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Why these pet professionals are dogs' best friends

Pet owners here tell Joanne Sweeney why they are prepared to pay hundreds of pounds every month for doggie daycare, canine walking and minding

Published 22/06/2016

Helping hand: carer Andrew Johnston with Max the dog
Helping hand: carer Andrew Johnston with Max the dog
Best friends: Declan McCaffrey with his Yorkie dog Max
Juanita Duke with Alana McGahey and her Staffordshire Bull pup Nala
Juanita Duke with Alana McGahey and her Staffordshire Bull pup Nala
Canine capers: Jillian Marshall taking one of her beloved animals for a stroll
Happy customer: Catherine McKinley with dog Jake and Jillian

They are man's (and woman's) best friends and it seems that for dog lovers, nothing is too good for our beloved canine member of the family. Now, there is a growing range of dog care options available in Northern Ireland for owners who work full-time, irregular hours or travel overnight for work.

And while the cost of providing care for our pets can be a third, or as much as half of our monthly bill for daycare for our children, it seems dog owners are happy to dig deep for their pooch's well-being - and their own peace of mind.

We talk to three dog owners who pay hundreds of pounds each month to ensure their pets get a five-star service and three dog care providers who can't get enough of their four-legged friends.

‘It’s not unusual to wake up with dogs in my bed’

Andrew Johnston (43) started his home-based dog care business Andrew's Animals with his partner Adeline McCann (32) from their south Belfast home six months ago. He charges £20 for a full-day, £7 for dog-walking. The also provide overnight care. They have their own lurcher cross rescue dog Minnie (2). He says:

I'm happy to say that I now care for dogs full-time as a living and look after about 30 dogs at various times each month.

It's not unusual for myself and my partner to wake up with several dogs sleeping in our bed. The dogs get up on our sofa to sleep just like they would do at home and they love it. My slogan is 'your best friend is my best friend'.

I got into it by helping out at Robin Bates dog-training class in Belfast and eventually a dog owner was pointed in my direction who needed his dog looked after one day a week.

I did it and got paid for it and I thought 'is this actually legal?' - getting paid for something that I love to do. It's just amazing. And things just grew from there by word of mouth, as all the dogs were really happy and their owners saw that.

We like to offer one-to-one attention, so we try to limit looking after four dogs at a time plus Minnie. Owners just want the best for their dogs and are happy to pay for the right kind of care. They are not always wanting to cut corners and get the cheapest option."

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‘I know Max is happy when I’m not around’

Declan McCaffrey (33) from south Belfast and his tea-cup Yorkie Max (2) were Andrew's first customers. He says:

Max is the first dog I've ever had, so I decided to get some training for him when I first got him and that's how I was eventually referred to Andrew.

I work full-time as a property manager in the Titanic Quarter and live in an apartment, so it was important for me from the very start to make sure that Max was well-cared for and happy when I was not around.

Andrew comes to my apartment and takes Max out for a walk every day around lunchtime and returns him. He's always posting up pictures of the dogs on Facebook while he's out walking them so I can see Max is being exercised and is having fun.

Andrew is good in that he knows that Max is tiny and ensures that he's walked with smaller dogs so he has his wee friends.

The walk is enough to tire Max out and I know that he then sleeps in the afternoon until I come home and then he's ready for another walk. I also have a webcam at home, so I can keep an eye on Max all the time.

I find I can concentrate better at work as I don't have to worry about him.

While I can afford to pay a dog walker, that's not why I do it - it's because I want Max to have a good life as well."

‘Every dog deserves a life free from boredom’

Juanita Duke (55), who has three dogs of her own — boxers Tara and Betsy (10) and German Shepherd Ben (7) — owns the recently opened American-style Paws doggy day care in Lisburn. She charges between £15 -£20 per day with home collection and delivery an extra option. She says:

I was inspired to open Paws after going to San Diego in California to visit my sister Dianne and saw the quality day care for their dogs on offer and I thought it was really needed here.

