Jan 212018
 
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The House Sitting Experience

Our first house sitting experience with Trusted Housesitters

My husband and I recently completed our first house-sit with Trusted Housesitters. House sitting is a practice in which a person entrusts their home (and usually pets as well) to a sitter(s) who stays in the home while the owner is away. In return for free accommodation, the sitters look after the home and pets. In previous posts, I wrote about how we got started with house sitting and how this particular sit began with an introduction to the house, dogs, and area. How did the rest of the sit go? Would we do it again?

The Basics

We spent five weeks in a small English village on the border of Surrey and Hampshire on a several-acre property. It was a ten-minute walk into a tiny village, where there was a very traditional pub, a small but well-stocked village grocery store, an excellent Indian restaurant, a car dealership, a design shop, and a children’s clothing shop. Farther down the street from the corner which constituted the heart of the village was a village hall and a church. Larger towns were fifteen minute drives away in either direction with a number of picturesque villages in between. We looked after two smooth haired fox terriers, a 14-year-old male and an 11-year-old female.

The House Sitting Experience - a country lane near in the area

A country lane in the area

Responsibilities

Our primary responsibility was care of the dogs. This involved a daily walk, setting food out for them in the morning and at dinner time, keeping their water dishes filled, and letting them out into the fenced yard at times throughout the day. If the dogs had their daily walk, they were quite content to spend the remainder of the day resting around the house. They liked to be near us. They could be left alone in the house for a few hours, which allowed us opportunity to go out.

Other than cleaning up after ourselves, we had few other household responsibilities. We brought in the mail, watered some plants, brushed falling leaves off the patio, and cleaned up dog poo in the yard. Several bird feeders in the yard attracted a lovely variety of birds and we refilled the feeders as needed. A couple of times during our stay the owner emailed with a request to read a meter so she could respond to an email from a utility company.

The House Sitting Experience - dogs in our care

The dogs

Our Schedule

Most days we walked the dogs in the mid-afternoon before it started to get dark. If we had errands to run, we did them earlier in the day. On the days we’d planned outings to see something nearby, we took the dogs for a morning walk in case it would be too close to dusk when we returned. We attended a few evening events, but the majority of our evenings were spent at home reading or watching television.

The House Sitting Experience - in the car and ready to go

In the car and ready to go

The House Sitting Experience - heathland area where we walked the dogs

Heathland and pine woodland area five minutes from the house, our usual spot for walking the dogs

Highlights

The dogs themselves were one of the highlights of our experience. They quickly became accustomed to us and us to them. They had easy, friendly temperaments. Parts of their personalities reminded us of the dogs we used to have. They were fun to have around.

The area, part of the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Beautiful was beautiful, even in winter, with plentiful green space and woods dotted with picturesque villages.

We had a glimpse into village life and found a friendly, welcoming community. One of the home-owner’s friends invited us over for dinner. We chatted with people at the local pub. One Saturday afternoon, we mingled over appetizers and mulled wine at a special Village Cheer event designed as an opportunity to meet people new to the village. We were welcomed at the village church.

I got to experience a British Christmas. I went to Christmas markets and craft sales, one of which was a small event held one evening in the local pub. Christmas decorations made the pretty villages even more picturesque. Community carol singing seemed to be a more prevalent tradition than in Canada. We sang and laughed heartily at a carol sing-along in the pub. The candlelit carol service at the church was beautiful. And we attended our first pantomime, a uniquely British type of audience-participation musical comedy theatre popular during the Christmas season.

We visited with old friends. We had a lovely lunch in a nearby pub with friends who live an hour away. Other friends, who live in the greater London area, came and spent a couple of days with us. (We’d received permission from the home-owner to have our friends stay overnight.)

We had the opportunity to play tourist as well. There was a lot to see within a short distance: historic towns and houses, monastery ruins, art exhibitions, museums, and lovely scenery.

In between the touristy bits, we had the comforts of home. We had space. We cooked most dinners at home. I had time to write and keep up with the blog. On the day it snowed and we didn’t want to go anywhere on the icy roads, we gladly stayed in. I enjoyed British television.

