Sit, Stay, Thrive: A Guide to Seeing the World, Making Money, and Caring for Creatures

I recently realized, in casual conversation with a family member, that I am a hard-core, long-term dog walker, house sitter, and cat caretaker. I have had sole responsibility for more animals owned by other people than I have personally owned in my life time.

At the moment, I am marooned in Ethel, Ontario, due to road and highway closures across Southwestern Ontario – which is not so bad given the ongoing availability of wine and my two adopted dogs, Sandy and Maggie. I had to turn down two other dog sitting assignments with my doggie companions Gracie and Laika to partake of this rural retreat. Gracie will not be wanting for my attentions, however, as I’m scheduled to take up her daily dog walking activities this week.

People have often asked me how I’ve risen to the top of many speed dial phone numbers for people traveling and in need of assistance for their pets. Getting your foot in the door (literally) is always the most difficult part – but my #1 recommendation is to network through family and friends to find people willing to pay for pet-related services. Anonymous ads on Kijiji do not quite make the cut. Your name will, however, circulate and gain recognition with more experience. My #2 recommendation is to be totally flexible, humble, and honest in your approach to the pet-sitting assignment.

Honestly, pet-sitting can be very stressful because you’re required to change your entire schedule to cater to someone else’s pet (which will have its own set routines and behaviors). You will have periods where no one needs your help and extensive chunks of time where everyone wants you available (especially around holidays). I have also had to be okay with staying in cold/hot urban environments, sometimes with a sick or precocious pet, when the people I’m house sitting for are traveling to the beautiful and relaxing landscapes of New Zealand, Costa Rica, or Sweden.

You should also add in multiple free services, at no cost to the pet owner, when you’re house sitting. People appreciate being able to leave their pets in the comfort of their own home, and if you’re firm with your prices you can get a decent rate while enjoying the luxuries of another person’s property. Consequently, don’t be stingy about offering to pick up mail, vacuum the house, or shovel the driveway when there’s snowfall (though do ask about the size of the driveway prior to agreeing to this last service!). Sending a daily update (via email or text) to the pet owner can also reassure them that their pet and property are safe and healthy.

If you are savvy at picking and choosing your house sitting gigs, you can turn it into a fulfilling hobby and/or lifestyle. This Christmas season I’ve had the pleasure of staying on a quiet rural property equipped with an in-home movie theatre, private gym, hot tub, and surrounding forests, but I’ll be going back to a rented apartment where I live permanently. One of my fellow bloggers, who pens the enthralling and intelligent blog Travels with the Blonde Coyote, lived for seven years out of her car while moving between house sitting jobs (see her travel story here). Although she eventually bought and now lives out of a trailer, this is one of the best methods that I have seen for avoiding high real estate costs and other luxuries while simultaneously making a little bit of money (tax free) on the side. I cannot deny that this lifestyle comes with its own unique challenges, stresses, and upsets; however, it is unique and offers an equivalent number of perks and highlights.

In summary, my chronicle of house and pet sitting adventures could probably span the length of a novel. It’s a fun way to see new parts of the world, make money, and spend time with pets all without the long-term commitment of owning any concrete assets. Networking with known contacts, being available and honest in your assignment, and adding in multiple free services (including a daily update on the property/pet) can all be effective strategies for becoming a popular and in-demand pet-sitter extraordinaire.

Scroll down to view a few images from my house sitting experiences in Ethel, Ontario!

A hike in a snowy wood.
A hike in a snowy wood.
Snowshoes; the ultimate in travel accessories.
Snowshoes; the ultimate in travel accessories.
You may make new friends in your journeys.
You may make new friends in your journeys.
The December 2013 ice storm added visual pleasure to my hikes.
The December 2013 ice storm added visual pleasure to my hikes.
A contrast in shades.
A contrast in shades.
I happened across a cemetery on my hike.
I happened across a mysterious cemetery on my hike.
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