3 months House Sitting in California Accommodation Free!

For years we’d talked about exploring California.  High on our list to visit were Yosemite National Park, Lake Tahoe, Grand Canyon and Death Valley  as well as San Francisco. We never really thought that dream could possibly come true.

It was thanks to being part of the Trustedhousesitters Community that we had this great opportunity for adventure and travel.  Our dream did come true!

31st October 2019, with House Sits all booked, we left the UK for Los Angeles ready our for 3 months of house/pet sitting almost rent free!!

But here’s the thing!   all the savings we made on our accommodation, house sitting as we travelled, stretched out our budget which allowed us to visit all the fabulous attractions of California.  The trip was amazing.   

All of our home/pet owners were super kind and all of them have become our friends and we keep in touch.   The pets we cared for were adorable, each and every one of them, they all have a place in our hearts.

Our first Sit was with Mookie in San Francisco.  What an adorable Goofy character he was, he completely stole our hearts!

House sitting with Julian, the very shy Poodle, in San Rafael allowed us to explore more of San Fran and the coast.

Our next house sit was  further North, in the ‘gold rush’ town of Placerville, caring for Suni the cat and 3 hens with big personalities.   Most mornings we had a visit from the Wild Black Turkey crew! 

An hours drive away was Lake Tahoe.   The most breathtaking scenery ever!

Christmas was in wacky and interesting Venice Beach with Smudge and  Cashmere.

January 2020 we cared for Kai in Santa Monica – Kai was our most challenging pet sit to date, our most rewarding  one too.

We got to visit, Yosemite Park, Sequoia Park, the Hoover Dam,  Grand Canyon, Death Valley, Palm Springs, San Diego, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Carmel, whale watching in Monterey, driving iconic Route 66 and the beautiful Highway 1 Coast road.

Artists Palette Death Valley
Whale watching Monterey
Bixley Creek (Big Little Lies)
Hoover Dam
South Lake Tahoe
Glacier Point, Yosemite
Yosemite National Park
Grand Canyon

Our First Ever House Sit with gentle giant Txuri in Aldeburgh, January 2018

Meet 9 year old Pyrenean Mastif,  Txuri, she’s a super-sized softie and she was our first ever House/Pet Sit that we applied for after joining Trustedhousesittters.  We cared for her for 5 weeks in January 2018 in the charming coastal town of Aldeburgh, in Suffolk.   

The Owner, Diana, was planning a special 5 week ‘trip of a lifetime’ taking her family to Tanzania.

Just like us, Diana was a ‘newbie’ herself to the THS website, which kinda felt nice, both of us starting out together.   After sending in our Application to Sit for her and her quick reply back to us, we then chatted on the phone for ages, we all seemed to ‘jell’ immediately. 

We discovered that we both had a great love of Spain.  Diana having lived and worked there, still owning a property in Madrid and we had recently returned from living there ourselves, so we had lots to talk about.

So we planned a date to visit Diana and Txuri, we only lived an hour away in nearby Norfolk.  We were all super excitied and couldnt wait to meet up.

Our plan was always to house sit locally in the UK initially, to build up a good set of Reviews from owners and also we knew how beneficial it must be for house/pet owners to meet in person the people they may hand over their precious pets and house keys to.

As animal lovers that had experience of property management and working in the Public Services and hospitality Sector, we felt confident we would love the concept of House and Pet Sitting.

Diana invited us over for a lunch, this was November 2017,  to meet her and Txuri.   Txuri instantly stole our hearts.   Diana made us feel incredibly welcome and after chatting for only a short while and lots of cuddles with Txuri, Diana burst out with  “Can I just say now, I already love you two and want you to care for my precious hound and home,  is that ok?”         It was really quite emotional and have to say both myself and Jonathan’s eyes welled up a little.   We chatted more for hours, hearing all about Txuri and her journey from North Eastern Spain as a puppy.    We absolutely knew we would fall in love with gentle giant Txuri. 

Diana said she had noticed Txuri leaning on us both and said that was her sign of giving comfort and affection.

Diana is an amazing cook and served us a fabulous meal with homemade profiteroles to honestly die for.

Diana’s house is beautiful and just a few steps from the sea front and Aldeburgh town centre.   One of her passions is wildlife and her garden is a real haven for birds. Diana has an enormous bird book collection and told us which birds to look out for and their habits.  Of the 2 large Garden Summer rooms, one houses every kind of bird feed/nuts imagineable and the other, well that is Diana’s very own Gin Palace, haha!

