Last June, Minneapolis native Anne Estes sold her car and all her furniture and decided to see the world. Her budget was tight, so she decided to make her dollars go further by trading free lodging in exchange for pet-sitting.
That's right: Estes financed her adventures by looking after a dog, a cat, rabbits, guinea pigs and chickens. So far, she's had two monthlong gigs in rural Ireland and London, but we caught up with her in Buenos Aires, where she's taking a break from the animals while enjoying the Argentine summer and learning Spanish.
You can read about her adventures on her blog, www.globetrottinganne.blogspot.com.
Q How did you get the idea to finance your travels by taking care of other people's pets?
A A few summers ago, I spent some time volunteering on an organic sheep ranch in Cut Bank, Montana, a position I found through the Caretaker Gazette website [www.caretaker.org]. I took what I learned from that experience and applied it to my next endeavor: house-sitting in a better-researched location while the owner is away.
I also checked housecarers. com and began applying to any "job" that looked interesting. My experience on the ranch enabled me to assure pet owners that I was quite capable. It turned out that I only heard back from pet owners, thus turning me into a pet sitter.
So far I have pet-sat in Ireland, in a small town called Kinvarra, near Galway, where I tended to rabbits, a guinea pig and 11 chickens. In London, I took care of a dog and a cat.
Q What's it like taking care of someone else's pets?
A With pet-sitting, you are stepping into the pet owner's life, which can be an odd sensation for the first few days. In Ireland, the owners' home was a quaint little cottage where I made myself at home, but it was in a rural location and I felt quite isolated. It took me a few days to even build up the confidence to walk on the road (a few people were hit and killed by motorists in the area during the pet-sit, so this wasn't just paranoia).
So while I was adjusting to the country life, I was also getting into the swing of things with the animals. At first, I found the chickens rather annoying -- they would follow me everywhere, thinking I had food, balking loudly; they would try to come into the house. If I sat outside to read, they would perch themselves all over the lawn chair. But as time wore on, I was very thankful for these chickens -- they laid their eggs willingly, every day, only to have them taken away and enjoyed by everyone.
My pet-sit in London was completely different. I was staying in a flat in the middle of the hustle and bustle. It was more of a job since I obviously had to play a very active role in caring for the animals. At first I found this a little annoying; I suddenly had to walk the dog several times a day and if I slacked on my duties, I felt extremely guilty. But he became my little companion.
The London cat was a Himalayan and the more I got to know him, the more he bugged me. He was very dominant and would wrestle with the dog and hit my face with his paws if he wanted to wake me up or eat my yogurt.
Q Has pet-sitting allowed you to see the places you are living in a way you wouldn't get to as an ordinary tourist?
A Definitely. In Ireland I was somewhat living like a local, spending time with the owners before they went on vacation, getting to know the neighbors, stepping into someone else's routine in a rural setting. I didn't have the barriers that are put up for a tourist's comfort. I had to walk that busy road just like anybody else.
In London, taking care of a dog taught me quite a bit about London dog culture (I heard lots of gossip about other dogs and their owners!). I was able to see the city not only through the owner's eyes, but also through a dog's perspective, an experience I'd never had while traveling as a tourist.
Q Did you have to have a background check?
A The pet owners and I first made contact through e-mail; I read their ad posted on housecarers.com, sent an e-mail and then they e-mailed back, letting me know they were interested, but that there were some other candidates. After more e-mail exchanges, I spoke to both owners on the phone. I gave a few names and phone numbers as references, and that was it. They both said they felt comfortable with me, so I suppose it was more of a gut-check than anything very formal.
Q Would you recommend pet-sitting to other people?
A I would recommend this experience to anyone who is willing to put themselves out there with an open mind, has a taste for adventure and is able to step outside of their comfort zone. I wouldn't say you have to be an animal lover, but you must care about animals and realize that they truly are the priority rather than just a minor responsibility on the side. The biggest sacrifice of the work is the amount of mental energy that is spent thinking about the animals' well-being when you want to be seeing the city or countryside you're in. That's not much of a sacrifice, but it does put a spin on the usual self-indulgent travel experience.
Elizabeth Larsen • 612-673-7110