It was only when scrolling through Instagram earlier and coming across one of James' recent pictures that it reminded me.. we never published our interview. I got in touch with James Hearle - dog man to London's poshest pooches - back in 2016 when the blog was in it's infancy.
James has such a fantastic lifestyle and story behind it, making him such a great guy to feature on the In The Country blog. Growing up in the countryside surrounded by animals of all shapes and sizes it wasn't a surprise when he launched Dogs & Kisses, his very own day care and luxury home boarding service for London's luckiest dogs in 2009. Over the past 9 years, James has established a unique and successful business which he runs from his gorgeous home just outside of London, with the help of his small team of dedicated and passionate staff.
Being an animal lover, a day at Dogs & Kisses sounds like my kind of heaven, have you always wanted to work with animals?
Yes, since I can remember, I have never been happier than when with animals. I knew since School that I wanted some kind of career with animals when I was older. I was fortunate to grow up with many farm animals and various other pets, which I dedicated my life to. My friends all thought I was a little bit strange when I wanted to go looking for wildlife as a kid, but I didn’t care.
You studied Agriculture at Harper Adams, then worked within agricultural industry, I am keen to hear what led you to dream up D & K?
I really enjoyed my career when working in the agriculture industry. However, my life was unfortunately turned upside down in 2009 when my mum suddenly died. I took some time away from work for a while whilst I bereaved, and soon found myself living a completely different life in London.
I had less than £100 to my name back in those days, so out of sheer desperation to make ends meat, I started walking people’s dogs. Within months, everyone wanted me to walk their dog, until I couldn’t fit any more in my group. So, that lead me to get an assistant and offer day care. We filled up my car with various dogs and took them out to the countryside for walks, dog friendly pub lunches and a proper day out of town. Since then D & K has evolved, however we still remember what made us successful in the early days and stick to those values. We still have many dogs who we have been looking after for 6+ years.
Being a 'country boy' going from farm dogs to now caring for London's Elite canine companions, from luxurious areas such as Kensington, Mayfair, Chelsea and Belgravia do you feel this has impacted your approach to life?
Not particularly. I am a very open minded person, and I fortunately have that skill which enables me to communicate effectively to many different types of people.
You own 9 dogs, that's before we take into account the guests, how do you manage? Especially with Great Danes - one of my favourite breeds.
I would be lying if I said it was easy. It’s not. I never thought I would own so many dogs, but it has sort of happened. Only two of my dogs I have actually acquired as puppies from a breeder. The rest are all rescue cases which I have ended up taking in.
I often get asked ‘’do they all live in the house?” Yes - they do, of course. Obviously my house is rather unconventional, and living with so many canine companions is not everyone’s cup of tea., but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I am also rather OCD about keeping everything in order and the place clean, so you would never guess that so many dogs live in my house. I don’t understand people that live in squalor because they have pets. It is lots of extra work, and I would be lying if I said I sometimes didn’t wonder what it would be like to be a ‘normal’ person with one or two dogs, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. Obviously, we have a set up and constant staff for the dogs so it is more manageable than most would think.
I see you promote raw-feeding, can you tell us a little more on this? I previously had a dog which we raised on this, however she could never seem to keep it down and upon seeking veterinary advice they advised against it, I am interested to hear how it works for you.
I am a high advocate for raw feeding. I first explored the option of raw food when I was looking for something that I could feed my boarding guests without giving them an upset stomach. I soon realised that not only what comes out of the doggies other end is not the only bonus to raw feeding, so many dogs who are on prescription only diets or were suffering from skin allergies improved really quickly.
It does cost me more to feed everyone raw food, as opposed to a high ‘’quality’’ kibble (if there is one!), but after seeing the huge health benefits and learning about what dogs are actually meant to eat, I wouldn’t feed anything but raw. So many of our clients have changed to feeding a raw diet too after seeing how much healthier their dogs were after coming home from staying with me.
I can see from your Instagram aside from being the 'dog man to London's elite' you are an ambitious show jumper & hunter. Tell us more about this passion?
Having dogs in your home, 24/7, 365 days a year is lovely. However, it also means that you can never really switch off. I am lucky enough to have a live in member of my team who cares for the dogs when I am not at the house, however as I am the one ultimately responsible, I seriously never can switch off. I have had a few weekends away, but I have never had a holiday in my whole adult life, so I got in to horse riding. Fits in well with the animal obsessed theme!
The only time I actually ever switch off and don’t keep checking my phone for emails etc is when I am on horseback. I make time for my horses every day and it gives me the opportunity to try and relax, although its not often the case! I enjoy competing show jumping and staying away at shows a few times per year in my horse box with some of my dogs - that's my equivalent of a holiday.
In the winter months I do take my horses out hunting. This may confuse some people as I have preached how I am an animal lover….of which I certainly am. I most definitely would NOT go hunting to see a vulnerable fox ripped to shreds. It’s frustrating that some hunts continue to break the law and do this. Our hounds follow a pre-made scent trail, and my fun is following the hounds, cross country as they follow the scent. It is a high adrenaline rush, yet very fun and sociable as everyone who comes out is so friendly and we all have a laugh. Most certainly not the bunch if snobby tof’s the media portrays, couldn’t be anything further than the truth.
Owning so many dogs and looking after even more, operating from your home just outside London - how have you and your partner had to adapt the property and your lives?
It isn’t a job, its most certainly a lifestyle. It is very intrusive at times, and makes the most simple things, like having friends visit quite stressful. Imagine how your dog gets excited when you have visitors. Now multiply that by 15+…….yep.
We are fortunate enough to have a large property with outbuildings and secure grounds. We have put in extra sets of gates to act as a filter, in case we get someone trying to escape. We are most security conscious, so we even have concrete under the fencing to ensure nobody digs out.
We have secure dog area’s and a huge playroom which everyone migrates to in the daytime, just so we can try and keep the house nice and clean.
Our playroom is a specially converted building, which is easily cleanable and practical. The house does take a lot of hard wear and tear from the dogs, and destruction. As little as 5 mins loading the washing machine with your back turned is enough time for a mischievous dog to levee a present in the middle of your best rug, or chew the corner off the skirting board. People will never believe how much we have to budget for things like this. It makes is difficult to get anything nice for the house, as lots gets wrecked. Luckily we have lots of space, so one reception room is a strictly No Dog zone.
With this many dogs, the cleaning we have to do is immense. I spend around £130 - £160 per week on disinfectants and other cleaning products to keep the place to a high standard that my clients expect, and maintain a high level of hygiene. My life is very unconventional as it is completely dedicated to animals, but I much prefer that than a 9-5 office job.
Talk us through a typical day-in-the-life of being the dog man to London's elite, do you have any celeb clients two or four legged!?
Each day is so different. A lot of my time gets taken up with administration, which I like to get done in the mornings, then spend the rest of the day sorting the animals. There is always something to do, which means I never really relax very often and a lot of people who know me don’t know how I can stay on the go all of the time.
We do have many celeb clients, but it makes no difference to me - all dogs are treated as our own, at all times. And if you’re the queen, the pope or the bin man, it makes no difference to me, or the way I deal with you.
Do you have a favourite canine customer?
Obviously we have some dogs who are more challenging to care for than others, but on the whole we love them all. For mine, my staff and the other dog’s stress levels, if a dog is not a good addition to our group, we kindly don’t accept them to come. This means that all the dogs are a pleasure to look after. We really can’t have favourites.
Thanks so much James. We'll be round next week for doggy cuddles yeah?!
You can check out James' website by clicking the link below:
Until next time,
Lots of love,