There are times when, despite our passion, it is hard not to curse the existence of our canine companions.
As I have indicated in previous missives, I am currently house hunting. By virtue of circumstance, I’ve somehow managed to reach middle age without ever having actually bought a house and finally, I understand why people say that it is among the most stressful things that anyone can undertake. Add to that the additional requirements of any dog breeding activities and you are in for some seriously frustrating encounters.
I have a small hobby kennel which varies in size but currently stands at five dogs of three different breeds in the house and four Grands out in kennels. Like all small scale, home-based, hobby breeders, my requirements for a home are specific and are geared primarily towards the kids and the dogs.
Like many of you, by comparison with a ‘normal’ family, I need extra space on the ground floor, preferably near the kitchen and with access to the garden, to serve as a whelping and puppy rearing room. I need a big utility area where I can put the human and the doggy washing machines, a human and a doggy freezer and have the space to dry copious sheets of dog bedding in the winter. Outside, there must not be any public rights of way, access issues or footpaths which might lead to a security threat for the valuable members of my little breeding programme. I need decent outbuildings for the kennel dogs or sufficient, suitable space to build them myself, enough space for exercise areas and for the property to be well fenced and away from near neighbours who might be disturbed by any noise. In my case, an almost intractable problem is further exacerbated by the need to be within a specific, small search area: within a certain distance from the girls’ school.
Believe me, this property is as hard to find as the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow!
First off, there are the wonders of the internet to deal with. Meals go unprepared, laundry piles skywards and a lawn becomes fit for silage making while I trawl the net on a daily basis lest I miss the arrival of ‘perfect property’.
Estate agents post flattering pictures taken with wizard lenses which make rat holes look like palaces and postage stamp gardens look like rolling acres. They crop images to cultivate the illusion of a rural idyll for an oppressed cottage lurking in the shadow of industrial might or blissful isolation for a house shoe-horned into a plot which really should have been the patio of the house next door. This nasty habit necessitates the prospective purchaser whiling away endless hours scouring Google Maps for the true nature of the beast or failing any help there, executing the ‘drive-by’ in advance of booking a viewing. I have so perfected the art of vehicular swooping on a possible postcode without appearing like some dubious verge crawler that I am sure I could branch out into espionage. Nine times out of ten, hopes are dashed anyway.
I should add, at this point, that anyone out there house hunting knows I am speaking the truth when I say that one’s driving skills take a distinct dive. Yes, I am already aware that my parallel parking gene seemed to mysteriously self-destruct when I hit 50 but when house hunting, estate agent’s ‘for sale’ signs become features in the landscape of such SHOUTY proportion that excursions into hedges and ditches become a constant threat.
The second wave of one’s attack on the housing market is contact with estate agents. To be charitable they are, without exception, the most optimistic bunch. I took the trouble to carefully prepare a succinct list of my requirements, explaining about my dog breeding activities and the priorities in my search. I need to be within 20 minutes driving distance of school so, I am sent properties as far away as an hour and when challenged, one estate agent asked me if I could perhaps just drive a little faster? I asked to have no near neighbours and yet I have had to gently explain to one young man that surely, the definition of semi-detached is a close neighbour.
Other gems have included standing in the garden of a house virtually wearing the busy A37 and having an agent earnestly inform me that early on a Saturday or a Sunday morning you really don’t even notice the cars; viewing a cottage recently refurbished to include a quite extraordinarily ugly striped carpet in the living room, a cheerful agent told me that not only would it not show the dog hair but when it was covered with furniture it would look okay; on visiting what was very definitely a tiny two up/two down cottage in a state of total dereliction, I was told that the advertising was genuine because the living room was customarily used as a bedroom and surely it only needed a bit of TLC? Try telling that to the bank!
However, the real trouble starts when you get to deal with the vendors themselves. A depressed housing market means that by the time the agents have persuaded the vendors to put their houses on the market for a vaguely realistic price, said vendors are so disgruntled that their best beloved isn’t worth what they thought it was that they view anyone with the audacity to suggest a negotiation as an out and out terrorist. They have a tendency to court hope as they enjoy showing you around only to thrust their heads determinedly in the sand or, weeks into a head-banging-against-wall negotiation, decide that perhaps they didn’t want to sell the house anyway.
Worse still, alterations might be required, necessitating contact with the dreaded planning department of the local district council. Sadly, house hunting has taught me that honesty NEVER pays. These days, the mention of dogs, let alone the possibility of breeding the odd litter, has planning departments virtually mobilising tanks. In the case of one property I was considering, a derelict barn would have to be replaced to provide a garage, kennelling and an office. I duly enquired of the local planning authority and met with incredulity. Oh yes, the barn wasn’t a problem but despite the fact that I do not qualify to register with the council as a dog breeder (because I do not breed anywhere near the number of litters that constitutes their minimum requirement), they were adamant that I would need to apply for a change of use on the property from domestic to a dog related business.
Choosing your battles
This would involve lengthy and expensive consultation with all the neighbours in the local area, the parish council, highways, the milkman and anyone else who wanted in on the act. Hang on, what business I enquired? I do not qualify as a dog breeder according to your own criteria. Ooh, I was told, any more than about six dogs (quote… ‘as a rule of thumb’) and you’ll have to make a planning application. Oh really, I asked? And where, in the local legislature does it say that you cannot keep more than six dogs in a domestic property without applying for change of use? I received no response but decided that this was a battle I didn’t need to fight.
I have come to the conclusion, after nearly six months of daily searching, viewing and negotiating, that if you are a small scale dog breeder in search of a new habitat, you should consider the following: a) Build your own home, preferably on an isolated, windswept plot, maybe with a soupcon of nuclear contamination to be sure, where nobody in their right mind would want to follow and for goodness sakes, don’t mention the small furries or b) Accept that the only way you will be acceptable is if you choose somewhere where the nearest neighbour is noisier, smellier, uglier or more of a social pariah than you are or failing that, c) Choose a modest castle complete with fortified, metre thick walls, deep motes, port-cullis, drawbridge and if at all possible, a defending army. Happy house hunting!
Hi Jessica, I can fully appreciate your difficulty in finding the property that ticks enough boxes for you. I am presently considering putting my premises on the market and was wondering where to advertise that would access the people who are looking for a house with kennels. My own is probably in the wrong part of the country (3 miles from Lincoln Cathedral with direct views of it ). My set up has a stunning 4 bed house with an adjacent kennel and training facility comprising 12 brick kennels built to the highest quality, support building which is equivalent in size to a good 2 bedroom bungalow (in fact we lived in it for 2 years when we had the house completely done. Any advise would be welcome.. Gareth