Although James and I both love dogs and cats, we understand that some people have “unconventional” pets too- and we’re more than happy to take the time to learn about looking after them. We love all animals (even snakes and spiders).
During our career as home and pet sitters we’ve looked after all sorts of unconventional pets: terrapins, chickens, and recently a herd of 18 alpacas!
You can read all about our alpaca sitting adventure over at TrustedHousesitters.com, where we were very kindly asked to write a guest post about our alpaca adventure.
Although I don’t think we’ll be working with herd animals again in a hurry, it’s an experience I certainly wouldn’t want to miss out on- and I would recommend alpaca sitting to anyone!
We’re reaching the six month mile stone of our lives as house sitters in France, and with three months left to go I thought now would be a great time to look back on some of the awesome experiences we’ve had (not to mention a few things we’ve learned about life, love, and looking after animals)!
One thing we’ve really enjoyed is the long, country walks.
Nothing clears your head like a 3km walk first thing in the morning. Of course, a 40 minute walk in the late afternoon is fine by us too. Different dogs need different levels of exercise, and James and I do enjoy a good ramble through the woods or alongside farmland. We’ve learned loads from our country walks; for example, that you should probably wear bright clothing on certain days of the week to avoid being shot by the chasse!
We have bumped into the chasse a few times, and they’ve been lovely (despite the big shotguns). We were gutted to miss out on the hunter’s dinner in October; but maybe in 2013?
The best thing about being house sitters in France is learning the lingo and discovering French culture
When we moved to France, I only had a couple of words of French. Now I can confidently walk into a restaurant and order a meal without being presented with a plate of gizzards and tripe. Being house sitters in rural France means speaking to French people. If we lived here permanently, it would be easy to relax and join in the expat crew: but we’re usually only in a place for a few weeks and don’t have time.
Instead, we end up chatting to supermarket assistants, postmen, car mechanics, and farmers. As a result, our French has improved ten-fold.
My mission for the next few weeks is to bite the bullet and get a haircut from a French hairdresser: I’ll let you know how that goes!
We’ve also learned that animals can be *almost* as fussy as people!
I thought it was difficult cooking for James when he decided to embark upon a low carb diet… and now I think about it, actually, it was trickier than making sure our furry charges eat properly.
One thing we’ve learned from being house sitters in France is that everyone has their own ideas about pet nutrition, and that’s fine by us. We’ve been given diet plans by everyone we’ve met- and we always stick to them. None have been as crazy as James’s fad dieting yet, however!
Some dogs get a specially prepared bone from the local auberge in the afternoon, to keep their teeth healthy. Some aren’t allowed leftover carbs like pasta, rice, and potatoes but do get a tin of sardines every couple of days to keep their joints in order. Some cats get a third of a packet of wet food every day (along with a splash of medicine), others get through three packets because they can’t handle dry food.
We did make the mistake once of giving a bone to a dog who lived with a vegetarian. The effect was similar to giving a small child too many sweets and he became very hyperactive! Although we had been told that doggy could have leftover meat if we were eating it, we decided from then on to be more cautious.
Put your mind at rest: the petcare in France is brilliant!
For anyone considering a move to France, but wondering whether or not the vets are up to scratch, let me put your mind at rest: they definitely are. We spent a few weeks helping out on an alpaca farm, and helping to mind the seven cats who also lived there. We went along to the vet a few times for their booster shots and were impressed by the cleanliness of the practise, and the knowledge of the vets. They even tried to help a little bird that the alpacas stomped on. Back in Scotland, I reckon they’d have just rung the poor thing’s neck without a second glance.
It’s always sad saying goodbye…
For us, house sitting in France has been about much more than getting free accommodation in a gorgeous part of the world. We genuinely love and care about all the pets we’ve looked after. The most bittersweet part of house sitting is when we have to say goodbye.
No matter how long or short the house sit, I always start tearing up when I know that it might be the last time I ever see the pets that I’ve laughed with, cared for, and loved.
