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Planning for Your Pets

Dru Pearson

One of the most troubling aspects of planning a trip is what to do about pets. The animals who share our lives need to be loved, fed, and exercised while we're gone, but finding reasonably priced, trustworthy and reliable care is sometimes difficult.

Here is the problem David and I encountered one year along with our solution.

Free Pet-Sitting

Petting Sitting - GuidoWhen David and I returned from a month in Mexico one summer, Guido the Cat let us know he had not appreciated our absence. He sat on the steps all afternoon as we unpacked and loudly meowed the entire time. Either he was bawling us out for having the audacity to leave for a month, or he was catching us up on all the cat-news he'd been storing up for thirty days. In any case, by the time it was dark, poor Guido was completely hoarse. His raspy, barely audible voice continued until midnight, though, so great was his need to communicate.

Pet Sitting - LenaOur dog, Lena, on the other hand was happy to see us but a little blasé about welcoming us home. She'd been at Club Med for Dogs, after all, so we could have stayed away for another month or two as far as she was concerned. Life with our wonderful neighbors meant lots of walks and lavish attention from two adults and two children. Even if she had to contend with Legos in her water bowl and being dressed in elaborate costumes complete with bandanas, she had enjoyed affection 24 hours a day.

Guido had none of that.

It really wasn't anyone's fault. Our neighbors came in every day to give Guido water and food and clean his litter box, but because Guido is shy he hid every time he heard the door open. They never saw him. Not once. No wonder the poor guy was lonely.

For our next trip, we knew we had to think of a different solution. Our neighbors are great people and charge us a pittance compared to boarding kennels, but we think Guido needs a lap to curl up in every night. We had to find a pet sitter.

We checked with professional sitters, but our tightwad travel budget could not accommodate $60 a day. A boarding kennel was out of the question, and not just because of the high price. The first, and last, time we left Lena in one for three nights, she cried when we picked her up. I've seldom heard a dog cry, but there was no mistaking that misery.

Luckily, I remembered a National Public Radio interview I'd heard a few years ago about a company called HouseCarers. The website unites pet sitters with vacationers for a match that benefits both; the pet sitter gets a free vacation and the pet owner gets free pet care.

I wrote a description of our house, our pets, and a few other details and placed an ad for free (home owners pay no fee while would-be pet/house sitters pay $50 for twelve months of ad placement). Within five days we had 45 applicants!

We e-mailed a number of delightful people, checked a lot of references, and finally decided on a couple we thought would be perfect for our situation. They were anxious to escape the desert heat in Phoenix for five weeks, and we were thrilled our pets would get the attention they need every day. And the price was right for all of us. The sitters got a free vacation in San Diego County, near the beach with cooler-than-Phoenix temperatures, and we got free pet care!

Guido still had a lot to “say” when we returned from that trip, but this time it was a happy conversation that ended well before midnight. And our pet sitters? Bud and Joan have become friends of ours, and we can't wait to see them next year when they'll sit for us again.

Helpful Hints for Using HouseCarers

HouseCarers.com has lots of information on its site to help you place a homeowner ad.

Do a search yourself, for free, to get a feel for the kind of ad you think will be successful.

When writing your copy, keep in mind that the applicant will want to know details about your house (number of bedrooms, bath, garden), what attractions are near your home, and what his responsibilities will be in regards to your home (gardening, lawn mowing?) and pets (Are pets on special diets or medications?).

Do not hesitate to ask for and to check references. After all, you're entrusting your house and beloved pets to this person. You have a right to know she is reliable and honest.

I don't know how many responses most people receive, but I would guess folks in more desirable locations probably get more than those in isolated parts of the country. Still, even though the time required to find the right sitter may vary, no matter where you live there is probably someone who would be willing to care for your house and pets while you're away in exchange for a free vacation.

The ad We Used - You Might Consider Something Similar

We live in a very comfortable two-story home (two bedrooms--a California king bed and a queen--plus a study, 1 1/2 baths, with enclosed private terraces front and back) in the charming beach town of________in San Diego North County, just a 25-minute drive north of San Diego.

We are three miles from the ocean, 25 minutes from San Diego's many attractions, 45 minutes from Mexico, and about an hour's drive from Los Angeles. There are enough day-trip attractions to keep anyone happy for months and our town itself is a delight!

A car is necessary as we are located in a suburban area. For other trips, a light rail line connects the coast from Tijuana, Mexico to Los Angeles.

Our indoor-only cat is easy to care for and will perform somersaults for you after you become friends. Our dog is incredibly smart, seemingly a human-with-fur, who requires a couple visits to the outdoors each day and one walk around the block every evening. Both pets are mature and very easy care.

We are looking for a mature pet-sitter with many references who truly loves animals. It is also important to us that our house be well-cared for; we don't expect you to do spring cleaning while you're here, but it would be nice if the house were as clean when we return as it is when we leave.

It would be a plus to find someone (or a couple) who might be willing to sit for us on a regular basis as we are semi-retired and travel several times a year.

Thank you for considering us. We live in one of the most desirable areas of the United States and think our condo is an ideal vacation spot! If you would like to visit this part of the country and love animals, please let us know.


HouseCarers.com site used to locate house/pet sitters.

Taking Pets to the UK: article describing how to take your pets to the UK

Discuss this article

Dru Pearson is a former English-teacher-turned-writer who lived four years in Mexico editing a newsletter for ex-pats and writing two books about Mexico, Retire in Mexico - Live Better for Less Money and a memoir, Mexico Magic, before moving to San Diego, California.

She loves to travel and would be on the road 365 days a year if possible. All of her travel advice, as well as a step-by-step guide to seeing Europe on a tightwad budget, is in her latest book, Europe on a Dime: Five-Star Travel on a One-Star Budget, available on-line from Amazon and Barnes&Noble. Dru's latest travel adventures are recounted in her blog, Tightwad Travel.

© Dru Pearson, 2012

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