Barry Houlden

It’s a serious business, but it’s also a family

First impressions count and VIPPIES Team member Barry makes sure he abides by that principle. The front door opens and displayed on the walls either side of the lobby are the Inspection Licence – four stars, working towards that elusive fifth, and the information and photos of Barry and his wife, Caroline, who will be looking after your precious pooch. Into the house and you can see that see that absolute comfort for the dogs is at the heart of this home but with cleanliness running alongside. Every change over is preceded by sterilising the feeding equipment with Milton and the floors are regularly deep cleaned with the Vax to make sure no extra ‘visitors’ are lurking. It is a really healthy and safe environment.

The current resident is Freddie a 12 year old Fox Terrier who is deaf, very fluffy but picky about who he settles with – he can give off the wrong signals all the time, such as growling when he is being petted even though he is happy! He has been a regular of Barry’s since he started with VIPPIES four years ago. Another regular is Tyler the Springer Collie cross who is now banned from his favourite pastime of ball play due to ligament problems. Tyler likes to sleep on a duvet at the bottom of the stairs so he can be on guard and ready to greet Barry first thing in the morning – he has a very short tail which whizzes round like helicopter blades when he is excited.

Barry has two A4 files of care plans for the different dogs he looks after to make sure he gets everything just right for his visitors – after all, he recognises the responsibility and trust placed on him. “Every dog has his own character and it’s important to work with that, my wife has a great memory for it all and helps me keep organised,” he said. “We have looked after all shapes and sizes from a Boston Terrier to a Newfoundland”. He is licensed to look after up to four dogs but will only take multiple dogs at the same time if they are used to being together from a family unit. He also works with VIPPIES to ensure change over days are managed carefully and dogs don’t meet up if they are likely to be stressed, “After all, the first one in will be regarding the house as their territory and might be a bit protective,” he observed, demonstrating his knowledge of dog behaviour.

Joining the VIPPIES team was a lucky break for Barry. He is a caravan mechanic by trade but also ran youth football teams for the under nines through to under eighteens. It was the football that brought his career to an end when he dislocated his elbow and broke his arm resulting in a metal plate being fitted – he could no longer work in the confined spaces required of a caravan mechanic as his arm’s mobility and flexibility was affected. As he recovered he set up a business restoring bicycles – starting with his children’s abandoned machines and then he saw an advert for VIPPIES. He and Caroline decided it would be a great way for him to supplement his income as they were both animal lovers – always surrounded by pets as children. Barry remembers his childhood pet, a budgie by the name of Smokey who he taught to kick a ball across the table to him! He has had all sorts of pets over the years  including hamsters and cats but there is a special place in his heart for his, now departed, Border Collie Hazel from Orby rescue centre – he has a special fondness for the active Collie and Springer breeds “I love an animal with a brain that wants to be busy and play.”

Barry’s home is perfectly placed for short and long walks as he lives near Hartsholme Park and Swanholme Lakes, although it can be a bit of challenge if he is looking after a dog that likes a swim. Barry doesn’t let the dogs off the lead in these areas and has more than once found himself dragged enthusiastically into the water! However he is very careful not to let this happen when he walks near the Drain off Skellingthorpe Road as that is full of an orange sludge and would take a bit of cleaning up!

The way VIPPIES have developed the procedures and support are important to him. One of the systems in place is the password for collecting a dog from care, “If a dog is going home with someone I have not met at the meet and greet or when they were dropped off there is a password agreed in advance with VIPPIES to make sure we don’t fall foul of the dognappers that seem to be on the increase these days”. Inside the file of information Barry proudly shows his pet first aid certificate and manual as well as the thank you notes that he treasures. “I do get attached to the dogs and miss them when they go home, or worse when they can no longer visit.”

It is clear that Barry really enjoys the role of dog carer, “It’s all the benefits of having a dog without the expense” he chuckled “I couldn’t do this without VIPPIES’ support, the team has a real family feel to it”.