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Practical Dilemmas

by Tom Hill, 17th February 2012

The intrepid blogger Tom Hill shares with us his lesson’s learnt on this, his 30th house sit. Features three loveable doggies, a Land Rover and a healthy dose of owner-sitter communication.

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As seasoned professional house sitters, there have been a few occasions when it’s been necessary for us to make difficult judgements or practical decisions, which can sometimes lead to a lose / lose situation, benefitting neither party, as opposed to the usual good karma of win / win, which is the goal to which all good house sitters should aim.

What happens if the house sit circumstances change to your disadvantage only days before the assignment is due to commence?

This has happened to us three times in the last year, once very recently, and it can create something of a difficult dilemma; you might suddenly decide that you no longer wish to go ahead with the house sit, but the assignment is due to commence in a matter of days.

The last thing a house sitter should ever do is to let down their client at the last minute, and if you’re being paid, it makes the problem all the more sticky as there’s a contractual agreement, so what action should a house sitter take in such circumstances?

Here’s what happened to us recently. The home owner neglected to inform us of a fundamental change in the routine of the house sit only three days before the assignment was due to start; we had previously worked for this client four times over the past three years, for two to three weeks at a time very successfully.

The home owner had three dogs, including one HUGE dozy loveable Newfoundland terrier, and on the previous four occasions we had used the client’s old Land Rover to take the crazy canines to the large public park 3 miles distant for their twice daily exercise.

At the original pre-assignment visit, the client had told us that the doggies pulled like crazy on their leads (oh yes and they did!), but that they could be walked ‘off lead’ to the nearby woods if we preferred. This route necessitated walking next to a suburban road for quite a stretch, and then the woods contained a huge stagnant pond, which the dogs would love to dive into at the first opportunity.

As a result, walking the dogs without the use of a car meant the twice-daily worry of the dogs running in front of a bus, (we had a car swerve on the first day), then having to clean wash and dry them every time we returned from the woods.

The preferable alternative was to use the old Land Rover to take the furry fiends to the huge clean open park where the doggies could chase balls for as long as they wanted, safely off their leads. For the first three assignments, this became our routine and all went well. Our clients were happy with our services and we love the three dogs like our own.

At time of writing, we are booked in for another assignment with this client due to start in three days. In a casual confirmatory exchange of e-mails two days ago she mentioned :

“. . . I got rid of my old Land Rover last winter, and we’re taking the other car on holiday this time, I hope that’s all right”

Well for us it wasn’t all right. As professional sitters we have our entire life in a great big Nissan Navara 4 x 4 pickup truck with a large caravan behind. The load area is far too high for dogs (especially 60kg Newfies) to jump into, has no windows and a solid steel opaque rear door. The rear passenger area of the car is leather upholstered and quite swish, not big enough for three dogs, and especially unsuitable for them to jump into after a run on the wet park. The car cost us
£15 000 and we have only owned it for a matter of weeks.

We phoned the client who just said: “Well, sorry, there’s nothing we can do, you’ll have to use your car or take them along the road to the woods.”

I explained that I was really worried about the dogs getting run over and that cleaning them twice daily of stagnant stinking sticky mud was a lot of work, and that we were disappointed that she hadn’t informed us when she’d sold the Land Rover that the house sit would fundamentally change.

Here’s the dilemma: We felt that the client was not being malicious by not telling us, it simply didn’t occur to her that it would make the assignment ten times more arduous than it would have been, or that we would have to use our own vehicle to transport three big dogs.

I confess that my immediate reaction was one of being taken for granted, and for that reason I was inclined to say to the client: “Sorry, you’ve fundamentally altered the house sit, we don’t feel comfortable walking the dogs off the lead, so we aren’t happy to proceed”

But to let a home owner down three days before an assignment? I’d pull my own teeth with pliers to avoid that!

I suggested a hire car (£500 for two weeks and a huge insurance excess if it is scratched)- out of the question.

So how did we solve the problem? I have just removed the seats from the back of the car, storing them in a friendly client’s garage. I have purchased several waterproof tarpaulins and the client has agreed to meet the cost of these, plus mileage charges for twice-daily doggie runs and a full car valet. So (for now) the situation is resolved. But we nearly fell out and I’m reconsidering offering our services for any further assignments.

What should all house sitters and home owners learn from this tale?

1) HOME OWNERS, PLEASE COMMUNICATE – Regularly! Even if you have no house sitters booked but intend to use the same people again in the future; what seems like a minor thing to you (change of car, dog goes on medication, whatever) could have a fundamental effect on the sitters’ lives when on assignment. Anything can be worked around given a couple of months’ notice. House sitters – if anything changes, alter your MMH advert and / or inform any previous clients. Have you developed a dodgy knee? Can you still tackle those steep stairs? Have you become allergic to cats? So, keep each other informed for retaining smooth sitter / client relationships.

2) COMPROMISE – We did on this occasion, the client responded favourably, and any future arrangements can be put in place in good time. DON”T lose your temper and tell people to stuff it, very especially at the last minute!

3) PLAN AHEAD – All our current clients, around 30 in number, have houses where dogs can be walked safely from their property, but things change. Looking back, should we have thought of this before we bought a posh 4 x 4, or should we have invested in an old Land Rover? When choosing a vehicle, there are reliability issues and airport lifts to take into account, but we should remember that at some point, we might have to take a couple of big muddy dogs into the car! I suppose it would be like a plumber refusing to carry his tools in his van because he didn’t want to get the interior dirty! So, we all live and learn.

About the author: Tom Hill

Tom Hill is an ordinary forty-something bloke from the UK who seems to have found the antedote to his less-than-satisfactory life: hook up with the right woman, take a running leap and see what happens…