By Pete Goddard and Cally Brooks
A kind-hearted kennel owner is coming to the rescue of worried dog owners across the country – looking after their pooches when they’ve been left without daycare as their owners’ battle to save thousands of lives – or even fight for their own.
Millions of NHS workers have children who will be looked after by schools – but for dog-lover Billy Woodhouse, the question was: ‘who will look after their pets?’
The 21-year-old kennel owner – who only inherited the family business last year – faces losing the kennels after clients cancelled their holidays and he was left with dozens of empty kennels.
But rather than despair at the 30-year-old business potentially buckling, he’s turned his livelihood into the emergency service for pets – looking after the pooches of NHS workers and those stuck in hospital for free.
Now, Hatton boarding Kennels, in Shifnal, Shrops, are full with happy hounds as he opens his doors round the clock to offer doggy-day care to NHS workers who faced leaving their pets alone for hours.
He’s also looking after six dogs belonging to an elderly lady in a critical condition in hospital – whose family just didn’t have room to look after them.
Grateful emergency workers drop off and pick their dogs up from Billy at all hours of the day and night as they work increasingly demanding shifts – but he says he’s happy to take in dogs in the middle of the night to make sure their owners have peace of mind while they battle to save lives.
Billy said: “We were getting ready for a busy month ahead but all of our bookings were cancelled as people weren’t going on holiday anymore. I just thought that, we’re going to be here anyway, why not help out some people?
“The reaction has been amazing. They are so grateful for this service we’re offering and even though we’re losing out on a huge amount of money, we’re happy to help.
“People from all over the country are wanting to use us. One lady has been kicked out of the caravan park she lives at and being forced to stay at a hotel which isn’t dog friendly so she’s travelling from the other side of Wales to drop her dog off to us.
“A police officer makes the 45-minute trip down to us every morning and evening because there’s no where else that is offering a service like this.
“These people used to have dog-walkers or dog-sitters that would look after their pets whilst they go to work but now they don’t have that so we wanted to help them out. We let them leave their dogs here overnight as well.
“I had a doctor on the phone who broke down in tears yesterday because she didn’t know what she was going to do as her normal dog-walkers had shut down.
“People love their pets like their children and it’s an awful dilemma for them to face so if we can make it any easier for them, we will.
“Their dogs will get walked three times a day and they even have a choice of the food we feed them.
“We had all of these supplies ready for the coming month and they would have gone to waste if we hadn’t used them”.
The family-run business, who have been around for more than 30 years, have been offering emergency services a 10% discount since 2010 but wanted to go the extra mile during this uncertain time.
“At first it was for the NHS staff and emergency workers but then we extended it to include people who work in care homes and the elderly/vulnerable.
“We normally charge people £12 per day and that includes everything – three walks a day, food, care, toys etc. The key workers are still getting all of that but it’s all free.
“Since posting on Facebook, we have had a lot of emergency workers dropping their dogs off to us in the morning and then picking them up once their shift is over. A lot of people are worrying about how they’re going to look after their pets whilst having to work longer hours so we just wanted to take some of the stress away.
“Normally we’re open 9:30am until 6pm but we have extended our opening hours as well because some emergency service workers work night shifts so need to pick their dog up at 5am and drop them off later in the evening.
One woman who has taken use of the service Billy is offering is NHS health care assistant Debbie Churm, 50, who has started working 12 1/2 hour shifts leaving her 10 month old Pomeranian alone for the day.
She said: “I’m a single parent who is stuck at work for 12 1/2 hours a day and without the kennels support, I wouldn’t know what to do and it would affect my dog, Rosie, and my job.
“Normally my 13-year-old son would walk her whilst I was at work but he’s been staying with his Dad as I don’t want to risk his health during this time.
“It’s an outstanding service and it’s completely free which for people like me, a single parent who doesn’t have the funds, it’s absolutely amazing and I just want to thank them.
“I drop Rosie off at 6:30 in the morning and don’t pick her up until 8:30pm and she absolutely loves it there – she’s always wagging her tail and she gets walked three times a day which is incredible.
“I appreciate it more than they know and they will definitely get my support after this.
Billy Woodhouse became the owner of Hatton Boarding Kennels last year after his mother, Julie, sadly passed away from cancer at the age of 65.
The business has been around for the past 30 years and is run by Billy, his partner Alex Morris, 27 and his brother’s sister in law.
Animal-lover Billy had a busy month ahead of him as the kennels was completely booked up but after the recent coronavirus outbreak, the business has been left with no booking up until the beginning of July.
Billy said: “Everyone has had to cancel their holidays due to the recent lockdown so we have been left completely out of business.
“We have never taken deposits from people so we really have been left with no income for the coming months.
“As a small business, we drew the short straw but we’re trying to be optimistic about the future and are hoping that things will pick up again in a few months time.
“In the mean time, why not help those that are helping us?”
Billy put out a Facebook post last Thursday and has been inundated with calls since.
Billy was contacted by the daughter-in-law of a lady who is currently in a critical condition in hospital with confirmed coronavirus and he has been looking after her dogs for the past month.
“We’re expecting to have her six dogs for the next couple of months as we don’t know how long she’s going to be in hospital for.
“NHS staff are worried about who will look after their pets and we’re going to be here anyway as I live on-site so I just wanted to help them.
“We would rather take your dogs in for free than you leave them at home alone all day”.