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

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 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. TrustedHousesitters tells their members they’re fine to house sit in other countries as long as they’ve got a tourist visa because they’re only in the country for a holiday.

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 (kind of like a tourist visa) 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 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 liked me pointing out 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 and my cat’s Instagram account, 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 US Customs and Border Protection just didn’t get what house sitting 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 was seeking “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 international house and pet sitting. 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 either.

*Foreigners need a work visa, not ESTA, to house and pet sit on their travels. 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). 

Rendezvousing (again) with Pixel in Sydney

Rendezvousing (again) with Pixel in Sydney

After a crazy few months, I couldn’t wait to get away again even if it was only for one week.

I’d been invited back to care for Pixel—everyone’s favourite Cheshire Cat—while his humans holidayed in New Caledonia. Their overseas trip was a bit of a last-minute one which meant a close friend spent the first two or three days looking after Pixel before I was able to fly in.

I first met Pixel in April 2021 when Australia was experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak. Mind you, back then, an ‘outbreak’ was as little as three or four cases in any Australian city. I remember wanting to get away for the upcoming Easter break, but my options were limited. Booking domestic travel was risky because states and territories could go into a sudden lockdown meaning interstate visitors weren’t allowed in. There weren’t too many house sits being advertised either. Of the few available, one was in inner city Sydney. Sydney wasn’t at the top of my travel wishlist—I’d been a few times before and I hadn’t felt the need to return in recent years—but I’m glad I responded to the ad. While I keep in touch with a lot of people I’ve house and cat sat for, I probably WhatsApp Pixel’s owners at least once a day.

Pixel’s owners happened to be some of the first people I spoke with after being refused entry to the United States. I don’t know what time it would’ve been back in Australia, but I was one of the last passengers to board the Sydney-bound Qantas flight at 10.30pm Los Angeles time. Pixel’s owners offered a lot of support and kind words via WhatsApp, and they even did some quick research into the legalities of tourists using TrustedHousesitters in the United States. Their WhatsApp messages made me feel a little less upset/annoyed/angry about the situation and the long flight I was about to endure. TrustedHousesitters—the website I’d organised all my house and cat sits through (and the very same website I’ve been using to travel to the United States since 2017)—has come out saying what happened to me was all a “misunderstanding” because US immigration doesn’t understand the “concept of house sitting”. TrustedHousesitters might want to let their members know they can be deported, but, hey, US immigration just doesn’t get it. There’s a lot more to all of this and I’ll post about it in the coming weeks.

Back to Pixel. It’d been a good eight or nine months since I saw Pixel last. He’s lost a bit of weight thanks to a revised feeding routine which sees him get one scoop of dry food and one pouch of wet food each day. We like to joke Pixel has lost weight to help him land a movie role in Hollywood. Pixel has become a bit of a celebrity following what happened to me at LAX. A lot of media outlets have chosen to use a Pixel selfie to accompany their reporting and, of course, people on the internet have a lot to say about Pixel’s face. Usually ‘That cat looks pissed off’ or ‘That’s one angry-looking cat’. Pixel is neither of these things, and he seems to be more affectionate and chill than ever before.

What I did during the week

The Sydney weather has been pretty shitty all year and this week was no exception. Thursday was the first day it hadn’t rained at all all week. Every person I spoke to would say something like: ‘How nice is the weather today?’ The rideshare driver I had on the way back to the airport told me all about his Saturday morning in the sunshine. He said this is some of the best weather the city’s seen in 2022.

The heavy, never-ending rain on Monday made it difficult to get up, but I eventually made my way out to the Mitchell Road antiques warehouse. This is somewhere I like to visit each time I’m in town. It’s huge and a lot of the stuff is reasonably priced. Reasonably-priced things can be hard to come by in Sydney.

Bondi Beach is another place I like to visit when I’m here. My favourite vegan Lebanese restaurant is no longer, but the Sunday markets were still on despite the rain. A workmate also recommended the Sculpture by the Sea exhibition which stretches the Bondi Beach to Tamarama part of the Bondi to Bronte walk.

A few other things I enjoyed:

  • Walking from Bondi Junction to Bondi Beach along Bondi Road. I’m always getting the bus through here, but this is the first time I’ve walked it.
  • The Art Gallery of New South Wales. I didn’t know this even existed until this week. The Royal Botanic Garden is next door and it’s a 15-minute walk down to Circular Quay.
  • Shopping along Oxford Street and admiring all the pretty terrace homes (and their Halloween decorations) in the streets off the main road. There’s a hub of activity happening in the backstreets of Paddington that I’d like to check out properly next time. Newtown is another good area for shopping, and has plenty of food choices and lots of murals.

Next stop

I’m on my way home where I’ll be working up until the end of November. From 27 November, I’ll be off on a month-long domestic cat sitting adventure through Aussie House Sitters. Perth is my first stop, then Adelaide and I’ll be in Melbourne for New Year’s Eve.

