How Neighborly Is Neighborly?
September 11, 2016 1:23 PM   Subscribe

My new neighbors, whom I have only met once, seemed upset when I turned down their request that I house sit their house and pets for 12 days. I am not sure if their request or my refusal is unreasonable. Perhaps neither the request nor the refusal are unreasonable? Details follow.

I've only met my new neighbors (they are down the road about a quarter mile from my house), once for a quick 5 min conversation where we learned that we both raise chickens and bees and both have two dogs an no kids. They seem like absolutely lovely people from the brief conversation I had with them. But we've been in our new house for almost 3 months and I only had the one conversation, so I really know next to nothing about these folks. I was surprised therefore, when they showed up on the doorstep about a month after we met, and asked if I would house sit/pet sit for 12 days starting 3 days hence. This would involve taking care of their two dogs, chickens/turkeys and a bunny. I wanted very much to help these people out, but having had a good friend who is a professional house sitter I was leery about taking on the responsibility. I have heard some horror stories about bad clients, pets that get sick, property damage that happens during unexpected weather events etc. etc. etc. My friend is insured and is a member of several professional house sitter organizations. I hired her and paid her professional wage whenever I needed a pet sitter back in our former town. I would never consider asking a person I did not know to take care of my house and animals.

I did want to help my new neighbors out since they said they usually had their mother in law do the petsitting and circumstances had caused that not to be possible so now they were in a bind. I figured that even though I wasn't keen on the idea, I could at least do the outdoor animals, the chickens and Turkeys (and maybe the rabbit-I don't know if its an outdoor or indoor bunny). So I told them I would be happy to take care of the outdoor animals, and I suggested the name of a petsitting service I have found here in our new city that might be able to care for their indoor dogs. I said that I didn't feel comfortable doing the indoor petsitting because I wasn't a professional pet sitter and didn't have insurance.

To my surprise, the neighbor pressed me about why I wouldn't consider doing the job. He wasn't rude, but he was clearly annoyed that I wouldn't help out the way he needed me to. I just continued to say that it wouldn't be possible for me to do the indoor part of the job, and eventually he accepted that. He did not address my offer to help with the outdoor pets or my professional petsitter suggestion.

I am sad that this happened because I was really looking forward to having a friendly relationship with these neighbors who seem to have a great deal in common with my husband and I. I was kind of on the spot when he pressed me, and I felt that I was doing the right thing by only taking on what I felt comfortable with, but after his reaction I sort of question my response.

If you were in a similar situation, would you have said yes? Do you feel this is a reasonable request to make of a neighbor? Would you have been upset if you asked a neighbor for this sort of help and they refused part of your request as I did? Is there any way you can think of that I could smooth this out when they return, or should I just leave it be?

As usual, thank you very much for your insight. I'd really like to have good relations with my neighbors and your answers help me gauge how I might want to respond in the future. Maybe I was too cautious and not neighborly enough.
posted by WalkerWestridge to Human Relations (49 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It's not totally absurd for him to have asked, but he should have taken your no as an answer right away, rather than pressing.

Totally fine for you to feel uncomfortable accepting.
posted by ktkt at 1:28 PM on September 11, 2016 [42 favorites]

This is a massive favour to ask of even a close friend. A vague acquaintance? No way. You were generous to offer your time to care for the outdoor pets.
posted by doornoise at 1:30 PM on September 11, 2016 [97 favorites]

He may have been weirded out that you brought up insurance as an issue. It's not something most people worry about and could have come across as untrusting/ not neighborly. If you'd said you didn't have the time, that probably would have been accepted more readily as an excuse.
posted by metasarah at 1:37 PM on September 11, 2016 [32 favorites]

This is a huge favour and I wouldn't be comfortable asking it of someone I didn't know. My neighbour does do this for me (and I for her) but she offers, I never ask and we are very good friends. If there is anything to smooth over here, it should be from him, he overstepped boundaries by asking for such a big imposition and then pressing when he didn't get the answer he wanted. Knowing this, and keeping in mind he had no interest at all in you until he wanted something, I would be less keen on having a friendly relationship with them in future but that's just me.
posted by Jubey at 1:37 PM on September 11, 2016 [16 favorites]

