December 2, 2023 | Rome, Italy

Goldfish Sitter

By |2018-03-21T18:17:55+01:00February 1st, 2008|Lifestyle Archive|
“I was the girl to call if you were going out of town and needed someone to look after your plants/pets/house.” Illustration courtesy of Annie’s Animals.

.P.P., How can I explain it/I’ll take you frame by frame it/To have y’all jumpin’ shall we singin’ it/O is for Other, P is for People scratchin’ temple/The last P… well… that’s not that simple“

— “Naughty by Nature,” O.P.P.

O.P.P. def: (n, pl) Other people’s pets. Animals (canine, feline, reptilian, et al.) that have absolutely no relation to you because you don’t own a pet, not even a pet rock.

During my pre-pet ownership years — high school through Y2K — I had a vast array of side jobs. My favorites: Baccardi Girl for the Jersey Shore (Margate to Avalon), voice-over artist, GRE tutor, non-Irish bartender at the Irish Pub, babysitter, grandma walker, jingle writer, plasma donor and finally, capo of the township’s plant/house/pet-sitting monopoly.

I was the girl to call if you were going out of town and needed someone to look after your plants/pets/house. I was the straight-A student, reliable, with great references (Mrs. Wolfson said I was the only person to whom she would give her ADP alarm code). I ran the Mainline suburban Philadelphia plant-pet-house sitting racket without competition.

When I first started the “company,” my fees were nominal — daily visits (twice a day if there were pets) in exchange for endless hours of cable TV and open pantries, preferably filled with sugar candy. Eventually, I realized the profit potential and, for the ridiculous sum of $7 per day, I would feed, walk, play and clean up after your pet. On my roster of pets, were dogs (St. Bernards, Great Danes, huskies, Jack Russells, poodles, retrievers, Labs), cats (Persians, tabbies, toms), snakes (one python), guinea pigs, gerbils, iguanas, chameleons, turtles, parakeets, fish (gold fish, betas, Chinese fighting fish), ferrets, tarantulas — and of course children.

Because none of the children actually belonged to me I was able to do a “good job,” meaning I was guaranteed to visit, clean and lock-up.

I admit that it helped that I love animals — even the weird, hairy or hairless ones. However, loving animals doesn’t always make for a good pet sitter. Animal lovers do not instinctively like to clean up after Saint Bernard’s. And some are just inherently lazy people. A good pet sitter is anyone who follows instructions. A great pet sitter is someone who follows instructions well and loves animals. These two qualities, plus my unyielding desire to make a lot of money (for a Suzuki Samurai and pocket change for study abroad), made me the Very Best Pet Sitter. The better the job I did, the more clients I had. More clients equaled more money, which would eventually lead me to my fast-lane fantasy.

As a pet and house sitter, I was prompt, responsible and organized. If I happened to munch on your chocolate-covered graham crackers, I made sure to never finish the entire box, and left no crumb or trace of my intrusion. I never watched your home videos and always turned off the television and lights. After reading the newspapers, I carefully folded them and used the oldest for litter. And lastly, if my friends visited me at your home (only the very coolest houses had that privilege), they followed my rules and stayed out of your bedrooms.

With my background as The Very Best Pet Sitter, there are three requirements when looking for and hiring someone to take care of your pets:

Experience: The best way to find a pet sitter is to ask your friends for a good babysitter. If they trust the sitter with their kiddies, surely you can trust them to enter your house and take care of your pet.

Background: The sitter should provide a list of non-related references who you will definitely, absolutely call. Ask the usual questions plus more probing ones such as, “When you return is there toilet paper? Is your pantry empty? Is there a mess? Is your pet begging for attention?”

Compensation: A free stay at someone’s house is not always incentive enough for pet-sitting — unless your house has all the amenities of a 5-star hotel. To guarantee a quality sitter, stock your pantry with great treats. If the sitter is of legal age, a bottle of champagne or a case of beer is a nice bonus. Oh, and remember pet walkers are a different category entirely. Cash only.

About the Author:

Erica Firpo wrote The American's pet advice column from 2006 to 2009. She is a freelance travel and culture writer who lives in Rome with husband, daughter and faithful sidekick Bella. She has worked for Fodor's Rome edition, Luxe City Guides and National Geographic Travel, as well as writing art reviews for Zing and other U.S.-based magazines.