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 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.

Another 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. He said something like 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? 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.

My long-awaited international cat sitting trip has come to an end

My long-awaited international cat sitting trip has come to an end

I’ve spent 74 of the past 75 days house and cat sitting my way around the USA where I co-existed with all kinds of cats, including former street cats and purebred Ragdolls.

I’ve looked after 15 cats and nine different homes in seven cities across the country. I started out in Seattle before making my way to Austin, New York City—where I got sits in Chelsea, South Park Slope and Prospect Heights—Salt Lake City, Denver, Chicago and Portland.

This was the first trip I’ve done where I’ve picked up additional sits while travelling. I usually have them all organised before leaving Australia so I was a bit nervous about having a 16-day gap between sits in Salt Lake City and Portland. While I was checking TrustedHousesitters, House Sitters America and housecarers.com every day, nothing suitable came up on any of the websites until I arrived in Salt Lake City at the end of February. The two last-minute sits just happened to be listed on TrustedHousesitters at the same time and they lined up almost perfectly with my existing travel plans. Both ladies proved to be super accommodating of my schedule and offered me the sits.

Some of my favourite cats from the trip were ones I didn’t end up blogging about. I stopped writing after New York City for a few reasons:

  1. The sit in Salt Lake City was relatively short.
  2. The following two sits weren’t part of my original plan so I spent most nights researching what to see and do while I was in town.
  3. I really didn’t have it in me [to write] after being out all day and still dealing with a bacterial sinus infection.

Introducing the other cats I cared for

Bones, the Salt Lake City cat, will be remembered as the most affectionate and needy cat I’ve cared for. Bones liked to be on me at all times and he loved to sleep under the covers. Getting a good night’s sleep in Salt Lake City was a bit difficult as I didn’t want to accidentally squash or suffocate Mr Bones during the night. He’s pretty small and fragile so it’d be easy to do without realising.

Bones is estimated to be around 20 years old, but vets aren’t 100% sure because Bones has no teeth. He’s doing well for an older guy—he can still jump up onto the bathroom vanity, and had no problems following me down to the basement and back up again. I was a little worried about how he’d hold up during my stay—being 20 and all—but we didn’t have any dramas.

I then spent the next week or so looking after a former street cat called Aldo in Denver. Aldo’s half Maine Coon and it shows—he’s a bigger guy and he has the strong, solid build you see in Maine Coons. He was another super affectionate cat which surprised me because he used to live on the streets of the Bronx. Aldo enjoyed weaving in and out of my hair, and rubbing his head against my shoulders when I sat at the dining table. He was also real fond of sitting on my laptop.

My next two cat friends were also rescues. Biological sisters Ares and Olivia were adopted as kittens from a lady who runs a shelter out of her house in Chicago. Ares is bigger than Olivia, but she’s a lot more reserved. She startles easily, too. Olivia, on the other hand, is very outgoing and playful. She enjoyed sitting in the bathroom and kitchen sinks, and spending some alone time on her jungle platform. Michelle, the owner, let me stay in the apartment even though she’d returned to town for two separate overnight stays. Michelle is a flight attendant and is used to what she described as ‘the [travel] lifestyle’ so she was more than happy to offer up her space in exchange for good cat care.

Chicago was somewhere I really wanted to get to on this trip. I did consider spending a couple of days there during my 16-day house sitting gap, but I wasn’t keen on paying between $300 and $400 AUD/a night for a hotel. Thanks to Michelle, I got to spend 10 days there without spending a cent on accommodation. I didn’t know much about any of the neighbourhoods before I arrived, but her Lake View location was a great place to be based. It was central to several bus stops, the Sheridan train line, cafes and restaurants, and a Whole Foods.

The final house and cat sit of the trip took me to Sellwood in Portland, OR. Sellwood’s a very cute, very American-looking neighbourhood. It reminded me a lot of ‘the suburbs’ you see in American movies despite only being about 10–15 minutes from downtown Portland.

This sit was actually the first one I secured for the trip and I remember doing a Skype call/interview for it when I was house sitting in Sydney. I was told the Sellwood kitties are on a very particular diet because the male cat, Frido, experienced a life-threatening medical situation back in December. He was unable to pee because his urethra was blocked by struvite crystals. Since then, owners Sophie and Johnny switched Frido and Pippi from a dry food only diet to a much healthier one. They get thawed out turkey meat twice a day.

Frido was the more outgoing of the two cats, but Pippi was the braver one. Pippi hid from me on the first night, but she had no problem navigating the new butterfly toy Sophie ordered for them. Frido was a little scared of it and didn’t attempt to swat the butterfly for a couple of days.

Next stop

It’s now time to head back to Australia after two and a half weeks in Portland. This trip saw me house and cat sit in several cities I’ve been to before as well as cities which have been on my house sitting bucket list for some time. I’m not sure when or where I’ll house and cat sit next, but I’m always on TrustedHousesitters thinking about how I can make it work.