Housesitting a menagerie

3 Nov, 2022

Housesitting a menagerie

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In this 2022 Housesit Match Blog Competition entry by Anel Ryan you will learn about the experience of two sitters housesitting a menagerie in Mexico. Read on to learn how they cared for a wide range of pets in a beautiful ranch in Chapala Mexico. The theme of this year’s blog competition was ‘Tell us about a fun housesit you did recently’…

2022 Housesitmatch Blog Competition – Shortlisted Blog

Thanks to Anel Ryan for entering our 2022 Housesitmatch blog competition!

‘Meet the Menagerie at Rancho San Francisco –Chapala, Mexico’

Competition Entry – by Anel Ryan

housesitting in mexico
The ranch was beautiful

Once upon a time in a fun land called Mexico, there lived a multi-talented lady named Doña Stephanie. Doña Stephanie loved animals so much that she decided to build a kingdom that would be a sanctuary for multitudes of creatures to live in blissful harmony. She wanted it to be a magical kingdom. She just loved happy critters!

So, nestled in the mountains, she found a 5-acre spot a few miles east of Chapala, Jalisco, Mexico, and she named the place Rancho San Francisco. By the time we met this incredible woman there were over 100 happy creatures that make the Rancho their home.

Understandably, Doña Stephanie needed some rest and wanted to spend relaxing time with her family for Thanksgiving, so she entrusted John and I to house sit her precious Rancho while she was away. So began our experience of housesitting a menagerie.

The first time we walked the grounds of the Rancho we were in awe of the beauty of the place. We thought we’d fallen down the rabbit hole, and I swear I saw a few fairies twinkling around the bushes. John told me that they were just lightning bugs, but I clapped my hands just in case.

Housesitting a menagerie and beautiful ranch

The property consists of several horse stalls, pastures, barns, a circular stone hut that looked like a Hobbit home, a croquet field, a casita, two pools, a mansion main house with a wrap-around porch, two aviaries, a garden, a palapa with a bar, and a pond. All of this was expertly landscaped and decorated with unique statuary and artwork. We were wowed!

There were wonderful views all over the ranch

Before she left for her trip, we followed Doña Stephanie around with notebooks and pens, to make sure we knew exactly what, where and when to feed each animal, as well as what we needed to do to keep the Rancho infrastructure churning. We felt a little like Lovey and Oliver on the old tv show Green Acres.

Thank goodness we had help. Rancho San Francisco employs a staff of eight. Most spoke very limited or no English. John, thanks to online lessons and a lot of practice was pretty good at conversational Spanish. I’m good at mime. We got by, enough for housesitting a menagerie at least!

Housesitting daily routines

Our daily regimen went something like this:


  • In the morning, feed the five cats (all in different spots and different types of foods)
  • Cut up vegetables and feed the iguanas, guinea pigs, rabbits and ducks
  • Check chicken nests for eggs
  • Go to the farmers markets to get specific vegetables for each critter
  • Make sure hummingbird feeders all have nectar
  • Pay the staff on payday


  • Mix up dog food (BARF) and feed the three dogs, in separate spots
  • Feed the cats again
  • Cover the bird cages
  • Make sure that all the chickens and ducks are in the aviary, and if they aren’t, herd them in
  • At 11 pm feed all ten horses, each in different pastures or stalls
  • Put dogs to bed
  • And then, rest up to do it all over again the next day!

Talk about stepping out of our comfort zones and doing something we’d never done before…WE LOVED IT!

Housesitting a Menagerie

Now, brace yourself. Prepare to be wowed by some of the cleverest, cuddliest and cutest animals in Mexico. Are you ready to go “aww?” Ta Da! Meet the Rancho San Francisco Menagerie! And here’s what we did for each animal type while housesitting a menagerie.

John with the dogs


Rancho San Francisco is the home of three remarkable dogs: Bonnie, Bella and Maxie.  These three served as monitors for everything going on at the Rancho.  Here are a few things these three amigas loved to do:

  • Chase jack rabbits and accompany riders on trail rides
  • Lay on the beds and couches
  • Run, loll and roll on the croquet field
  • Eat cat food when no one is looking

All three really LOVED John.  He was in charge of feeding the trio, as well as walking them throughout the property, at least twice a day.


