Keepers Kennels in Lower Beeding
I do have a dog, a cocker spaniel. He's called Otis, as when we first saw him, he was sitting on a wooden platform overlooking an inlet to the sea, watching ships roll in. Then he watched them roll away again...
Otis is not left alone at home too often and enjoys walks twice a day, but when it comes to organising a family holiday, having a dog does limit your options. Like many families, we must either find a way of taking the dog with us, or try to convince a relative or friend that it would be good for them to look after a pet for a week!
The third option is to entrust your dog with a local kennels, which is something that is not done lightly for most dog owners. One of the most successful kennels in the Horsham District is Keeper's Kennels in Lower Beeding.
It's so called as it was once the home of the keeper of the Leonardslee gardens. The famed gardens, once one of the country's most spectacular landscaped gardens, sits next to the kennels. Indeed, three old kennels used by the gundogs of the historic estate are still on site. However, they are seldom used as new facilities have been constructed over the years.
Keeper's Kennels has also recently expanded its services to meet the needs of modern pet owners, with the family business now offering trained grooming and dog walking services to customers.
Kennels were established on the site long before the arrival of Lisa Dunlop and her family in 2006. But since the arrival of the Dunlops, with Lisa joined by her daughters Billie and Alix, Keeper's Kennels has seen steady growth. Lisa attributes success down to the family's general love of dogs rather than experience, as she arrived having never worked at a kennels before!
"I wanted to be able to buy a kennels because I just love animals," said Lisa. "I had not even been to another kennels in my life at the time we came here. It was something that I wanted to do, as we have always had dogs in the family.
"We came here in the summer of 2006, moving from Handcross. The kennels had been established here for quite some time, and a long time ago was also the kennels for Leonardslee. It is nice to have that little bit of history here.
"When we first moved here, we had 20 good kennels that were ready to use, but initially we were not that busy. The previous owner had been winding down a little bit and relied on a few loyal customers. I worked with my mum for the best part of two years, as my daughters Billie and Alix were still at school at the time, but as business picked up, it became too much for the two of us.
"It reached the point where my mum needed to give up her regular job at Seeboard and over the years the team has expanded as the business has grown through word-of-mouth."
Whilst Billie and Alix are part of the team, it is not an entirely family affair at the Kennels, as Alice Taylor, Sue Towner, Kat Mitchell and Becky Johnson are also important members of the team.
Keeper's Kennels is still a relatively small boarding home with just 25 regular kennels.
However, for those who visit, there has been considerable investment in facilities, with notable improvements to heating, roofing and with artificial turf laid down for exercising the dogs.
"We put the artificial grass down two years after we moved in, because we were finding the grass difficult," said Lisa. "When it rained, you could have 50 dogs running around on a relatively small area of grass, and in the end it looked like a football pitch. The dogs would be covered in mud and we were constantly washing them all. As a result, the washing load was unbelievable!
"We thought about concreting the area, but my husband John is a builder and he thought that the artificial grass was the best option. It was a worthwhile investment as it has made a massive difference to us. It means that if a dog goes to the toilet, we can pick it up straight away, and during the winter it is fantastic because the dogs do not get dirty."
The Dunlops have also added new insulation, making the kennels much warmer, particularly in the winter. It also helps to make it feel more like a home Alix said: "It is interesting as the dogs we see regularly – especially those who come every day – know the routine here completely. The regulars become part of the furniture and you start to know what they like and don't like. Some of them they just jump out of the car and they walk us down to the kennels!
"We go down to the kennels each morning at about 8am, feed them and let them out. They then go out for a play, then we clean them and at 1pm, we play with them again. At 5pm, we feed them dinner and give them play time, before putting them to bed with a Bonio!
"The regulars will be sat there waiting for their Bonio and you don't hear a peep out of them all night! They only really start barking when the bell goes, as that means that one of them is going home, or that another dog is being dropped off, which gets them really excited."
Alice and Alix have utilised the success of the kennels to offer grooming and dog walking services.
Alice said: "Working at Keeper's Kennels provides us with access to new customers. People do like a walk on top of the boarding, as that is what they would do if they were able to. We are lucky to be based near to so many lovely walks. We can walk around the grounds of South Lodge Hotel or go to the public paths in St Leonard's Forest or around the nearby farm land. Very few people walk there so it is always quiet and safe for the dogs.
"We thought it would be a good thing to offer and people have taken us up on it, so it has been worthwhile."
On the grooming side, Alix and Alice have both been trained, and have adapted one of the buildings to be a specialist grooming parlour. They are now grooming four or five dogs a day.
Like all good kennels, Keeper's Kennels have snacks and meals to suit every dog's diet. Popular brands include Bakers, Wagg, Chappie, Pedigree and Bonio. But some dog owners are very particular about their pet's diet and take their own food along to the kennels.
"All of our dogs are well fed, and we have lots of little treats too for them to enjoy throughout the day, but some people like to bring their own," said Alix. "We see all sorts of food here. Some people bring in their own tub of spaghetti Bolognese for their dog, and we see lots of chicken wings too, so we keep it all stored in the freezer. We've even had frozen roast dinners to be warmed up for the weekend.
"People also bring in the dog's favourite toys, and some dogs, especially as they get older, need regular medication too. We have a specific area for medicine and it's well labelled as obviously it's vital for the dog's health.
"Sadly, we do lose the occasional dog, mainly to old age. When I hear that a regular dog has passed away, I always have a little cry! "You do grow attached to the dogs, especially those that are here a lot. But you have to move on quickly as there are always other dogs that need looking after."
For more details visit Keepers Cottage, Leechpond Hill, Lower Beeding, Horsham, RH13 6NR or call 01403 891300 or visit www.keepers-kennels.co.uk