In 2017, Zoe Mac quit her Santa Barbara job, gave up her apartment, and set out to see more of the world. A few months and one broken ankle later (not pet-related!), she found herself volunteering at a cat hotel in Sweden.
“It turns out that a cat’s purr, at exactly 25hz and 50hz, is the perfect frequency for healing bones,” she quips, and so it made purr-fect sense to take up her next referral: to care for Egyptian Mau cats in the Netherlands. The genes of these lithe, fine-boned cats date back thousands of years—but they launched Zoe forward, into a nearly full-time career staying in exotic destinations to keep pets company while their owners are away from home. Soon, she was browsing a subscription-based app, TrustedHousesitters.com, to apply for ‘sits’ in Curacao or Capetown, for example.
Now 46, Zoe has worked with pet owners on five continents, expanding her repertoire to include dogs (and once, a chameleon), as well as cats. Having a free place to stay helps her live more like a local in each destination, she says, allowing her to focus on her work as a travel writer and quantum life coach.
TIP 1: Choose a site or service, and check it regularly.
Several sites help match would-be pet sitters with pet owners, including TrustedHousesitters.com (annual subscription required), Care.com (premium memberships available), MindMyHouse.com ($20 registration), and PetSit.com (annual fee + discounts on group-rate insurance). “I use TrustedHousesitters.com almost exclusively and check it twice a day,” Zoe explains. The “good” sits—at a beach-front property in Adelaide, for example—can attract dozens of applications quickly, and you want yours to be among the first.
TIP 2: Find local sits and build up great reviews.
Your reputation is gold on pet-sitting sites, Zoe explains, and the fastest way to demonstrate you’re among the best is to stack up five-star reviews, even if they’re from your neighbors or family members. Some sites allow you to boost your credentials by including external recommendations, from a landlord, say, or a property manager. “What homeowners want to vibe on is that when you get there, it will be clear that you really love their animals.”
TIP 3: Read sit requests closely, and write a thoughtful cover letter.
“Address anything they’ve raised,” Zoe recommends. If a cat needs medication, mention your experience with medications or special diets and that you’re ready to administer them. “If their dog can’t be left alone longer than 4 hours, for example, I’ve added, ‘I’ve been to this city before, so I’m not there to sightsee.’” And if you’re retired with few outside commitments, by all means, say it: Your extra time will be spent with the pet. Post-COVID, be sure your pet-sitting profile and communications also indicate that you keep current with precautions for health and safety while traveling.
TIP 4: Schedule a video call or, if nearby, make a visit before you commit.
“Make sure you take time to meet the person beforehand if you can—even if it is just for a half-hour to sign off before you “move in,” suggests Leslie Westbrook, 66, an auction liaison with clients all over the world. This helps clear up what’s expected of you, beyond what’s described online. If a client won’t agree to a video call, it can fly a red flag, especially for an international sit. You don’t want to invest in travel to a destination only to discover that home conditions or job requirements weren’t accurate.
TIP 5: Do your homework on each location and transportation.
Beyond travel expenses, consider what kind of transportation you’ll need to have a successful stay, Leslie suggests. “I do sits that I can drive to, so I’ll have my own vehicle to visit friends in the area.” For long-distance travel, Zoe suggests negotiating with homeowners if the length of the stay will result in a costly car rental. “Homeowners can easily insure an additional driver, and if they’re able to trust a sitter with a beloved pet, it’s often the case that they can trust you with the car as well.”
Then, plan ahead, knowing homeowners appreciate regular contact. “I find it very risky when a pet sitter waits too long to purchase a plane ticket or arrange transportation to my home,” explains Chantae Reden, a writer and photographer who lives in Fiji and has hired several sitters for her feline, Pizzakat. “I’ve had petsitters simply not show up or cancel at the last minute, leaving me scrambling to find pet care. My best sits have been arranged with clear timelines and tickets in hand. Some pet sitters prefer to arrive a day early to ensure a smooth changeover.”
TIP 6: Remember who is ‘king’ of the castle.
“You’re not there to toss some kibble on the floor and take off for the beach for the day,” Chantae adds. “My number one piece of advice is to really research the location before you apply for a sit,” she writes. “In Fiji, for example, it’s common for the power and water to go out, and we are quite far from a postcard-worthy beach. It means a lot when a pet sitter is interested in my animal and where I live.” Copy-and-paste messages such as, “I’m available,” are always an instant “No” for her, because each situation is different. “A perfect pet sitter lets me know they’ve read my profile, the experience they’ve had with other pets, and that they are seriously interested in being considered.”
TIP 7: Say something nice, or nothing at all (in your reviews).
Pet-sitting sites run on reviews both from pet owners and pet sitters, and giving negative reviews can dramatically affect future success on the site. There may be times when a situation doesn’t work out as planned, though, Zoe says, as when she had difficulty safely controlling under-trained young dogs.
“If there’s something not quite right about a stay, I address it with the homeowner directly, then follow what I think is the unspoken standard online: I don’t leave any review at all.” Homeowners who rack up a series of “no reviews” from past sitters eventually call attention to themselves, she explains, alerting prospective sitters to proceed with more caution.
In all, pet-sitting often amplifies the benefits of travel, Leslie concludes. “I don’t have pets of my own, so I get my “fix” caring for pets in each of my stays, and I enjoy the nice, quiet space to work, ”Zoe adds that the attachment can run deeper. “I take a lot of pictures to send to pet owners—and even have an Instagram account for animals—which makes me, I guess, a nomad, crazy, animal person! It feels like a big honor to treat animals as though they’re your own and spoil them a little—like being the fun auntie who comes to town.
“In all seriousness, pet-sitting has taught me how to open up my heart again,” she admits. “I fall in love very quickly, and I let myself—and that’s something I haven’t quite figured out how to do with humans.”
About the Writer
Kristine Kopperud Jepsen is a writer, farm founder, and death doula hellbent on facilitating creative legacy projects. Her work explores the texture of human intentions as they intersect with our animal instincts, and appears in journals and anthologies in print and online. More at kristinejepsen.com.