The cats were very relaxed companions

I was in charge of feeding and taking care of the five cats.  I’ve never really been a “cat” person.  Don’t get me wrong, I’d always liked cats, especially the musical Cats, but I’d never really fallen in “love” with real cats, until Rancho San Francisco.  The five Rancho kitties were Cinta, Zoe, Mama Kitty, Baby Kitty and Ember.

Mama Kitty and Baby Kitty were my muses.  They took turns sitting in my lap as I wrote and worked at the computer.

Like so many of the animals, Ember just showed up one day at the Rancho a few years before we were there. She made a unique, dramatic entrance…through the chimney!  Thus, she became “Ember.”

Peacocks, Hummingbirds, Pigeons & Doves

housesitting a menagerie
The peacocks were stunning

The Rancho had two aviaries for the winged animals of the brood.  It was always a real treat for us to enter them and tend to the flying critters.  If we got lucky, the peacocks would strut their stuff and splay their feathers for us.

On the back porch of the main house were several hummingbird feeders.  It was part of our responsibility to make sure the feeders were filled daily with sugar water for the throngs of tiny hummers. At any given time, when we sat on the back porch, we were thoroughly entertained. What a show!


Some rabbits shared the aviaries with the birds for protection

Most of the Rancho rabbits shared the aviaries with the birds and the rest lived in the iguana house. John was all “goo-goo-ga-ga” over a cute, cuddly lapin that we named “Brown Bunny.” It was a real hoot  to see my big, burly, former-Marine husband go giddy like this.  But frankly, I can’t blame him.  All of the bunnies were so adorable.


John and I have both ridden horses but have never owned or cared for them.  Wow, were we in for a truly mind-boggling experience as we tended to the equine population of the Rancho.  We took care of ten of the grandest horses in all of Mexico.  Of course, these ten are the only horses we’ve ever gotten to care for and really ever gotten to know…er, EVER…so we’re a little prejudiced.

The horse handlers, that work at the Rancho, took care of the feeding and grooming of the herd during the day, and we handled their evening feeding at 11 pm every night.  At first, I thought it was going to be a real pain to be all over the property (these horses are really spread out) that late in the evening, but after a few times of tending to these magnificent creatures, I looked forward to each night’s ritual.

Getting close to the horses

housesitting a menagerie
The horses were great – But I’m slightly biased

Petting, talking to and hugging each animal was part of the process and we really enjoyed their unique personalities.

For example, Rosie loved to eat.  It didn’t matter whether it was her food or the food for one of her pasture mates.  She chowed down on it all.  She also loved to bob her head. We made a game of asking Rosie questions like, “Rosie, are you the prettiest horse out here?” and “Rosie, are you hungry tonight?” Of course, being the brilliant animal that she was, she would always bob her head up and down in a definitive YES!

Silver was almost solid white and would put his front hooves on the stone fence when he knew we were coming.  I called him “Unicorn Boy” because each evening, he’d be reared up waiting for us with his impressive white mane blowing in the breeze. He looked just like a majestic, fairy tale unicorn right off the pages of a Harry Potter book…minus the horn.  What a beautiful creature!

Chevy was pregnant and thus hormonal. If you are a mother or have had to live with a pregnant woman, you get it.  I called her “Preggers.”  She, because of her “delicate” condition, felt like she was royalty. If she didn’t get attention and food before the others, she’d kick and neigh to let us know all about it.  Thank goodness her baby didn’t come until after we left.

There’s always one that steals your heart

Prince stole my heart.  One day we had some house sitter friends over to meet the menagerie. Only one of them knew his way around horses and the others, much like us, were horse rookies.  When we walked by Prince’s pasture, he ran to me, started nuzzling my shoulder, and wanted to be petted, just like he was MY HORSE!

Our friends were very impressed that I had turned into such a horse woman, so I strutted a bit.  That night I added a special treat (an apple) into Prince’s feed bucket and thanked him with extra hugs for making me look good.  What a fine horse!

 Lizards & Little Piggies

housesitting a menagerie
Mini-dragons (iguanas) at the Rancho made this house sit truly magical

Having previously done a house sit on an island in the Caribbean, we knew a thing or two about iguanas. But the tropical iguanas that we had experienced were wild and tough. Many were hurricane survivors.

