This 2022 Housesit Match Blog Competition entry by Kelly Hayes-Raitt relays her experience as an American professional woman housesitting in Mexico. Through this first housesit assignment and subsequent returns, she discovers her love of petsitting. Read on to learn how she cared for a dog called ChaCha in Ajijic, Mexico. The theme of this year’s blog competition was ‘Tell us about a fun housesit you did recently’…
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‘Love petsitting – It was love at first lick in Ajijic, Mexico’
Blog Competition Entry – by Kelly Hayes-Raitt
When I first met ChaCha, a rambunctious, untrained rescue dog of indeterminate pit/lab heritage, I’d never had any experience with dogs. More importantly, I especially had little experience with big dogs, especially energetic puppies. And most especially the combination of the two.
But I bent down and looked into her eyes and instantly knew two things:
- She would never hurt me
- And she’d never let anyone else hurt me.
It was love at first lick. From that moment on I knew I could love petsitting.
Housesitting with a great view and petsitting with a great pet
And the view where I was housesitting wasn’t bad either. ChaCha lived in a spacious four-story home built in the side of a mountain where every level had panoramic views of Lake Chapala, Mexico’s largest lake just south of Guadalajara.
It was April 2010 and ChaCha’s humans were heading back to their regular home in the States. This was their holiday home where they spent summers and winters. A sitter had just cancelled at the last minute, and I was already in Ajijic at another housesit, so I could easily be captivated by those eager brown eyes and relentless tongue.
I began caring for pets around the world
When her human mama returned several weeks later, ChaCha still slept with me. That first morning, I said, “You know, I could shut my bedroom door.”
“No,” the gracious homeowner responded, “you did exactly what I asked you to do – which was love my dog. And she obviously loves you back. She’ll sleep with me later.”
On the day of my departure, I stood outside under the portico. I had to shield from the rain while I waited for the cab to shuttle me to the airport. I cried.
I had just started what would become 12 years of full-time global housesitting, while I rented out my own home for income. Saying goodbye never got easier.
Repeat housesits connected me to the community
So I was elated when I was asked if I’d return the following September.
That morphed into a biannual gig: Two or three months in the spring and four or five months in the autumn/winter. In between, I’d housesit in Europe, SE Asia, Africa. I even went housesitting as far as Ya’an, a Chinese village where I was the only English-speaker!
I never intended to settle in Ajijic, but settle I did. Besides bonding with ChaCha (she soon became a staple at many local restaurants as my companion-of-choice), I joined the local writers group and wrote for the English-language expat magazine. I made many dear friends. For a decade, Ajijic (and this lovely housesit) was more my home than my own home in California. I had my own closet, my own bookcase and my car tucked in the garage to return to.
Petsitting provided the base to explore a new culture
The homeowners were generous by allowing me to entertain guests (“It’s more attention for ChaCha!” they said). And over the years several people came to visit, including the author Rita Golden Gelman (Tales of a Female Nomad).
Friends and I swam with dolphins, snorkelled with sharks, enthusiastically compared tequilas during a Jose Cuervo tour. We bravely sampled chapulines (fried, chile-seasoned grasshoppers) during a Guadalajara street food tour. We also attended a rehearsal for a concert conducted by Placido Domingo, and enjoyed many meals and laughs together. Most of our activities centred around spoiling ChaCha.
Housesitting in Mexico comes with interesting challenges
But caring for a home in Mexico came with extra-curricular critters. They usually provided me with quite the opportunity to improve my Spanish. During one stay, the word avispa buzzed into my vocabulary when I saw several wasps building a huge, unpermitted condo complex, maybe even a multiplex with underground parking and an open-air amphitheater, on the ceiling of our “happy hour” patio. The swarm was three or four wasps deep with several dozen/hundred/thousand condo-dwelling wannabes (“wanna bees,” get it?) milling around.
