To Watch or Not To Watch- Home Surveillance when away
December 14, 2011 8:10 PM   Subscribe

We are going out of town and using a housesitting service that we found through the interwebs. A friend told us that we absolutely must set up some sort of surveillance. I'm really torn.

Specifically, it's a cat sitter who should be coming over once a day. We met her and the company owner, who were both very nice and I feel comfortable with. But other than instincts and some good yelp reviews, I got nothing. I was totally cool with this, but my husband was nervous, and then some friends of ours told us that after their place was broken into, they set up a simple security camera and actually caught a friend who was pet sitting going through their things. Yipes.
But I'm still not sold on this. More specifics: we will be gone for a week, far enough away that it would take more than a day to get back. We live in a medium-sized apartment building, major city, good neighborhood, three floors up, with no door person, and a back porch. I have an iMac with iSight in a prominent space, so setting up a security cam would be as simple as downloading a program.
Our friends argued that for $30, we would be able to log into a website and see our apartment, monitor the cat sitter and make sure that no one had broken in. My argument against it is, wouldn't you rather be in the dark? I have pet sat before, and I have brought friends over or gotten a drink of water or checked their bathroom cabinet for some much needed advil- all things that would look much more sinister from a webcam. And I am concerned if I have access to this camera, it would ruin my vacation because I would feel the need to check it all the time. Plus, I downloaded a trial of one program, and the green light for my camera comes on- would I want her to know she was being watched? I would be pissed if I found out someone was recording me.
As far as catching a thief, I'm sure we have all seen the video where the woman speaks to the police department in real time while she watches thieves break into her house and then later as they are caught- but I'm guessing that's pretty unusual. The chance that I would log on just as people are breaking in and be able to call the cops in time and that the thieves wouldn't just unplug and take my iMac seems unlikely.
So, I guess I feel pretty set against it, but everyone else I have talked to thinks I am being ridiculous not doing it when it would be relatively easy to do. Have any of you done this and had positive/negative results? Or have you been to someone's house and realized they were filming you?Any non-surveillance tips on coming back to a happy house?
posted by emilyclaire to Technology (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I used to have cat sitters all the time. I got them through a reputable pet sitting agency that my vet told me about. Once my cats got older and needed a little more medical oversight, I actually hired one of the vet techs from the office who did cat sitting to come over every day. Because these sitters were either recommended by my vet or actually worked at the vet's office, I felt completely safe trusting them and giving them the key. I never had any problems. Maybe you could ask your cat's vet for the names of some sitters -- might assuage some of your husband's misgivings.
posted by la petite marie at 8:26 PM on December 14, 2011

I was a dog walker/cat sitter through a licensed company. I did not have the time to look through people's things and would have been really unnerved if I saw a computer's camera light on. I was there because I loved animals, not to snoop or whatever. When I hire a pet sitter, I think if I can trust them enough to care for my pet's life, that will trump whatever mischief they could get up to in my apartment.
posted by emyd at 8:32 PM on December 14, 2011

I've had many pet sitters over the years. Never taped them, never had things go missing. I would worry about this only when there's a specific problem, not before.
posted by vorfeed at 8:34 PM on December 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

Reputation is key. Higher rep = lower chance of getting someone who intends to steal. Your friend has good reasons for persuading you to buy spy cams, but you also have good reason to not buy them.

How about you do this:
Set up a security system and let a friend do the monitoring so that you don't have to ruin your vacation. I mean, you never know what kind of person they are, whether an animal lover or just someone who likes free stuff.

Personally, I would change the locks as soon as you get home from your vacation and not worry at all. It's not that hard to make a copy of your key and say that it's for your "roommate".
posted by Angel of Khaos at 8:35 PM on December 14, 2011

I would make sure I hired a bonded insured company and not think twice about it until there was a problem.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:37 PM on December 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

Many people are over-paranoid. If you don't feel that way you don't need to join them. Bad things happen to everyone, including those who would consider themselves the most careful.

The fact that this sitter has a boss that presumably has her contact information would leave me feeling pretty secure.
posted by TheRedArmy at 8:39 PM on December 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

I routinely allow tradesmen and house sitters into my house with no surveillance, and I don't lose any sleep over it. So I guess I'd be in the don't put in a spy cam, and don't worry about it camp, while at the same time acknowledging that the other approach is not foolish and is probably the right decision in some cases.

