Welcome to Collar Country Club Corner, a weekly online column, providing a more light-hearted and honest view into what being a dog owner is really like. Having a dog in our lives can be so rewarding, but at the same time can be incredibly frustrating when things go wrong. Covering all angles of dog ownership, Andrew aims to provide his readers with a candid, frank and hopefully at times amusing insight into what looking after our beloved fur-babies is all about.
Andrew is a keen dog enthusiast who owns Collar Country Club, an adventure dog walking service in Sheffield. After working in the corporate world for long enough, he has ventured out to follow his passions, which are writing about dogs and enjoying the great outdoors with them, come rain or shine. Andrew also works as a National Account Manager for a healthy dog treats business, studies online at University and also freelances on separate projects (when time allows!). His interests include literature, wine and Formula 1.
By Andrew, Collar Country Club owner on January 20th 2021
Welcome to Collar Country Club Corner, a weekly column for dog lovers. As you’re reading this, it means you probably own a dog, have had the pleasure of being in a dog’s company or are thinking about immersing yourself into the world of dogs. Based on this wild assumption, the good news is, you’re definitely in the right place.
This is my first column for My Pet Matters and I’m incredibly excited to start this adventure with you. I’m proverbially ready to start my morning walk with a waggy tail (no pun intended). For me personally, I’m wanting to share with you my own tales (pun absolutely intended) of dog ownership.
Probably best to start at the beginning. I own two dogs with my beautiful wife Lauren, we live in Sheffield in the United Kingdom and are very lucky to have some of the most dog-friendly surroundings close by. Woodlands, moorlands, reservoirs, dog friendly cafes, rivers, the Peak District and most importantly for the dogs, a nearby Grandmother who gives them pre-cut apple pieces (minus the core and pips). This treat isn’t even for good behaviour, it’s just because Grandma can. I think this sort of behaviour must be in the Grandma rule book or something. If you’re a parent reading this, you’ll probably know the dread and anxiety this weekly afternoon drop-off trip to Grandma’s house inevitably brings. You know full well 4 minutes after drop-off, they’ll all be souped up on skittles and 3 slices of homemade chocolate cake by the time you come back for collection. Thankfully, it’s definitely just apples for Rosie and Holly (I did have to put my foot down on Grandma’s latest menu, which included a mid-afternoon sausage sandwich).
Anyway, here’s a photo of them right here. Rosie on the left and Holly on the right.
As you can probably guess, this photo was taken during warmer climates. I’m not sure how January is fairing for you, but here in Sheffield we are 3 days into every walk culminating in a playful snowball fight with the fur-babies. That’s definitely one of the perks of being a dog owner in the winter months, you get to avenge all the snowball fights you lost as a child. Don’t worry, there was no trip to the school nurse for either Rosie or Holly when we got back home. Just cold paws, frost-bitten fingers and 2 very tired but happy fur-babies.
As Rosie and Holly have reached the ripe old age of 9 and 13 respectively, I’m not too sure calling them fur-babies remains appropriate. If 13 in doggy years was the same in human years, I’m sure Holly would cringe at her embarrassing Dad calling her a ‘fur-baby’. Thankfully, as a dog only parent, I don’t have to combat the same troublesome, but inevitable hurdles some of you parents must contend with. Teenagers eh?!? That’s the second perk of being a dog owner right there. Dogs don’t get moody when you question whether going outside with shoes but no socks on is “appropriate for January, even if it is a fashion statement?”
Dogs also don’t get moody when you suggest going out for a nice family walk to “blow away the cobwebs”. Quite the opposite for them isn’t it? As the eldest, Holly still amazes me with her enthusiasm when the magic word “walkies” gets mentioned. When she’s out on those beautiful calm and crisp winter morning adventures, her 0-60mph speed acceleration would still beat the number 95 double decker bus in a drag race. Admittedly though, her get up and go routine always commences with a scene I am now accustomed to, of her struggling to hop down that half a meter from our living room couch onto the floor. Heart of a lion, body of a bag of potatoes. I compare it to the emotion I would unquestionably feel, watching my 102 year old Grandma do a charity bungee jump for the local bring and buy sale. Her heart is in the right place and that adventurous fire within her soul shall never go out. Even if physically her body isn’t quite up for such escapades, and if truth be told hasn’t really been since 1998. Still, it doesn’t stop her does it? Just like it doesn’t stop Holly getting down from our sofa.
