Secure Cat Sitting
Moving always brings changes both positive and negative. Prior to relocating to Seattle in December 2004, all my residential shifts were from one part of the Des Moines, Iowa metro area to another section of town. One of the biggest changes in moving from Des Moines, IA to Seattle, WA has been figuring out what to do with our cats when we go out of town. Overnight, they easily take care of themselves with food, water and a clean litter box. Leaving home for several days, as we did while visiting Iowa over the holiday weekend makes things a little more complicated.
In the past we generally relied on relatives to check on the cats, but we aren't related to anyone in Seattle (there may be a distant relative or two in the area, but not someone I'd burden with cat sitting) so the family option is out. This leaves putting the cats in a boarding facility or hiring a cat sitter as the only viable alternatives. I'm not a big fan of boarding, because the cats aren't used to being restricted to a cage. We've tried two different cat sitters since arriving and both seem quite capable. The feline dietary requirements were met and all three appear to be in good health, so I can't really ask much more.
The one thing that remains awkward about hiring a sitter is the idea of letting completely unknown people in your house with something approximating free-reign. I'm not a paranoid guy, but there's still some small part of me that doesn't particularly like the possibility that some strange person might be taking inventory of my cupboards while I'm away. And of course, taking inventory of the cupboards is the least of my worries in the grand scheme of potential hazards.
I briefly toyed with the idea of setting up motion sensitive Webcams to keep track of comings and goings while we were gone, but then realized there would be a ton of footage generated by typical cat movement and who really has time to watch a bunch of security tape anyway? Many of the more practical solutions for access control aren't viable without permission from the landlord, who likely doesn't want a bunch of security stuff set up temporarily until we move to some other home in the future. I did take a very obvious step of locking my office, which adds an additional barrier between the computer gear and unnecessary snooping.
I'd be happy with a simple logging mechanism that makes note of arrivals and departures from the house. An access control panel requiring a key code on entry and a key code on exit would give me a very clear picture of what time the cat sitters arrived, how long they stayed and when they left. I still wouldn't know what went on in the house while they were here, but at least I'd have some idea if they stayed overnight or were coming and going more times than the paper log they provide suggests. I've done a ton of research on home security automation but most of the effective solutions are designed for permanent residence, not rental living. I recently wrote about some of the basics for the Digital Lifestyle Reference Guide at InformIT.com. I'd love to hear from you if you've come up with a particularly ingenious solution for dealing with home access control.