I’m letting a total stranger stay in my house with my dog while we go on holiday, and I’m terrified

I worry that they may root through our drawers, or forget to close the fridge, or lock the doors. Who even are these people?

I came home the other day to find the house cleaner than I’d ever seen it, and my wife busy taking photographs. The blinds had been dusted, the sofa cushions plumped; and there were fresh flowers scattered in vases. She was uploading the pictures onto a website. Why?

“The dog,” she said. “We’re on holiday in a month, remember.” Now let me just say the dog doesn’t care much for fresh flowers, but my wife was taking charge of the so-called ‘dog problem’ that we face each summer. For many years of pet ownership the issue had resolved itself with a kind friend who was willing to take her in for a short period. But in recent years, it has blossomed into something that requires a serious person to take charge.

Deeply fond as I am of our pet, she becomes a major headache every July. The issue of what to do with her when we want to take a holiday has become something that always needs solving. It is, I’ve learned, an increasingly common problem.

The more of us that get pets – 24 per cent of people acquired their animals in the last two years, a sharp increase due to the Covid lockdown and a boom in working from home – the question of where to leave them during our holidays becomes ever more pressing, complicated, and expensive. Kennels and dog-sitting services these days have huge waiting lists. If you find one to take you, you’re lucky.

For the first year of dog ownership, we took her on holiday with us, choosing both a convenient destination and means of travel: France, by car. But because we got lost en route, we spent 11 hours on the road while the dog, not a fan of long journeys, refused to sit, and stood in the back seat between my daughters, panting.

The campsite we arrived at may notionally have been dog-friendly but took an otherwise Victorian attitude towards them: seen and not heard. She wasn’t allowed in the communal areas, nor by the pool. No shitting in the woods. The holiday was not a successful one. For the next few years, a friend was willing to take her. My gratitude was proportional to her generosity – her flat was small – but then she recently got her own dog, which meant she wasn’t so keen.

Last year, we got in a sitter. A professional who – as I was to find out – was not as reliable as one would hope. A day before our departure, our latest sitter cancelled on us, which prompted the kind of panic no family should have to endure just hours before a pre-dawn trek to the airport. Not to mention the cost of having a sitter for two weeks was large enough that we had to scale down our AirBnB accommodation from two bedrooms to one bedroom and a sofa bed.

So, this year – older and wiser – we’re getting people in. Specifically, into our house, once we’ve left it alone and unguarded. Strangers will then arrive to take possession of our home for two weeks, under the proviso – which I sincerely hope is legally binding – that they keep the dog alive. While I’m undeniably relieved we’ll have someone to look after our beloved animal in her familiar setting, I’m also helplessly unsettled by the prospect of their presence in my living room, my shower – my bedsheets.

“It’s the only option,” my wife says. She’s right, of course.

Which is why, now, we’re opting for house-sitting dog sitters, an initiative rapidly growing in popularity. It’s easy to see why. People look after your pets in exchange for accommodation. It’s convenient, and appealingly cheap. If sitters charge, on average, £50 per night to have your dog board with them, then here you can sign up for just £100 per year. All they require from you is a clean house, the dates you’ll be away, and a set of keys. There are many companies online, all essentially offering the same service.

The one we choose is doing well on Trustpilot, and it’s clearly popular: within an hour of uploading photographs of our spotless home, and highlighting our holiday dates, we’re matched with several potential candidates, all globetrotters: an Australian couple halfway through six months of backpacking; some Californians who want to spend the summer in the very city the Duchess of Sussex had to flee for the States; and a Vietnamese family from Paris who would like to work the capital into their European vacation.

A day later, my wife speaks to the wife from Paris. She sounds nice, normal. She explains that she can’t talk for long as she’s about to board a plane for Croatia with the kids, but says that they love animals, are familiar with London, and want to spend a couple of weeks on the edges of the city near some nice parks. If they’ve ever been arrested for theft or vandalism during previous house-sitting experiences – or animal cruelty – they make no mention of it.

So we commit, and sign the contract. They’re coming.

A weight off, of course. But then I worry. I worry that they may overlook my dog’s needs in favour of a trip to Madame Tussauds, and then fret over their ability to handle an eight-year-old border terrier who, at times, can snap at other dogs. I worry that they may root through our drawers, or forget to close the fridge, or lock the doors. Who even are these people?

My wife reminds me that needs must. Also, the Trustpilot reviews – they’re good. I peer at the picture of the family again. They do not look like hellraisers. It’ll be fine, right?

We haven’t informed the dog herself yet, of course. One hurdle at a time.

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