At 13, she definitely is winding down. More than I dare to admit at this exact moment, based on recent events. Nonetheless, for now – that fire in her is still there for all to see. Maybe all future bring-and-buy sales should rope dogs in. That’s the third perk of being a dog owner, no not discounted chocolate muffins from elderly Mrs Hooper’s baking stall, I’m talking about watching your dog get older. It doesn’t matter how old your beloved pooch is, you still unconditionally love them. In return all your dog wants from you is re-assurance, comfort and to be nestled up beside you on that cold winter’s night post snowball drubbing. There’s something emotionally encapsulating watching your dog grow up, becoming one (if not the most) cherished member of the family and your best friend all rolled into one large fur ball. That’s the beauty about dogs, they’ll be beside you every step of the way, just like you should be for them. Even if they do resemble a bag of Maris Pipers with an apple tree growing inside of them.
Until next week.
By Andrew, Collar Country Club owner on January 24th 2021
Reading back my column from last week it turned out there was more than an apple tree growing in our beloved Holly’s stomach. Just under a week ago, a trip to the vets was the start of a nightmare that continues on even as I write to you now.
For those of you that are looking for some light-hearted escapism from a stressful day, or to break up the tediousness of lockdown – be warned. You shall not find any positive relief here. This shall be the very hard story of a husband and wife, losing their precious Holly to cancer. A battle that our dear dog had unbeknown to us, been fighting for many months. Such a trooper, such a sweetheart and such a beautiful friend that I shall never forget.
Tuesday 19th January
8.30AM – Time for a trip to the vets Holly. You’ll probably be in for most of the morning having some tests done. Nothing to worry about though. We’ll see you soon. You’ve definitely lost a little weight over the past few months but nothing to be concerned over. I’ve never known you be so active! Remember that squirrel you chased yesterday? He got away didn’t he? I know I’ve been treating you to some long walks over Christmas. You’ve loved it haven’t you? Heck, you never get tired when we’re out and about. I counted 3 zoomies on Sunday, that’s good going for a 13 year old dog who watched Mo Farrah win 2 Olympic Gold medals in 2012. Do you know what the Olympics is Holly? Do you know who Mo Farrah is Holly? Yes you doooo! You look just like him!! If you had entered that 5,000 metre race, you Holly-Bobbins would have given Sir Mo a good run for his money wouldn’t you? Daddy would be so proud of you with a gold medal around your little neck.
9.30AM – A devastating phone call from the vets. A sizable lump has been found in her abdomen area that has aggressively attached itself to Holly’s spleen. The size of the mass is causing her severe belly-ache. It could burst at any point. If it gets knocked on a walk or even just through playing with her favourite toy, then it leads to internal bleeding. A sure-fire painful, horrendous and cruel way to go. How is this happening? Please God tell me this is a nightmare. I must continue to listen to what I’m being told on the phone. I must be strong. For every hammer blow that I’m being told, there must be a logical explanation to this. How can she possibly be this ill? Ill dogs don’t run around chasing squirrels. Ill dogs don’t eat their dinner in 20 seconds flat. Her eyes are so bright and loving.
9.35AM – Here are the options. An operation. This isn’t going to happen, she’s 13 years old. How have we possibly got to this point? An op would prolong her life by a matter of weeks…. weeks. How could this be? Second option, pain relief to give her a comfortable limited life that could end at any point. What about our pain relief? Does this mean we’re watching a dog sentenced to death, get weaker and weaker whilst dosed up on painkillers? The crushing image of discovering the mortal clock has stopped ticking during the middle of the night. All alone, petrified and confused. How can I live with myself after finding her alone at the bottom of stairs one morning? How do we possibly tell the family members that our incredible lockdown doggy shall wither in front of our very eyes? The torturous goodbyes shall be scarring for us all. The cancer shall continue to consume her from the inside out, for all to see. They say the eyes are the window to the soul. How can we watch those bright eyes stare into the inevitable abyss of death. The third option is the hardest of them all. To sign away our dog’s life. To end our joyous journey with a simple bank card transaction. Is that what this has now come too? Maybe that squirrel we talked about Holly will be your last race. You can beat Mo Farrah, you can beat any squirrel, but you can’t win this race Holly.
