Mr. Bungle is giving us that look again. The one you’d expect to see from someone who has not only been caught stealing an ice cream from a small child, but has also managed to p*ss themselves in the process. His little face winces in the agony of shame, eyes averted, tail twitching nervously. “I didn’t do it” you can almost hear him plead.
He looks so sorry for himself, we can barely contain our laughter.
But dear Mr. Bungle is innocent on this occasion. This little pooch is only guilty of having a shame-filled expression that somehow adds to his charm.
With characters like this to meet on your adventures, who wouldn’t want to do pet-sitting?
As nature lovers who are constantly on the move, pet-sitting is the closest we get to having animals of our own, without having to give up perpetual travel.
We discovered the concept back in 2015, when a friend thought it would suit our nomadic lifestyle and introduced us to one of many websites that connects homeowners with wannabe pet-sitters.
You can find ways to connect with home and pet owners using sites such as:
Curious about what it entailed, we set up a profile and searched for a suitable sit.
Our first assignment was in the UK: our task was to look after two big dogs while their owner went on holiday to Jamaica for a week. Her nondescript Edwardian house was situated in a rather depressing part of East London and had the feel of a crime scene from a Dean Koontz novel.
Against our gut instincts, so we decided to give it a go.
What transpired were seven miserable days of tossing whole chicken heads and bloody pieces of pig spine (yay for raw-food diets…) to a Doberman that had a penchant for sticking its entire nose into places where the sun never shines, followed by the trauma of dealing with the return of their bat-sh*t crazy owner, who tennis-balled from being eternally grateful for our services to inexplicably inventing absurd and insulting stories about how badly we’d treated her house and pets.
(The alarm bells should have rung when she had insisted that we didn’t post any photos of her demented hounds online. We can only presume this was because she’d been using them to smuggle drugs to keep herself bat-sh*t crazy; it would have explained the Doberman’s arsehole-obsession, at least.)
With a nightmare first experience like this, you’d be forgiven for thinking we would never do pet-sitting again.
But, ever the optimists/gluttons for punishment, we gave it another shot.
This time, we landed a gig in the far more beautiful setting of rural Hertfordshire, England, in a Scandinavian-style wooden house surrounded by horse paddocks, where we had to take care of three sweet cats and a trio of bonkers but winsome dogs.
The assignment was something of a challenge: One of the hounds had a history of attacking and mauling cats, so the felines and canines were strictly separated into two parts of the house. We’d been warned that if the cat-shaking spaniel managed to get to one of the moggies, the lounge would look like a crimson Jackson Pollock painting.
So much for relaxing out in the countryside.
However, the sit passed without incident and we left the assignment on very good terms, thanks to the fact that the owner wasn’t a delusional sociopath and was genuinely pleased with our pet-sitting abilities.
Encouraged by those initial experiences, we’ve gone on to take care of animals all over the (mostly Western) world. From shy Valentino the cat in central London to Harvey the wonder-hound in Taranaki, New Zealand, we’ve had so many hilarious, heart-warming, (and occasionally challenging) experiences in so many different places.
And it’s not just the appeal of getting some free accommodation all over the world that makes us love pet-sitting so much. It’s the variety of locations that we get to experience: A sea-view, hillside residence in New Zealand; a house five-minute’s walk from a golden beach in Australia; a country cottage in Kent.
Flip this over to the pet-owner’s point of view.
Isn’t this all a bit weird? I mean, finding strangers online and letting them temporarily live in your own home? Really?
Contrary to what some may think, the likelihood of returning from your holidays to find sh*t on the walls, the cat in the oven and all your white goods missing is rather slim.
If anything, the experience reveals just how trusting, kind and considerate humans can be.
Obviously, there are safeguards on the pet-sitting/house-sitting websites that help allay homeowner’s fears about allowing strangers into their property, such as registration fees and references, but in all honesty, if you’re going to post an ad for people to come and take care of the dog while you go on vacation, you need to be a naturally unsuspicious, easy-going person in the first place.
Besides, we know from experience not to bother with anyone who stiffly requests a “police check” from their sitters… These sorts of people are usually the paranoid ones who’ve set up video cameras around the house and won’t hesitate in billing you for bringing mud into the house by accident.
You have to feel pity for these sorts of people, as perhaps they’ve had the rare misfortune to have been utterly fleeced by someone in the past. Or maybe they simply value material things over people. But we’d argue that if they can’t shake their mistrust of fellow humans, or at least develop a bit more generosity and compassion, they should fork out for kennels fees after all.
Most of the homeowners we’ve been lucky enough to encounter have remained friends long after the gig and were sort of folks you’d be grateful to have as neighbours. If there were more people in the world with as much trust and generosity as they have, the world would be a fairer, sweeter place.
I sit typing this from a wonderfully arty little cottage with chickens clucking in the garden and a kettle whistling on the stove. I can hear the dogs playing out in the yard, probably playing hide and seek with Kraken the rooster.
As pet-sitters, our duties are simply to love and care for the animals and treat the house with the same respect as we would our own. In return, we have a cosy room to sleep in, a kitchen to cook in, new books to discover and a huge bath for a blissful soak after walking in the Kentish countryside.
Oh, and did we mention we have Mr Bungle and gentle Grizzly to cuddle too?
Why on earth would we want to swap all this for some soulless, all-inclusive yet obscenely expensive accommodation somewhere?
Unless hotels find a way of including lovable creatures like Harvey the wonder-hound or something akin to the Mr. Bungle experience, I think we’ll stick with pet-sitting, thank you very much.
To find out more about pet-sitting, check out our latest book “How to Make Your Escape (and what to expect along the way)”, available as an eBook on Amazon and from our online store. In it, you'll find more house-sitting stories, along with advice on how to be the perfect pet-sitters and how to avoid the pet-sitting gigs from hell.
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