I’ll never forget the wonderful animals that we’ve looked after, so this post is dedicated to the furry friends we made as house sitters in France: Rossco, Ralph, Gadget, Ruby, Rabbit, Roxy, “the turtles”, Alfie, Mia, Lucy, Tiger, Little One, Mini Me, Alpha, Bravo, Mobil, Annee, Angela, Babycham, Beverly, May, Storm, Riverstone, Sunrise, Echo, Breeze, Guinevere, Amber, PC, Warrior, Aramis, Dartagnan, Spartan, Elvis, Falko, Cassie and Thomas.
We talk about ourselves a lot on The House Sitting Couple. It’s not something that either me or Jemma are used to but it’s starting to become more natural. That said we feel like we need a break and have decided to reach out and chat to other house sitters who are doing similar things to us – minding pets, cleaning pools and hopefully, seeing a lot of what the world has to offer as well.
Teresa Roberts is someone whose blog have read inside out and so when it came time to decide who we would pick on to interview first she seemed like a very obvious choice. I will admit I haven’t read her book yet, but it’s high up on my list of books to read over the next few months.
Teresa RobertsFirst things first, how long have you been house sitting and how did you get started?
I have been house sitting for six years. It came about quite by accident, however. I was in the field of education in the United States for 28 years. When my last child graduated from college and had started her career, I began doing some serious thinking about how I wanted to live the rest of my life. I knew that I wanted to travel, not just a little, but a lot. In fact, I wanted to live abroad. I wasn’t looking to be an expatriate though. I didn’t merely want to move abroad and then settle into a routine in a new location. I was far too restless for that to become my new life. I wanted adventure, I guess. Eventually, I decided to retire early, at age 54, and reinvent myself. “Reinventing myself” is a buzz phrase that has become a bit overused in the United States, but I can’t think of a better way of describing the changes in my life that soon followed my retirement. My current lifestyle hardly resembles my former lifestyle at all.
I convinced my husband to quit his job and go abroad with me for a year. We thought it was going to be a one-time experience for us, something that we could remember well into old age as our “adventure year”. At the time, I didn’t know about house sitting. We rented holiday houses in Europe, instead. We lived in four different countries for 60 to 90 day stretches. We weren’t tourist. We enjoyed Spain, Ireland, the city of Prague and Malta. We were hardcore dalliers. We like to dally. We think we excel at dallying. We never consider ourselves to be tourists, wherever we land.
After our adventure year ended, we returned to our former lives, but the bug had bitten me. I was hooked on the idea of living without borders, experiencing life as a citizen of the world instead of being restrained and contained by manmade geographical boundaries.
I stumbled across the house-sitting concept and the rest is history. I decided to see where this idea would take me. For about a year, off and on, I went on the road by myself. My husband was working again. I did my first house sit in England and a series of spectacular house sits in Mexico that year, ending with a boat sit in a marina in Baja California. We realized that this could become a sustainable way of living and traveling. So, we stepped out on a limb and sold all of our personal belongings including house and cars and headed out for another year abroad via house sitting.
Several years later, we are still at it. We do it differently every year as our personal needs dictate. It is a fabulous way to live our lives. I feel more in control of my own destiny.
What makes you a good house sitter?
The number one thing that makes anyone a good house sitter is developing and cherishing a good reputation. That is all that we have really, our reputations. When people allow us into the sanctity of their homes, often to care for their beloved furry families, they need to know that we can be trusted. I develop relationships with people that I house sit for and expect to be called back whenever they need me. It is a win/win situation for both of us. I get to return to some of my favorite places in the world and they get to go away knowing that I will look after things and respect their privacy, giving attention to all those little details that make for a solid reputation. When done properly, it can be one of the most rewarding jobs in the world. That can only happen if you are serious about the manner in which you conduct business.
What are some of the main (and more unusual) reasons you’ve found that people need a house sitter?
