In a Retirement Rut? Try Housesitting…


Retired or not – it’s amazing how effortlessly you can get into a rut.  Seriously…how does this happen when your time is your own?

For instance, we bought a home in The Comox Valley with an incredible ocean view but it needed some renovation work.  We agreed that we would do this slowly and over a number of years.

Since work is all we’ve ever known, it didn’t take long before we vigorously threw ourselves into the renovation work as if it was a full time job. Turns out that it was easier to get back to what we knew, rather than creating the new lifestyle that we had envisioned for ourselves.

As they say, half the battle is recognizing the problem….the other half is doing something about it.  OK…so, what do I want to do and who do I want to be in this next phase of my life?  Guess this is going to take some time….

While looking into alternative lifestyles (no that kind), I read about housesitting and thought I’d check it out.

It appears that housesitting is more weighted toward “pet sitting” rather than strictly housesitting. Since we’re animal lovers, we envisioned evenings sitting in front of a crackling fireplace with fluffy the cat purring by our side or exploring the great outdoors with Rex the wonder dog in tow. Besides, it seemed like a great way to extend our overseas travel dollar while meeting the locals and experiencing a slice of daily life in another part of the world.

But how do you get started?

First, we searched the internet for the best and most reputable house sitting sites to join. There were a number to choose from but I found two that I was interested in; and  – both looked excellent – both had great reviews.

Most of these sites require a membership fee. I figured we’d only need one housesit to pay for the membership, so we decided to take a chance and paid approximately $50.00 for the year.

I subsequently learned that some housesit websites may be utilized more by people in a specific geographical region than others and therefore many people join 2 or more sites to widen the scope of their options.

Since most of these sites benefit from your successful outcome, many offer step by step suggestions about how to build a winning profile.  We found some good pictures to support our “image” and downloaded the information onto the site along with our profile; it was all very easy.   Only one fly in the ointment – although we have a house and we’ve had pets in the past, we didn’t have any house/pet sitting references. Everyone has to start somewhere, so we improvised.

  1. We used past employment resumes to give potential house owners an insight into who we are and the level of responsibility we’ve had.
  2. We used character references from previous employers and landlords to illustrate commitment and reliability.
  3. We acquired police criminal record checks as recommended by the site.

I heard that house/pet owners get a huge response from their ads; that meant lots of competition! I had faith that if we could just get someone to talk to us, we could instill enough confidence for the homeowner to give us a chance.

While our goal was to obtain international housesits, we thought it would make more sense to try some local house sits first to learn the ropes.

  1. I thought they would be easier to get because we could meet the pets and owners in person.
  2. This would help to grow our references and most importantly…
  3. To find out if we’d even enjoy pet sitting at all.

I don’t take pet sitting lightly; it sounds easy but I know there’s usually more to it than meets the eye…someone is entrusting you with their pet child!

Christmas was fast approaching.  As usual, we’d be doing the mad dash from Vancouver Island to the Vancouver mainland on an overnighter. We thought this would be a good time to give house/pet sitting in the lower mainland a try.

Late October, we responded to several opportunities but only got one reply.  After connecting via email, we made arrangements to take the ferry to Vancouver and meet in person.

This did not work out well because on our way to the person’s home, they called to inform us they had chosen someone else!  Ouch…a good lesson learned (next time get some sort of a commitment before spending time/money to meet).  Thank goodness we had scheduled a family visit albeit a little sooner than we planned otherwise it could have been a costly trip.

All was not lost though, we met the “potential” house/pet sit owner just in case they required someone at a later date (this way we both had irons in the fire).   Besides, you never know where your next housesit may come from; they could have passed my name on to someone else.

A little disappointed, I searched the website and applied again.  Before long, I exchanged a number of emails with another potential homeowner regarding their pets and expectations.

This time we decided to “meet” via Skype and within a couple of minutes the owners welcomed us to spend 2 weeks in their home over Christmas while they were off on their own housesitting opportunity in California.

We arranged to meet the owners for last minute instructions the day before they were leaving.   We also had the pleasure of meeting for the first time, a very cute and a very large 14 month old Bernese Mountain Sheepdog with tons of energy, as well as 2 independent Persian cats.  It took all of a few minutes to totally fall in love with the Bernese puppy – what an adorable face!

