips, cookies and dried fruit snacks they had, and I could use any of the toothbrushes, multiple mouthwash varieties, sanitary pads and body lotion supplies while being held in detention.

I went to use the bathroom—the first time since disembarking some four hours ago—and came back to my name being called out. It was now time for my second interview. This immigration officer told me the interview would be recorded by the room’s CCTV-like camera and on an audio device. I was asked to raise my right hand and agree to it being recorded. The officer started by asking the same questions the first immigration officer did. Of the few different questions he threw at me, the ones I can remember include:

  • Are you on any medication?
  • What are your parents’ names?
    Do they ask people who are in their 40s, 50s and 60s for their parents’ names?
  • How much do you earn each month?
    This one didn’t go down well as I get paid weekly, sometimes even fortnightly, depending on which agency I’m contracting with. The take home pay can vary week-to-week based on how much work there is.
  • Have you ever been arrested?

It didn’t take this guy long to tell me I was being refused entry to the United States. I remember thinking: Seriously? Am I being deported? There was no point in arguing, or crying, or saying anything, because he wasn’t going to change his mind. He probably didn’t care to invest any more time into the matter. Being refused entry to [pass through] the United States meant I wasn’t going to Canada. Not only had my travel plans been ruined, but I was potentially disrupting other people’s plans in the process.

Waiting

The second interviewer returned to fingerprint and photograph me, and he documented things like my weight, height, and hair and eye colours. I found it interesting he didn’t actually weigh or measure me, or couldn’t observe my hair colour and eye colour for himself. I wasn’t exactly sure which hair colour to give him since it changes so often, but I told him my natural colour is blonde.

Screenshot of Madolline's profile on the TrustedHousesitters app

That same officer handed me print outs of the interview transcript, and he told me to initial and sign them. I asked him if I could read through everything before signing. The officer said I could, but he pointed out my flight would be leaving in about 15 minutes. I didn’t want to miss that flight because it’d mean spending another 24 hours in detention. I quickly initialled each of the pages and asked if I could get a copy. He responded with something like he’d arrange for copies to be added to my file. I was given the option to call the Australian Embassy or make a quick personal call before being walked to my flight gate. I had to tell the officer the name of the person I was calling and give him their phone number. He said he’d be present for the entire call which wasn’t a problem—all I was relaying was that I’d been refused entry and I’d be home soon. I couldn’t get through to my mum because I didn’t have an international SIM in my phone at that point. I asked the officer if I could use his desk phone to call her and he told me I can’t make an international call from that phone. I decided to try calling a good friend through Facebook Messenger. I told him what’d happened and asked him to let mum know. I also took the opportunity to message the person I was sitting for in Montreal. I told them I’d been detained, interrogated, refused entry to the United States, and I was being sent home to Australia in the next few minutes. I wouldn’t be coming to Canada and I was sorry for any trouble this was going to cause for them.

Straight back to Australia

I wasn’t given any particulars about the journey home** or what this all means for future travel to the United States of America. The second immigration officer didn’t even tell me I was going home via Sydney. I only knew about this because I heard what was said between other Homeland Security staff and the Qantas worker earlier in the evening. My passport—which could only be returned to me when the Sydney-bound flight was 10 minutes from touching down—was stamped with: Refused in accordance with INA section 217 R27038. That refusal stamp is the only ‘evidence’ I have from the whole ordeal.

*TrustedHousesitters is still of the opinion a tourist visa is sufficient and will not update their international house sitting advice
**The majority of this post was written on the 14-hour flight back to Sydney, Australia.

Part 2: House and pet sitting questions answered

Part 2: House and pet sitting questions answered

I’ve decided to do another frequently asked questions post after reading people’s comments on social media.

Most people *still* believe I get paid to house and cat sit—I don’t. And a lot of people who read the CNBC Make It story assume my airfare is paid for. It’s not (unfortunately). These things aside, people seem genuinely curious about what house sitting looks like and what they can expect from it. The answers I’ve provided are from my house and cat sitting experiences, but that doesn’t mean every sit will be like this.

Where can I find a house sit?

There’s quite a few house and pet sitting websites out there. TrustedHousesitters is the one I use the most, but I can also vouch for Aussie House Sitters and House Sitters America.

Do you need to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to get a house sit?

I’m going to say you don’t have to be vaccinated, but it’s probably in your best interest to have received at least two shots. A lot of owners will only consider applications from sitters who are vaccinated and some owners might even ask for proof of vaccination before inviting you into their home.

Do you work while you’re house and cat sitting?

Most of my sits are taken in between contract jobs. That means I’m free to do as I please while house and cat sitting.

Why would the owner get a sitter from Australia?

I don’t think it matters that I live in Australia when I’m prepared to travel to them.

Do you meet the owner before the sit starts?

Most times, yes. I can only think of one time when I didn’t meet the owner in person. We did, however, do a video call in the weeks leading up to my arrival.

Are you ever in the house at the same time as the owner?

Yes. You might arrive at the property hours before the owner heads off. This has never been a problem for me and it gives us the opportunity to go over everything in person.

Sometimes the owner will let you stay a night or two before the sit starts, or after it ends. I may have found this arrangement a little weird (not sure ‘weird’ the right word) the first time, but I’m so grateful to be able to stay an extra night.

Is the sitter expected to contribute to utility bills?

I’ve never been asked to pay for things like electricity, gas or water, and I think it’s wrong of the owner to ask. You’re saving them a lot of money by looking after their pet. My advice would be to steer clear of sits like this.

Can I bring my own pet along on the sit?

I think it’s a bit odd to have your pet accompany you on a sit because you’re probably there to look after someone else’s pet. Some owners might allow it—it doesn’t hurt to ask.

What if you run out of pet food before the sit ends?

Try to communicate with the owner before this happens so you can organise for more pet food to be delivered or purchased. You might need to pay for the food initially, but the owner will—or should—reimburse you.

What if you break something or something breaks on you?

I can’t recall ever breaking anything, but, if I did, I would let the owner know as soon as possible.

The only thing I’ve ever had die on me during a sit was a pedestal fan. I let the owners know and we agreed that I’d buy a new one for them with the emergency money they’d left for me.

Other questions

There’s no way I can think of every possible question a would-be sitter might have, but I’ve tried my best to cover off on the things I think they’d like to know about. Please comment—or email me—if there’s something else you’d like answered. Your question(s) may have even been answered in my original FAQs post.

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.