I grew up on a farm, so animal care is second nature. When my last pet passed on and I had sold my house, I moved into an apartment. My decision to seek a new community and my enjoyment of pets are the reasons I decided to list with housecareers.com.
No two homes are the same. I was motivated to modify my personal tips list/checklist after a house-sit where the owners promised, but failed to leave a list of instructions, contact numbers, or sufficient food and supplies. I did find solutions to the problems - and everyone thrived.
I am limiting my comments to short term situations - three months or less. I cannot imagine the pain of having to leave a pet for longer than three months. Longer assignments bring up bonding and other issues, which are an entirely different article.
1. Examine your motives. Why do you want to house/pet sit? Do available opportunities fit your motives? Is the assignment for as long as you would ideally be available? What is your initial gut reaction to the assignment?
2. Location. What do you know about your intended location? Have you researched the neighborhoods of the communities where you intend to live? Are you close enough to visit before accepting the assignment? Is the home you will live in near transportation or will you need a car? I recently accepted an assignment in Inwood Hill in Manhattan, NY. I knew I wanted to be near Inwood Hill Park to explore the old growth forest. This would not have been the right location if I had planned to spend my time shopping, attending museums or the theatre.
3. Animal care. For me, animal care is the bottom line. Pets are dependent upon me while their human companions are gone. Many dog owners will ask you to walk their dogs twice a day. That's really not enough. Will the dogs need exercise, medication, special food, or grooming? Will you need to drive the dogs to a dog park or for veterinary treatments? What are the local leash/poop scoop laws? Is the neighborhood safe for walking at dawn or late night? I can administer medication to dogs, cats and horses, but not birds. I cannot lift a dog weighing 50 lbs or more. These are important details.
4. House Rules. Will you be responsible for house work, laundering animal bedding, purchasing and/or picking up supplies, or duties outside normal daily living? Who else in the homeowner's life has keys to the premises? Will you be expecting to receive packages or have visitors? Who in your life will have this address?
5. Infrastructure. Who handles mail, lawn care, snow removal, garbage removal or other property-related responsibilities? Can you physically operate the machinery?
6. Communication. I now insist on a written list in advance of walking into the home. On that list I want to know contact information for the homeowner or for the local "GO TO" person if I have questions. I want to know the medicine, feeding, walking routine, the name of the food and medication, the name of the vet, the pet store and other important information the building super or handyman. I want to know where the fuse box is, and where the main water valve, sump pump, lawn mower or other household items I need to use are located.
7. Contingency. In the event of a medical emergency, are there pet carriers and a way to get to the vet? Is there a pet ambulance in the community? In the event of fire or flood or any other major emergency, who is closest to the homeowner? Who is authorized to make legal or financial decisions?
8. Daily routine - job/class. If you are taking a day job, freelance job or class, will the work hours allow you to care for the pets in the home? If you need additional help or if you are delayed is there someone who can help out?
9. Exit Strategy. I tend to be tidy. I routinely wipe counter tops, wash dishes, vacuum and keep my living area clean, no matter where I am living. I like to leave a clean house for the person who let me use their space, so if I am using their towels, linens, dishes and other household items, I ensure everything is clean and put away. I make sure that if I leave food behind, it is fresh and something the homeowner would or could use upon arriving home, like coffee, milk, cereal or yoghurt.
10. Odds and Ends. Often I am house-sitting for people who cannot email or phone while they travel. If I can communicate, I do send an email and let them know how their pets are faring.
To me, pet comfort and well-being is the bottom line. I will not accept an assignment if I am unable to provide that. I like to meet the animals beforehand. But if I cannot, then I like to see photos and at least spend phone time with the people. Nothing beats good communication with the people and animals involved to ensure a successful experience for everyone.