I would assume that a last minute no-pet-sitter crisis has made your neighbors just a little bit dense in the request department. I understand the feeling and panic so they have my sympathy, but I also think it is fine you turned them down. Yes, your decision is reasonable and your caution is wise. But their request is reasonable too, in a panicked way, and I would give them the benefit of the doubt in the neighbor department, at least until they get back from their trip.
posted by dness2 at 1:41 PM on September 11, 2016 [14 favorites]

Your neighbors can certainly ask, but they should also respect your sense of limits, and your right to say no. I think you have a very good sense of your limits in this context, and don't feel comfortable with the situation. Trust your instincts, and don't second guess yourself. Don't do it out of a sense of obligation, because you will be headed down a path of unwanted obligations.

I have a host of horror stories about housesitting for people against my instincts, it's not something I would agree to again. They should hire and pay for someone.
posted by effluvia at 1:41 PM on September 11, 2016 [5 favorites]

Their request was not reasonable. You've been very generous and considerate as it is.

I would probably have said NO and slammed the door in their face. But then, that's me. I'm no nonsense like that.
posted by Kwadeng at 1:45 PM on September 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

I tend to be very cautious about most things, compared to average, and I've found sometimes exercising caution in situations like these can make people feel a little implicitly judged. Balking at petsitting without insurance, for example, can come across a little bit like, "I don't think you should use an uninsured petsitter."

I don't think you were wrong -- I would have responded in the same way -- but that might explain the tenor of your neighbor's response, to a certain extent. I'd be inclined to write the whole thing off due to the high emotions of a stressful situation and pursue whatever friendship you were hoping to in the future.
posted by telegraph at 1:49 PM on September 11, 2016 [18 favorites]

Good lord. That is a large number of animals and a long time and is a really enormous favor to ask, especially on short notice. Our across the street neighbor asked us to watch their their cat for a week with a day or two of notice and we thought it was a pretty big ask, and we have been friendly acquaintances for much longer than you have known your neighbor.

I think offering to do the outside animals was generous, and your neighbor was probably a little desperate so pushed on the dog issue. You are not in the wrong, but he was not in the wrong to ask, only wrong to press when you said no to the dogs. If you want to smooth things over maybe leave an extremely friendly note with your phone/email, the name of the petsitting business for the dogs and a reiteration of your willingness to do the outside animals if he contacts you.
posted by charmedimsure at 1:50 PM on September 11, 2016 [8 favorites]

I honestly think it's crazy they'd leave two dogs for twelve days unless housesitting meant that you lived and slept at their house. That's got to be a stressful/lonely experience for the dogs and it's asking for trouble as to what happens to them if someone is just checking in twice a day. You were fine to refuse; it's on them if they get out of sorts about it.
posted by handful of rain at 1:51 PM on September 11, 2016 [43 favorites]

There's no way he has the right to be annoyed. He's asking for a fairly big favor. That's just about half a month where your routine could be significantly disrupted and a great deal of unknowability and anxiety could be added to your life. I wouldn't ask a near-stranger this (unless I was willing to pay market rate), and I definitely wouldn't have the gall to be annoyed or press the matter.
posted by naju at 1:51 PM on September 11, 2016 [6 favorites]

I feel like they shouldn't have asked. I'm kind of guess-culture that way. But since they did, you were absolutely reasonable to refuse. The potential pitfalls of a housesitting project increases geometrically with the complexity and this one sounds QUITE complex.

I understand they were disappointed, since I can imagine it's hard to find someone to do this at all, much less unpaid and with three days' notice!
posted by fingersandtoes at 1:51 PM on September 11, 2016 [3 favorites]

I agree with metasarah that giving your lack of insurance as your main reason may have made it sound like you were worried that they were the kind of people who might sue you when you were doing them a favor. But citing lack of time or concern that you couldn't take adequate care of the dogs would be very reasonable. Twelve days is a long time for dogs to be alone in a house with someone just coming by a couple of times a day to take them out to relieve themselves. Maybe they're small or old and don't need much exercise and maybe they're okay with just each other as company, but that job sounds like it could have meant living at their house instead of your own and/or taking the dogs for lengthy walks every day.
posted by Redstart at 1:54 PM on September 11, 2016 [4 favorites]

1. I think that was a big ask on their part but maybe this is a thing they are used to doing on a neighbors-help-neighbors basis and would have done the same for you. You were well within your rights to say no and what you offered was generous. I would have also said no.

