Business barking up the right tree

The cat’s well and truly out of the bag – long-standing Patterdale Kennels & Cattery in Whitford, Auckland has a new name and new owners who haven’t let sleeping dogs lie.


But, if the owners of this recently renewed facility (now named: Pets At Whitford – Spa & Stay, or ‘PAWss’ for short) , Fiona and Antonio Bailey and Denise and Alan Brackenbury, thought they could ease themselves into their new venture without fuss, they were wrong.

“We took over what was Patterdale Kennels and Cattery just as the school holidays were set to start so rather than the quiet winter month we expected, it was all go for a few weeks. We had a sharp learning curve, but had a great team to help us cope,” says Denise (pictured above). “We are still busy with bookings, re-structuring and redevelopment.”

And that means Fiona (pictured on page 2) and Denise – the hands-on operators, who both hail from the UK – have wasted no time sorting priorities and embracing the challenges.

While their husbands have full time employment elsewhere, the women say the men are willing workers at the weekend but during the week it is down to the female side of the foursome to put their diverse skills into practice.

A trained dog groomer who used to breed ragdoll cats (she has nine that have made themselves at home in the cattery), Denise takes care of her canine customers’ good looks.

From lap dogs to labradors and everything in between she ensures they leave her salon looking a picture.

“For many years I was in sales but I also bred the cats. However, I was also an avid dog person, then when we bought two Welsh Springer spaniels and began showing them, I found I really enjoyed getting them ready for the show ring. Keen on a career change, I decided to explore options in grooming.”

Denise went on to complete a 12-month dog grooming course, as well as hands-on training with a groomer, learning about breeds, coats, tools and technology.

She then set up her own home salon in Beachlands. Her friendship with Fiona, a well known dog trainer – and owner of three dogs a cat and a pig – was the catalyst behind their business venture.

A former child care officer in a residential school for physically handicapped children in Kent, Fiona and her Kiwi husband made New Zealand their permanent home after the 9/11 attacks, convinced this was the place to raise their four children.

“My first foray into dog training came when Antonio brought home a dog with aggression issues,” Fiona says. “Learning to deal with the new addition to the household and turn around his behaviour eventually led to a career in dog training.

“Since then I’ve worked with several great trainers and even helped train Ramble, a labradoodle, for the role of Sandy in the recent West End production of the musical Annie.”

Importantly, Fiona says her training has taught her to recognise which doggy personalities can be put together and which should be kept apart; which dogs need more attention and which ones need time out.

“That’s essential when operating a business like this. Dogs are no different from people, sometimes we click and sometimes we don’t.”

While puppy and dog training will be an integral part of Pets at Whitford, Fiona’s dog handling skills go far beyond providing basic training.

“For example, doggy day care isn’t always about being entertained all day. Part of the experience for dogs is learning to be calm, to enjoy lying in the sun and also becoming familiar with a place so that future visits aren’t alarming.

“Naturally, there are more energetic exercise periods in the day and walks but really we don’t want to see dogs continually hyped up. Some need to learn to relax and that’s another area where my training skills come in handy.”

Fiona and Denise agree that demand for doggy day care is growing as more working households opt to have a dog but also realise dogs require company during the day and will, in all probability require the use of a boarding facility at some stage.

“So if they are used to coming here for a day stay it’s a really easy transition for them when a family goes on holiday,” Fiona says. “Financially, most household require both partners to work so those wanting a pet need to consider its wellbeing carefully. Dogs are social animals and being at day care will alleviate boredom or loneliness, provide a watchful eye, encourage socialising and provide for a dog’s needs.

“As carers we need to be aware of a dog’s personality so they are put with compatible companions. Some are shy, some outgoing, some need plenty of space, others need a quiet nook of their own and all dogs need to be able to sniff and explore their surroundings.”

When it comes to the grooming side, Denise welcomes all types and sizes of dogs, recommending that they have regular sessions to promote healthy skin and coats. “From puppies to older dogs it helps them get used to being handled so they enjoy it,” she says.

Determined to make Pets at Whitford a place where dogs, cats and their owners want to come for all things pet-related, Denise and Fiona are delighted to have already earned repeat business.

“Our customers have been tremendously supportive and with our services for both cats and dogs now coming together, we are receiving more and more enquiries,” they agree. “We have lots of exciting ideas to re-design some areas and will gradually extend our training programme but, in the meantime, all guests are welcome!”