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Meet the Toronto pet-sitters staying in dream homes around the world — for free

The travel- and animal-loving retirees arrange their gigs through U.K.-based Trusted Housesitters, a website that matches homeowners with people willing to house- and pet-sit in exchange for a free place to stay.

Wanda Gosse walks a Siamese cat on a leash while house- and pet-sitting in Burlington, Ont., with her partner, Sandra Pearson.Wanda Gosse walks a Siamese cat on a leash while house- and pet-sitting in Burlington, Ont., with her partner, Sandra Pearson.  
Canadian retirees Wanda Gosse and Sandra Pearson on the beach in Crete in May 2017. The couple scored free accomodation at a vacation home in Greece as a Canadian retirees Wanda Gosse and Sandra Pearson on the beach in Crete in May 2017. The couple scored free accomodation at a vacation home in Greece as a “thank you” from a U.K.-based homeowner they pet-sat for.
Canadian Wanda Gosse gets ready to eat outside with Truby — a dog she was pet-sitting with her partner, Sandra Pearson, in Kingston upon Thames, England.
Canadian Wanda Gosse gets ready to eat outside with Truby — a dog she was pet-sitting with her partner, Sandra Pearson, in Kingston upon Thames, England. 

 

Sandra Pearson and Wanda Gosse spent much of May floating in inner tubes in the Mediterranean Sea — for the price of brushing a pair of pups’ teeth.

The Toronto-based couple scored their Greek island accommodation as a “thank you” after staying at a Tudor-style home in Kingston upon Thames, England — for free — where they fed, walked and cleaned the teeth of the homeowners’ two scruffy dogs while they were away.

The travel- and animal-loving retirees arranged the gig through U.K.-based Trusted Housesitters — a website that matches homeowners with people willing to house- and pet-sit in exchange for a place to stay. (Free accommodation in Greece after the fact is not usually included).

“A lot of people hear what we do and they say, ‘Oh, that’s great, I should do that,’ ” said Pearson. “It’s more than just getting free accommodation; it’s a commitment to taking care of someone’s pet.”

Pet- and house-sitting is yet another industry on the rise as part of the world’s sharing economy. TrustedHousesitters, which launched in North America this May, is among several websites, such as Australian-based Nomador.com and New Zealand’s MindMyHouse.com, connecting people with mutually beneficial home- and pet-sitting opportunities.

The TrustedHousesitters community is now almost a half-a-million strong and the website has set up more than two million nights of house-sitting, said Rachel Martin, 42, who founded TrustedHousesitters with Andy Peck, 46. The couple, based in Brighton, England, responded to the Star via email because they were travelling in Greece celebrating their upcoming marriage.

Membership on TrustedHousesitters currently costs $99 per year. Members are required to sign a code of conduct when they join and, like accommodations- and transportation-sharing services Airbnb and Uber, the service relies heavily on user reviews as a means of accountability.

Newcomers to the website can add references from friends and colleagues to help fill out their profiles, explained Martin. “There is no definition of an ideal house-sitter because it suits anybody who loves pets who can show they are trusted and reliable,” she said.

Peck told the Star he got the idea for the site after house-sitting and bonding with a dog named Dave at an “amazing” property in Spain in 2010. To start, the couple sold everything they owned and flew around the world to gather ideas for the site, recruiting their first members in-person along the way.

Since no money is paid to the sitter by the homeowner, house-sitters are often covered under the owner’s home insurance, said Martin, and the website has an all-hours support line. But, she suggests all members check beforehand to know what to do if an incident does arise.

Exactly what each house-sitting assignment entails is decided between the sitter and the homeowner.

A recent scroll through the website led to listings seeking pet-sitters for two rescue cats in a Singaporean condo, two Frenchies in Norwich, U.K., who require a daily 15-minute walk plus cuddles, and two hamsters and two dogs (one who is a diaper-wearing pug) in an ocean-overlooking penthouse in Long Beach, Calif.

“They’re not all 3-year-old dogs that are happy to go for a long walk. We’ve taken care of some ill pets, some pets that needed serious medication,” Pearson said, recalling taking care of a blind dog and a cat that needed regular intravenous meds in past sits.

Pearson and Gosse’s house-sitting journey started as an attempt to make their travel funds go a bit further (this beat out other work-for-housing hacks, such as olive picking).

Since they signed up to TrustedHousesitters four years ago, Pearson, 53, and Gosse, 55, have established themselves among the top-ranked Canadians using the site. Their profile boasts almost 50 references and comes with the highest level of security verification available.

Initially, the couple house- and pet-sat mostly in Toronto and the GTA, but now that they’re retired they’re ready to take on the world, eager to use the service to escape Canadian winters.

The duo even launched their own Pets and Abode Sitting website and are now at a point where people schedule their vacations around their availability instead of the reverse.

U.K.-based Jo-Anne Greene, 66, who gifted the stay at her Crete vacation home to the couple, has hired several different couples to care for her and her partner’s two small dogs, Ellie and Truby.

“It’s a leap of faith, and I think a lot of people couldn’t do it,” she said, adding she always meets her house-sitters — at least via Skype — beforehand and has turned down people she didn’t feel comfortable leaving her dogs with.

“We just didn’t get a warm, fuzzy feeling from some people,” Greene said. “If people are trusting, and it works both ways, then I think it’s a great thing.”

She said good communication is one of the most important parts of a happy house-sitting relationship. She appreciated that Pearson and Gosse sent her regular updates with photos of her dogs.

Co-founder Peck said he knows of people who sold their house to live a completely nomadic house-sitting life. He predicts this type of arrangement — where being a reliable, honest and kind consumer pays off — will expand to other industries.

“This is the economy of the future: the trust economy.”

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