I think the reasons for needing a house sitter can vary tremendously, but I have clearly defined for myself the type of assignment that best suits my needs, so I largely attract clients who need someone for no less than 30 days and no more than 90 days. I can usually stay in most foreign countries for 90 days on my American passport. Generally, these clients have pets, gardens, pools, and such which need looking after while they are gone. I am a major animal lover, so most animals fall head over paws in love with me. I fancy that I am a decent gardener as well, so I am comfortable with that aspect of house sitting. My husband does the pools. However, we have been in situations where we have had gardeners and even housekeepers which left us primarily with the responsibility of loving the family pets and providing a measure of security for the home.
You’ve house sat all across Europe and even on a moored 57 foot yacht in Baja California. What are some of the highlights of your housesits so far?
For me, the highlights of house sitting all over the world are centered around finding assignments that are located in areas of outstanding natural beauty. I like to look out my window and see grand vistas, the sea or mountains. I like to be able to strike out on a daily walk, drinking in the spectacular beauty of this amazing planet. For a professional dallier that is the perfect perk. Thus far, I have not been disappointed.
Size of house and posh amenities are not my top requirements. I need to be inspired by what I see in the natural world as well. I have taken care of small bungalows and grand estates, yet all have provided me with what I call the WOW factor of outstanding natural beauty.
Finally, where are you planning to be over the next few months?
I just got back from Lisbon, Portugal. We have a little granddaughter that just turned two years old. Since she was born we have curtailed our travel a tad. She is getting older now and has the ability to remember who we are even if we are away for several months at a time. I expect to be gone a lot more in the near future. In june, I will be doing a new house sit in a recycled part of the world, Spain. We are unabashedly in love with Spain and have spent so much time there that by now we actually have many good friends that we just adore being reunited with whenever we return. San Miguel de Allende, Mexico is a lot like that for us, too.
Actually one final question.. When it comes to finding house sitting assignments do you have a website of choice (e.g. housecarers, mindmyhouse) or do you promote yourself independently?
When I first started house sitting, I used a few websites like HouseCarers.com and the Caretaker Gazette. Now a days, I rely on return visits. Also, many of my clients refer me to their friends and family. I did a house sit in England a while back and shortly after that they referred me to their relatives in France. And, so it goes……
Bio: Teresa Roberts likes living on the edge of who she is while anticipating who she is becoming. She has reinvented herself more than once in life. From teacher/principal to world traveler/international house sitter to author and travel journalist, she simply loves being on a learning curve. Her first published book, Finding the Gypsy in Me – Tales of an International House Sitter, was written to appease the multitude of people who wanted to hear more about her adventures abroad. She hopes it is at once inspiring and practical. Teresa constantly seeks creative routes to freedom. She could be the poster girl for finding adventure at any age and on any income.
Visit Creative Paths to Freedom at www.findingthegypsyinme.com and subscribe to Teresa’s website where the topic of creative living is continually being explored.
Buy Teresa’s Book, Finding the Gypsy in Me – Tales of an International House Sitter. Find out how she travels the world as an international house sitter and how you can, too, at www.findingthegypsyinme.com or at Amazon.com http://www.amazon.com/dp/B005I0B5VK
We appreciate that before taking on a house/pet sitter, it’s always good to get to know them first
Read Our About Page:
If you haven’t already, take a gander at our about page. It gives a little intro about us, where you can learn a bit more about who we are and what we do.
It doesn’t have to be anything formal, a quick hello is always nice. We reply to every email and try to do so within 24 hours, but often it’s much quicker than that. You can drop us a line via our contact form.
Arrange a phonecall:
We’re always happy to talk, even if it’s just a no strings attached chat. If you’d like to arrange a phone call, drop us a line with your phone number and a time when it’s convenient to talk and we’ll give you a call.
Arrange a video call (Skype) with us:
We’re lucky to live in a digital age where it’s possible to do this. Of course, we realise that not everybody uses Skype and not everybody’s internet (included ours) is always working, but if you’d like to give this a try, we would be more than happy to do it.