The house sitting experience

A nap in the afternoon sun

Adjustments

I do not like grocery shopping at home, but I find trips to grocery stores in other countries interesting. Our first trip to the supermarket took ages as we walked all the aisles to see what was available. In the end, there was not a huge difference from what we might find at home, but we did take the opportunity to eat British lamb and cheeses.

Appliances work differently overseas. The washing machine was cold-fill, which meant the water intake into the machine is cold and the machine heats the water. Most washing machine cycles took ninety minutes to over two hours to complete. The owner had given me a brief overview of the oven before she left, but when I went to use it I realized I didn’t understand what all of the symbols on it meant. Thankfully, I found most of them on the Internet. I had to adjust recipes from the Fahrenheit temperatures used in my Canadian oven to Centigrade.

Sometimes the connection for the “on demand” television service, which made previously aired programs available for replay through the Internet, got stuck and would not load. I learned that I needed to unplug the adapter connected to the router and plug it back in again to restart the service. I had not seen this kind of setup before where adapters were plugged into a router at one end and the on-demand box on the other to use the house main wiring to transmit computer data. I turned to the Internet to figure it out. Although I enjoyed shows available from the on-demand service, it would not have been a hardship to live without it. The situation, however, did highlight how things in a house-sit home may work differently than you are used to.

And, of course, driving was on the other side (the left side) of the road. I almost didn’t mention this as an adjustment because my husband has driven in the United Kingdom before, but each trip requires a conscious awareness for a while to get used to what initially feels like being on the “wrong” side.

The Ugly

We had one absolutely horrifying experience. We lost one of the dogs. The older dog had a history of running off. We’d been warned about that, but still mistakenly let him get loose in the field behind the house one afternoon. Within a short time, he was gone and did not respond to our calls. We looked down the lanes near us and stopped at houses along his most likely path. We contacted the next door neighbour, who phoned around to vets and the police to see if someone had found him and turned him in. By bedtime, he had still not returned. We spent a sick and anxious night. The next morning, the neighbour told us our next step was to contact the dog warden’s office when it opened. I cannot properly describe the immense relief I felt when the woman at that office said they had him. Someone had found him the evening before and taken him to a local vet who’d taken him to the Stray Dogs Shelter.

We drove to the Shelter and bailed him out. He was as happy to see us as we were to see him. After that, except for when he was in the house or outside in his own enclosed yard, we kept him on a leash, even when going from the house to the car. He actually walked very well on the lead.

While he’d been lost, we had hoped someone would find him and call us. He had a collar with his name and a phone number on it. However, it turned out the phone number was the owner’s cell phone. It was not in service because she was out of the country. In future situations like this, I would likely tape a different temporary number over the engraved number. The dog was micro-chipped, but because that had been done in a foreign country prior to the owner moving back to England, the dog warden hadn’t been able to access the information. The owner was not aware this would be an issue and planned to do something about it when she returned from her vacation. We told her what had happened shortly after the incident and she had been surprisingly sympathetic. I was extremely grateful for the neighbour’s help through the ordeal. I wondered how we would have made it through a similar situation if we’d been in a non-English speaking country.

Aids

There were a number of things which helped us through this house-sit and will be factors to consider when looking at future house-sits. Our hosts were friendly and welcoming. We arrived a day before the sit and had the opportunity to meet the owner and get to know her. She provided an orientation. She left us with a multi-page detailed document of information, containing information on the workings of the house (electric, water, heating), garbage disposal, where to buy groceries, locations of key places (ATMs, doctor, vet), where to walk the dogs, and more. This proved useful when we needed to find a fuse box to reset a tripped breaker. The list also contained several emergency contacts. She introduced us to a neighbour and a friend in the village before she left. We did not feel alone.

As you may have gathered from some of the points in the article, the Internet can also be a wonderful aid.

This was not our first trip to England. We’ve visited several times. We were familiar with some word differences. And we were used to things, such as the on-off buttons on individual electrical outlets, that might have surprised us if it was our first visit. I wouldn’t rule out a house-sit because it was in a country we’d never been to, but I would consider carefully how comfortable I felt about being able to deal with day-to-day living differences.

