Reporter Lynne Harrison looks at how owners are keeping in touch with their canine companions while they are on holiday.
Imagine you are on holiday and sunning yourself on the Costa del Sol some 1,500 or more miles away from Boston.
Would you want to know how your pet dog was getting along back home?
Dog owners from this area can’t rest on holiday, it seems, without getting texts – not to mention photographs and even video updates – from the people who are looking after their pets.
We really are barking mad about man’s best friend, our canine companions who don’t just live with the family but become part of the family.
Former bank worker Kerry Wells is celebrating her tenth year in Spalding as owner of the aptly named Barking Mad dog sitting service that provides dogs with host families when their owners go on holiday.
The home-from-home service is an alternative to kennels for much-loved pooches and Kerry has 42 such hosts in an area stretching out from Spalding to Sutton Bridge, Boston, Stamford, Peterborough, Rutland and the outskirts of Wisbech.
Kerry organised a big walk in Bourne Woods recently so her host families had a chance to get together, talk about their shared passion for dogs and meet up for a drink at a dog-friendly pub afterwards.
One of the dogs on the walk has been with a host family for nearly a month and it was the perfect chance for Kerry to send an update to the owner.
She said: “I sent video footage of the walk and video footage of him opening his stocking on Christmas Day.”
As well as being a reassuring service for dog owners, the hosts get something back too – especially if they are dog lovers who can’t undertake the full-time commitment of having a dog or dogs of their own. The dozen or so people taking part in the walk had their own pets but most hosts look after dogs when their owners are on holiday and enjoy caring in short spells.
“It’s like being a grandparent,” said Kerry. “You can say ‘goodbye’ after a weekend, the week or the fortnight.”
Part of Kerry’s role is to carefully match pets to their hosts and to see that the canine guest moves in complete with food, medication, treats and toys – not to mention a tailor-made instruction manual detailing how they should be cared for.
Hosts are fully supported by Barking Mad, including insurance. Barking Mad also meets the cost of any unexpected vet’s bills that might need to be paid while the owners are away.
One thing clearly understood is that it is the dog’s holiday, too.
As soon as the pooch settles in, Kerry sends a text to the owner to reassure them their pet is fine.
Further updates, including photographs and videos, are sent at intervals suggested by the owner to give them peace of mind.
“I would say probably 75 per cent of owners do want regular updates,” said Kerry.
Kerry’s hosts come from all walks of life, including ex-police officers, mums who are at home, a former hospital manager, a photographer and a part-time GP.
She says: “When a dog goes on holiday (with us) they stay with people who really want to enjoy their company.”
Settling back into their own homes may not always be quite so smooth when dog-loving hosts have, perhaps, raised expectations.
Kerry’s own dogs have one long walk each day but were given three short walks by their holiday host and Kerry had to put up with some sulky looks from them until they got back into the old routine.
Kerry and her partner Duncan Smith have two dogs – Harvey, a 12-year-old Jack Russell, and Molly, a rescue dog from Romania, who is estimated by the vet to be between five and seven-years-old.
Kerry, now aged 53, spent 28 years in the banking industry until she decided it was time for a change and saw this opportunity on the franchise page of a national news paper.
As the business has grown, Kerry has been determined to find ways in which the hosts can socialise together and the walk in the woods was held for that reason – the next big event planned is an Easter treasure hunt.