Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Running a boarding kennels... It's more than just a job

Three years ago, Myself and Lee were given the opportunity to be part of something amazing.

We were asked to consider building up and running a boarding kennels in sunny Cheshire. We were always aware that it would not be an average sort of career, that it would take a phenomenal amount of commitment and sacrifice. We also knew that we could be a big part of something that we could really be proud of, achieve immense job satisfaction, and, most importantly, spend much more time together.

...So we went for it. We resigned from our jobs, Lee as a Chemistry teacher and myself as a self-employed Dog Walker/Pet sitter, and we packed up and moved house. We live on site at the kennels, just yards away from where the dogs stay.
It has been a learning experience for us both over the years, and recently has become more challenging, with the opening of the Doggie Daycare and also the arrival of our little boy George.

A typical day is as follows...

Lee wakes up at 5.45am and immediately goes outside to the kennels to check on the dogs and pull up the kennel hatches so that the dogs have access to their exercise runs and can go to the toilet. He also refreshes the water bowls and (of course) turns on Classic FM. Sometimes there will be a couple of dogs who haven't made it through the night without having an accident, perhaps elderly dogs or puppies, and so their kennels are then cleaned and soiled bedding removed. Lee says that he always opens the door and takes a cautious sniff, if it smells clean, you're off to a good start!


The aim is to get the kennels looking like this and smelling fresh. No easy task! 

Once the dogs have all been checked and let out to toilet, Lee will take himself back to the house and prepare the dog's breakfasts. We like to feed them early so as to reduce the risk of bloat (Bloat is a life threatening condition involving the torsion of the stomach/intestines and is often caused by exercising a dog too close to a meal).
After the dogs have eaten their breakfasts and had enough time to rest (usually at least an hour or so) any dogs who don't like other dogs are brought out to play alone before the daycare opens. Lee tries to give them a good hour of attention before putting them back. Then the dog-friendly sorts are then brought out for exercise in the Doggie Daycare building with the other Daycare dogs. Pete supervises the play and also has the joy of picking up after them all, as now is the time that we like to call 'Poo O'Clock'. The daycare gets messy rather quickly, as you can imagine containing around ten dogs at any one time, so it is cleaned down numerous times throughout the day, swilled down with the hose and squeegeed dry.

             The dogs come out to socialise and play.

As the dogs are out playing, the kennels are then given a thorough cleaning and disinfecting (walls, doors and floors), bedding is shook down and arranged neatly (or washed if needed) food bowls are removed and water bowls cleaned and replaced. The corridor is mopped and the drains swilled clean, and then we squeegee all the water away so that the floors dry quickly. This is done on both the inside and also over in the run side. 

Inside the house, as I am chasing round after and entertaining George, I will attempt to answer phone calls, and then wash and dry the bedding and the bowls. I also keep an eye on the Facebook page in case any worried owners need an update, and load the mornings playtime pictures up as soon as they come through. I'm also responsible for ordering in supplies such as food, bedding and disinfectant, writing the blog and occasionally writing for Kennel and Cattery Magazine. In addition, I keep on top of the filing and accounts, and am in charge of all of the bills and payments we need to make, not to mention making some sort of attempt to plant some flowers in the summer (I am getting better at keeping them alive!).

Once the kennel dogs are brought back in from their exercise (usually after around 2 hours) they are suitably tired and most settle down on their beds and chill out. The morning is also the time when we will be dealing with any new residents or returning dogs to their owners when they come to collect.

Most dogs are more than happy to chill out after their playtime

Our viewing hours are between 10am and 12pm in the week, 11am and 2pm at the weekends. At this time Lee or I make ourselves available for viewings, giving us plenty of time to show owners around and have a good chat about their needs. We'd like to have an open door policy, and really we do because we don't ever turn viewings away even if they are out of the allocated hours, however keeping most of the viewings to these hours works well as the dog's needs must come first. They must be fed, cleaned and exercised before anything else.

Of course the phone will be ringing most of the day.  It will ring approximately every 20 minutes (or less!)through out the day, and it's guaranteed to go off as soon as you try to sit down and enjoy a coffee. We've even had phone calls at dinner time on Christmas day! We can have calls any time from 6am in the morning, right up to 11pm at night. We both try to answer these calls as much as possible, although the answering machine picks up many of them (sometimes you just don't have a free hand) and then we ring back as soon as we get a spare moment.

