A slave to other people's pets

Last updated 14:40 27/06/2011

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.

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CE   #1   03:10 pm Jun 27 2011

I've been on both ends of the cat-sitting experience (looking after a friend's cat while they were away and having a friend look after my cat while we were away). Needless to say neither of these experiences was overly good and I'll be recommending both animals stay in a cattery next time.

When we looked after a friend's cat he was so boisterous (compared to my 13 year old sedate girl) and every time he got let outside he'd run straight to the nearest fence and precariously balance, feigning falling off to the footpath on the other side more than once. Unfortunately we had to leave him in the spare room all day with the door shut, so he wouldn't bother our cat too much.

When I asked my friend to cat sit my Chicken didn't bother coming out from under the bed at any point of the 4 days we were away. Apparently even food didn't coax her out.

So as much as I dislike catteries, I think it's the best place for her :)

WowAddict   #2   03:27 pm Jun 27 2011

My friends bought a business and took all of one weekend doing the fitout and getting it ready to open.

I took care of their dog and walked it for the weekend. Not a problem except it was a 100kg english mastiff lol.

He was really friendly and cruisy though it just got to annoy me when people would run away with their dogs when we came strolling down the beach.

My truck was full of slobber but a good time was had by all!

JeM   #3   03:32 pm Jun 27 2011

I spent a Christmas period working for a petsitting company (and made a mint doing so - wow!) but you absolutely have to be a pet person. If someone is willing to pay as much as they do for that service, then you need to go in there, sit down and cuddle the cats, play with them and let them know they're cared for - as well as refilling the food and milk. I looked after all sorts including a duck who needed cuddles and and the ocassional frogs and axelotls. Dogs were by far the hardest as big dogs need a lot of walking!! It was a great, fun job but the commitment over Xmas / New Year is quite hard. On average I had 18 cats to feed and 4 dogs to walk per day. Don't know about you, but for me I had to go buy fresh milk, clear the mail, open and close the curtains, water the plants etc too. I wouldn't ever recommend a dog staying home for a week by itself though. Even with 2 1Hr long visits a day I felt terrible leaving them alone for another night by themselves.

Phoebe1   #4   03:34 pm Jun 27 2011

My family have Pet Angel and she is fantastic with their petting zoo.She really bonds with them in a beautiful way.

pet owner   #5   03:44 pm Jun 27 2011

I always use a pet sitter when I go away to look after my cat. She's a people person and doesn't like to be on her own. I've had all sorts of people look after her and have never had any issues. I think it's great as many of the pet sitters are saving to open a business or buy a house so are using this as their way of saving. I help them by provding a roof, they help me by looking after my cat. Win-win in my opinion.

Noemi   #6   03:51 pm Jun 27 2011

I too am a professional petsitter here in Auckland (www.TheHouseSitter.co.nz) and 99% of the time my clients and their furry friends were a-ok with my services. The one time things went a bit pear-shaped was when I went to take care of a cat in a home that had just moved not more than a couple days before I arrived. Well needless to say, they hadn't anticipated the cat's gravitational pull to the old home and so the day before they arrive back from their holiday, the cat went missing. After much searching about the neighbourhood, a neighbour came out to tell me that her friend, a neighbour of the client at the old home, had seen the cat return there. Sheesh!

2 cats 1 dog   #7   03:58 pm Jun 27 2011

I have never looked after someone else's pets, but I would be more than happy to. I did, however, have a terrible experience the a boarding kennel. My dog and my old cat (no longer with us) had a strange relationship. It didn't matter where I took the cat, he was happy as long as the dog was there. This made travel with my pets extremely easy as I could open the car door and the cat would treat everywhere as his territory. Because that was the case, boarding them was easy and stress-free, as long as they were housed together. One boarding kennel I took them too left me with a distinctly uneasy feeling even though they assured me the dog and cat would be housed together and well cared for. 24 hours later I was still not feeling happy so I made an unannounced visit only to be greeted by a the horrifying sight of a drugged up cat complete with newly broken tail and a freezing dog left outside in the wind and rain without anything resembling shelter. Needless to say I was fairly ticked off so imagine my response upon being told they would not surrender my pets without full payment! After rather a lot of strong language they agreed to give me my pets back in return for not going to the RSPCA. Except I did anyway. They closed their doors not long after :)

Amy   #8   07:47 pm Jun 27 2011

I've cat-sat a number of times and thoroughly enjoyed it - it's been everything from 'my cat is allowed to do everything she likes' to 'my cat follows this fairly rigid regime, please maintain it'. As long as the owner's expectation is reasonable I'll go with it.

There's a fair bit of pressure - I know how much I love my cats and I know how heart-broken I'd be if anything happened, so I'm veeeeery careful to follow the rules given. But at the same time, every cat I've met through my cat-sitting ventures has been a character in their own way, much loved by their owners. That'd be the plus side - if the owner gets a cat-sitter organised then they adore their cat and will do anything for them!

Ideally I'd love to have some sort of animal-care facility - I lovelovelove dogs as well except I currently work all day so can't realistically have a dog at home. The day I win lotto...

Treez   #9   11:29 pm Jun 27 2011

Hi Rochelle! I'm a Pet Angel too! I love my job! mostly : ) I would love to have heaps of pets but can't so it's really lovely to get to know other people's pets & take them out so we can have fun together.

I mostly do dog walking, at this stage & it's a great job for me. Even when you have a run of rainy, cold days (coming soon!), it's still mostly great - I usually feel too hot because I'm moving around & I have too many warm clothes on & it's brilliant seeing the dogs having a good time. Their enthusiasm for life & ability to live in the moment is inspiring. Of course, there are days when a lot of things seem to go wrong but I still enjoy knowing that I'm making a dog/s life better.

Most of my clients have been really lovely people as people with pets often are.

Hope to meet you sometime, Rochelle. Theresa

Helen   #10   08:07 am Jun 28 2011

As a person who works fulltime and travels a lot with work often over nights - I rely heavily on pet carers. I'm very lucky that I have a wonderful dog Nanny who on the nights I have to be away - comes to my home collects my two boys and takes them back to her house to have a sleep over with her small dog - I've been told that it's not uncommon for her to all 3 dogs on the bed with her when the Netball is on. I'm also very grateful to my lovely neighbours who will feed & look after my cat for me when I'm away. Also recently I went away for 2 weeks and my two boys where cared for by a lovely couple with 3 dogs of their own - my two had a blast there. Max the youngest made friends with Socks who is 3 times his size but they became best of buds and Socks cried when I took Max home. I too have had a couple of bad experiences with Boarding facilities - no matter what people have told you about a place always trust your gut feeling when you get there.

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