I’ve loved and had dogs all my life and I believe that every dog deserves a life free from boredom and loneliness.

We focus on exercise, attention, socialisation, and providing the mental stimulation necessary for a happy, healthy pet with a well-rounded life.

All our dogs have to be assessed to make sure that they are able to socialise with other dogs happily, or have the right temperament to be trained by us.

We can look after from 15 to 50 dogs a day and they enjoy structured play and activities in a 5,000 sq ft indoor play area as well as a large outdoor area.

We organise play time, nap and rest time. There’s even a webcam inside and outside at Paws for the owners to check how their dogs are doing any minute of the day.

There’s never a dull moment here and it certainly doesn’t feel like work. I’m doing the best job of my life.”

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‘It’s amazing to watch and know she’s content’

Student nurse Alana McGahey (24) from Lisburn uses Paws several days a week to care for her 14-week-old Staffordshire Bull pup Nala. She says:

Nala is the first dog that my partner Alan and I have had together and she’s just our wee baby. She is a bit spoilt but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I work long hours and I thought it would be better for Nala to go some place where she would get everything she needed instead of being stuck in the house on her own.

Paws is just five minutes drive from us and the opening hours are really good. The fact that Juanita offers pick-ups means that if there are any mornings when I have to start early, Nala is collected and left home and it’s less hassle for me.

She goes two to three times a week, depending on my rota and when my partner is available to look after her. We have found that Nala is much more social with other dogs and is better behaved. She’s always getting attention and exercised during the day so her energy is being burned off.

I love to look at Nala on the webcam when I’m on my breaks at work, when she’s playing with other dogs or being cuddled. It’s just amazing to watch and know that she’s content. Money is always a bit tight for me as a student nurse but it’s definitely worth every penny for the peace of mind.”

‘I take the pets out to parks ... they have great fun’

Jillian Marshall (36) from Newtownards has two dogs, Lab cross Dudley (8) and Spaniel cross Humphrey (8). She calls her dog-walking business the Dog Marshall and charges £10 per walk for one dog and £15 for two. She says:

I grew up with horses, dogs and cats and every type of animal under the sun and I’ve always wanted to work with animals.

I do agility training with Dudley and we regularly take part in competitions.

Last year, I decided to go into business so I could work with dogs all the time.

I do dog walking and pet visits — that’s when somebody is away overnight and they need someone to call in and check up on their dog.

The most dogs I have ever taken out walking at a time were five, and two of them were my own.

I take the dogs out to forest parks, out around Scrabo and up to the Lead Mines and down to the beach at Crawfordsburn and Ballywalter to vary it, so the dogs have great fun.

They get a full hour’s walk. I collect them in my van and take them to where we are going, so some of the dogs could be out of the house for close to two hours sometimes.

I’d like to expand the business and offer home boarding as well, as there seems to be a big demand for that, too.”

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‘Jake loves getting out for walks with the other dogs’

Catherine McKinley (37) and her husband Bobbie (41) have their Cocker Spaniel Jake (1) walked most days of the week by Jillian Marshall. She says:

I work in a Christian charity in Belfast four days a week and my husband does shift work, so we wouldn’t be available during the day at home. Jillian was recommended to us by someone and it’s worked out brilliantly.

Jake’s our first dog and it was important for us that he would be walked and have some human interaction during the day, so he wasn’t on his own. This is a real relief and peace of mind for us.

He absolutely loves getting out with Jillian and her two dogs and enjoys the places where she takes him.

He gets a full hour’s walk usually three mornings a week. Sometimes it’s twice on the longer days when I’m at work and Jillian will do a short stroll with him again in the afternoon.

We take him out for long walks ourselves at the weekend, and again before I go to work.

We can pay up to several hundred pounds a month to ensure Jake gets plenty of walks.

While it might sound like a lot of money, if you are going to get a dog, it’s important that they get exercise and socialisation with other dogs when you can’t be there.

Before you get a dog, do think about the level of commitment required.”

Belfast Telegraph

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