Caroline Patey-Johns and Ben Arter at The Whippet Hotel
PUBLISHED: 12:30 24 November 2015 | UPDATED: 11:27 01 December 2015
Jim Holden www.jimholden.co.uk 07590 683036
Caroline Patey-Johns from Burgess Hill has been passionate about whippets since childhood. So when she was in a position to choose a new career path, she decided to set up a business built around their very particular needs...and The Whippet Hotel was born.
I won’t pretend that I’ve never done an interview surrounded by sleeping bodies; I spent a few years as a music journalist. But in this case the bodies in question are small and furry, and the owner of the head on my knee is an auburn Italian greyhound. I am sitting in the kitchen of Caroline Patey-Johns and Ben Arter, proprietors of The Whippet Hotel. On my knee is Monte, a guest. Luna, a silver whippet at my feet, is a lady of the house.
In 2013, Caroline was made redundant from her office job and decided to use the opportunity to launch a new career working with animals. She grew up with dogs and has kept whippets – known as ‘pointy faces’ to their familiars – for more than 20 years. Initially she went into dog grooming, but soon realised there was a gap in the market for single breed boarding for her beloved breed. Caroline and Ben explain that the particular needs of whippets make such an enterprise desirable. “I think if you’ve got whippets, you’re so into them: it’s not like having a dog, it’s like – ‘We’ve got a whippet, it’s different,’” says Ben. And it seems that their hunch was right, for since they opened, they’ve never had a vacancy.
There were some practical implications to the lifestyle change – they didn’t have a holiday together this year because someone had to be around to look after the guests. They also had to erect new fencing, extra gates and get new, snout-proof handles on the kitchen doors. “Whippets can be thieves and they tend to be counter-surfers; that can be a problem. They have a real reach if they know how to do it,” says Caroline.
All breeds have their own idiosyncrasies, which means that catering for the needs of a large group of different dogs can be wearisome. Whippets, says Caroline, are real homebodies: “What they really like to do is sleep. They like their creature comforts so I have beds everywhere. They like to go for a walk but they are real fair-weather dogs, and if it is raining I have a hell of a job to get them out in the garden, let alone for a walk. They are really chilled and they just want to lie beside the fire or snuggle up on the sofa.”
The scene on my visit certainly seems to bear out that assertion: the ‘home’ whippets are draped around the living room while the guests are in the kitchen with us. One, Louis, grizzles and whines until Caroline sprays water from an atomiser into his mouth, which he loves. I suppose that is the kind of bespoke care your dog can expect at the hotel and people certainly seem to value it – as well as guests from all over the British Isles, visitors have come from as far afield as Germany and France (the latter family has already booked again for 2016). Ben chips in: “We did have an enquiry on behalf of a dog in Monaco once, didn’t we?”
“I asked if he was well-socialised and he said ‘oh yes, he’s well-socialised and he travels very well by helicopter, on a boat, in a car,’” rejoins Caroline. The Whippet Hotel’s proximity to Gatwick means they tend to attract globetrotting families and dogs – a recent long-term guest stayed while his owner was settling into a new home in Hong Kong: he joined her later.
A business like The Whippet Hotel is symptomatic of the ever-closening bond we have with our pets. My dog-sitter sent me a picture of my dog when I was on honeymoon, and I won’t pretend I hadn’t been waiting for it. Caroline keeps the Hotel’s Twitter and Facebook pages updated on a daily basis with pictures of the guests, and while there’s an obvious marketing element to that, part of it is to keep a dialogue going between owners and their pets.
Ben thinks that whippet owners feel a particular responsibility for their pets: “Our dog Flippit, for instance, follows me everywhere. The affinity that owners have with their dogs, with a whippet, is more than any other breed. You feel that you have to care for them in a way that you wouldn’t for a different breed.”
“Well you don’t have to, you just do,” says Caroline.
“Because they whine so much!” retorts Ben. “Flippit, for instance, sleeps in her bed on the floor next to my side of the bed, but she wakes me up at least four times a night insisting on having her blanket put back on top of her.”
Caroline continues: “A lot of them suffer from separation anxiety and even if they manage to handle that they still want to be with you: they just want to be with people and that has a good and a bad side. When they’re here, it does depend on the group – some are worse than others – but if I have been working at the table and I stand up, everyone gets up. They are quite needy.”
With four paying guests at the house at any one time, The Whippet Hotel is going great guns. And, as the dogs are invited to sleep in the master bedroom (not an option at most hotels!), it probably won’t be expanding in capacity any time soon. However, plans are afoot to expand the business in other ways: Caroline has started making fleeces and pyjamas – whippets feel the cold – and an online shop selling other whippet-related products is not too far off. “We want to do that off the back of the Whippet Hotel, because when we started we were the only one in the world,” says Caroline. “Since then a couple of other places have started doing whippet boarding. In fact, two of the three others asked me for advice on how to set them up, and because of that we have now started a book on how to set up a single breed home-boarding service.”
Way before I’m ready, I have to say goodbye to Monte, Luna, Basil and the gang. Although I thought we had struck up something of a rapport, the dogs don’t seem particularly bothered to see me go, instead returning to their respective snuggle spots. I put my head around the door to say goodbye to the other permanent occupants and ask how they feel about the Hotel. “Oh,” says Caroline. “They are slightly superior about the guests and ignore them. I catch Basil giving them some really dirty looks sometimes. They just go about their own business pretending they are not here – probably wishing they weren’t, sometimes!”
The Whippet Hotel, East Amberley, Paynes Place Farm, Cuckfield Road, Burgess Hill RH15 8RG; 01444 258339; www.thewhippethotel.co.uk
My favourite Sussex
• Walk - Ben: East Head. It’s so safe and you can walk around in a circle.
• Pub - Ben: The Half Moon at Warninglid: it’s not too far from here and you’re allowed to take your dog into the public bar. The food is very nice too. The whippets are good in a pub, but you do need to take along a blanket for them to lie on. They’d rather stand than sit on the floor.
• Shop - Caroline: Dinky Donkey Delights in Arundel. The lady that owns it, Zoe Newhouse, has a whippet and lots of other animals as well. It’s a lovely shop on Tarrant Street, shabby chic furniture, cards and things. Her whippet Mickey is in the shop with her.
• Views - Ben: There are two, I would say: one looking over to the Isle of Wight when you’re at East Head. And there’s another when you’re driving through Amberley, going up the hill on your way towards Chichester and you look south across the Arun Valley. You kind of feel ‘we’re on our way’.
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