2. Agreeing that the insurance thing may have rung weird to them. I live in a rural area and this is 100% just not how people think/act out here and to act that way might have seemed like a sort of "made up" reason when maybe you had another secret reason. Like not wanting to go on a date because you say you have to wash your hair.

So I'd just assume they were stressed out (and sometimes there can be inter-partner pressures that have zero to do with you) and I'd try to contact them again in a friendly way once they are back for a while and just don't mention the situation and go from there.
posted by jessamyn at 1:54 PM on September 11, 2016 [28 favorites]

This is a massive favor to ask of a close friend, not of a neighbor you barely know, at least in the US. My next door neighbors (who we are not otherwise close to) trade long stretches of vacation pet care with us, but only once a day, and only for a few minutes at a time. And with a LOT of notice. And sometimes gifts from international destinations.

Because I'm a sucker for animals, I'd probably have said yes to taking care of indoor-only animals who could be sufficiently cared for with one daily 10-minute visit. Cats and goldfish are what I'm thinking of. Anything that needs to go outside or be checked on in case of nasty weather? Hell no, unless it's a very close friend AND they're in a massive bind.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 1:58 PM on September 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

I agree that the neighbor's request was unreasonable, your offer to help with the outdoor animals was more than reasonable, and that his response to you was unreasonable.
posted by ejs at 2:07 PM on September 11, 2016 [4 favorites]

A casual acquaintance asks you to take full care of his property and livestock for almost two weeks, but only gives three days notice? You were MORE than reasonable to offer what you felt capable of doing and refusing to take on his entire project. He, on the other hand, was unreasonable to ask a near-stranger to be responsible for so much, followed that up with more unreasonableness in refusing to accept your counteroffer, and topped THAT by getting huffy with you.

My guess is that he's asked everyone else in the neighborhood to do this in the past, but they've all reached the end of their patience with him and have told him Never Again --- leaving you, the newcomer who doesn't know this guy's reputation.

Another guess: he COULD get a pro house sitter, but either he's too cheap to pay someone or else the nearby pros know he's stiffed house sitters in the past and now they refuse to work for him. Also, if he'd ask this much of you now, on the strength of one tiny short conversation, I can only imagine how overbearing and demanding he would get next time.
posted by easily confused at 2:10 PM on September 11, 2016 [16 favorites]

Agreeing wholeheartedly with "I live in a rural area and this is 100% just not how people think/act out here." Their expectations for the standard of care were probably much lower than one would encounter in the city and their idea for what you might need to do was probably the bare minimum, and while they may not have paid you, I bet you would have received some generous gifts/free labour from them in the future.

This is not to say that you should have said yes, just -- these things work differently in the sticks, I've found. Animals are left to fend for themselves quite a bit more, professionals with insurance are sometimes a thing that just doesn't exist... Once I got locked out of my house in the freezing cold. Went to neighbour's. Was given (seriously) a glass of moonshine whisky to warm up with. Called every locksmith in the area; none picked up their phone (this was around 8:30pm.) We went to another neighbour who we knew to be handy. "Just lemme get my pants on." (Mid-January, he's in shorts.) He grabbed another neighbour, and the two quickly broke in to my house with no damage. It would have been bizarre to offer cash, but I dropped off a decent quantity of beer and Hawkins Cheezies the next day.

When I took care of a neighbour's cat after it went and hid and wouldn't stop hiding until she had to head for the airport, I received a series of small gifts: cookies, a sweet hand-embroidered thing, a hand-knit baby blanket (I had a baby at the time). Planned cat-sitting for other neighbours involved dumping more food and water in a mudroom every 48h; there was no sitting and playing with the cat as a city petsitter might. (I think I got a bottle of wine in return?)

