‘Will we have our own pool, Mummy?” my eight-year-old daughter asks. “Will I get to pack my own suitcase? Is Luna allowed to come on the plane with us?”
“Don’t be silly, they don’t allow dogs on planes. She can’t come with us,” her 10-year-old brother retorts.
My daughter’s eyes widen in horror. “What do you mean? We can’t leave Luna! We’re her family. Who is going to look after her?”
Who indeed? It’s a question which I have been brooding over since we booked to go away, our first trip abroad since the pandemic.
Luna, our two-year-old Labrador was, by chance rather than design, a lockdown puppy and has become our constant companion. I have been working from home since the day we got her and will continue to do so. That first spring and summer of March 2020, the children were here 24/7 so she is very used to company (and noise). Until now, Luna has probably enjoyed our trips down to stay at a friend’s beachfront apartment in Devon even more than us, with the coastal walks and swimming in the sea at the dog-friendly beach.
The thought of leaving her with a stranger who might not appreciate that she’s not just any dog, she’s the kindest, most loving girl and an integral part of our family, fills me with dread.
Fortunately, my dad comes to the rescue by recommending Jackie, a lady who has a cottage on the grounds of a local estate and has been looking after his beloved whippet for the past 16 years. She lets the dogs sleep on the beds in her house or in the caravan in the garden and run riot in the grounds, but she has to vet the dogs and their owners first.
Her cottage is predictably ramshackle when I go and visit her. It appears to be a little like the house in A Squash and a Squeeze children’s book, when one by one, the dogs appear. Two gorgeous red setters, a very friendly little Jack Russell who lies on his back for a tummy tub and Leo, my dad’s whippet, emerge one by one. The dogs are given free rein to frolic in the large walled garden and there are two teenage boys helping out, providing cuddles and picking up you know what.
Fortunately, Luna and I both pass the test and Luna’s, er, dogged bottom sniffing (of both two and four-legged friends) goes unremarked. Which is just as well as Jackie tells me she is busier this half-term and summer than she has ever been.
She has, she says, had to turn people down after meeting them and the dogs because lots of the dogs are lockdown pups who will have separation anxiety and haven’t been properly socialised.
I would also say, pandemic notwithstanding, that dogs have become akin to substitute children for some people. At a dinner the other week, one friend, who chose not to have children, proudly showed me web camera footage of her two dogs sleeping in much the same way I would show someone pictures of my children. The same friend had to cut our evening short to go back home and check on her dogs as her partner was away.
So, although leaving our beloved pooches is never going to be easy, what should dog owners look for in a kennel or dog-sitter? And how can you help prepare your four-legged friend for your impending departure?
Firstly, try and think about what sort of set-up might work best for your dog. Are they quite friendly and sociable or more cautious and shy with new people and other dogs?
Niki French, trainer and founder of Pup Talk, says: “Decide what’s going to be right for your dog. Are they likely to be happiest staying in their own home for the least disruption? If so, having a house and dog-sitter is a great option. It means you also get the security of a house sitter.”