11.30AM – The decision has been made and we are now waiting to see her again for the last time. How has it come to this? Sat with my wife in a small sterile veterinary waiting room. How many sick dogs have walked through those brown wooden doors to see their owners for one last time. The joy a dog has on their face when they see their best friends again is a blissful experience we can all resonate with. Just a few more minutes until she shall walk through those same doors. She looks so happy to see us again. She has no idea what is about to happen. I would do anything to turn the clock back for you Holly. You look beautiful, your nose is still wet and your inquisitive nature continues even at this point by wanting to snuggle up to your Mummy and Daddy. You probably think you’re coming home with us, so we can go on yet another family walk. Not this time Holly. We hug you farewell and tell you we love you and that we will never forget our lockdown doggy. It won’t hurt my baby girl. It will be just like when we kiss you goodnight every time before we walk up the stairs to bed. You’re in pain my baby girl. Please don’t forget us and please understand why this is for the best Holly. There’s no other way. We’re doing what’s right for you. We will always love you. One last kiss on the forehead to look into those angelic eyes, a scratch of the ears and a moment to hold you that shall last with me forever. Time to lay down now Holly. The nurse has brought you in this blanket to keep you warm and safe. Just like on all of those winter nights we spent together snuggling up together on the sofa without a care in the world. It’s time to go now beautiful girl. Close your eyes Holly. We love you…. Sweet dreamies.
12.30PM – It’s over. Shock, denial and pain hits me like an unstoppable force desperate to take me down a black hole of despair.
This is where I still am. 5 days have passed since we sent Holly to the rainbow bridge and I can admit to you that I have never felt this amount of heartbreak in my adult life. There’s been tears, longing, despair, anger and laughter. This is the rollercoaster of grief. I want to get off, but I’m strapped in for the long haul. The hell continues.
Rest in peace Holly, you’ll always be in our hearts. Chase those squirrels over rainbow bridge.
Until next week
By Andrew, Collar Country Club owner on January 31st 2021
I stumbled across a quote that made me stop and really think about it’s meaning the other day. “A dog is only in part of your life, but for them, you are their whole life”. I had never really thought about it like that before. It’s so true, and if you have the honour of seeing a dog grow from the smallest pup in the world, through the growing pain years, all the way to the end, then that saying takes on an even deeper meaning. For our recently lost Holly, we only had the pleasure of being her Mummy and Daddy for a short space of time before she took the peaceful journey to rainbow bridge. When we now look back at just 9 months of memories with her, it’s difficult to know whether you should laugh or cry (we’ve been doing a lot of that in our house when remembering the old girl).
The end of a dog’s life is always on the horizon for all dog owners out there, like the most beautiful setting sun you see on a late Summer evening. As the time slowly ticks away, the anxiety of imagining your beloved pooch’s end becomes ever more focussed. It’s only natural. In a way this can be a positive, as it helps prioritise spending that extra quality time with them. These days don’t last forever so be sure to take advantage of every moment you have with your companion for life. If you know you have made their time the absolute best it could have been, then trust me – you shall take an enormous amount of solace in the efforts you made, when you bring out the memory box you will have after their time comes.
The most beautiful part of being your dog’s world is that apparently dogs don’t need that much from us, to give them the best life they could hope for. Shelter, food, water, playtime, exercise and the odd treat every now and again. Oh sorry. I completely forgot the Christmas presents, birthday presents, social engagements to the pub to meet up with their fellow furry friends to sink a couple of bowls, Valentine’s Day card from the local cassa-rover, a bed fit for a Cavalier King, duck feather pillows to help them sleep, blankets (electric in the winter), an ill-fitting Christmas pudding outfit for the family Christmas photo, raincoats, LED collars fit for a Boeing 747 coming into land, 5 star Amazon rated squeak toys, a cheeky glass of paw-secco at New Year and don’t forget exclusive rights to your sofa. Sometimes when I walk into our lounge, I find my 9 year old Labrador Rosie sprawled out covering every possible inch with a certain look that she gives me on her face. That look the maître d’ would give you if you just strolled into The Dorchester with a Primark bag in hand, donned in your favourite lockdown lounge wear getup…. Did you book Sir? Yes, that’s exactly the look I get from Rosie when attempting to find some space on the sofa. Don’t worry, I’ll turn around and just hover around in the kitchen until I hear her move.
For a lot of dog owners, I think wanting the absolute materialistic best for your dogs is ever more prevalent. Heck, if you’ve got the cash then why not. Go ahead and buy them that brand new neon orange £80 float coat for swimming in the local lake on a Sunday morning. It’s a completely overinflated price in my opinion. My question to you though, is this. Will the dog love you any more for it? Granted, if the dog can’t swim, they probably will be grateful. But seriously, will the new Michael Phelps of the canine world love you any more than the lonely man’s dog who only have each other for company during this pandemic? When your dog looks back at you over that rainbow bridge, will they be content knowing their own Instagram profile reached 2,000 follows? Or will they look over that bridge and remember the beautiful walks with their owners, where they ran through the meadows in the summer, heather in the Autumn and snow in the Winter? I’ll let you decide the answer to that question.