Rural economies involve a lot of odd favours in exchange for unexpectedly finding your walk snowblown all next winter or a case of beer or whatever, not calling professionals with insurance. Storms bring down trees here and I don't even know how long it takes the municipality to deal with them because if there is a tree blocking cars somebody is out with a chainsaw before the end of the day. A tree that came down in a storm in my yard was chainsawed up by a neighbour who was happy about the opportunity to use a chainsaw. And so on and on. Maybe my homeowners' insurance covers me if he'd cut his hand off or sent a log flying through my window? Don't know, stopped worrying about that long ago; nobody else does.

Which is all a very long way of saying I think they were rural, and in a tight spot, and not weird or rude. He quite possibly would have had as much luck calling around for an insured professional as I did when I tried to find a locksmith after business hours.
posted by kmennie at 2:16 PM on September 11, 2016 [81 favorites]

It sounds to me like they asked somewhat out of desperation. Chickens and turkeys and dogs and bunnies and living in what sounds like it might be a pretty remote area is a tall order for finding a house sitter.

Also the whole "I'm not a professional pet sitter and don't have insurance" thing sounds persnickety and like a weird lame excuse. I don't think Professional Pet Sitter is a thing that really exists outside a few major cities. I've been dog walking, pet sitting, and house sitting casually for friends for years, and as a pet owner that definitely seems like the done thing not only in my social group, but among everyone I've ever met. Even among people who are fairly persnickety about their homes, pet care, etc. The fact that you are not really a friend, but a neighbor/acquaintance, makes things a bit more hairy, but it might have gone over a bit better if you'd just told a white lie and said you were too busy or something.
posted by Sara C. at 2:27 PM on September 11, 2016 [11 favorites]

I also think this is a rural culture issue.

My family didn't have a farm but my dad worked on and off as a hand and when dairy farmers were sick or went on a once in a lifetime vacation, my entire family moved in with the farm family so my dad could take over milking. For weeks.

Somebody's got to do the chores, you have virtually the same stock - this is EASY for you. I have a feeling this is the kind of neighbor that will provide you with lots of free labor and equipment in the future. I think your refusal is going to frame you up as a loner. The neighbor is really confused that you are so friendly but now you're cutting yourself out of the community by refusing.

You've got some fences to mend here. Even if you don't do the house sitting, you need to big time start doing things for your neighbors to prove you want to be part of the community and not isolated as a loner.

If you want to be left alone and be outside this world of helpful labor and equipment, that's fine and they will still be nice, but if you want to be in the world of sharing labor and equipment you need to show it.
posted by littlewater at 2:32 PM on September 11, 2016 [11 favorites]

Outrageous request unless a close friend for many many years. And I would ignore them from this point on for all things.
posted by Postroad at 2:36 PM on September 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

To clarify.

We are not rural. We live in a city but our neighborhood has larger lots and no restrictions on raising livestock.

I don't know if they were going to offer to pay me since that didn't come up in the conversation, perhaps I turned down the job before they had a chance to bring that up.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 2:39 PM on September 11, 2016 [5 favorites]

As another dog owner, the dog-sitting alone is a big favor - semi-professional dog sitters typically charge at least $30/day and professionals are usually over $50/day. So basically they were asking you do to something worth hundreds of dollars. Being mindful of this, I would never think of asking a new casual acquaintance to dog sit, and when I do ask friends, I make it extremely clear that it is more than fine to say no.

That said, I know how stressful it is to be stuck without a dogsitter at the last minute so I understand why they asked you. You were completely reasonable to say no and I think he was kind of a jerk about it.
posted by lunasol at 2:40 PM on September 11, 2016 [9 favorites]

I would have said yes. Yes, it would have been a great deal of work and above and beyond the usual petsitting ask. I mean walking the dogs on top of everything else with the birds and the rabbit who need to have their homes cleaned? That's a big time investment. But I would have sucked it up and done it, personally. I just would want to build that relationship so that if my husband and I were ever in a bind with our animals we could ask them.