Read Our Blog:
We both write a blog on this website. It’s an extra insight into our personalities and what makes us tick when it comes to house and pet sitting.
If you have any other questions that you would like to ask us, please do not hesitate to get in touch. And, if you’re a digital native we’re also on Facebook and Twitter and always happy to get new fans and followers!
I think it’s quite obvious from our posts about pet sitting that James and I love all animals: big and small. Taking some time out from our hectic work as freelance writers, we headed into the countryside for some horse riding lessons.
Like most girls, I love horses, and ever since I was a child I’ve wanted to try my hand at horse riding. I went to high school in the outskirts of Edinburgh, where most people were priveleged enough to have horses of their own. Long summer days during the school holidays were often spent helping my friends to muck out stables and groom their beloved horses, but until last weekend I had never once taken the chance to get up in the saddle.
When we arrived at the stables, we were all assigned horses. Well, I say horses, but the term pony is probably more accurate. As my pony, Whisperer, was led out of the stable I started to feel a little nervous. Once I straddled her the first thing that struck me was how high up I was. James was lucky enough to be given a slightly smaller pony than me: Gizmo, who was a bit of a biter and did have a go at a couple of small dogs as they ran past! Perhaps he was just a little peckish, as it was approaching lunch time. Thankfully he didn’t nibble on my other half.
Our lesson lasted just over an hour and in that time we learned how to communicate with a horse through the reins, how to steer, and how to trot. I was a little nervous about kicking my horse in the sides or smacking her with a stick to make her go: I certainly wouldn’t want anybody treating me like that.
It was explained to us that horses have thick skin and don’t feel the pain the same way as humans do, but I couldn’t help thinking of this scene from one of my favourite Jim Carrey films, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective.
I was assured by the teacher that it wouldn’t hurt poor Whisperer if I gave her a wee tap on the bottom, and my horse loving friends agreed. As an amateur rider who adores horses and enjoys spending time around them, I would love to know more about the art of riding.
So what do you think? Is it okay to smack a horse to get her to move, or are they more sensitive than some riders believe?
Personally I’m inclined to believe that all horses are different, and depending on the way that they have been trained and raised different techniques are required.
That’s why James and I undertake a comprehensive handover of both home and pets when we house sit: we want to know all about your animals little quirks. We want to know what they like and what they don’t, because we want to give them five star treatment in your absence. We’re not just pet sitters: we’re pet nannies! And if your horse doesn’t like getting her bottom spanked, that’s fine by me…
Although we’re not big followers of the Royals (we spent the Royal Wedding last year outside of the country) we have seen quite a few headlines about the latest Royal acquisition – a lovely cocker spaniel for William and Kate.
Although he’s not yet ready to be named, or the Royals aren’t yet willing to reveal the name, William’s already gone off galavanting to the Falkland Islands to carry out his deployment as a RAF search and rescue helicopter co-pilot.
Kate is getting left behind. Perhaps RAF search and rescue duties is code-name for lad’s holiday on the islands, or perhaps it’s their new canine commitments that’s stopping Kate from being able to join. Of course there’s the other option that William is simply there on work, but that’s not as much fun as the others. No sir!
So Kate if you want to join him, as pet sitters, we’re happy to step in and look after your new puppy! Oh, did I mention that we provide a live-in house and pet sitting service. Yep, so we would be happy to mind the dog at Buckingham Palace if you like. We haven’t done any house sitting in London yet so this would be perfect.
If you want to get back to us, email is fine. We’re also on Twitter and Facebook if that’s your thing, being young’uns like ourselves and that.
We can provide some general house and garden upkeep as well as the dog feeding and walking duties. Does he have any special dietary requirements? Caviar, maybe? Just let us know in advance and we can make sure this is kept up while your’re away.
