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I got a holiday for minding pets

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Holidays can be expensive: as well as the cost of flights, you need to pay for accommodation and often a rental car to get around. For many years "house swaps" have provided a way of easing the financial burden: you allow someone else to stay in your home and use your car and in return you get to stay in their home and drive their car.

This set-up suits some people, but the idea of opening up your home to someone else doesn't appeal to everyone.

A new alternative exists: if you agree to move into someone else's house and look after their pets, they allow you to stay there, and to use their car, for free.

I found the trustedhousesitters.com website when planning our family summer holiday earlier this year.

There were pet sitting assignments all over the world, in many desirable destinations. A city centre apartment in New York? A farmhouse in Provence? A villa in Italy?

I signed up to the website, paying €42 for three months' membership, creating a "pet sitter profile" for myself including a short video message and references from people who could vouch for my ability to care for pets.

Once I'd set this up, I was able to browse through pet sitting assignments, searching for one that would provide that dream holiday for myself and my family.

An asthmatic bulldog in San Francisco sounded interesting, but there were issues with car insurance, so that didn't work out.

Application

I applied for two weeks minding a cat in Sardinia, and for three weeks caring for a wolfhound in Portugal, but I was too late for both of them. As soon as I saw "three weeks in Crete, minding three dogs and four cats", I sent off my application, and this time I was successful.

The owner, an Englishman, interviewed me by Skype, and the deal was done. Two months later, he met us at the airport in Crete and our holiday began.

He stayed with us for two days, introducing us to the animals and showing us the routine.

The dogs were to be walked at dawn every day - after 8am it was too hot for them to exercise. Two of the dogs were allowed off the leash, but one of them could never be allowed to run free: he had a history of attacking goats and hens, which did not go down well with the locals.

I also learned about the risk of being attacked by the local dogs, which often run free in the Greek countryside. In the past, one of the dogs I was minding had been nearly killed by a pack of dogs, so I had to carry a stick with me at all times so that I could fend off attackers if needed.

The cats were easier to mind: they were semi-feral and just needed to be fed twice daily.

Just before the owner left, two puppies were dumped in scrubland close to his house. Abandoned animals have a poor chance of survival in Greece, so we agreed to care for them while he was away, and he'd find new homes for them when he came back.

Soon we were on our own: three weeks in Greece, living in an upmarket villa, driving a 4x4 vehicle to the beach just 15 minutes away. Walking the dogs every morning in the tranquil Greek countryside was a pleasure.

Pet sitting may not be everyone's idea of fun, but if you're an animal lover it's a great new way of getting good value for a holiday overseas.

Owner: Pete Wedderburn, also known as Pete the Vet, from Bray, Co Wicklow

Pets: Five dogs and four cats in Greece

Background: Pete earned a free summer holiday by minding someone else's pets


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