One at Dover, two at Canterbury: life of a kennel maid

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Many years ago, I applied for a work experience in a council dog pound/private boarding kennels in Folkestone, Kent. I have some very fond memories of my time there. I arrived in March 1988; I remember it had been a very cold winter, therefore I was suitably equipped in the all-important wellingtons and warm clothing.

One of my first memories of the experience is that of the kennel’s owner, Liz. She had a German Shepherd puppy that was about a year old. On one occasion, she had to go out in her car; she had not long disappeared down the long drive when her much loved pet decided to charge after the car. Staff after this young dog and managed to catch up with her among a few angry motorists. She kept up this habit for a while.

March was a very busy time for the kennels, as the e holiday season was beginning. Two very large St Bernard dogs were booked in for their regular stay with us. One particular morning, as we attempted to walk them and clean out their Kennels, they became over-excited and wild. Therefore, Margaret had a brilliant idea: she had some donkey halters which would fit their heads, and could be used to control them.

St Bernard, Cane, Animali, Pet
Source: gentledogtrainers.com.au

It was all about timing. I opened the Kennel Door and Margaret tried her hardest to put them on the dogs. Well, all Hell let loose. They both charged the kennel door, which was thrown open, knocking my friend to the floor and biting her hand. They also threw me on the floor, bruising my arm. Both dogs ran up and down the long room, voicing their displeasure, at being woken from their slumber.

We managed to catch and harness them for walking. They were extremely strong dogs, but the job had to be done as they were paying boarders. We finished and safely returned them to their Kennels, after which we both burst into laughter at what we had experienced. All in a morning’s work for a kennel maid!

One of my duties as a kennel assistant was to take care of boarding cats. There was a small block with about five cats; it was quite a simple job most of the time and, as I thoroughly enjoyed looking after them, I looked forward to my time with them. Most were good tempered, some were not.

Gatto Di Riparo, Gabbia, Adozione, Senzatetto

On one occasion, a cat rushed through the door and was gone. I checked the whole garden and the field next to the house, but the cat was nowhere to be found. What was I going to do? Liz was out, so if I were going to get the sack it would not be until late afternoon. I remember thinking my great work experience was about to end. I would be considered grossly incompetent.

I presented myself to Liz and waited for the humiliating experience of being told that I would not be coming back to the kennels. To my great surprise and relief, Liz told me that the cat would return to the cattery when it became hungry. Having limited experience of cats and their behaviour I worried all afternoon and well into the night as to what happened to it. I cannot remember the outcome of the story; I would like to think it had a happy conclusion. Deep down, I believe it did.

One week we had a dog called Spike, a Doberman cross. The other girls had teased me at coffee break, but I did not know what all the fuss was about him. He was fine, I thought. I cleaned his kennel and decided to take him for a walk. I grabbed his personal lead – which was mistake! He started to bark, which set the other dogs off. I opened the door to his kennel and he broke free from me. He ran up and down the long room, barking furiously. He was energetic to say the least.

Doberman, Cane, Dobermann, Mare, Costa, Walkie Talkie

I put his lead on him and off we went. It had been raining earlier and the field was very slippery. Minutes into our walk, Spike spotted a cat and took off like a jet engine, with me in hot pursuit! Before long I lost my footing and slipped into some long grass which was full of Dung and other unmentionables – my clothes were filthy.

I looked up and down the field, but there was no sign of my charge. I had to spend the rest of the day pickled in dirty clothes; the funny thing was that no member of the public commented on my filthy appearance! The other girls at the kennels could not contain their laughter after learning my fate. I had to admit that I could not contain my own laughter afterwards. I was teased by the other kennel assistants for the rest of the afternoon.

The house cat, Masey, would often follow me around when I was in the stray block of kennels, and on meal times. One day, a certain dog came into the stray kennels for rehoming. As far as I remember, I think she was a Pit Bull who had been mistreated.

Animale, Cane, Pit Bull

The word got around and everyone took pity on her. She was very thin. It was suggested that she have a diet of freshly cooked chicken with other food stuffs. I used to cook the chicken in a microwave. She had a ravenous appetite and soon made light work of her meal!

One day with, with Masey following me and carrying the cooked chicken, I made my way to the stray block. The Pit Bull grabbed Masey and started to attack her, ripping her flesh. I was horrified and frightened. With some assistance, the dog let go of Masey. She ran away and bolted up a nearby tree.