The two iguanas at Rancho San Francisco had an easier life. These charmed mini dragons lived in a stone structure that looked a lot like a place Bilbo Baggins or the Keebler Elves would occupy, made of stone and a little magic!

The iguanas had a trail of passages built into the top solarium part of the structure, as well as a special area outside for sunning.  These two beautifully scaled guys LOVED to chow down on fresh, raw green beans and finger bananas.  We learned that black iguanas are also insectivores, so the black one got a small dish of fresh meal worms with his meals. The meal worms were raised in a covered plastic tub in the iguana house, and yes, we fed them too!

When we entered the iguana house we had to duck down so as not to ka-bong our heads.  We also had to watch where we stepped because guinea pigs and few rabbits shared the space.

Chickens & Ducks

Taking them into the aviary every night was a challengeWhen I was five years old, on the last day of kindergarten, I won the class pet. It was a tiny chick that was an adorable bundle of down with a beak. My family were city folks but my parents allowed me to feed and nurture my chicken until it turned into a huge, ferocious white rooster. Then, it went to stay at my grandparents’ house in East Texas.

I’m telling you all this to prove that I have experience raising chickens.  Sort of! But nothing to prepare me for housesitting a menagerie.

The Rancho flock had full run of the property and were great, until it came time to herd them back into the aviary at night.  Oh my, what an ordeal.  It was a two-man job.  It wouldn’t have been so hard if we hadn’t had to frequently close the aviary door, so as not to let the rabbits out.  Sheesh!  It was very similar to herding cats.

Our first “cooping” mission took us almost two hours.  After that we decided that we chose not to accept the second mission and asked Chuy, the small animal handler, to make sure all the cluckers, quackery and crowers were all in the coop before he left each day.

We may have bombed at gathering chickens, but John got really good at gathering eggs.  He came in with 6 to 8 fresh ones each day!

Little Stinkers

One night the dogs started barking and John stepped out on the porch in time to spy two skunks waddling through the garden.  We made sure the dogs were IN! John looked at me with a grin and said, “Gosh, I wonder what we’re supposed to feed them?” The next day he texted Doña Stephanie about the skunks.  She replied that these striped critters sometimes inhabited one of the barns and we were to feed them cat food.  What??

We left some food in the general vicinity of the barn but were never able to get a photo of them.

Actually, we didn’t try very hard.

…and Paddy Pig

Paddy really was a character

I think, hands down, our favorite critter at the Rancho was Paddy Pig.  Paddy was a huge pot-bellied pig, with only one crooked tusk.  He lived in a small hay barn next to the horse corrals and spent most of his day rooting around the hay or EATING. In fact, he took being a pig to a whole new level.  He never ate from his bowl like the rest of his menagerie buddies.  He preferred to tip the bowl over and spill the contents all around making you want to say something like, “what a pig!”  Doh!

Every evening, after feedings, we’d pet and tuck Paddy in for the night. Sometimes he appreciated our company, but most nights he preferred us not bother his beauty sleep.

Housesitting a menagerie – What a marvellous experience

trusted house sitters
This was a really fun housesit

We consider ourselves blessed to have experienced the magical menagerie at Rancho San Francisco. And the fact that we were housesitting a menagerie was a truly immersive experience.

On the final night at the Rancho, we fed the horses as well as gave all the animals “goodbye” hugs. We turned out all the lights and closed the gate for the last time. We strolled slowly, hand in hand, up to the main house, when, I swear, I heard a voice from Paddy’s hay barn snort out, “Th-th-th-th-that’s all Folks!”

What a marvellous, extraordinary place. This whole house sit was one of those over-the-top fun experiences that makes you grateful to be alive. We were both misty when it came time to leave, but we were confident that the menagerie…the horses, dogs, cats, birds, bunnies, iguanas, guinea pigs and pig, as well as the incredible Doña Stephanie could make it without us…and live happily ever after.


AUTHORS – Anel and John Ryan

John and Anel Ryan never really bought into the “American Dream.” Their dream was global and involved anywhere they had never been. So, in 2017, they sold everything (home, cars, business, and personal belongings), fit their essentials (computers and flip-flops) into 4 suitcases, and hit the road as house sitters. Their motto is: “If you do ordinary things, you miss all the fun!”



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