Make Yourself At Home

I try not to sweat the small stuff.  Really I do.  But when I leave home, and leave my menagerie in the care of a house sitter, I am nothing if not explicit.  The directions for the care and feeding of my four dogs and two horses (the cat got a reprieve from his Boston eviction until May 9th) come to a total of four printed pages, small font, single spaced with nice paragraph indentations and bold headers like EMERGENCY!!   A walk through prior to the departure date is mandatory, to demonstrate the intricacies of the garage door and the cable TV.  The house sitter is equipped for every possible natural disaster. The keys to the van, already loaded with dog crates, are left on the kitchen counter and the van itself has enough water, canned goods, leashes and dog food to last a good month. Thermal blankets are located behind the driver’s seat, just in case hell freezes over here in sunny Southern California.  Flashlights are industrial quality, and batteries are included.  You could say that I am a “Be Prepared” kind of person.

Last week the rare occasion occurred where my husband and I had different trips planned at the same time.  He was going to Japan on business, and I had plans to meet a friend in Albuquerque for a three day getaway.  I tried to round up the usual suspects for housesitting, but all were previously booked. So rather than cancel my trip, I took the plunge and hired someone new.  She came over a week before the trip, loved the animals, memorized their names quickly, and took notes on top of my printed instructions.  She said she would leave her own dogs at home with her daughter and that she had no prior commitments during the time that I was to be gone.  I left home with a sense of relief that finally, I had found the right person for the job, and my parting words were, “Use the latches on the doors leading to the living room and please do NOT let those dogs pee on my brand new living room carpet!”

As I pulled through the gate onto my own driveway on Saturday night, the first thing I noticed was the horse trailer sitting inside.  A horse trailer?  My horses haven’t traveled in years.  I briefly considered peeking inside the trailer, but I could see my own horses down at the barn, and decided to go inside.  My dogs were lying down, relaxed, fed and happy–no worse for the wear.  So far so good.  My house sitter was seated at the kitchen table.  She beamed at me and said, “I enjoyed staying at your house SO much!  It was like having a vacation.  I should be paying YOU to stay here!”  She then elaborated, “I hope you don’t mind that I brought my horse over.  He didn’t get along with the white one so much, but he was fine with the chestnut!”  Seeing my look of surprise, she said, “I only wanted to take a little ride up the street to see the neighborhood.  I hope that was okay.”  I nodded numbly, wondering how far behind my horses were on their vaccinations.  She then went on cheerfully, “The dogs all got along great—my Great Pyrenees managed to go swimming in the muddy stream, so my daughter and I had to hose him down with the garden hose but we got him clean, and washed all the towels.”  I resisted the urge to run look at the certain hairballs in the washer and dryer.  She stood up and said, “I’ll come back ANYTIME!”  As she walked out she grabbed a large blue accordion that I had somehow missed on the way in.  She smiled and declared, “The dogs loved my music!”

As the horse trailer crunched out the driveway, I decided to have a look in the living room.  The stampede of pawprints were unmistakable, as were the large yellow spots on the white carpet that kept me occupied until around nine pm, when the sound of geysers through my open kitchen window led me outside. A trail of broken sprinkler heads crushed by the wheels of the swaying horse trailer created a fountain effect not entirely dissimilar to the fountains at Bellagio.  Unfortunately the water was not falling on the grass.

Multiple applications of pet odor and stain remover plus one brand new Bissell vacuum later, along with a hefty repair bill for the sprinkler system, parts and labor, all is well with the world.  My traveling companion said, “Did you call her?  Did you yell at her? What did you say??”  I shook my head.  As I said, I try not to sweat the small stuff.  After all, the “kids” are all right.  Anybody know a good house sitter?


  1. You, and all my married friends, have been TOO spoiled with your ability to leave home and have the animals looked after by a family member. Yes, I know they’re not perfect, but they’re FREE.