I do think it's strange, with that many animals, they wouldn't consider using a pro petsitting service. That's what my husband and I tend to do most of the time so that we don't exasperate our neighbors with a zillion requests. If I had a busy week coming up and just couldn't do it I would explain that I was going to be working late and unable to do it timing wise and then suggest the name of a petsitting service I'd used. But that's me.

The point is that your neighbor is being petulant with you, when you were put in a tough spot and were honest. That's not fair. Put in that position, I'd bake them something and bring it over and be honest myself with wanting to be friends and not having been sure how to handle that. I'd also say that I would really love to meet their animals.
posted by Pearl928 at 2:40 PM on September 11, 2016 [3 favorites]

As someone who agreed to pick up their neighbor's mail for five weeks (and then found it an annoying task after two and wondered why I agreed) I commend your answer.

You are never under an obligation to say yes to requests like this. They can ask, you can say no. I would have said no myself.

It doesn't matter if you brought up insurance or they felt judged or asked out of desperation or what. People ask strangers to look after their kids in shops but that doesn't make it okay.
posted by 41swans at 2:50 PM on September 11, 2016 [13 favorites]

I felt that I was doing the right thing by only taking on what I felt comfortable with, but after his reaction I sort of question my response.

Agree that this was just a case of culture clash. I don't think you did anything wrong, in fact it was good of you to think about the request and provide what you felt able to provide. No one should ever commit to something they're not comfortable with. It's good that you trusted your gut, regardless of what anyone else would have done. In places where there's less people around people are forced to trust whoever happens to be there at the time and hope it works out. Where there's more people there's also the luxury of taking advantage of specialization and knowing that not everyone is trustworthy, knowledgeable, healthy, good at prioritizing, etc. And the really important rural/non-rural difference between valuing dogs as farm equipment and valuing dogs as little furry children. If you weren't able to care for the dogs properly you were right to point them in the direction of someone who could. That being said I think it was fine for him to ask too; I just think he should have taken the time to think about what you were saying with as much care as you gave to his request. But I think you could try to smooth this over by doing something neighborly like inviting them over for dinner, a sports game or beers or something like that.
posted by bleep at 3:20 PM on September 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

It's definitely on the "uncool request" side of things. Your response was basically OK, though it helps to go with something more like "oh, I'm so sorry, I can't," rather than giving an excuse, in scenarios involving people you don't know well.

I would pretend it never happened, and bring them cookies when they get home.

I BTW think that there's a huge difference between "livestock" in the sense of chickens and rabbits versus sheep and horses. I'd be shocked if a family with a barn asked for a random neighbor to do this kind of thing, but I know people who have asked this of my mom in cases where all the animals were either dogs or weighed less than 10 pounds each. Actually, my parents have a neighbor who has horses and who has asked specifically for help with everything other than the horses, which my mom thought was totally fine.
posted by SMPA at 3:43 PM on September 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

I live part time in the country, and I would (and have) gladly helped my neighbor with the livestock, but dogs would be too much for me right now.
That said, it looks like I'm getting an opportunity to work abroad for a while, and that will get me looking for homes for my pets and livestock. If it happens, I will approach friends and neighbors, but I certainly will be 100% OK if they say no. I can see people are using Facebook for this, and it seems to be a good forum.
posted by mumimor at 4:29 PM on September 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

I've never heard of pet insurance for sitters in my life. I would have been taken aback too.
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:50 PM on September 11, 2016 [5 favorites]

It's local standards you need to know, not what we all think about this. Given that he made the request and was puzzled by your refusal, I'm guessing this is SOP in the neighborhood.

If I were in your place, I would invite the neighbors over for dinner or perhaps take a batch of brownies sometime when I see them working outside and then bring up the subject so that I could explain my refusal.
posted by she's not there at 4:53 PM on September 11, 2016 [5 favorites]

> We are not rural.

Quoted for emphasis, since people seem to be ignoring it.

