Catsitting in Cairns

Silver fish sculptures

Squeak sat on the couch, curled into a ball. When we entered the house she barely lifted her head; I wasn’t sure if it was disinterest or if the physical movement was simply too much for her tiny muscles.

Gellar gave off the illusion of being robust, but it was mainly an excess of white fluff that tricked me. When stroking her you could feel the wisp of a body underneath, the lack of substance and surplus of fur. If a strong wind blew, I was sure that Gellar would float away with it.

White cat
Draw me like one of your French girls.

“So,” I ventured, “how old are they?”

“They’re very old,” their owner said. “They’ve been with me a long time.”

“How old is very old?” I had to know.


A nineteen-year-old cat is roughly 93 in human years. I was hit with a very real concern that they would not live out the week of our housesit. The weather in Cairns was set to be into the 30s every day, and I vowed to keep the air conditioning on round-the-clock. These cats were not going to overheat, not on my watch.

I will tell you up front: they survived the week.

Wings on the wall
Catsitting angel at your service.

But it did remind me once again that even when it seems like a safe bet, there’s so much responsibility involved with looking after someone else’s house and beloved pets. Each time we left the house that week, I hoped fervently that we would return to a pair of characteristically grouchy elderly cats.

We ventured out on the second day, enticed by a roadside banner promising Oktoberfest celebrations at the nearby German Club of Cairns. There were a surprising number of small children wearing lederhosen, but the night quickly gave way to a raucous session of Oom-Pah music and dancing.

German club Cairns
Later in the evening they even gave everyone a free beer! I was impressed.

The following morning, Squeak revealed a hidden side of her personality—she expected to be fed no later than six a.m., and woe betide the housesitter who neglected to rise on time. Squeak did not give a crap how many steins we’d consumed the night before and summoned the meow of a much-younger cat until one of us got up and put food in her bowl.

Of course, as soon as we did so, she turned her nose at it and sauntered off.

Meanwhile, Gellar attempted to make herself comfortable on Jared’s chest, flipping her feather-duster tail in his face. I don’t know why but animals and little kids seem to be drawn to him even when I’m right there, desperate for their attention.

As the week moved on, we realized that the cats didn’t care if we were around or not. As long they could dictate our wake up time, they were satisfied. By the day their owner returned, Squeak was demanding a full bowl that she had no intention of eating as early as four a.m.

Early starts in Carins are probably for the best, considering how hot and humid it gets by late afternoon. We drove to nearby Kuranda, a mountain village known for its artsy markets, skyrail and scenic train.

delicious falafel
If you go to Kuranda, stop at Falafellicious for the BEST FALAFEL. Also the best name.
Waterfall Kuranda
Barron Falls, before the rains.
Train in the jungle
The scenic railway – probably more fun than the winding drive through the mountains.

And when we returned, the cats were alive and we were relieved.

Cairns offered us a week without having to construct and break down our house every couple of days. There was no TV but it didn’t matter because there were four solid walls, a roof, an air conditioner.

Housesitting has been a welcome way of breaking up the camping lifestyle, because although this has been an epic trip, I could feel myself starting to fray at the edges—and Cairns was before our camper trailer was stolen.

art gallery entrance
Tanks, an art gallery set up in old water tanks in the Cairns Botanical Gardens.

We didn’t dive the Reef or even get out on the water, but tackled logistical projects like getting the air conditioning in the car fixed and shopping for meals that can be cooked in an oven (we so rarely have access to one these days). I lost myself in The Engagements, sent out a few more pitches for my travel memoir, and the week was suddenly over.

When we said goodbye, Squeak was still on the couch and Gellar under the bed, indifferent to our departure but indisputably alive, allowing our fledgling housesitting career to continue unblemished.


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