With the home and garden maintenance we realise your royal home is quite large, so we’ll need to discuss this in advance. If we’re minding the farmhouse in Anglesey this will probably be much easier and so we will probably be able to do it as part of our ‘fair exchange’.
Anyways, let us know what you think,
James & Jemma
Everyone’s pet and house sitting career has to start somewhere, so before deciding to embark on house sitting as a career we decided to do some work close to home: for my parents, Carol and Ronnie. They don’t get the chance to go away very often, as they have a very temperemental lhasa apso called Ziggy who is definitely not kennels material.
Ziggy’s Little Quirks
Ziggy being brushed: his favourite!
The star of the show, Ziggy. He came to live with my parents when he was six years old and his previous owner was unable to take care of him anymore, and my word was he spoiled! Ziggy is quite the little gent, and many people find him difficult to live with. James and I embraced his quirks: which included barking whenever we left the house! Of course it broke our hearts to see him upset, but we made sure never to leave him alone for more than a few hours and gave him extra love when we got back.
Ziggy is a very fussy eater. He won’t eat regular dog food, or cat food (hey it was worth a try!). Instead, we found that we had to resort to making our own dog food especially for him, to ensure that he gets a balanced diet to keep his nose wet and his coat shiny. Ziggy loved our specially cooked chicken livers.
Ziggy loves being brushed, and whenever we picked up his own comb he would get excited the same way that other dogs would about their leashes. We made sure to groom him at least once a day: this kept him happy and also comforted him whilst his mummy and daddy were away.
While we were there, we also did a bit of general household maintainance.
Carol’s Beautiful Garden
My folk’s place might be modest, but my mum is an avid gardener. The garden is bursting with life: from petunias to fruit trees, and daffodils to tomatoes.While my parents enjoyed the sunshine in Barcelona, I enjoyed the Scottish sunshine as I spent an hour each evening watering the garden. Just because they wanted to go away for a week shouldn’t mean that their beautiful plants should have to suffer: or the bumper crop of tomatoes that were on the way.
The main feature of the garden is the outdoor hot tub. Because the tub is outdoor, it usually needs cleaning once a month or so. I decided it would be a nice treat for them getting back if the tub was cleaned fully. Once the tub was drained and wiped down (never with soap: that’s a big no no in a hot tub) I refilled it and kept the chlorine and alkaline levels up to scratch each day, by testing the water and adding the required chemicals. This meant that if they wanted to have a soak when they arrived home, everything was prepped and ready.
Note: This was a house/ pet sitting project for James’ family who live and work in the Algarve. All photos (and the contents of this post) have been posted with permission.
When you offer a house & pet sitting service, and most importantly when you tell your family and friends about it, your services are always in high demand. We’re always happy to housesit for friends and family, but it definitely makes things a lot easier when those friends and family live in Portugal’s beautiful Algarve region.
I’m lucky in that I know the Algarve well. I grew up in the North of Portugal, near Coimbra and later near Porto, but more recently my family moved to the Algarve to open a bed and breakfast.
Everyone needs a holiday, even B&B owners who having shared in everyone else’s holiday spirit for many, many months are no doubt drained and in need of somewhere quiet and relaxing to go and recharge the batteries. In the past the problem taking these breaks has always been difficult as Sasha, their chocolate Labrador, needed someone to feed her, walk her and tuck her in at night. No jokes on the last one!
Better than a kennel? I think so!
Kennels are always an option of course, but kennels are expensive, and they quickly shoots up the cost of a quick weekend break for two.
More importantly than that though, Sasha doesn’t like Kennels. I can’t imagine many dogs that do but Sasha really likes a lot of the personal touch – think: getting tucked in at night – that most kennel services are unlikely to ever provide.
We understand that though – it’s one of the reasons we got started as full-time pet sitters and has shaped the pet sitting services we offer today. And so began a week of looking after Sasha, taking her for long walks, feeding her, playing with her, tucking her in at night – basically providing those million and one personal services that a kennels would never even think of providing. Best of all, Sasha never had to leave the home to go anywhere else, we came to mind her on her territory – much less stress for her which in turn makes in much easier for us.