The decision was taken to put the dog to sleep as it was unwell and unpredictable. Masey was treated by a local vet and soon recovered.

There was a destruction policy at the kennels. I played no part in it, thank goodness. The disposal of dogs was a sensitive matter. They were kept in deep freezers in an outbuilding and not completely out of the public’s sight. Mondays would find them full up.

Acqua, Gocce, Frigo, Canne, Una Goccia Di

One afternoon the freezer in which I was searching in was partly full up. The rest filled with the dead Bodies. I had my hands fully into the freezer when I heard voices at the other end of the outbuilding. They were getting near – members of the public. I quickly slammed the freezer lid shut, relieved that I hid the sight of dog bodies.

A man and a woman asked about the kennels. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted to my horror a dog’s leg. While engaging in conversation I slowly manoeuvred it back into the freezer. There was, I believe, a strict policy not to talk about destruction. I thought I’d be dismissed if I did. I was in a difficult situation – what could I do?

Thank goodness, the couple soon left. I was sweating like a racehorse after a run, and breathed a sigh of relief. I remember thinking, I will write a story about this one day.

Canny Mostra Canina, Dog Show, Cane

I had not long started work at the kennels when I was asked by some of the girls if I would like to accompany them on a trip to Cruft’s Dog Show at the NEC. I had attended with my mother when it was held in London. It was an early start to catch the Coach from Folkestone; I remember being very disappointed as I found it far too large to explore in about half a day. I much preferred it when it was in London!

The loss of a much-loved pet is very distressing for anyone at any time. I had not experienced watching euthanasia ever before in my life. I had a young Golden Retriever. This introduction to the dark side of veterinary science was a shock to the system.

A 16-year old blind dog was to arrive shortly for boarding. I had been my task to walk him around the kennels. He was happy enough, we all thought. One morning I came to wake him up, clean his kennel and take him for a walk. I noticed he had difficulty rising, and was disorientated. I slowly plodded with him to the field while Margaret cleaned his Kennel.

Animale, Cane, Pet, Mammifero, Carino, Rilassato

The steep slope up to the field was too much for him; he just toppled over onto the grass. I picked him up into my arms and quickly went back to the Kennels. A local vet examined him and told us that the old Dog had a stroke, and that the kindest thing he could do was to put him to sleep.

A green liquid was administered to the dog and, within minutes, he lay down just as if he were falling asleep. It was all so peaceful. Tears ran down my face and I was reminded that we would have to face the uncertain possibility of the same fate happening to our much-loved dog sometime in the future.

A tired stray, a small bitch, came into the kennels during the night. When I came into the long room to start cleaning kennels in the morning, there was a shock for me! She had a swollen tummy, but stood up to greet me. She was sweet-natured. Her large tummy was soft one side but hard the other. I guessed that she was pregnant and had possibly started whelping.

Neonato, Cucciolo, Carino, Mammifero, Bambino, Ritratto

She lay down, but she was in distress. Time was against me and I had to move on to the next dog. About forty minutes later all the boarders were dealt with and I rushed back to my bitch. She was breathing slowly, then faster. A tiny wet bundle was making small sounds. I picked it up, amazed – it was the smallest puppy I had ever seen.

I rushed out of the kennel block with such excitement, calling my assistant. I could not contain myself, as I knew Karen loved puppies. We both ran back to the bitch, but she was in some trouble. I felt her Tummy, and there was a large hard lump.

A second puppy was stillborn; by next morning both the bitch and her first puppy were dead. She had cancer and a decision to euthanase her had been taken. Karen and I were stunned.

Zolfo-Crestato Cockatoo, Cacatua Bianco, Zolfo-Crestato

Some of my duties at the kennels involved looking after different kinds of animals. I was surprised to find when an aviary appeared overnight! There were budgerigars, cockatoos, a few quails and others. It was all very nice, but the silence of the outbuildings had been shattered by the cheerful whistling of the birds. By the end of the day, nearly everyone had become a little tired of the noise.

I must have landed the short straw as I said I happen to like birds. My sister and her husband kept birds at that time. Therefore, the others decided I should be official Bird Keeper. I gathered my equipment for tending them I opened the door to the entrance of the aviary.

The birds flew away from me down to the other end. I cleaned up. To my horror there was a dead budgerigar. Not only was it dead, but its head was missing. I blamed the cockatoos – I believed they were jealous of the Budgerigars at feeding times. Therefore, I had the idea larger food trays were needed.