Also, you were absolutely right, and your neighbor is a jerk for even trying to make you feel bad about not agreeing.
posted by languagehat at 5:06 PM on September 11, 2016 [21 favorites]

I do pet sitting for money sometimes, and I think people who have had relatives (especially relatives who are retired or are young adults without as many responsibilities) do it for free can end up being a bit out of touch with reality about this sort of thing.
posted by needs more cowbell at 5:23 PM on September 11, 2016 [4 favorites]

I have lived in a rural area and now live in a city. While I have houese/pet sit for friends and they have done the same for me, we have always paid one another in some way. Asking a stranger, even if you are neighbors, is odd to me. If he was in a desparate situation he should have said so.

The whole insurance thing I'm sure was off putting. Having insurance to me just means you are going to charge me more. He possibly had no idea what you were talking about.

I am about to ask my neighbors if they would be interested in taking care of my one dog for 10 days in Jan. I am going to offer $30 a day. He can go to their house or stay at mine. They need to sleep with him cause he's a special snowflake. I will present it in such a way that they have a big out. I have watched their little dog a few times during the day so we have some history in this area. I would never ask a neighbor that I do not have some kind of relationship with. It is to big of a request.
posted by cairnoflore at 5:24 PM on September 11, 2016 [3 favorites]

they are "users" avoid at all costs
posted by patnok at 5:27 PM on September 11, 2016 [4 favorites]

Please don't bake them brownies and explain your answer. You graciously took on a big chunk of labor for city folks who may become friends later but are strangers now. You went above and beyond. Someone who is stressed out about a bad situation is allowed to ask for help but should be prepared to hear and accept no. Pro tip: Never, ever use how someone responds to your no as a guide to determining if saying no was the right thing to do. That's always and only your call regardless of how the person hearing your no feels about it.
posted by Bella Donna at 5:35 PM on September 11, 2016 [21 favorites]

I think it was a big ask, perhaps too big, but it sounds like they were desperate. It was fine of you to refuse. However, the professional petsitter/insurance reason, though understandable, seems aloof and overly transactional to me, a person who didn't know about either of those things until today.
posted by delight at 5:39 PM on September 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

More than half the comments here are snap judgement judgmental. Nobody here knows what "norms" are where you live. Some people are more generous than you some less. There is no way for anyone reading your question or you yourself to know why the people behaved in a way that made you feel funny about your interaction. (Maybe they were desperate on short notice and under a lot of stress, maybe they are narcissists.) On my street I am lucky to have one neighbor who will feed our cat if I call after I've left. More people on the street used to do that and we for them but the culture changed and some people we really like just evaded when we asked if the could feed the pet. I don't hold it against them, I hope they don't hold are asking against us, but I'm not going to listen to people who say "its just not done that way" from whichever side and neither should you. If your uncomfortable doing the favor than don't do it, if they think badly of you that is their problem.
posted by Pembquist at 5:47 PM on September 11, 2016 [4 favorites]

I'm from Louisiana and lived in the city/rural thing for a good part of my life and now live as a happy urbanite.

This is a major major ask favor. Yes, it would be way more common in the south for neighbors to help, but in this case it would more likely be 3 or 4 neighbors taking a few days a piece not the whole thing. And then, there would be some
Sort of compensation be it informal ( you can use my tractor anytime) or formal.

If never heard of pet sitters until I lived up in a big city, and thought the whole idea was crazy, but I've used them for my cats and like the services. I've also asked my neighbor to check in on my cats, but in conjunction with a cat sitter for long trips to not overburden him or leave him responsible for my lumps of fur.

You are not at fault. Though I do imagine finding help for all those types of animals on short notice is hard. You did offer what you could, and the rural city thing would be ' let me ask xyz if he can do the indoor stuff and you both can work together'
posted by AlexiaSky at 5:54 PM on September 11, 2016 [3 favorites]

I am guess culture to a fault, and I would rather cancel a vacation than ask a neighbor I'd only met once for this kind of favor. I would pay an exorbitant amount of money to a professional pet sitter rather than ask a good friend to do this. Twelve days is way too long to expect someone to do a favor that involves the well being of multiple animals. Three days is in no way a reasonable amount of notice to give.

