Jane Dunning is the author ofThirty Five Minutes from St Tropez, she is a lover of France and Italy and in between writing she pet sits on the continent which I thought was a fantastic way to travel. I caught up with Jane to ask her about this lovely job and this is what she shared with me.
How long have you been pet-sitting?
We’ve been pet-sitting since 2008. Back then, I don’t think house-sitting websites existed so we were very lucky to find our four-month house-sit in the Var in Provence, looking after four dogs and three houses on a beautiful vineyard, thirty-five minutes from St Tropez. Whilst I was there, I had the idea for my novel, aptly entitled Thirty-five Minutes from St Tropez, which is set at the vineyard and around other parts of Provence, and also in Monaco.
Why do you pet sit?
My husband and I both love animals and spending time in France or Italy. As we don’t have any pets of our own, it gives us the opportunity to care for dogs and cats, and also spend longer away without the expense of hotels or renting apartments. We often house-sit during the winter, which means that we often experience better weather than we would if we stayed at home in Dorset, UK.
How did you first get involved?
In summer 2006, we rented an apartment from a widowed lady who told us about a website called Angloinfo Riviera and Monaco. Via this website, she had found help to manage her large property in Provence and told us that people who needed house-sitters sometimes advertised on there. I kept an eye on the website, spotted the advertisement for the vineyard assignment, sent an email, spoke on the phone and then had an interview with the vineyard owner in Kensington, London. I say interview, but it was a very cordial chat over lunch in an upmarket hotel near Harrods! We headed for Provence just after Christmas 2007 and spent part of the winter and spring looking after Pinot, Muscat, Rolle and Chasselas, who all appear in my books as themselves, by the way!
What type of pets do you usually sit for?
It’s usually dogs and cats but we have looked after fish and chickens. We decided we didn’t want to look after horses or farm animals as they’re quite a lot of responsibility especially should they escape. We always try to find out what the animals are like but, quite often, the owners think of their pets with rose-coloured spectacles and they’re sometimes not the little angels they described…
Where in the world has pet sitting taken you to?
We’ve mainly looked after pets in France as it’s easy to take our car but we’ve also been to Italy, including Sicily, and Spain which is great in the winter as it’s usually sunny and warm. We also looked after our friends’ two dogs near Salisbury but we prefer to go abroad if we can. On one occasion, we flew from a cat-sit in Rome directly to Provence where we looked after a dog, two cats and two fish! We really felt like jet-setters on that occasion.
Do you usually sit each year for regulars?
This is the first year since 2011 that we haven’t spent a few weeks in the Charente-Maritime looking after a beautiful manoir and a gorgeous Belgian Shepherd dog named Farah. The owners have moved back to the UK and we’ve already been asked to look after her again, this time near Lymington in Hampshire. We’ve also been twice to the Luberon area in Provence where we looked after four characterful cats. The owners have just bought a Jack Russell puppy so we’re definitely hoping to go back next winter. It will be completely different looking after a dog in addition to the cats as no doubt we’ll take him everywhere with us, at the same time, trying not to let the cats feel left out. We’re very sensitive to our pets’ feelings! My husband’s favourite house-sit is in Sicily where we’ve been twice and we know that we’re No 1 on the dog’s owners’ list for future sits.
Any problems with pet-sitting?
We always feel a little anxious when we arrive at a house-sit for the first time. Will the house be comfortable? Will it be clean – it’s hard to see from photos. Will the pets be as we expected? We find it to be important to get on well with the owners, even though they won’t be there. We have experienced a less than clean house and a bedroom full of clutter with old, darned sheets on the bed! Our secret is to wait impatiently until the owners leave and then move things around a bit as there are usually spare rooms to put things we don’t want to look at or use. Owners are not always completely upfront. For example, they often have rental properties and sometimes they’ve asked us to deal with check-ins and check-outs. We feel they should mention this during initial discussions. On a recent cat-sit in Paris, we were asked, after arrival, to be around for viewings as the house is for sale and also to let a chef in as the kitchen had been rented out for the day! Of course we agree in good spirit but sometimes we think the owners are a bit cheeky. House-sitting has certainly made us see how flexible and adaptable we really are – it’s an absolute must in our opinion.
Do you have your own pets?
As we’re away so much we don’t have any pets. My husband likes a very orderly house so it’s unlikely to happen any time soon. I would love a dog – a Jack Russell preferably. My family had one when I was growing up and I loved him dearly. It was wonderful to look after the three on the vineyard on that initial assignment although they were quite naughty at times and we did end up at the vets’ surgery after a family fight! That incident isn’t included in my books but a few of their other antics have been suitably adapted to fit the story.