Pappagallini, Uccelli, Cocorite, Animale, Animali

On the second day as theBird Woman, I found the same thing had happened: a dead Budgerigar minus its head. I checked the aviary for holes, thinking that maybe a fox had broken in, but there was no evidence of a fox. Perhaps rats, I thought.

On my third day of appointment, there was yet another dead headless budgerigar. The cockatoos were all present, and so were the quails. I retired as Bird Woman because the other members of staff were keen to find out who murdering them in the aviary overnight, but it turned out to be a complete mystery.

My 29th birthday was approaching. To my surprise, Liz had baked an enormous cake, filled with cream. We tucked in and there enough for a second slice. Some of the girls were so kind to buy me a silver bracelet as a gift; I still have it to this present day.

Dogs can be very dangerous while fighting. I was surprised and unprepared when a stray dog I had been walking leapt out at another stray which was tied up. I had no idea what to do, it was scary. If I tried to grab one, I may end up getting bitten.

Cani, Lotta, Ascolta, Neve, Carta Da ParatiI was wearing a cheap wax jacket that I bought for the purpose of working at the kennels. I threw it over both dogs, and it seemed to work: they both backed off for a couple of minutes, but then started fighting again.

Very luckily for me, I was rescued from this situation. Karen soaked them thoroughly with a water hose, and it did the trick. They were caught and quickly put back in kennels. Not only did the dogs trash my jacket – it was also soaked!

Liz, the kennel owner, had three children. She could not resist when one day someone gave her some rabbits: she told me they were for her children, but secretly I think they were for herself.

Black, White, Coniglietto, Coniglio Jack

They were quite large and a bit old as well. We all took turns in tending to them. I thoroughly enjoyed this as it brought back memories of my childhood, though the smell of a rabbit is quite pungent.

There was one very pretty rabbit, white with black spots. Liz informed me that she was
going to give it to her son. The rabbits all had healthy appetites and were soon taking up much-needed space. It was decided to get rid of them – but staff got rid of the wrong rabbit. They pleaded with me not to tell Liz what had happened, as they risked losing their employment.

The task of collecting stray dogs was Liz’s husband’s. I accompanied him once or twice, and ventured out on my own only once. The police took pity on these dogs and took the trouble to feed them.

Cane Randagio Sulla Strada, Cane Marrone, Cane Randagio

I could not wait for my only excursions to end. The dogs hollered and were made sick by the journeys – it was dreadful to experience. I did not volunteer to more such collections.

The month of March 1988 was very cold and a abundance of snow fell across Kent. The local Schools closed and there were no customers. It was deep around the fields, so the Dogs were kept in. I and the other Staff had great fun playing with the children; they threw snowballs at us, we built a snowman, and did some tobogganing down the Hills.

Christmas at the Kennels in Folkestone was a jolly time to say the least. With not much to do, there was time for a little fun. I had been invited out to a Meal with Liz, her husband and other members of staff. A few beers, then we made our way to the dining room. I can’t remember exactly what I had to eat, but I do remember it was awful! I struggled to eat it. I believe everyone else did, too.

Tavola Di Natale, Cena Di Natale

Without warning I saw Liz pick up some of her food and hurl it across the room to her husband. The whole room erupted and there was food flying everywhere. I did not know what to do, so I slid under the table. I dreaded to think who was going to clear up the room after we all departed. Music from the Nightclub made itself known and we all danced half the night away.

My time in employment training was coming to an end. I had without doubt enjoyed my time there, but there were certain policies  I did not agree with, and therefore I decided I would not stay longer than the appointed time.

As luck would have, I was called into the Office by Liz. She informed me that she would not be employing me permanently; I had to except the fact that I was 29 years old and not as fast as the other younger Assistants. I was also not in the best of health. With great regret, I said goodbye to my kennel assisting days in early March of 1989.

Mano, Donna, Zampa, Cane, Dito, Artiglio, Nero Bianco

I believe that, shortly after I left, the kennels was put up for sale. For the main part my memories of working as a kennel assistant in the late 1980s were one that, these days, may not be politically correct and may be condemned by Health and Safety.

But with headless budgies, doomed rabbits, lost dogs and cats it was a world away from the norm, a world which – on the whole – I thoroughly enjoyed being part of for a short space of time.

This is a guest essay by Suzanne Sandi. Want to write for us? Visit www.dogstodaymagazine.co.uk/essay-submission or email editorial@dogstodaymagazine.co.uk

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