Frank and Maria Nelson have been getting away with what we all fantasize about --living free, and loving it.
New Zealanders by birth, they have traveled the world pet- and house-sitting, taking advantage of every crack in the system – they have sat through boring presentations about timeshares gladly, in order to get a free ski weekend or a three day trip to San Francisco. As “Animal Aunts” they have nursed hamsters, sheep and a roguish collection of dogs and cats too numerous to mention, in exchange for digs that ranged from palatial to just plain awful.
Taking the bad with the good is the ability that keeps this couple flexible and contented. Nothing is permanent in their roving gypsy lifestyle, so they could put up with a a stint in a house that had been given over completely to pets – dogs, budgies, guinea pigs, catfish and cocker spaniels – for a few days, knowing that the next week might find them minding two docile trouble-free schnauzers in a mansion off Sloane Square.
“While staying in some of these rich men’s castles Maria and I would often play a little mental game of redesigning things.” Some homes were appalling, some just amusing, all had their quirks, like that of the green-conscious Swedes – every cleaning product had labels announcing its environment friendliness and there was almost nothing edible to be found in the cupboards. Frank, being a writer, found plenty of fodder for his articles and books (this is the second account of their world-wandering adventures) while Maria got temping jobs as a nurse. Sometimes the pay was good enough just from the house-sits to allow them to do nothing more than walk the dogs and explore the local countryside.
The local countryside ranged from Boulder, Colorado, to Granada and Seville, to Nice and Paris, with many stops in between. For a while in America they owned a small van and camped out happily in Wal-Mart parking lots. They speak in praise of McDonald's, which in Frank’s opinion provides “two of life’s essentials – pretty good coffee, with real milk, and clean toilets.”
Sometimes they had three house-sits in a ten-day crunch, which surely would be nerve-wracking even with the loveliest of pets. And they weren’t all lovely. They became well-acquainted with “the gritty insides of a pair of smelly cat boxes,” and the bouncy canine who stole people’s sandwiches in the park. They had to handle all bathroom functions in the animal kingdom, as well as vet emergencies and some gardening chores.
But none of it sounds like work. No matter what fine messes they got themselves into the Nelsons always seemed to emerge, a house or a country later, in good spirits and ready for the next adventure.
Does anyone know the number for Animal Aunts?