"We felt as if he adopted us as his family…”

Sally Keegan

At the end of 2019, we asked you all to look back and celebrate the special pets and people you met through TrustedHousesitters. 

After reading through so many wonderful stories (through both tears, laughter and deliberation) our judges finally chose the winners of The Trusted Awards 2019. However, the vast amount of stories did mean that some special mentions had to be shared. 

Here we have Maggie and Steffen, nominated by Marion and Chris who the judges felt deserved an extra special nomination...

Listen to Marion and Chris’ story as to why they nominated Maggie and Steffen for Sit of the Year 2019...

This year we cared for four gorgeous Friesian horses, 13 dogs, four cats, and seven chickens, across  seven house sits in four countries altogether. Although each animal with its own personality was special to us (even the small rooster Napoleon, who would attack once you turned your back to him), one dog definitely won our hearts: a Spanish mastiff by the name of Felipe.


As with many dogs in Spain, Felipe has a sad history. He was owned by two brothers who used him to guard their flock of goats. When the brothers gave up the goats and moved into town, they abandoned Felipe. Maggie and Steffen, who own a house a little higher up the mountain above the goat shed, sometimes saw Felipe roaming the mountain, but he always kept his distance. They used to feed some stray cats on the upper part of their property, and whenever they saw Felipe on those occasions they fed him as well, but he would always stay behind the fence as if he did not want to get too close to any humans.


When Maggie and Steffen invited us to house sit for them in Spain last winter, they asked us to keep feeding Felipe along with the cats. We enjoyed the late afternoon walk up to their terraced property where you have a spectacular view across a wide valley to the west, the small fishing town of Adra to the east, and the ocean to the south. And sure enough, Felipe would show up behind the fence. He devoured the dry food we shoved on a plate underneath the fence as long as we kept standing behind the fence. Whenever he felt we were coming closer to him, he would instantly take off, abandoning his food although he was clearly starving. His flanks were caved in, his fur was dull, and his beautiful eyes looked so sad that it was almost unbearable to see him leave after his meal.


Feeding Felipe became the highlight of our days. Despite his pitiful appearance, this big dog had such a majestic air to him that it was fascinating to watch him walking slowly, almost regally up the mountain. What a beautiful creature! We so much wanted to make his life easier, but we also wished to have him closer to the house and spend time with him, show him how much we adored him, to stroke him, have him trust us. So one day we gave him a refill and then two more because we wanted him to feel full at least once in his sad life. 


Some nights we saw Felipe coming down to the house where we kept a water bucket on the terrace for our resident rescue dog, Carrie. We always made sure the bucket was full at night for Felipe as we assumed that this was his only source of water. One night, when Chris saw him striding down the terrace, he walked outside, talking to him. This time Felipe actually let Chris stroke him and was rewarded with a piece of ham. Three days later, he came down in the afternoon while we were sitting on the terrace. He walked straight up to me, nudged me and finally let me stroke him. That was the turning point.


From that day on he showed up during daytime and either stayed on the terrace or took a walk with Carrie. Eventually he discovered a shady spot underneath a pine tree one terrace above the house, which he adopted as his very own to doze the hot midday hours away. From there he had an unobstructed view of the house and the property. Day by day he seemed more comfortable being around us, even protective. He now got fed twice a day at the house. He still spent many hours roaming, but he always showed up at feeding time. 

He would never come into the house though, no matter how strong the wind might blow or how hard the rain might pour. The most he would do to get a treat was stick his big head through the sliding door, but that was it. However, it was amazing watching his anxiousness around people turn into trust and affection. Somehow we felt as if he adopted us as his family, and we are very pleased for him to have overcome his fear of humans and for having made up for the harm others might have done to him.


Whenever we left the house for a few hours, Felipe would place himself on top of a small wall surrounding the terrace in front of the house, looking down the mountain and the road below. That‘s how we would find him every time we returned. Meanwhile he had gained a few pounds and his fur had a beautiful shine. His eyes didn‘t look as sad anymore, and the way he would majestically walk and hold his head reminded us of the Lion King – Felipe is our King of the Mountain. Despite his impressive size, he emanates a great gentleness. He does look powerful, yet not threatening. His posture is self-confident, yet not overbearing. He certainly is not what you would call ‘a cute dog‘, and strangers would keep their distance out of respect for what he might be capable of, but once you get to know him you’ll want to hug and cuddle him all the time.


It was with heavy hearts that we left this three month house sit. Not only had we fallen in love with the house itself and its unique location, but also with a very special Spanish mastiff. It was a huge consolation that Maggie and Steffen invited us to come back this year, and we‘ve been looking forward to seeing Felipe again all year long. 


And here we are now. It felt like a homecoming when we arrived and Felipe and Carrie came up to the car to greet us enthusiastically. They clearly recognised us. Both dogs look really strong and healthy, but Felipe kept true to his habit of staying outside day and night. We still have no idea where he spends his nights.

One week after our arrival, there was a terrible storm with heavy rainfall for about 32 hours. Obviously Felipe felt so miserable when he came to get fed in the morning that he let us coax him inside. It did take him a while to feel comfortable and relax, but in the end, he dozed in the warm house for a few hours before he went outside again. Ever since then he comes into the house once in a while, checking if everyone is in before he leaves for a walkabout. He‘ll always stay a mountain dog which is fine, as long as he knows he‘s welcome in the house. 

Meanwhile, we‘ve settled in, this time for four months, and we feel like the luckiest people in the world. There‘s nothing comparable to getting up early and watching the sky turn red before sunrise. Sitting on the southern terrace to watch the sunset at the end of the day with the dogs next to us, gazing into the valley, or standing on the terrace at night below a starry sky almost undisturbed by lights. 

We cannot thank Maggie and Steffen enough for opening both their Spanish and their Danish homes to us and for letting us share the joy of caring for their ever-growing menagerie. But that is another story to tell…

Want to see more of Maggie and Steffen? Head to their listing.

Or why not hear more stories from our Trusted Awards winners and special mentions?

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