Not sure how to handle this hive, I called a friend who used to broker stocks, herd sheep, and keep bees who now wrangles writers. Ajijic attracts that type of person. He suggested I call the fire department because with everything built in adobe, Mexico’s firefighters get bored and will de-bee for free.
Living with the locals and learning the language
No one at the bombero station spoke English, so I blurted over the phone, “Tengo un problema con avispas,” hissing the last word as if I were talking about underworld spies or drug kingpins.
The fireman promised to be out shortly (I think, this was all in Spanish over the telephone), which then lent itself to the great existential question: What does one wear to a de-wasping?
I expected hoses and hatchets, but it was all very simple: The hooded, gloved, cloaked bombero sprayed water and soap all over the layers of wasps, causing mass carnage and consternation. He used washing up liquid.
While ChaCha and I watched from behind the closed glass sliding door, he scooped gobs of soggy wasps into a plastic bag and went on his way, promising to return the next day to show any renegade wasps who’s their daddy.
And the petsitting fun continues…
During another stay, I learned serpiente de cascabel. “Cascabel” is a word I actually know from my first-grade rendition of “Jingle Bells”: Cascabel, cascabel, musica de amor…
So, it never occurred to me that such a benign, jolly word would cause ChaCha to raise such a ruckus.
When I went to investigate, I could hear the snake’s rattle all the way across the garden. I wasn’t sure what it was at the time, since I’d never before heard an angry serpiente de cascabel.
It was a ¡muy grande serpiente!
I didn’t know what to do, so I started throwing things at the snake – anything I could find – balls, a fallen avocado – hoping it would slither off. Instead, it reared its head, daring me to come closer. Finally, I remembered there was a meat cleaver in the kitchen. Looking like a version of Jack Nicholson in The Shining, I heaved the cleaver and missed the snake by a mile. It sneered. I did have the garden hose coiled at my feet, but the snake was strikingly close to the spigot. It stuck out its tongue at me.
So, another S.O.S. call to los bomberos. I stuck ChaCha inside. Five uniformed guys in their twenties and one young woman who looked like a girlfriend tag-along arrived carrying baseball bats, a long metal pole, gardening gloves and one blackened fire jacket. By the time they set up camp, the snake had adiosed. The young firefighters spent half an hour literally beating the bushes to flush out the snake. Defeated, they told me to call them when it returns.
Not all the critters are cute
Still another time, after a relaxing cuddle-fest watching a favorite movie with ChaCha, I headed to bed. In the bathroom, I started to brush my teeth when I saw – and I swear I am not exaggerating – a three-inch scorpion crawling in the sink!
Luckily, I prefer my dangerous predators in the sink because I don’t have to resort to mano-a-mano combat. I flipped up the spigot and started scooping water over the alacran. Its milky white tail reared, but it didn’t flush. Finally, I created a personal Niagara Falls that doomed it down the drain. I triumphantly spat toothpaste in its wake.
Relaxed once more, I continued brushing my teeth, keeping the spigot running full-force, just to be sure. Then, like from a Japanese horror film, I saw first one, then more, scorpion elbows emerge from the drain, hoisting the arachnid back into my sink.
Now I freaked. It was too late in the evening to summon the firefighters. The hand soap wouldn’t squirt fast enough; I grabbed a bottle of shampoo and doused it, praying it would die a well-coifed death. I plugged the sink and filled it with water just in case the critter attempted to return for an encore.
Why I love petsitting …
So just why do I housesit in Mexico? It’s not just the critters that crawl, time does, too. During a decade of Springs and Autumns together, ChaCha helped me heal from a significant mid-life loss while I put my life back together. Although she was the rescue dog, it was really ChaCha who rescued me.
AUTHOR – Kelly Hayes-Raitt
Kelly Hayes-Raitt hasn’t seen ChaCha since before the pandemic, but she holds her in her heart and remains grateful for all their adventures together. Now based in Lisbon, Portugal, Kelly edits books, coaches writers and continues to housesit. She is the author of How to Become a Housesitter: Insider Tips from the HouseSit Diva, available on Amazon.
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