For reference, we have one bunny and we arrange for a professional pet sitter several weeks, if not a month, in advance of our vacations. And pet sitting for us involves coming in to dump food in his cage, check his water supply, and leave. I would have said no in your shoes, no question. If it was presented in a less pushy manner and only for one or two days, I'd probably do it to be nice, but twelve days is just not an ok thing to ask of one person/couple.

I get wary about people who seem to have no boundaries for asking about things (ask culture weirds me out), and I would worry that they'd continue to ask for huge favors in the future, especially if they're pushy about it.
posted by banjo_and_the_pork at 6:45 PM on September 11, 2016 [11 favorites]

But I would have sucked it up and done it, personally. I just would want to build that relationship so that if my husband and I were ever in a bind with our animals we could ask them.

Honestly I think this would make it more likely to encourage more requests for favors involving you spending a lot of your free time doing things for them. I am amazed they had the gall to ask such a huge thing of you, let alone grill you for a reason and act annoyed. I'd give them the benefit of the doubt though and assume they were stressed and this came up suddenly. You did nothing wrong at all and were super generous to offer to help with the outdoor animals. In case others here are correct that the insurance thing put him off, since you want to remain friendly I'd just next time say you don't have the time.
posted by JenMarie at 8:23 PM on September 11, 2016 [10 favorites]

Because you liked them and because he was panicked and you could just be guess culture and him ask culture...I'd want to salve the relationship. I love my neighbours and take better care of their needs than lots of close friends because if my house is burning down or I'm being attacked or I've run out of milk I love being able to call on them. (Ok, I'm probably more likely to ask them for wine than milk, but that sounded bad.)

I'd take neighbours a plate of cookies when they get back. Apologise you weren't able to help and say you're sorry if you were awkward. You just didn't feel confident to take on that level of responsibility. Ask them how their trip was, how the dogs are, and if they're free for a beer and barbecue and chicken commiserations soon.

That may seem wussy to some, but I'd want that relationship smoothed. They sound like potentially great people who, in a pickle, panicked.

(I'm an asker, my husband isn't. I'd feel mortified if I was your neigbour. My husband would be mortified if I'd asked. )

You were ok to say no, they were ok to ask if they were in crisis mode. Some people love to do pet sitting for the very joy of it. I did. Till I lost an expensive cat. (Don't ask. )
posted by taff at 8:46 PM on September 11, 2016 [4 favorites]

Where I live (in a city) this is a totally normal request (in fact you typically hire neighbors' adolescent kids, not insured pet-sitters! It's often their first job.), but it's also totally normal to turn it down. But I have a neighbor who moved in three weeks ago and I wouldn't think it was weird if they gave me a key and asked me to come feed their pets while they were out of town. (I watched my other neighbor's then-two-year-old human for like three days when the neighbor had a heart attack 3 or 4 months after moving in. Shit happens.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:58 PM on September 11, 2016 [3 favorites]

Since people are still litigating this - absolutely uncool request, you were entirely in the right.

I, however, would give him another chance since you liked them the first time you met them. This happened after month 1 now you're on month 3, right? Seems like good timing for another overture. Maybe ask if neighbors would like to take their dogs on a walk with you guys and your dogs? Or over for a drink? Don't bring up the petsitting thing, just as you would politely not mention Grandma loudly farting at the table.

Next time (if there is a next time) go for the social white lie, "Oh I'm so sorry, I can't do it this time! Too bad, by the way I know a great service if you want it..."
posted by arnicae at 10:18 PM on September 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

To me, what makes this an unreasonable request for a first time request is the 12 days. That is a long time. If they had said for 4 days over a long weekend, I would have suggested you agree. It does sound like they were in a last minute bind and you were their hope they thought up while lying in bed panicking about the fact that they had no sitter for their pets 3 days before they left for 12 days. As for why you turned it down, hey, everyone has their reasons. Lack of insurance would not be mine, but it seems reasonable to me assuming you are a very cautious person.
posted by AugustWest at 11:19 PM on September 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

Totally fine for you to have refused. Always okay to refuse something you don't feel comfortable with.