    Any travel that I do is completely dependent on having a good housesitter. And the housesitter is often my biggest expense when I travel. So finding a good housesitter is often the impetus for a sudden surge in travel plans as I try to take advantage of the freedom to leave home.

    But it’s always temporary. By it’s very nature, housesitting is done by someone who doesn’t mind leaving their own home and who needs the money. Any housesitter who fits that bill – AND who is also intelligent, responsible and good with animals – is invariably on an upward path. As they improve their own lives – making money, settling down – they will gradually be less available and the hunt for a safe person starts all over again.

    That would be why I am presently making plans to travel in May, June and July this year. I can already see that my housesitter’s living situation is changing and improving, so I’d better leave town when I can!

    Yes, that is one reason why I am coming to visit you in May. Because, for the moment, I CAN.

    1. Hmmmmmm. Family members doing it for free? I wouldn’t exactly say that……there are other ways of measuring cost than dollars! M

  2. I’m laughing and crying for you! Here is my suggestion. Surveillance cameras everywhere (the kind you can check from your phone) and Miniature Dachshunds going forward (the size that fit under a seat). Ohhhh, your new carpet!!!


  3. Anyone with any intelligence would be aware that you care about your pets and your belongings (new carpet!) Your house sitter got away easy, and should get a bill for the damage done, but that is your call of course. People can be astounding at times!

  4. OMG I guess what you tell them NOT to do is just as important as the TO DO list. Who would have thought? Maybe a final walk-through was a good idea – subtracting her pay for damages. I dunno. The real challenge will be when someone calls you for a “reference” this person. Hmmmm

  5. Too bad you don’t live on Cape Cod. I have a wonderful woman here. (Our horses live across the aisle from each other at the barn where we both board.) Her petsitting business has grown so large that she has had to give up her seasonal day job to accommodate her clients’ needs. Maybe it’s a case of seeing the business as an end rather than a means to it.

  6. I am seeing a new retirement career, forget that stint at a Wal-Mart greeter, I am going to hire myself out as a house/pet sitter with common sense & experience!

    I am not sure which is worse, the carpet or the sprinklers, but then perhaps it is the “just moving in with all my stuff” attitude.

    Some of my kids have been pet sitters, they now understand why Mom & Dad want the house clean before we leave on a trip. By taking care of many people’s pets in many different homes they have realized just how differently each person sets their standards.

    I am very grateful that I have a dog friend with whom I can trade off, she is as careful as I am.

  7. Good grief. How clueless. “She said she would leave her own dogs at home”, and a liar to boot.

  8. Margaret, as another single woman, you are spot on! I just know I am going to spend X more in dollars for any vacation I take, compared to my friends. I have been pretty lucky so far in that the animals always seem happy and no worse for the wear. I do feel a bit badly for them in that I leave pages of instructions and notes all over – sticky notes – indicating where in the cupboard which parrot’s food is, which gates to leave open and closed when gone during day/asleep at night, and who can go out in the backyard together and ALWAYS tie the terrier out! Ever since she got that chicken she is not to be trusted!

  9. You can imagine what problems our household presents. Our last sitter (note to self: be very careful hiring somebody in- house who can talk only about (1) her accidents, apparently ongoing, and her “rehab” (ditto) ), somehow got Lashyn into the library, where she hasn’t been for years, to pee three times, then left the stains uncleaned with no more than a note asking us to forgive the DOG!

    Best sitters were the kids til they moved Deep Springs, a pre- vet student until she moved, and a retired Special Forces guy whose cleaning habits were so anal Lib suggests we hire him as a maid. He laundered the dogs and groomed them til they looked like Mary Tyler Moore, and threw out all our Szechuan veg and kimchee because it “smelled rotten”– still a small price to pay for live animals and no pee on the Afghan rugs!

    1. Steve, if your kids ever want to vacation in San Diego, let me know! Barring that, send me the Special Forces guy. I’ll arrange to be away. M

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