So you are getting the picture of how lucky we were meeting this super interesting, generous and funny (oh yes, she had us laughing on the floor with her stories) lady, owning this most adorable beautiful doggo and she was happily going to entrust her precious Txuri and home to us.

We arrived the day before Diana’s departure and after a cuppa and chats and lots of cuddles with Txuri and a visit from one of Diana’s best pals and Cleaner and our contact in Diana’s absence, the lovely Ginny,  we had a quick explore of the town and Diana genned us up on all the local knowledge.   

Everyone we met knew and loved Diana! 

We then all had a walk out with Txuri and Diana showed us the best pathways along the river banks and fields and Txuris favourite routes.   How wonderful that we would have so many pretty riverside walks direct from the doorstep, as well as the beach just opposite.

Living in Diana’s lovely home was truly fabulous and we very quickly bonded with adorable Txuri. She became like our own.  She has such a kind calm temperament and loves human affection and as big as she is she is super happy cuddling up.    Oh and her grooming time, she loves that, her smile on her face told us it must be like such a pleasing massage for her, as well as removing excess fluff from her dense coat.  She slept at the side of our bed from the very first night with her.   In fact, Diana told us that for the first couple of nights on her return home, Txuri still slept in our bedroom and looked for us.

Exploring Aldeburgh and the surrounding area with Txuri was fun.   Txuri loved a  car journey and was a delight to take out.   Diana left us loads of info on where to visit,

We kinda new the area, but mostly only Aldeburgh main town and beach front.  

One of our favourite walks with Txuri, just over the road from the house, was along the sea front to the sandy dunes of Thorpeness, with the reward of a  Cafe stop when we arrived.  It was quite adorable watching Txuri enjoying the sea breeze on her face.

Just a short ride away was beautiful Snape,  a complex of river bank walks and pretty woodland walks.     Sizewell sandy beach and North Warren Nature Reserve were both just a short ride away. Great to have such a variety of doggy frendly places to visit.

During our 2nd week with Txuri, a cold February week, we had heavy snowfall.  

With all our warm gear and wellies on we made the most of being out in it with Txuri.  She loved it, she had so much fun running in the snow, feeling quite at home. It was a pretty awesome sight watching her in the snow.

Thanks to Trustedhousesitters,  we now have this incredibly special friendship with Diana and we will always be lifelong friends, keeping in touch regularly and planning meet ups whenever  we can.

We regularly sent Diana updates and whatsapp messages with  photos and videos of Txuri so that she knew all was great and Txuri was happy wih us.

Diana sent us amazing videos of her Safari trips.

On Diana’s return we cooked lunch for her and stayed the night, hearing all about her incredible holiday.

It was impossible for Jonathan and myself to hold back the tears as we said our bye byes, there were lots of hugs all round.  But it wasn’t long at all before we were back visiting, lunching, chatting, and lots and lots of Txuri cuddling.

Txuri will always have a special place in our hearts, our gentle loving sweet giant.

We never imaginged when we began our house sitting journey, excited at the prospect of travel and visiting new parts of the World, just how much we would bond with the pets we cared for and the enormous part the pets would play in our love of house sitting.  We adore them all and Txuri was the first of many.  48 Sits and 116 animals later we are loving this journey of pets, people and places and the amazing Community of Trustedhousesitters.

Kai – Our most challenging Pet Sit yet our most rewarding one!

This is our story of our house sitting experience caring for Kai – a strong 4 year old rescue German Shepherd/Pit Bull cross.  It has been our most challenging pet sit and at the same time, our most rewarding one.

We were able to meet Kai and his lady owner at their small flat in Santa Monica a few weeks before the Sit start date.   She had chosen us because we had experience with large dogs.   During communications, she had already informed us that Kai had huge anxiety issues and that he likes to be dominant and he can be very boisterous when playing.

On arrival at the flat we were greeted with boisterous excitement from Kai as he pounced towards us thrusting his Tug toy frantically wanting us to play tug with him. His Owner said he loved this type of play but can get a little aggressive.    As we chatted  we were constantly having to ‘defend’ ourselves from Kai by turning away from him and not acknowledging him, he wanted to play and of course he wondered why strangers were in his home.  We then joined in on Kai’s walk around the block.  We quickly noticed Kai pulled a lot on his lead.  His owner was constantly on the look out for other dogs and avoiding them as soon as she could, she told us Kai barks at dogs he doesn’t like.

