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When looking explore somewhere new, most people consider hotels or Airbnbs for their accommodation. Madolline Gourley, on the other hand, looks for houses with cats.
Day to day, 31-year-old Madolline works as a government contractor in Brisbane, Australia. It was at work one day in 2017 when Madolline heard about another employee who ‘lived out of a suitcase’, and found accommodation by cat sitting for other people in the area.
Intrigued by the idea, Madolline went home and Googled ‘house sitting’, where she came across a number of websites advertising the opportunities. In October that year, Madolline signed up to one of the websites and officially kicked off her hobby of catsitting.
One of the first adverts she saw on the site was looking for someone to care for a home and cat in San Francisco while the owners went away over Christmas. Taking a ‘why not?’ approach, Madolline applied, organised a Skype session with the owners, and was quickly confirmed as their chosen housesitter.
After doing some travelling in the US, Madolline arrived in downtown San Francisco and proceeded to care for the couple’s tuxedo cat for about 10 days. Recalling the experience to UNILAD, the 31-year-old said that while she ‘didn’t really know what to expect’, she had been given some information ahead of time through a ‘guide’ sent out by the owners.
They seemed like really nice, genuine people, and I was fortunate to get my first house and cat sit through them. Had the experience have gone, or ended, poorly, I probably wouldn’t have considered another international house and catsit.
This couple definitely helped shape my experience and made me keen to try it again.
In the years since her first experience, Madolline has gone on to catsit in homes in New York City, Boston, Seattle, Santa Fe and Cincinnati in the US, as well as in Tasmania, Darwin and Sydney in Australia.
She admits that she ‘wouldn’t have gone on these holidays if it wasn’t for housesitting opportunities’, but told UNILAD that she has saved close to $30,000 AUD (£16,722) by staying in other people’s homes instead of having to pay for accommodation.
One of the homes I stayed in, up in the Boulder mountains, was on a small bit of land. It had been architecturally designed and was one of those ‘no expenses spared’ homes – even the showers had filtered water.
I remember looking at properties in the area on AirBnB for the time I went and it was about $10,000 AUD for the time I stayed. There’s no way I would – or could – pay this much for a holiday rental so I feel fortunate to have been able to stay in such a property for almost nothing.
The cat sitter isn’t paid for her time looking after other people’s pets, but feels that the opportunity to explore new places is a fair exchange for the work. She has also pointed out that being paid for jobs in the US would violate her tourist visa, making her stay in the country illegal.
Those looking to travel through house sitting can choose to look after a range of animals, from dogs and birds to sheep, chickens and llamas, but Madolline prefers to stick with cats as they tend to be more low-maintenance.
Sometimes roles can come with more work than initially revealed on the listing, but most of the experiences Madolline has taken on have simply involved feeding the cat a couple of times a day, cleaning out the litter tray and changing the water, as well as a few household tasks such as caring for the garden and cleaning up after herself.
While some of her friends think the concept of staying in someone else’s home is ‘weird’, with some joking Madolline would ‘get murdered’ or be taped with hidden cameras, the catsitter expressed her belief that it’s no stranger than renting a room in someone’s home on Airbnb.
The jobs can last from anywhere between one night to six months or more, though opportunities dwindled following the coronavirus outbreak, which prompted people to stay at home and limited chances to travel.
With the notion of travelling to the US again out of the question, the outbreak encouraged Madolline to think about where she would like to visit in her home country. She ended up spending Christmas catsitting in Darwin, a city she ‘wouldn’t have ever considered pre-COVID’, and enjoyed feeling like a local as she spent a month in the area.
She has since cared for a cat in Sydney, and would ‘happily return’ again and again until overseas travel opens up again.
For anyone else looking to get into the catsitting game, Madolline has shared advice on her blog and encouraged people to ‘just go for it’. She pointed out that she didn’t have any experience when she first began taking on housesits, though stressed the importance that those looking to follow in her footsteps should ‘actually like pets and have experience with the animals they are going to be caring for.’
She commented: ‘I don’t feel comfortable applying for sits with any other animal(s) simply because I have only ever owned cats. I don’t think it’s right to offer your services in exchange for a free place to stay if you’ve never cared for that particular animal before. Most of the time people are seeking you out because they want live-in pet care. Not a live-in housekeeper.’
If you’re an animal lover with wanderlust, however, Madolline has recommended the site TrustedHousesitters as a good place to start for those with no experience, as it allows users to include character references to help those looking for a sitter find someone they trust.
In return, homeowners may ask for a video chat to get to know the person staying in their home and help establish a sense of trust. Madolline noted that while calls ‘can be awkward at first’, they are only similar to virtual job interviews that have become commonplace during the coronavirus pandemic.
Having had so much success with her cat sitting experiences in the past, Madolline is now looking forward to her future opportunities and is keen to explore Perth, Katoomba in the Blue Mountains and other parts of Tasmania, as well as New Zealand, Singapore and Japan if she gets the chance.
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