02/07/2013 08:08 am ET Updated Apr 09, 2013

Delayed Grandparenthood? Discover The Joy Of Pet Sitting

A cousin of mine once had the pleasure of becoming a grandfather at the age of 39. For most boomers, however, grandparenting is likely to come slightly later. Although I'm the mother of three 20-something sons, none are married and grandchildren -- since only one has a serious girlfriend -- seem a far-off possibility. But not to worry! My solution? Pet sitting.

Now let me say straight out that I do love animals. I can't entertain pets in the house, however, because my middle son is allergic to them. And although he lives in his own apartment now, if I were to get a critter, he would rarely -- if ever -- come to visit. (We briefly inherited an 18-year-old cat after my mother died, and that whole year my son spent wheezing.)

But without grandchildren anywhere on the horizon, and short of getting a pet myself, I've discovered a nifty option. Pet sitting (i.e. I go to a friend's house and feed their pets while they are on vacation or traveling for work) is a handy substitute. (Of course, there are "professional pet sitters" who do this kind of thing, but I'm talking about an arrangement that's voluntary and a little less formal.)

We've all heard grandparents gloat about the joys of caring for their grown children's babies or kids. You know the line: "I get to play and feed the baby and then go home!" Grandparenting is cracked up to be far more fun than actual parenting, because at the end of the day, well, it's the end of the day. No nighttime feedings, diaper changings or dealing with tantrums. Just do your loving, joyful granny or gramps act, and then split!

Well, same is true of animals, I've discovered. I am absolutely smitten with the cats and bird that I take care of on a fairly regular basis (my friends seem to travel quite a bit, perhaps because they know I am eagerly waiting in the wings to take care of the cockatiel and kitties). But here's the thing: I get to go into their cozy warm house (my hubby keeps ours at sub-zero temps), pet and play with Heidi and Twinkie, coo at Syd, change their food, water, and litter and I'm out of there. All the perks of having a pet without the hassles (other than interrupting my day). The cats twirl around my ankles and rub their noses on my shins (after all, I'm feeding them!). And the bird is so happy to see me that I get an exuberant whistle any time I'm near.

Pet sitting has other benefits as well. Although I pet-sit because I love animals and want to be of help to my friends, these folks and others seem to insist upon showering me with gifts and trinkets (maybe grandparents have this experience too, but I rather doubt it; most likely the hug of a grandchild is reward enough). Bottles of sparkling water or wine, class cards to yoga studios, chocolates, jewelry and other items often await me when I stop in to feed and pet the felines. I've found that people are genuinely appreciative of someone who cares for their animals. I mean, whom can you trust, really, when it comes to your pets? And getting a pet-loving friend to stop by is a helluva lot cheaper and easier than dragging a menagerie off to the kennel.

One caveat: It's been my experience that it's wiser to care for the pet in its own home (and not just because of my son's allergies). My two experiences with bringing the animal to my house were not favorable. Let's just say that you really feel guilty when the hamster dies in your basement. And if you have a sweet little kitten come to visit you are likely to spend the entire day just sitting and holding it.

Now, I'm not discouraging anyone from becoming a grandparent (and one day I hope to have a real infant to feed instead of something that might scratch or bite me -- though I suppose that's possible with a grandchild as well). But in the meantime, pet sitting seems to be just the ticket. What could be better than the cuddly love of a cat but no litter box in your kitchen?

Earlier on Huff/Post50:

10 Things to Look Forward To As An Empty Nester