(Also, as a former cat sitter who was hopefully not filmed, be aware that they might do something like bring over their boy/girlfriend and get it on in your living room -- do you really want to see this on the web cam? Some things are better left unseen, I think. I always tell house sitters that they are welcome to bring over lovers, but that I don't want any big parties, and so far either they have obeyed my wishes or cleaned up really well, which comes to the same thing in the end.)
posted by Forktine at 8:41 PM on December 14, 2011

If you do end up setting up your computer as surveillance, which I don't think is a great idea for the ideas already mentioned, I think you should tell the pet sitter what you are doing.

If someone told me in advance that they would be watching I would be like, "That's weird, but whatever." I might wave at the camera and would try not to pick my nose in front of it.

If I found out later that I was filmed without my consent, I would be very upset.

Also, if i was cat-sitting and saw a computer open, I would probably close it, thinking that the owner left it open by accident.
posted by insectosaurus at 9:00 PM on December 14, 2011 [5 favorites]

I have three dogs, and not long ago also had 2-3 cats. As long as the sitter is bonded and reputable, I don't think there's any excuse to tape them, not without notice. If you have so much gold and antiques sitting around that you're afraid someone will walk off with it, you need a different level of sitter.

Don't leave crazy valuable stuff laying around in view - not because of the sitter but because of burglars who might have ample time to case the joint through the windows - and you have nothing to worry about. Except maybe alienating a perfectly decent petsitter. Part of the reason they come (and the reason they generally change around lighting and other not-at-home cues) is to make the house look too occupied to rob. If they're bonded, they're not going to rob you.

For $30, I would not expect to be able to snoop. When we board the dogs for $100/day, we expect a webcam (or, as actually happened, a phone call inviting us to look at the webcam and watch our dogs destroy $300 worth of dog beds and pillows in 20 minutes), but when they are at home I would never snoop on the sitter. Even before our current situation where our dogsitters are retired lady Marines, we didn't snoop and if we owned anything valuable would secure it elsewhere.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:18 PM on December 14, 2011

Ask the company for references--they should be happy to give those to you.
posted by min at 4:51 AM on December 15, 2011

I have used catsitters from the interwebs on numerous occasions. It never occurred to me to set up a camera and I think it's a bit creepy. If I was helping out a friend by feeding her cats and she filmed me, I'd be terribly offended - not because of the trust issue (fair enough if she told me about the camera, but I'd also argue that if you don't trust someone then you shouldn't give them your keys in the first place) but because I might adjust my knickers or pick my nose or something thinking that I was in private, when I actually wasn't.

I have a catsitter coming to stay for the next 3 weeks while I'm away. I'm pretty sure she has much better things to do than go through my things. I'm really not that exciting and (no offence) I bet you're not either.

If you want to use the camera, go ahead, but be sure to tell the sitter that you have a camera set up. If you're really worried about her stealing something, then that would put her off. Though again, I'd argue that if you're worried, you shouldn't be doing it in the first place.
posted by rubbish bin night at 6:35 AM on December 15, 2011

If you want to have the security cam running, you could always tell you cat sitter that you just wanted to be able to log in and see Fuzzy and Spot while you were away and missing them. I would imagine you would not be the first pet owner who wanted to do that--some kennels advertise that it's something they provide for owners to check in on their pets.

A family member of mine was actually just robbed by someone they paid to watch their cats (the thief was caught, so they know it was the sitter). They hired someone who was not with an agency, not insured, and based off a recommendation of a single person they did not know well. They also left valuables sitting on the kitchen table. Basically, they did not follow any of the advice listed above.
posted by inertia at 7:52 AM on December 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

I do house-sitting for people with animals. I have a number of people I house sit for, and I get these jobs through recommends. I don't snoop through people's things (except bookcases--and I warn 'em.)

Don't web cam me, and don't hire me if you feel you can't trust me. It's just creepy.
posted by BlueHorse at 7:58 PM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

insectosaurus: " Also, if i was cat-sitting and saw a computer open, I would probably close it, thinking that the owner left it open by accident."

I believe LogMeIn(.com) can remotely turn on and off a computer now. Not sure if the free version can.

Also, simple solution to the green light: A small piece of black construction paper and a piece of tape.
posted by IndigoRain at 11:04 PM on December 16, 2011

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