Inside Country Boarding for Cats and Dogs: Award-winning kennels' labour of love
- Credit: Georgia Barrow
A family-run kennels is up for its second round of awards in as many years, after adapting through a long lockdown and continuing to support their regulars.
Renate and Jeremy Burrowes have run Country Boarding for Cats and Dogs, near Baldock, for more than 10 years - and have turned it into much more than a standard kennels.
The business - which is a labour of love for the couple - has been thriving despite the challenges brought by lockdown. Last year, it was named UK Kennel of the Year Award 2020 in the Pet Industry Federation Awards.
Shortly after, it was given a five-star rating by the local authority licensing officer, and the husband and wife team are now set to attend another awards ceremony!
Set up in lockdown under the Country Boarding brand, DogBonding.com is a finalist for the ‘Online Business of the Year’ category for the Pet Industry Federation Awards for 2021.
Country Boarding for Cats and Dogs is once again a finalist for the 2021 Kennel of the Year Award.
The facilities go far beyond the traditional expectation of a kennels - offering VIP and standard kennels, as well as accommodating for up to 30 cats.
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Renate explained how it all started: "We had different businesses before, but it started when I was looking for somewhere for my own dog.
"I went to a dog kennel and what I saw was a very nice set up, but the dogs were barking fiercely and in their own enclosures. Something bothered me, and I wanted to improve on that.
"Dogs want to be social with other dogs. Obviously, not all dogs are friendly towards others and some have concerns that they might not be properly vaccinated, so there are reasons to keep them separate.
"I think many have moved on from that. We think about what the animal wants, which is to exercise and to roam around with other dogs, to have that social interaction.
"We really interact a lot more with the dogs, and with owners' permissions we started seeing which dogs we were able to mix, so we moved from dogs being separated in their own enclosures.
"There's no way I can look after up to 70 dogs and 25 cats on my own. The team we have here have been with me for years and they're all qualified and very committed. That makes a huge difference."
Visitors to the dog hotel are taken out four times a day, either on their own or with others.
Every morning the shelter hosts a dog walk in their 15-acre park - complete with six-foot secure fence - to allow groups to take their dogs out together.
Other services include grooming, day care, aqua therapy for injured dogs, puppy training and more.
But it wasn't always a walk in the park. Like many businesses in a variety of sectors, the Country Boarding felt the effects of the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns last year.
The kennels were quiet, and visitors were not able to take advantage of the training, interaction and more on offer.
The pet boarding industry's direct dependency on the tourist industry meant people were cancelling their holidays, and therefore cancelling their bookings for the kennels and cattery.
Renate and Jeremy were able to launch a new online service, DogBonding.com, which gave online tutorials on puppy training, as well as one to one consultations, which helped keep them going.
"Last year was very difficult - the boarding is our bread and butter but we had to change things around and adapt.
"Like any business, it was a scary time for us because we didn't know what was going to happen. The cash flow looked really bad at one point.
"Through the pandemic there's been so many people getting new dogs, and those dogs have never been allowed to be near anybody," Renate continued.
"Now we are seeing those dogs coming in suffering with separation anxiety.
"Nearly a year has passed, and it feels that ‘normality’ is slowly returning to the pet care industry. Although the COVID pandemic has been incredibly hard for us and many family run businesses, it has also enabled us to evolve and adapt the way we approach our business model."
Renate will be attending the Pet Industry Federation Awards in Towcester on Thursday, having been nominated for Kennel of the Year and Online Business of the Year awards.