It's a jolly doggy holiday with Michelle and Dan
PUBLISHED: 06:00 02 July 2015
Pair's passion for canines led to new business looking after pets while owners are away
TO call Michelle Taylor a dog lover would be a ridiculous understatement of the facts.
So when she and her partner Dan Gilbert were offered the opportunity to turn their craziness about canines into a full-time job, they jumped at the chance.
The pair are now the proud new owners of the north Kent and Bexley branch of Barking Mad – which provides temporary care in people’s homes for dogs whose owners are going away.
And they are looking for dog devotees who would like to earn a little bit of money – and a lot of joy – by looking after pets for short spells of time so their owners don’t have to put them in kennels.
“It’s a doggy holiday,” explained Michelle, who lives in Orpington with Dan and their children Lilly, five, and Ronnie, three.
“The dogs love it. Sometimes the customers say they don’t want to go home, and one host cried because she didn’t want the dog to go home.
“The hosts are not paid a lot of money – they do it for the love of the dog. We have had people coming back and saying they have had an awful time on holiday – the dog has had a better time than they have.”
Their franchise is part of the nationwide Barking Mad operation, which was started by Lee Dancy in Lancashire after she could not find suitable care for her own dog.
It covers Gravesend, Dartford and Bexley, stretching as far as the Hoo peninsula in Medway.
“We will go round to see the customer and the dog first and make sure the dog is healthy, fit and suitable to be put in someone else’s home,” explained Michelle, 32.
“Everything they do at home with their dog, the host will mimic, from the length of their walks to their feeding routines and where they sleep.
“We will give the customer three or four host options, and if they are going away for longer than seven days we will do a trial – a two-night sleepover to make sure things are okay and the dog is not going to howl all night!
“We’ve had a big response so far as it’s summer.”
But it’s not just about the dogs – their human companions benefit just as much from the experience, if not more.
Across the country, the company has been working with the Campaign to End Loneliness to see how it can help isolated older people, and often organises coffee mornings for its hosts so they can meet each other and make new friends.
“What could be better than a dog to bring someone out of themself? It’s like a friend that they can borrow,” said Michelle, who owns two rescue dogs, a bassett hound called Dotty and a Staffordshire bull terrier called Butch.
“There is a community among dog walkers – we walk our dogs in Danson Park and we have been talking to quite a lot of people there. But when an elderly person loses a dog, that social side is also gone. My father-in-law, who now does a lot of hosting for us, said he felt silly going out without a dog.
“When we have more hosts, we’re going to organise coffee mornings and maybe some bingo nights, organised dog walks and even a dog show.”
To be a host, you have to be in good health and able to walk and care for a dog, and have a home where the dog will be safe and secure.
You can be working, but most of the hosts are retired, semi-retired or work from home, as the company doesn’t allow dogs to be left for more than two hours.
“I never put my dogs in a kennel. My father-in-law would always have them, but it meant we couldn’t go away with him, and then we had a situation where we weren’t going to be able to go to a family wedding,” Michelle said.
“Now we can match them with someone with whom they are going to be happy.
The pair have both had demanding careers. Dan was a fireman until a serious accident ended his career, and then worked as a taxi driver.
Michelle was a City accountant – but it wasn’t fulfilling her.
“I have two young children; I didn’t want to be working from 7am till 7pm. I want to be able to see my kids grow up,” she said.
“I’ve always loved animals, and within five minutes of meeting Lee, the founder, I realised she was like us.
“I love it now. I haven’t got anyone to answer to. And the kids get to meet all the different dogs too – every now and then they will come home and have a new dog waiting for them.
“I have had excellent feedback from every customer. You don’t often get a hug from your customers – and I get that a lot.”