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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?
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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