The Verdict

House sitting comes with responsibility. Time must be scheduled around pets. You need to be prepared to handle situations where things go wrong. Housesitting is not the appropriate option for every type of trip. But in many situations, it provides the opportunity to visit a place in a relaxed, leisurely manner. It offers a local and unique experience. We were fortunate in our first experience with Trusted Housesitters. It is hard to imagine a nicer location, hosts, or pets. And the home owners were pleased with our care of the house and the dogs. Yes, we would house sit again.

The House Sitting Experience

We tried to get a portrait with dogs, but all they wanted to do was play.

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  22 Responses to “The House Sitting Experience”

  1. Donna, losing the dog for the night must have been a horrible experience. We boarded a couple of dogs one time and although we had worked everything out ahead of time, one of the dogs died in our care. That was worse than having your own dog die so I can totally empathize.
    Other than that, it sounds like a lovely way to travel – get right in there and become part of the community.

  2. Donna, I’m not sure whether I would do this or not. A lot depends on the people you are dealing with and it seems a lot of things can go wrong. On the other hand it is a really good way to be part of some place rather than just visit and go through the tourist attractions. Appreciate reading of your experiences. Made me think about it a lot.

    • Ken, we would housesit again, but I know it is not for everyone. While this is just one experience, I wanted to tell it as honestly as possible so people could think about what is involved.

  3. My heart thumped when the dog escaped! Yikes, but thank goodness for a happy ending to that story. Lessons learned on both sides as far as the phone number on the tags. Sounds like it was an all around delightful experience.

  4. Thanks for sharing your house-sitting story. I appreciated your honesty about the good parts and the responsibilities. I’m sure glad that you found the dog. OMG, that must have been one horrible night.

  5. Sounds like an interesting experience. Friends of mine house sit in Switzerland. Glad you found the dog. How scary that must have been.

  6. It sounds like you had a positive experience (except for the runaway dog!) and the house, the pets and the countryside all look lovely. We enjoyed (almost) all of our housesits experiences and found them a great way to sample local living in some wonderful places like Antigua, Guatemala, Tamarindo, Costa Rica and Curacao. I’m glad you pointed out and discussed some of the downsides in your post as the responsibility of caring for someone’s treasured pets and home is not to be taken lightly. For us, it was a win-win situation and I’m hoping that we’ll be able to resume housesitting and schedule one or two sits ourselves this year. So glad your first foreign housesit went well and here’s hoping the future holds some other terrific housesitting gigs for you as well! Anita

  7. So glad you had a good experience with your first house and pet sit. I’m sure you must have been really anxious the whole night with the missing dog. We have 2 beagles that we leave in the care of pet sitters, sometimes up to 8 or more times a year when we travel and it’s definitely a trust thing. The one thing l do insist on is the leash at all times because my bigger beagle just follows his nose :-). We’re having return sitters for a month in May. Hey Anita above..come sit for our rug rats this year. We want to go to Porto, and you’re already used to them :-).

    • Kemkem, it’s nice to hear that housesitting from the owner’s perspective has worked out for you. I agree that it is definitely a trust thing.

  8. I’ve never done house sitting, partly because I don’t like dogs (cats, on the other hand, would be fine…). But it sounds as if you had a great time and managed to become part of the community for a short while.

    • Karen,there are sits where it is a cat or cats that need looking after. Those are the ones I can’t look at because I am allergic to cats.

  9. Oh those furry ones are such responsibilities! We babysit a little beagle for our American friends in the village and my stress level and blood pressure are always up because I am in a constant fret state about her health and safety. I got a good laugh out of your C to F conversions as I have the same thing in reverse in Greece!

    • Jackie, there certainly is responsibility that comes with house sitting. I did worry about the dogs, but it wasn’t overly stressful.

  10. This is a wonderful experience. I’ve heard so much about this. Glad you got the other dog back.

    • Bola, it was a wonderful experience. I too heard much about housesitting before doing it myself. What I read prepared me in many ways.

  11. Yay! Despite the dog escape, it sounds like all went well. I loved hearing about your experience (and your tips) because this is something I’ve considered. Your tips are very helpful.

    • Cindy, I’m glad you found this helpful. I’d wondered about the overall house sitting experience before I did it and wanted to share information about the kinds of things I’d wondered about.

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