A slave to other people's pets

20:10, Jun 27 2011

Guest post by Rochelle Dalziel: New Zealanders are accepted as being pet-friendly people, as obviously evidenced by the number of regular Four Legs Good readers. We all love our pets, share our lives with them, laugh and cry with them, and act as both master and slave to them (the latter generally being considered a more fitting description).

What about those of us who not only have our own pets to care for, but who decide for some unknown reason that we want to become slaves to other people's pets too?

  Welcome to my house, says Nyx*.
For the five years I've been looking after other people's pets part-time for Pet Angels in Wellington, I've had many experiences on various assignments and have met many types of pets. When someone's unable to care for their pets because, say, they're on holiday or have a family emergency, I can step in and take care of things, from a simple cat-feeding assignment to a more complex housesitting or home boarding.

I've had assignments where everything went perfectly well and there was nothing to write home about (the great majority of them), and I've had assignments where things didn't quite go to plan. I've stopped counting the cat feeding assignments I've done where I've come to feed the cats and am the recipient of multiple unsavoury presents such as birds, mice, lizards and rats! Not so nice to see - but I appreciate the gesture and the efforts the cats have gone to to make me feel welcome.

Recently I've been housesitting for a lovely lady whose cat stays inside 24 hours a day. The first time I house-sat for her, puss decided that I was too strange, and he wouldn't come out from one of his many hiding places to meet me. It was disconcerting at first, especially as I'm usually a cat magnet, and despite my best efforts to coax him out I knew he felt better just watching me from a comfortable distance. Turns out he was a little shy, and the second time I came to house-sit for him, he eventually insisted I played with him. This was incredibly easy to do as the owner had provided multiple cat "teaser" toys (the fishing rod type toys with feathers and dangly things hanging off them), scratching pads, igloos and all sorts of balls - tennis balls, catnip toys, ping pong balls, marbles, you name it. A favourite game for puss was to push a marble from the top of the stairs to the bottom, whereupon the marble would get paw-tapped underneath a mat, only for the mat to be pushed around the floor of the house while puss tried to retrieve the marble.

Housesitting for shy yet entertaining cats is fun, but sometimes you need some "you" time, and I rediscovered my love of reading during this time. What a gift puss had given me (not to mention the owner having an awesome book collection) by reminding me of what a great hobby reading is.


On another recent housesitting assignment where I was looking after a pair of Shetland sheepdogs and a couple of rabbits, it rained all weekend and the poor dogs had to be left outside while I was working at my day job. Coming home one night, I set and lit the fire, and made a bed in front of it for the dogs to curl up in. They got dried off with their special dog towels and were presented with dinner near the fireplace. I certainly wouldn't hesitate to do this for my own pets, so why not do it for other people's?

It definitely takes a special breed of person (so to speak) who's willing to care for other people's pets in the same way that I do, and though sometimes it can feel like you're working (if your day job is to work with animals, as mine is), it is wholly rewarding, often very funny, and a good way to break the home-work-home monotony.

What are your experiences of looking after other people's pets or pet carers who have looked after your pets? Would you consider doing this sort of work yourself, and why or why not?

Blog contributor Rochelle Dalziel is a casual employee of Pet Angels Heavenly Pet Care

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* Thanks for the picture, Jodie.