Kai’s owner acknowledged Kai was very possessive of her and let us know about the strategies she has had to develop when she needs to leave the flat without him ie for work etc.  Kai does not like her leaving him and he began the behavior habit of placing himself between her and the door and even growling when she tried to pass him.  Her strategy for this was to entice him into the bedroom with a treat and then quickly leaving the house, Kai is a very clever dog and she said it almost always works and we may need to follow that same procedure.

To add to all of the anxieties Kai has, she told us about the awful experience Kai had when a previous pet sitter got his prong chain collar stuck on him tightly and had to call in Animal Control to snip it off of him.   Since then he has been understandably guarded about his collar. A next sitter left after just one day as Kai became aggressive towards her (all because of his anxieties with this collar). 

On returning back to the flat after our walk together she talked us through removing Kai’s choke collar,  it had to be done swiftly not to alert Kai and Jonathan also took a go at removing it and all went well.  Further down you will read that it didnt always go that successfully.

On leaving Kai and his owner after that first meet up, we had a conversation about Kai’s aggressive behaviour but we weren’t going to let his owner down, she needed her yoga retreat holiday we knew that and we also knew it would not suit Kai at all to go into kennels.  Kai’s dreaded prong collar was going to be the big issue.   As we tried to imagine what an awfully distressing experience it must have been for Kai, being held tight as his collar was cut from him, we began to think about strategies we would use to go about fastening and removing his collar before and after each walk.

We arrived on the day of the Sit and Kai was already hyper, we mostly ignored him and had a short chat with the Owner before she left for her trip.   
When she left of course Kai wondered what was going on.  He began leaping about on the furniture, frantically getting his toys, we just kept being quiet and calm.  And when he did keep still, for even a moment,  we praised him in quiet tones with a ‘good boy’ .  Eventually he curled up at the end of the sofa, but always having his ears pricked high.  Then it was tea time for him and his walk.  (We had asked his owner to leave his collar on when she left us, just for Kai to get to know us before any dealings with his collar).  That all went well, clipping on his leash for his walk, of course he wanted to pull all the way around the walk.  We already knew of strategies to assist with a dog’s frantic pulling, we had a pocket of treats for distraction needs and rewards.

From the moment we took charge of Kai, we toned down the tug playing game to a more gentle style, if we felt he was starting to show any signs of becoming over aggressive, as oppose to enjoying the game, we would immediately let go of the toy.

Also, we soon became aware that woe betide anyone that strokes Kai without him seeing your hand move first and takes him unawares, lots of loud defensive barking. But they are actions that sitters have to learn and know about the character of the dog and be respectful of his anxieties and patient.

Now we’ve sat for a number of dogs that love a game of tug of war, but Kai’s toy tugging play was true to his owner’s comments, meaning it quickly turned to aggressive behaviour and at one time this did happen,  a game of tug turned into Kai accidental biting Jonathan.  Kai really just didn’t know when and how to stop, the build up of excitement just got to a stage where he lost control.

With lots of praise and encouragement to be gentle and this very calm approach to his favourite tug play, as soon as the second day of the Sit, we saw signs of a much more calmer playing temperament from him and very little sign of the aggressive play we’d first experienced from him.   As with all dog training, repetition, routine and rewards are definitely key. We noticed through the week Kai was playing in a much gentler manner.

As experienced Sitters, we knew if a dog has aggressive issues, its perhaps not such a good idea to encourage games that encourage signs of aggression. We found Kai a Kong toy and this was his new playtime, we filled the Kong and rolled it around the living room floor space for him and of course then he loved the treats he found inside.

So back to the collar episode and just to describe Kai’s collar – it is a prong chain collar, his owner said she chose this type to help with Kai’s frantic pulling. Personally we are not a lover of this type of collar at all.

We’ve explained above that Kai was understandably very wary of having his collar put on him and in particular having the collar removed, especially with us being total strangers.   Therefore, we took a gentle approach which seemed to be working well for the first couple of days.  We knew it was far more comfortable for Kai to have this large metal collar off in the evenings, especially when cuddling up with us on the sofa and at night.   

When he relaxes and lays on us in the evening it melts our hearts. He actually sleeps on the bed, so he must want to feel close to us, we didn’t mind.

He has a cuddly blanket that he holds and sucks on at night when he’s tired, he’s such a needy boy really, it pulls on out heart strings.  He often burrows under the quilt and makes a ‘cave’ at the bottom of the bed, again we didnt mind.

