An Australian finds free accommodation in Canada, with cats – National Post


It’s a handy workaround, given how expensive travel has become in the last few years

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Madolline Gourley, a native of Brisbane, Australia, has been living in Canada for about three months now, travelling and seeing the sights in Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal and elsewhere. And she hasn’t had to spend any money on accommodation. She stays with cats.

More specifically, she house-sits for people who have cats that need looking after while they themselves go on vacation or on work assignments. Gourley connects with cat-owners through house-sitting websites like housesitterscanada.com, mindmyhouse.com or housecarers.com.

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It’s a handy workaround, given how expensive travel has become in the last few years. In Toronto, even the most frugal room-sharing accommodations can cost more than $100 a night. For a centrally located name brand hotel like the Sheraton, that can easily spiral to more than $500.

A recent Globe and Mail story quoted a couple who estimate they saved $6,000 with a house-swapping scheme similar to Gourley’s cat-sitting gigs, but minus the furry companionship. Any way you slice it, this is a deal.

And while some of the website listings just want someone to mind the house while the owner is away, most involve care and feeding of an animal. Or multiple animals.

“You have your domestic animals like cats and dogs,” says Gourley, 34. “But there are people who have iguanas, people who have a complete farm that you have to look after — so horses, cows, chickens.”

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Gourley’s a cat person — always has been, since growing up with several cats over her childhood and teenage years. An only child who still lives with her parents (when she’s actually in Australia), Gourley has a cat back home named Gracie.

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“My mom likes to think she is the cat’s mom,” she says with a laugh. “My mom enjoys when I’m gone because the cat is forced to love my mom.”

Not every cat she looks after is equally friendly, however. Isabelle was a cat she looked after recently in Vancouver.

“It was an older cat — I think she was 13 or 14. They did warn me that she took a while to warn up to you. They were correct,” she says. “She was a bit hissy and didn’t really like me, but after the third or fourth day she wanted to sit on my lap, she would let me pet her.”

Isabelle the cat
Isabelle from Vancouver was a little hissy when Gourley first showed up, but she soon warmed up. Photo by Madolline Gourley

At the other end of the scale were two Toronto cats she stayed with last year during another swing through Canada.

“They were the most beautiful, lovely, funny, perfect cats. And they actually invited me back to house sit for them this year.” (The owners, not the cats.) “I will be going to look after Henry and Josie for all of July.”

Gourley started out cat-sitting in Australia about six years ago before moving further afield to the U.S. and Canada. The plan was not without problems — in 2022, Australia’s news.com reported that she had been questioned by U.S. border officials before being sent home. But her experiences on this side of the border have been positive, and cost-effective to boot.

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“Travel isn’t as affordable as it used to be, so if you’re willing to house and cat sit for someone, you can see some great places. While you don’t get paid, it kind of is like a free vacation.”

She also has a work permit and is looking for remote work to bring in some cash, but the reality is she’s already saving money by not having to shell out on hotel accommodations, save for the odd gap between gigs.

“By the time I head home I’ll have spent six months in Canada without having to pay for a place to stay,” she says. “I don’t have a permanent job back home, I don’t have a mortgage, so I guess I do have a lot of flexibility that isn’t afforded to a lot of people.”

She adds: “But at some point I think I will have to settle down and get a permanent job and only cat-sit a few weeks a year when I have vacation through my permanent job.”

Before that happens, however, she’s planning to travel further afield.

“I have just been successful in getting Croatian citizenship through my grandma,” she reports. With an EU passport, she’ll be eligible to stay in Europe and cat-sit for people there.

Language barriers might be a problem, however. “I just speak English,” she says. “It might be a bit difficult, I am aware.” Fortunately, she already speaks fluent cat.

Jaws the cat
This is Jaws (the owner likes sharks), whom Gourley reports spent several days looking for her after a recent cat-sitting gig. Photo by Madolline Gourley

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