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

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.

House and cat sitting my way around Brooklyn

House and cat sitting my way around Brooklyn

I was able to extend my stay in New York City by picking up two house and cat sits in different Brooklyn neighbourhoods.

The first Brooklyn sit—found through TrustedHousesitters—was in South Slope and the second was in Prospect Heights. The South Slope house and cat sit started the day my Chelsea sit ended, and the sit in Prospect Heights commenced the day I finished up in South Slope. Back-to-back-to-back sits in New York City saw me save about $4,000 AUD on accommodation costs.

Kiki (calico) and Paco (tabby) were the first cats I looked after. Kiki, the more dominant personality and a bit of a bully, was born in Belize. Paco, on the other hand, was a gentle soul who was found on the streets of Brooklyn as a kitten. I was told Paco would require a bit of extra work because he’s incredibly shy. Paco—much like Coffee, one of the Chelsea Ragdolls—was actually easy to win over and that was without treats. It was Kiki who proved to be a lot more work. Kiki needed mental stimulation and didn’t like not being allowed outside for the first few days I was there.

My next two cat friends were also rescues. Monty (grey and white) and Rosie (black and white)—two-year-old littermates—are probably the shyest cats I’ve cared for in the four and a bit years I’ve been doing this. Monty was intrigued by my presence, but you could still sense he was fearful. Rosie was a lot more wary of me and would hide under the couch each time I entered the apartment. However, by Tuesday morning, she decided I wasn’t all that bad because she jumped on my bed and we slept in until 11am.

The Prospect Heights sit happened to be my first ‘word of mouth’ sit, and was brought to my attention by a lady I house and cat sat for back in 2020. The Prospect Heights apartment was directly across from the Brooklyn Museum and down the road from Grand Army Plaza, and provides an ideal base for anyone wanting to experience everything Brooklyn has to offer.

I was pretty lucky to score an extra week and a bit in New York City thanks to these guys each needing a house and cat sitter. While I preferred the location of the Prospect Heights apartment, I think the South Slope sit offered a unique experience with the apartment’s railroad-style layout. It’s something I haven’t seen before and probably won’t see again. I did, however, miss having a washing machine and some extra space, but I was rewarded with these  NYC luxuries in Prospect Heights.

Things to do

I probably had a few too many rest days in Brooklyn thanks to an ongoing sinus infection and not wanting to leave the apartment(s) because of the negative temperatures outside. But when it wasn’t snowing, or raining, or really windy, here’s some of the things I enjoyed doing/visiting/eating around Brooklyn.

Vanderbilt Ave from Grand Army Plaza to Atlantic Ave

This part of Vanderbilt Ave was recommended to me by Kiki and Paco’s owner when we caught up for coffee. The stretch of road is mostly restaurants, cafes and bars, and some fun street art (Atlantic Ave end). I had intended to get coffee at Caffè De Martini, but the Little Cupcake Bakeshop shopfront caught my eye. Little Cupcake Bakeshop had heaps of delicious-looking cakes and slices, and they made a good iced caramel latte.

Prospect Park

Prospect Park was central to both apartments I looked after, but I visited while I was house sitting in South Slope. The Boathouse is a good place to start. Walk up to the Endale Arch and you’ll end up at the Brooklyn Central Library.

Green-Wood Cemetery

Green-Wood Cemetery was on my itinerary, but I randomly walked past it on my way back to the subway station. It’s a very peaceful place and the snow that had fallen earlier in the day made it even more serene.

House of Wax

The House of Wax bar was something I read about on Atlas Obscura. I love the more morbid and peculiar attractions, and House of Wax was definitely one of them. The bar’s drawcard is its collection of medical and anatomical wax works.

The Social

The Social had the first decent ice cream I’ve had on this trip. I wasn’t too keen on Chinatown Ice Cream Factory or the Van Leeuwen Ice Cream tubs, but I did really like The Social’s butter pecan pie crumble and ‘ooeyer and gooeyer’.

Next stop

My next house and cat sit is somewhere totally new for me—Salt Lake City in Utah. It’s a short sit, but I didn’t want to miss an opportunity to stay in the state’s capital.

Cat sitting amidst coronavirus hysteria in New York City

Cat sitting amidst coronavirus hysteria in New York City

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

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

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

Day one

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

Day two

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

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

Clare left for the city of Merida on Friday morning.

The cats

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

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

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

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

About a week later

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

Places to go

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

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

Brooklyn Bridge Park

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

Tenement Museum

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

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

Chelsea Market

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

The High Line

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

Smallpox Hospital ruins

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

Museum of Sex

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

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

Chinatown and Little Italy

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

World Trade Centre

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

Williamsburg

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

Next stop

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

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

Charleston: Cat sitting two cats with two very different personalities

Charleston: Cat sitting two cats with two very different personalities

I spent the last 10 days cat sitting two rescue kitties, Jasper and Mia, in one of the cutest homes in downtown Charleston.

Candace, the home owner, offered to pick me up from the airport after my 30-hour journey from Brisbane. We hadn’t spoken or Facetime’d prior to my arrival, but when she pulled up in her Prius, it felt like I was being picked up by a friend. We’re about the same height, and both have nose rings and red hair, but Candace is way more arty. She’s such a kind and vibrant person, and I see her as a bit of a Charleston icon.

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

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

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

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

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

Places to go

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

Historic Charleston City Market

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

Old City Jail

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

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

Rainbow Row

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

City Lights Coffee

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

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

Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream

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

Nathaniel Russell House

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

In and around Charleston

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

Next stop

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