All was going well.  Kai is a clever dog and we believed he could quickly be trained to walk better on the lead without pulling and then eliminating the need for the prong type of collar.  We kept him close to us when walking and avoided other dogs when we could.  When we had to pass another dog, we would turn and distract Kai away, getting him to sit for treats and then lots of praise when he ignored the other dog.    We soon noticed Kai was pulling much less frantically on his walks out.  His face when we praised him when he walked to heal, his eyes said it all, that he loves the praise (and of course he loved his treat rewards).   And we were so thrilled when he began sitting for us on command, as we waited at the traffic lights. 

However, on day three, back at the flat, as we were taking off  ‘the collar’ after a walk, Kai got spooked by a loud sudden outside noise and became very aggressive to us warning us to stop.  Now any one that has experienced first hand a large aggressive dog lurching at them, will know what a scary experience it can be!

A few minutes after the event though it was so obvious that Kai was very sorry and that his intention was not to harm us but just to tell us he was frightened.

In order to ensure Kai didn’t have any undue stress we decided to leave the collar on while we came up with a plan that may help him become more trusting of having the collar removed and be more comfortable with what, for most dogs, is a regular part of daily life.

One evening when Kai was resting on Jonathan’s lap on the sofa, Jonathan saw a way to unlink the collar taking it apart, eliminating the need to remove the collar over Kai’s head.  But even though Jonathan was slow and gentle in his movement, Kai got upset and began aggressively barking, again afterwards when Kai had calmed he couldn’t stop licking Jon’s hands, Kai was so sorry.  But the collar was still on Kai now and its prongs can catch on material,  in fact he got a knitted blanket caught up in it later that evening and was running around with the blanket in tow, luckily he eventually let Julie unhook the blanket.  You could tell he knew we had helped him. 

We wanted to take him to the dog park, but if his collar got caught up with another dog when they are playing it could be a bad situation.  We began walking him to the beach , he loved it especially digging in the sand, it was fun to watch him playing.  Of course always on his leash and keeping our distance from other dogs.

We are true believers that the best form of dog training is praise and rewards.   So using this Reward method, we would sit Kai down, 4 times a day, and show him a treat while we clipped his lead to the prong collar. Each time he let us do this we gave him the treat and plenty of praise. Kai was very intelligent and got the idea very quickly that the treat related directly to him letting us clip the lead to the collar (no returning to collar removal as yet).

We felt that we needed to gain Kai’s trust more before we attempted again to take his collar off. So coupled with the treats and praise when attaching and removing the lead, we spent a lot of time cuddling him, stroking him and pretending to ‘accidentally’ touch the collar while giving him plenty of praise. We continued this for a full 3 days before we made the attempt to try and remove the collar. On day 6, on our return from the morning walk, Kai was already sitting waiting, his eyes fixed on his treat which was showed to him every time we removed the lead, but this time, very gently, we also SLID THE COLLAR FROM HIM…… and it worked!  He got lots of praise as well as his treat, as you can imagine.

The combination of treats, praise, building trust and repetition turned Kai’s bad experience into one that he now associated as being a positive experience (even if he ultimately new he would receive a treat as a reward for being so good!) 

Yay!......... No collar Kai!

Kai will always be our Special Boy!     We will remember mostly how much he loves his walks at the beachside and digging in the sand.  A real joy seeing his happy face when he heard us say “should we go to the beach”.   As we got our shoes on, his tail wagging so much,  licking our faces and hands and he sits near the door ready looking round at us as if to say hurry up. 

It was quite bizarre, this big dog that could easily show signs of frightening aggression, had his own comfort blanket and loved nothing more than cuddling up to us both.

Also, we remember, his routine at bedtime, as soon as the tv goes off he collects his cuddly blanket, jumps on the to the bed and watches and waits for us and then he likes to burrow down to the bed, yes he’s far too big really but he just loves it so much. 
He loves his morning cuddles on the bed before we get up, he’s never demanding about his breakfast or a walk etc. 

Kai is a big strong dog and he gets over excited and hard to calm down. But when he does we can tell he has a loving side to him and wants to be good.    

As Pet Sitters we do all we can for the pets in our care and call on all our experiences and kindness to keep them safe and happy and feeling loved and respectful of their characters and anxieties. 

We learned so much with Kai and so happy that we didnt give up on him and that we tried to provide him with the best pet sitting experience we possibly could.

Kai will always have a place in our hearts.