Like most medium-sized dogs, Sasha enjoys a good walk and the Algarve offers plenty of beautiful walks, especially where my parents are based just outside of Silves. I had been here plenty of times before, so knew the area quite well. We were able to take Sasha on quite a few different walks throughout the Algarve countryside as well as play with her in the gardens.
Walking in the orange groves
For most of the year, dogs (even friendly ones like Sasha) aren’t allowed on the beaches in the Algarve. Thankfuly we knew of a nearby reservoir where Sasha liked to swim whenever she was taken up there so when things got warm, we took her up there for a dip.
Sasha has a particular fondness for fruit and there’s a lot of fresh fruit in the Algarve countryside. Most of all though, she loves figs and these grow in abundance in the area we were in. Unfortunately for Sasha, the figs are very high in sugar and don’t help with her figure. Thankfully, us being there managed to distract her from the figs and those nice, long walks in the countryside hopefully helped to tone those thighs!
House Minding Benefits
Apart from looking after Sasha, which is obviously one of the main benefits, another important benefit to my parents was having us look after the house, water the gardens and clean the pool.
In rural areas like the Algarve, there are lots of unoccupied expat homes, often second houses or holiday homes, which are left vacant for many months of the year. These are naturally at risk to break-ins and having someone living in the house helps to prevent this. You don’t need William Wallace minding your home; even just the simple act of having the lights switched on and off regularly, having a car in the drive and having obvious figures wandering about the house and gardens is enough to put most burglars off – and the plants get watered too!
Gardening & Pool Maintenance
Regardless of the time of year, the plants and grass in Portugal nearly always need watering. While this is great when you’re living there, it obviously makes things quite difficult when you decide to take a holiday. We were given a plant-watering schedule which we carried out each day, as well as ensuring the grass was regularly watered as well. The grounds of where we were staying were quite large and often this meant more than just turning the sprinklers on – a full irrigation system was required to ensure all of the fruit trees were properly watered and cared for.
While one of us was watering the plants and grass, the other was usually cleaning the pool and handling smaller errands like collecting the mail and organising deliveries. As the one with the most pool-cleaning experience, this was usually me, but I didn’t mind – it’s quite an easygoing job being honest.
Future Algarve Housesits?
One satisfied client
Definitely. We’ve obviously got an invitation to return to the Algarve and I’m sure Sasha will be very happy to see us again. Both Jemma and I really love Portugal and would be happy to take on more house and pet sitting opportunities there in the future. It helps that we already know a bit of the area and culture, but even still it’s an area of the world we’re still very keen to see more of.
If you’re looking for a house or pet sitter in the Algarve, or anywhere throughout Portugal, don’t hesitate to get in contact with us. We’re definitely very keen to return and plan to be in the area again very soon.
It’s 2012, can you believe that? We’re barely a few hours into the new year and already it’s looking to be a very exciting year ahead – and that’s before we start talking about things like the Olympics or the Mayan calendar.
For us the start of the year is all about planning. We’re starting the year on the lookout for any house or pet sitting opportunities. We’re currently based in the UK and so have easy access to mainland Europe and the UK but are happy to consider house and pet sitting opportunities anywhere worldwide.
You may not have planned your holidays or when you’re going to be away yet – that’s no problem. We realise that many people’s house and pet sitting requirements are spread out across the whole year, a holiday here or a weekend away there. If that sounds like you, don’t hesitate to get in contact with us now – it’s a good time to introduce yourself and for us to introduce ourselves as well. Then, once you know what’s going on in your calendar a little better, you can get in contact with specific dates to house sitters that you already know - hopefully – quite well.
Anyway, happy New Year and good luck with all of the resolutions! Don’t forget you can drop us an email any time, even if it’s just to say hello. We’re also on Facebook and Twitter as well if that suits you better.