Nthing "culture clash". Just because people live in a city doesn't mean they're city folk. For pete's sake I live in Paris and grew up in a place in Oregon that's so rural it doesn't have a name. I didn't know pet sitters existed until five years ago and was like "what? people get licenses and insurance for that?" This was after 15 years of city-living. And I spoil my furballs by anyone's standards. It was when I found out about cat hotels that my head really started spinning. You don't just magically get injected with Proper City Folk Mindset when you move to a city.

Anyway. It sounds like they were probably in a bind and possibly not thinking entirely straight due to that and who knows what other circumstances. No one here knows why they were going to be gone. Not sure why people jump to the least charitable conclusions? There are things like cancers where you know the treatment schedule plenty of time in advance, know when things can get bad, and so can in fact plan ahead for long trips to visit an ill family member/friend... just one possibility, obviously another possibility is that they were going on a second honeymoon or scuba diving the Great Barrier Reef or whatever.

No need to go out of your way, but if you want some more insight into the situation, I'd drop by or otherwise casually cross paths with them and ask how things went with the animals while they were gone. It'll show you care (because pretty clearly you do) and you'll be able to see more of what kind of people they are.

Don't feel bad about it in any case. I'm pretty sure they realized they'd messed up and don't hold it against you. (If I'm wrong, well, you'll find out if you talk to them.)
posted by fraula at 1:27 AM on September 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

When I ask my very wonderful close friends to watch my pets, I pay them market rate for pet sitting, and offer them use of my large apartment, cable TV with HBO, 75mbps internet, stocked fridge and liquor cabinet, etc. And even then I feel terrible asking and I don't think I would ever do it for TWELVE DAYS unless I could split it up between 2 different people so it's not such a burden.
posted by misskaz at 6:44 AM on September 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

Eh, you didn't do wrong, they didn't do wrong. You can still be friends, and probably should, even though it'll take some effort since you got off to a rocky start. But this can be overcome. I wasn't clear on whether you're still doing hte outdoor portion of the housesitting; if so, you've got a good route to more conversation. Be nice to them, invite them over for dinner when they get back, talk about anything other than housesitting.

If pressed, apologize for not explaining yourself better, or for being caught off guard, or for being so busy that you hesitate to take on that kind of responsibility - but don't apologize for saying no, or imply your answer would be different in the future.
posted by aimedwander at 8:21 AM on September 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

I want to give every single one of you a best answer (can I do that?). It is fascinating to me to see the wide difference in opinion and culture. This ask did exactly what what I hoped it would, it allowed me to see some ways the neighbors might be viewing this situation that I just wouldn't have been able to come up with on my own. It never occurred to me that there are people out there who don't know that professional house/pet sitters are a thing. It would also never occur to me to ask this of a neighbor. From my experience what they wanted would cost me around $500 to $600 if I needed the same service. I would pay it without question and never, NEVER ask someone I didn't know to do it. But that is me coming from a place of moving around a lot and not usually having close friends and family nearby, also the fact that I expect a great deal of time from my pet sitters which it seems entirely appropriate to pay for. Going forward I am going to stick to my answer if they ever ask again, but I will be friendly and as helpful as I can because I bet they are really very nice people with a different cultural experience than my own and I hope we can work this out without any hard feelings. Thanks so much everyone!
posted by WalkerWestridge at 9:07 AM on September 12, 2016 [18 favorites]

I think to ask you on such short notice for this extent of a task was wrong, but honestly if I had the capacity to do it, I would have done it, with the understanding that if I were ever in need, they'd owe me one and do the same for me. I've lived in both large cities and rural areas and I've never dreamed of using a professional housesitter. I grew up doing it for neighbors when I was a kid for either free or a nominal sum like a few dollars a day, and I typically ask neighbors' kids or other friends to do it for a few dollars a day or a gift I pick up on my trip if they do it for free (but I only have a few cats - if I had as many animals as your neighbor I'd probably insist on paying something). -- northeast USA.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 6:55 PM on September 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

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