Finding the right house and pet sitter

Private Property South Africa
Kerry Dimmer

Finding the right, and responsible, person to look after your pets and home while on holiday is tricky; but it works both ways.

In her student days, and to make a bit of extra money, my daughter became a pet/house-sitter. The idea of being able to escape to a property that didn’t have a parent in control, also appealed. It was largely her ‘I’m for animals’ attitude that made her a popular house-sitter, and as word got out, she found herself recruiting friends for jobs she couldn’t take on.

Pet-sitting, so my daughter tells me, is the most important aspect of house-sitting. Confused by the long absence of their owner’s, well-loved and tended pets tend to need more attention, and they are best left in their familiar environment, rather than going to a strange kennel.

Many pet owners realise that kenneling is stressful for their animals, especially cats whose free-roaming nature necessitates them being essentially locked-up, unable to roam or explore, and worse, the re-introduction of a litterbox, which all cats would tell you if they could, is undignified in that their ‘mess’ is now on view. Dogs fare better, but these are less-picky personalities that tend not to mind where they poop.

Another emotion that influences the decision to kennel or not, is cost, which has to be factored into the overall holiday expenses, and it’s not cheap. With holiday budgets more restricted than ever as the Rand buys us less and less, holidaymakers are already downsizing from their previous years’ more luxurious stays to affordable alternatives. This opens up a much bigger market for house- and particularly, pet-sitters, and for students, it can be rather lucrative.

My daughter’s first house-sit appeared to be a standard expectation. The requirements included: sleeping on the property every night; feeding and caring for the pets; and ensuring the property was occupied. In return she received a daily rate, and food from the home-owners larder.

What she wasn’t made aware of, was that she was being watched. The home was fitted with security camera’s that the owners accessed through their mobile phones in almost paranoiac fashion. She received up to 10 phone calls from the owners on the first day: please turn on the pool pump; ‘Fido’ needs to go outside; please wash your dishes immediately as we have an ant problem; you’ve left the outside light on; etc

That these may have been genuine concerns was one thing, but that her every move was being recorded was creepy. As the daily call demands from the owners escalated – including that she should be home by 10pm if she went out and that she couldn’t go out two nights in a row – she decided that the owners needed some boundaries.

Rules, she rationalised, could be applied both ways. There were things she was prepared to do, even go the extra mile when necessary, but there were certainly limits on the extent of her responsibilities as a house/pet-sitter.

She thus created her own ‘rule-book’, which might appear to be standard, but it was surprising how well received it was by home-owners considering her service.

Generally the expectations from both sides need to be clarified upfront, and during the interview process. Where there are unusual requirements, these need to be listed with full instructions.

This was my daughter’s rule-book, clearly indicating what she was, and was not, prepared to do during house/pet-sitting occupation.

  1. Feed dogs and cats, inclusive of ensuring daily fresh water supplies, according to pet-owners usual schedule
  2. Walk and play time with pets; off-property walks pre-determined by owners (be that time or where such walks should be), and only in daylight hours
  3. Transport pets to a vet; the owner must ensure an open account with the vet so there are no costs to the pet-sitter; and provide all contact details inclusive of after-hours emergency vet
  4. Administer medicines to pets, as per vet instructions
  5. Water household plants
  6. Sleep on the property; inclusive of alarms being activated and de-activated
  7. One meal for house/pet-sitter a day, provided by the home-owner. (This may be in the form of cash and is on top of the daily rate)
  8. Will supervise only any property staff chores (gardener, house-keeper), if the home-owner can provide a list of such chores
  9. Not prepared to vacuum, dust, polish or do general household cleaning but will ensure the area’s used are kept tidy
  10. Will not host any parties but may request to have a friend over
  11. Requires all valuables to be securely locked away, and home-owner to indicate what daily utensils/crockery can or cannot be used
  12. Not prepared to source plumbers, electricians or other household maintenance specialists, but is prepared to ensure on-site access to such approved technicians
  13. Not prepared to allow anyone access to the property unless proper authorisation has been given by the home-owners
  14. Will not pay homeowner accounts, or staff
  15. If pay-as-you-use metering systems (such as electricity and water), are in place, home-owner must ensure usage is sufficient for the amount of time they are away
  16. Will not mow the lawn nor undertake gardening, but will water the garden if required and operate any irrigation/pool systems if instructions are provided
  17. It is understood that the pet/house-sitter may leave the premises from time to time, but will ensure that any pet/home schedules are adhered to.
  18. Home-owner to disclose if the pet/house-sitter’s activities are being monitored by camera or other, to ensure a certain amount of privacy.
  19. Will provide a texted daily report to home-owners.
  20. 50% of agreed-to daily fee to be paid upfront, the balance on the day of the return of the property owners.
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