Must dash, apparently Rosie needs her glass topping up. Maître d’ signing out.
Until next week
By Andrew, Collar Country Club owner on March 22nd 2021
As we inch ever closer to the 1 year anniversary of entering lockdown, I thought it would be apt to reflect on how life has changed for me as a fully fledged professional dog walker. In hindsight, being just another corporate lemming for over 11 years really clouds your judgement on the world and what is important in life. The daily grind of the commute to work, surrounded by your fellow bleary eyed office job subjects staring out of the tram window dreaming of better days was common practice. Grabbing the Metro newspaper to read about the dullest developments on Brexit, privately giving your fellow tram passengers humorous nicknames in your own head and grabbing that early morning over priced caffeine fix was just all part of the 5 day grind. Moving away from all that by starting your own dog walking business was the epitome of walking into the unknown (just with a bunch of poo bags and treats in your pocket). 3 months into the adventure, means it’s time to reflect on what I’ve learnt and what I would tell an aspiring dog walker to help them down that muddy path. So, here goes….
Advice to the aspiring dog walker….
1) If you’ve come from the corporate world, then just forget everything you ever learnt. I always found management didn’t take too kindly to me traipsing mud into the industrially vacuumed heavy duty office carpet. If they saw my car mats, I would be on my third disciplinary and sent on a compulsory training course. Don’t worry how muddy your car mats are – it’s really not a big deal.
2) Your lunch break now consists of you eating cold pasta out of a tupperware box outside a customer’s house in your car. The neatly laid out corporate canteen with the £1000 coffee machine has now been replaced with a thermos flask filled with horrendously strong coffee (once again misjudging the amount of granules needed). You only have a fork that you’ve thrown into your bag of clean (now probably dirty) towels. Deal with it. This is a true working lunch.
3) When estimating the amount of time it shall take to pick up a dog, walk the dog and drop the dog off then be sure to add 20 minutes onto your projected timings. I’m still trying to find out why cleaning dogs takes as much time as it does. Sometimes after cleaning, they don’t look any better than before. Just keep reminding yourself you’ve told every customer about the mud policy. If you don’t want a muddy dog, head over to Borrow My Doggy so Sheleigh, the local retired teacher can take your dog around the block once a day for free. She loves dogs don’t you know? Sheleigh doesn’t eat cold pasta either I bet.
4) Be aware that the super friendly, elderly and intrepid hikers that you see out with their raincoats and obligatory walking poles, do like to enjoy a chat, but more importantly a picnic. Probably on a bench overlooking a beauty spot. A bench that is inevitably at Labrador nose height. So therefore on walks, be around 15-20 seconds ahead of actual reality to prevent the Labrador from eating the lovingly made tuna and cucumber sandwiches. Come on, sandwiches left on a bench at wet nose height is the equivalent of Peter Barlow being given the keys to The Rovers Return. Turns out some people genuinely don’t like dogs after all.
5) Take as many poo bags as you can and try keeping abreast of bowel movements for each dog, so you can report back to the owners. Maybe take a notepad and pen with you for this. Yes you will look weird when furiously jotting down figures whilst standing over a dog doing their business, but it’s for the greater good.
6) Be kind, courteous, respectful and gracious to all your fellow countryside enthusiasts. Understand that the Tour de Yorkshire still has not ended. Therefore it’s vital to have eyes in the back of your head at all times, by understanding that an impromptu peloton of bike riders furiously peddling at full speed could be racing towards you at any point.
7) Friday is the new Saturday based on the amount of cars parked up EVERYWHERE.
8) Don’t ever buy black walking boots again. Just buy brown ones, embrace the clashing of your black walking trousers and be done with it. We’re not in Paris.
9) Be prepared to laugh and have a response to the age old quip of ‘you’ve got your hands full there haven’t you?’ Yes I do have my hands full…. you’re absolutely right. I love it, we’re all having a great time but guess what…. I can see an overzelous yellow jersey zooming straight towards me, I’m trying to capture the magical moments for the dogs via camera phone, my notepad got dropped 2 miles north of the local picnic bench and my Labrador’s breath stinks of tuna for some reason. You’re absolutely right my hands are full.
10) Above all else, remember that you are genuinely doing the best job in the world and you are responsible for making sure a dog has the best time they could wish for…. Number 10 is the most important one.
It’s certainly been an interesting 3 months. I wouldn’t change it for the world (apart from my black walking boots).
Until next time….