Housesitting during the COVID-19 pandemic is presenting unique challenges. My husband, Don, and I, are housesitting in Western Australia and looking after an adorable dog, Peppi, and five chickens. We have been here for three weeks, since before the virus put the brakes on travel and made social distancing, quarantining, and panic buying the new norm.
With the homeowners expected to return at the end of this week, we’re keeping our wits about us and doing our best to prepare for their safe, comfortable return. Here are several steps that we’ve implemented:
1. Keep up-to-date on the Local Community’s Restrictions
Things are changing daily here in Australia, on the national, state, and local level. We are monitoring government websites at all three levels to ensure we are up-to-date on the latest restrictions that affect us and the homeowners upon their return. We have also joined the local community’s online noticeboard, which has enhanced our knowledge of closures, shortages, etc. We’re staying current on vets’ hours, supermarket hours/restrictions, school/restaurant/other closures, and self-isolation guidelines for the homeowners, and are thus able to assist them with “what’s in store” upon they return.
2. Social Distancing – People and Pets
It goes without saying that social distancing is vital. We’re doing our part by limiting trips to town, and if we must go, just one of us makes the trip. When in town, we steer clear of others out of respect for them as well as ourselves. We pay solely by credit card with the card never leaving our hands (card tapping or asking the shopkeeper to allow us to insert the card rather than handing it to them). We’re keenly aware that by practicing social distancing, we’re reducing the risk of infecting the homeowners upon their return.
We’re keeping Peppi fit and happy with walks on the beach, in the park, and through the neighborhood at times that are less populated. We’ve scouted out places beyond our fur ball’s usual haunts that allow us to vary his walks and extend our exposure to the natural beauty of this region. Packing a picnic and a few doggie treats, we’ve enjoyed full days exploring less-traveled scenic beaches and taking bush hikes. Before venturing to a new place, we check online for any COVID-19 induced restrictions and confirm that pets are allowed.
3. Preparing the House for the Homeowners Return
While we are tidy people who keep a clean home, we will be disinfecting the house the day that the homeowners return. We will clean all surfaces in the kitchen, dining and living areas with a disinfectant as well as sanitize the bathrooms and doorknobs in the hours before the homeowners arrive. We’ll also launder all kitchen and bath towels. This provides a safer environment when they return, and give them one less thing to tackle once home. As they will have flown internationally to return home, we feel their risk to the COVID-19 virus is enhanced, and they do not need other germs presenting themselves.
4. Prepare for the Homeowners Need to Self-Quarantine
Australia requires that the homeowners self-isolate for 14 days upon their arrival home. To assist they complete this comfortably, we are stocking their refrigerator, freezer, and pantry with essentials, toilet paper included! We’ve purchased additional food/treats for Peppi and the chickens. We’ve checked to see that there is ample laundry soap, hand soap and sanitizer, body wash, shampoo, etc. to get through 14+ days. On the outside chance that one of them tests positive for coronavirus, our homeowners could be quarantined longer. We’ve spoken with them about this and they have arranged to have friends deliver groceries at a later date as needed.
When they arrive home, we expect a joyful reunion between the homeowners and Peppi. Lots of hugs and cuddles! With social distancing in mind, we have all agreed that we will have no further contact with the dog once they have touched him. This will be difficult as we’ve become quite attached to our little charge. We’ve also agreed that we will distance ourselves from one another while we hand the reins back to the homeowners. We’re leaving them a written list of relevant info (date of most recent doggie bath, plant watering, etc.), reducing the time we spend together in handoff.
5. After the Housesit: Plan Your Next Steps Carefully
If you live nearby, returning home after your housesit should be straightforward— simply driving home. But even this may not be simple as locales and states issue stay home orders, shelter-in-place, and interstate border crossing restrictions (in Australia, if one crosses a border from one state to the next, he/she must self-quarantine in the entering state for 14 days.) Stay abreast of orders issued by the locale and state government in which you are housesitting as well as your home location. Make and adjust plans accordingly. If the homeowners invite you to stay on (ours have graciously offered), discuss if you’ll be able to effectively practice social distancing (separate bathrooms, dining and living spaces, how to share the kitchen) before accepting, especially if the homeowners are returning from a high risk location. If you need to use public transportation and/or stay in hotels to get to your next destination, check change and cancellation policies before booking. Airlines, trains, and intercity buses are evolving their policies daily with schedules/availability changing almost hourly. Airline customer service centers are swamped, causing them to work only with travelers departing in the next 48 hours. The same goes for OTA’s (online travel agencies like Expedia, Priceline), so factor this in when booking a reservation that you may need to change.
Once you’ve made a reservation, monitor it daily as it may change or cancel at a moment’s notice. To this end, have a back-up plan. If you can’t get home, find out what hotels, B&Bs, and car rentals are open for business and what restrictions they may be imposing. Check with hotels to see what food services they are providing. Some that we’ve contacted are offering in-room dining solely. Consider a short-term rental at a holiday home or apartment nearby; it’s a good option for social distancing. Many have incurred cancellations and may have last minute availability. Be sure internet is available and reliable if you choose this option; you’ll need it to stay on top of things.
6. Communicate Frequently
Communication during this unprecedented time is essential. We are in daily contact with our homeowners about both their travel plans and ours (both of which keep changing due to airline closures and cancellations). We’ve sorted out our social distancing protocol for when they arrive home. We’re keeping them updated on closings/restrictions within their home community. And we are ticking off the grocery list they supplied.
Most importantly, we’re staying calm, getting outdoors every day to enjoy the natural beauty of this little piece of Australia, and enjoying our time with Peppi. We’re staying flexible. We’re planners by nature, and knowing that we have travel plans and a backup plan in place for when our housesit ends gives us peace of mind.