We had a great time; we went to the doggy park to meet her doggy friends every other day.  At the same time, we met a group of truly interesting dog owners.  The other days, we’d take our energetic puppy for long walks in some of the nearby provincial parks and dyke ambles – I’d even email pictures of our happy pet pal to the owner for their piece of mind.  Our Bernese absolutely loved car rides and would even bring her leash to us in the morning!  How cute is that?

We have some very fond memories of our Bernese friend and all of the silly antics she got up to.  As for the aloof cats, by the time we left, we were all very good friends and worthy of their time to let us pamper them.

At the end of our pet sit, when we pulled out of the driveway, we could hardly look at the window where a despondent Bernese puppy looked back at us as if to say; “hey guys, where’re you goin’ without me!” – a heart wrenching emotion I was not prepared for.

In the end, not only did we meet very nice people that we now stay in contact with, but we also received a fantastic reference to download to our profile.

We had such a great time that we decided to do another pet sit only this time in our own area of The Comox Valley.  We didn’t have anything going on during January anyway, so it was a great opportunity to be someplace different to plan our year; free from the “must dos” at home – sort of like a resort getaway.

For some reason I answered an ad to pet sit an 11 year old blind diabetic Shar-Pei dog and a kitten. This time it was a little easier meeting the owners since they were only 20 minutes away.

The kitten was especially cute and playful – easy no problem there.  As for the Shar-Pei, I found out that not only were there twice daily blood glucose readings involved but two insulin injections as well.  Yikes – what was I thinking?!

I wasn’t too keen at first, but as the owner demonstrated the procedure, I realized that this was something I could do after all.  We did have the owners’ family support close by in case something went wrong, so we were not totally alone.   Besides, when we met the Shar-Pei, not only was he an exceptionally sweet soul, but he had a very, very BIG personality – he didn’t think he had a disability so why should I?

This time there weren`t a lot of super long walks involved but we thoroughly enjoyed spending time giving the Shar-Pei tonnes of affection and back rubs all day long; something his poor ole bones appreciated. I’m sure he thought he was on his own vacation at the Club Med Doggy Spa.

A few days into our house sit, we noticed that our Shar-Pei was favouring and licking his paw continuously.  He began limping and upon inspection, we found that his paw pads were licked raw and there was a horrible infection in between his toes.

Given the Shar-Pei’s health issues, and upon conferring with his family, we took our little friend to the vet.   As it turned out there was an infection and antibiotics were prescribed.

Although I very much doubt we could ever have denied our little friend the care he required to keep him healthy, we were thankful that his owner had a long history with the vet and that they were willing to give credit until the owner came home.

Another lesson learned… have a discussion with your homeowner about vet care in case of a sudden health issue.   It may be a good idea for the homeowner to leave clear instructions with the vet regarding the level of care and a line of credit in order to avoid any uncomfortable situations.

We contacted our homeowner with the details via email and as we suspected, they were grateful that we took quick and decisive action considering the already tenuous health concerns of their pal.

The good news is that once we administered the antibiotic, the topical power on his paw and gave him regular Epson salt soaks, our little Shar-Pei was not the same dog we met days earlier.

Suddenly there was an energy we’d not seen since we arrived and even a couple of long beach walks later, he was one happy dog!  And speaking of walks, although totally blind, this Shar-Pei could really move!  He was taking me on walks; in fact he knew his way around the neighbourhood and knew exactly where he was going… what an incredible experience for us to have. Another lesson… just get on with life!

So, would I pet sit again?  Absolutely!   Sure, it can be a lot of work.  You have to care more about the owner’s pet than getting on the first sightseeing bus that day. These pet pals are a little confused and sad that their owners have somehow disappeared so they do need extra care and attention to keep them happy – they are depending on you.

We’re now on our way toward our goal of international house sitting with another great reference.  But it turned out to be a lot more than that.

It was a terrific way to do something totally different in our lives.   Not only were we helping pet owners who couldn’t bear putting their pals into a kennel (or possibly couldn`t afford the expense), but we thoroughly enjoyed giving the love and attention to these tender and trusting little souls.  In the process we also got something in return; quirky personalities, silly antics, lots of laughs and best of all, unconditional love.

The great thing about house/pet sitting is that you can do as much or as little as you want; you can go halfway around the world or you can stay in your own country, your province, state, or town.

You get to meet really great people and their pet pals, as well as adding some serendipity to your life by temporarily living a unique lifestyle in a different part of the world than what you’re used to.

What a great way of getting out of a rut…and in the process, you might learn something new about yourself!        HOME



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