          Lee doing some office work accompanied by Milo

Once viewing hours are over Lee will check the dogs once again, perhaps giving them a treat or a chew or a filled kong to break up the day, and then he will cover Pete's dinner hour. After this, We try to have an hour or two together as a family if possible.

Soon enough the afternoon is here. The dogs are checked again and any especially lively sorts may be brought out into the daycare again for playtime. There are often incoming dogs and departures to deal with, along with more telephone calls. The dogs are fed again at around 4pm. This gives them plenty of time to eat and toilet before we close up for the night.

Once the last daycare dog leaves us for the night at around 6.30pm, the daycare building is rinsed down and disinfected thoroughly. The kennel dogs are checked once again, kennels cleaned if needed, food bowls removed, water bowls topped up, bedding checked etc. We lock the kennels and the office but at this point the dogs still have the lights on and access to their runs. We don't like to lock them up too early (unless it's really cold) as we feel it's unfair to expect even the best trained dog to cross their legs for that long!

So now we have an hour or so to ourselves again. We bath George and get him ready for bed, have our showers and eat our dinner. Lee goes out again to check the dogs are well and settled at around 8pm. He gives out cuddles and treats and makes sure they are all happy for the night before closing the hatches down, turning off the lights and locking them up securely.

But of course this is a 24 hour a day job - just because the dogs have been shut in for the night does not mean that work is over for the day. Sometimes a dog may bark or howl at night, and so Lee will have to get up to go and see to them and settle them back down. When we had George we made a deal that I would wake up for the baby, and he would wake up for the dogs. As it turns out we both get up at night quite regularly!

Often a spanner may be thrown into the works. Perhaps a dog is taken ill, meaning an unforeseen vets visit. Or a flight is delayed and so a kennel becomes double booked. Perhaps a staff member will be ill and we'll need to cover. These things can make life a little difficult, although the dogs never notice. Their care remains the same and they always come first even if that means me having to show visitors round with George tucked under my arm, or coming back in at night to an answering machine with twenty messages on it waiting to be called back.

           Lee answering calls holding a newborn George

There are no days off, and no sick days for me or Lee. Even when I went into hospital to give birth, George was born at 3.59am, and Lee was back at the kennels for 6am! Lee has literally dragged himself out there, his face green with sickness, to care for the dogs (I am certain that the dogs knew he was really ill this particular time, they didn't play at all that morning, preferring to cuddle up on top of Lee as he lay groaning on the sofa!).

The kennels must always be manned by at least one person. This ultimately means that we very rarely go out together as a family. Hospital and dental appointments can be difficult to arrange 

It is often difficult to see family and friends when you work every day of the year. To be fair, we are both fairly antisocial anyway! We enjoy our own company and don't pine for social gatherings. Even so, it is easy to go long periods without seeing family and friends, and so recently we have spent some time and money decorating one of our rooms so that it is beautiful and new, to entice family members to come and stay with us as much as possible.

The kennels life is normality for George, and one day he'll be able to help us out and earn his pocket money!

And so there you have it. Kennel life, and I say life rather than job, because a job has an ending point at some time of the day, and the kennels does not. 
But although we miss out on many things, we never miss out on each other. Most families spend hours and hours apart each day, but not us, and I feel that's worth more than any holiday. It is also rewarding and heartwarming to care for dogs as a living, they are such amazing animals. Clever and sweet and oh so funny. It warms your heart to gain their confidence, help them settle and feel comfortable away from home, and watch them play together happily and enjoy themselves. It's wonderful to provide such a service to their caring owners, who put such enormous trust and faith in us, and it's amazing to be one of the first kennels to start changing what it actually means to be a kennel. Gone are the days when bars and concrete, endless barking and zero exercise is acceptable. Customers want more than that for their dogs these days. Perhaps, when more kennel owners start viewing this career as a life, rather than a job, we will see more and more kennels improve their standards. We have shown that a kennels can be different, it can be a home away from home, where a dog can be appreciated and loved by genuine 'dog people'. That's how it should be.

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