'Home-fluid' house- and pet-sitters get their animal fix, and some adventure too
As Patricia Doiron talks on the phone, there's a persistent squeaking noise in the background.
She explains that it's Luma, a 3-year-old fox terrier, playing with a toy.
Doiron is from Prince Edward Island but is currently living with Luma and 12-year-old mini pinscher Pennylane in Truro, N.S.
She started house- and pet-sitting after she retired.
"I wanted to exercise my courage so that I could do more different, bigger things — adventures and whatnot. And I also want to do some writing as well," she said.
"I had the opportunity to give up my lease, and for some strange reason it just seemed like the right thing to do. So I did."
Here and in other parts of Canada, there's a demonstrated demand for the services of people like Doiron. There are many house- and pet-sit platforms, which attract quite a few retired people, many couples seeking a change of environment, as well as younger people with remote jobs they can do from anywhere.
Doiron said she enjoys becoming part of small communities, and has fit right in during her time in Truro.
I found my yoga studio, and my favourite coffee shop, and my trail that I like to walk. — Patricia Doiron
"I found my yoga studio, and my favourite coffee shop, and my trail that I like to walk. Last week, I took part in the Coldest Night of the Year Walk," she said.
Doiron said she loves animals, but isn't in a position to have one of her own. So pet-sitting is perfect.
The financial arrangements can vary.
Sometimes it's a straight exchange — you live in my house for a while, and I live in yours and take care of your pet. Sometimes homeowners want sitters to pay utilities. Other times the sitters get paid on top of having a free place to live.
Doiron hasn't set a fee for her services. Instead, she asks people to pay what they think is reasonable and what they think they can afford.
She doesn't have her own place right now, but can stay with family when she needs to, in between sitting stints. Most of her belongings are in storage and she's "living out of a suitcase" for the next few months.
"I'm saying I'm 'home-fluid' ... And it just seems to be more and more people are wanting somebody to come into their homes so they don't have to unsettle the dog," she said.
As for the challenges, Doiron said she's found there aren't many.
I think you have to have a certain amount of competence and courage. — Patricia Doiron
"With pets, your time is not always your own. Like now I get up when the dogs want to get up and things like that," she said.
"I think you have to have a certain amount of competence and courage."
Doiron hasn't heard any horror stories, but she hasn't gone looking for them either. There have been a few covered by CBC in other parts of Canada.
Doiron's in the process of branching further afield, sitting a house and pet in Ottawa in May. And she has joined another platform that helps you set up house-sits all over the world.
"The response has been phenomenal," she said.
Getting her 'doggy fix'
Paula Smith started house- and pet-sitting on P.E.I. about three years ago. She started by helping out some friends and things took off from there.
Smith teaches yoga full-time on the Island's North Shore and has her own place. But something was missing.
"I love animals and I can't really have my own right now, so it's a good way to kind of borrow other people's animals, and kind of get my doggy fix," she said.
"I've always been a dog magnet, so I usually don't have any trouble attaching to them and them attaching to me, so it's been beneficial that way."
I did a house-sit in exchange for some products from this woman's store, so I ended up with a beautiful sweater and some other winter wear. — Paula Smith
Smith said how she gets paid depends on who she's sitting for.
"Sometimes it's a cash exchange… I did a house-sit in exchange for some products from this woman's store, so I ended up with a beautiful sweater and some other winter wear. So it's a nice way to get what I need, plus they get what they need."
Managing her regular job while on sitting duty is her biggest challenge, she said, giving this example: "If I have to be at the yoga class at 7:30 in the morning, trying to get the doggie walk in in the morning before I leave ... but that's just part of the job."
Another challenge: Sometimes she wakes up and can't remember where she is.
'A little mini-vacation'
Smith said house- and pet-sits are convenient for both parties involved, and recalls one particularly nice job.
"They had a beautiful home and it had a hot tub and a wood stove. So, you know, it was very comfortable for me as well as the dogs. Kind of felt like it was a little mini-vacation overlooking the ocean," she said.
Smith hasn't advertised; she said word of mouth is keeping her busy.
Would she ever do this outside of P.E.I.?
"Well, never say never, right? I'd be open to just about anything. So let's see where the wind takes me," she said.
"It is a nice way to travel and see the world for sure."