Job diary: I’m a cat sitter who just finished my first pandemic-era job. Here’s how I landed the gig in a competitive cat-sitting market — and why it was surprisingly easy.

Madolline Gourley and Jaspurr the cat from her recent pet sit. Madolline Gourley
  • Madolline Gourley is a 30-year-old traveller and writer from Brisbane, Australia who has worked around the world as a house and pet sitter since 2012.
  • Gourley hadn’t scheduled any sits since March due to the pandemic, but in August she accepted a cat sit for former clients who were planning a week-long vacation.
  • Gourley says that beyond observing social distancing measures in the apartment complex and using hand sanitizer more frequently, the sit wasn’t much different from other sits she’d had pre-pandemic.
  • Here’s what her week-long cat sit in Brisbane was like.
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House and cat sitting opportunities are few and far between right now, even local ones. And landing a gig is more competitive than ever.

During the pandemic, I’ve seen some listings get up to 40 applications. A sit I applied for in Bangalow — near Byron Bay, Australia — got 15 responses overnight. Properties in less urban parts of Australia have become a popular holiday alternative after an international travel ban was issued in late March.

But while I haven’t been actively looking for house and cat sitting opportunities since returning home from the coronavirus craziness in New York City, I recently had the chance to sit for a Brisbane couple I’d already met through TrustedHousesitters last year.

Instead of advertising online, which is how I’ve found previous sits, the couple messaged me in early July.

“We are hoping to go for a Queensland getaway in August and are wondering if you would be available to look after Jaspurr,” the text read. This was going to be their first proper holiday since I sat for them last Christmas.

I usually meet the owners on the first day of the sit, but since Jaspurr’s owners were flying out at 7 a.m., we arranged a quick handover the day before, where I learned there was still a bit of uncertainty surrounding their holidays plans.

“Did you hear the news this morning? There’s six new coronavirus cases linked to the Brisbane Youth Detention Centre worker.” Their flight, however, was still scheduled to depart as planned.

When I do a local sit like this one, I like to bring my car, assuming there’s somewhere to park it. I was fortunate enough to be given one of the couple’s designated parking spots at their apartment complex. They had two spaces and they took their second, smaller car with them to the airport.

This gave me easy access to the elevator, and I only had to do two trips up and down to bring in my belongings for the week. I noticed the elevator was equipped with hand sanitizer and had posters detailing appropriate social distancing measures for residents to observe.

Madolline Gourley elevator
Both elevators in the building had self dispensing hand sanitizer for residents and their guests. Madolline Gourley

On the first day, I got settled in and reacquainted with Jaspurr

Jaspurr came running out of the main bedroom as soon as I opened the front door. It looked like he got his hair cut recently. It was quite short — but still so soft.

I continued to walk through the apartment and noticed a few updates. The balcony now had its own bar table and the guest bedroom — my room for the week — had a new home office-type setup inside.

Jaspurr Madolline Gourley
Jaspurr trying to work out where the treats are hidden. Madolline Gourley

Treats had also been scattered throughout the two-bedroom apartment. The couple said they do this to keep Jaspurr’s mind stimulated when no one is home. Tuna-flavored Feline Greenies were left on his lounge chair, some areas of the carpet, and the fake grass on their balcony.

My sitter responsibilities were consistent from day to day

Madolline Gourley
Jaspurr making the most of the morning sun. Madolline Gourley

Jaspurr’s daily routine had me giving him wet food twice a day and topping up his bowls of dry food each morning. I’d change his water and clean the litter when I woke up, and that’s all that was asked of me as the couple’s house and cat sitter.

Of course you’re expected to clean up after yourself and take the rubbish out on a regular basis, but I think those two things go without saying. The couple also had a professional cleaner who gave the apartment a thorough clean and tidy up the day before the sit finished.

I kept the owners in the loop by sending daily updates and photos of Jaspurr. I usually do this, but occasionally have been told by other owners that they know their cat is in good hands, and not to worry too much about regular communication.

I spent most of the week working from home to spend time with Jaspurr

It was nice to stay in than venturing to my office via a cold, dark morning walk to downtown Brisbane. A Brisbane winter is probably what some people from the Northern Hemisphere would refer to as a mild summer.

We see an average daily temperature of 77°F, but getting up when it’s only 53°F is really hard for us Queenslanders.

Working from home is still somewhat new to me, but I feel fortunate to have it as an option. I’d been without a job since returning to Australia from the US at the end of March, but I recently secured a six-week contract — now extended until Christmas Eve — helping a newly formed statutory authority build their websites.

Most people at the company have continued to work from home, but about 20 or so opt to come into the office each day.

Madolline Gourley
Downtown Brisbane remains quiet as most office-based staff are still working from home. Madolline Gourley

Being able to work out of the couple’s apartment allowed me to keep the balcony door open for Jaspurr to come and go as he pleased, and I had the convenience of a decent coffee shop less than a minute’s walk away. The central West End location meant I could walk along the Brisbane River on the one day I did decide to work from the office. It took less than 40 minutes walking to get downtown — about the same time it’d take on the bus during rush hour.

Before I knew it, it was time to say goodbye to Jaspurr. The week had flown by. I packed my things, sanitised my hands in the elevator one last time, and dropped the keys in the couple’s mailbox.

Their holiday had gone smoothly, and was largely unaffected by an increase in the state’s coronavirus numbers. I sent them a final text message saying I was about to leave and to reach out if they had any problems, and they responded thanking me for the stay.

Jaspurr Madolline Gourley
Jaspurr enjoyed some extra ‘outside’ time during the week-long cat sit. Madolline Gourley

Throughout my stay, I was sure to observe the appropriate social distancing measures within the apartment complex and used hand sanitizer when necessary, but overall, house and cat sitting during the pandemic wasn’t hugely different from any other sit I’ve done.

This may be because our community transmission and confirmed case rates are low compared to other developed countries, or just due to the relaxed nature of Australians.

Madolline Gourley is a freelance writer and international pet-sitter. Follow her cat sitting journey on her blog, One cat at a time, and on Instagram.