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Last Updated: Wednesday, 2 July, 2003, 05:33 GMT 06:33 UK
Holiday treat for pampered pets
By Ben Jeffrey
BBC News Online

Joanne Benham with Fred
Fred is "like a baby" to his owner
Fred the basset hound is used to a life of luxury.

He is hand-fed prime cuts of meat, he often expects grated cheese to be sprinkled over his food to make it more appetising and he has his own seat belt for car journeys.

But what do the owners of a dog like Fred do with their cherished hound when they need to leave the country for a couple of weeks well-earned rest?

For about 300, which includes money for fresh food, the answer lies in sending man's best friend to a vetted carer in a home-from-home environment.

Total access

Fred has been spending the last two weeks living with Joanne Benham in her beautiful home near Dudley in the Black Country.

Ms Benham is one of a growing number of people who, for a reward of 10 a day, give up their free time to provide puppy love for other people's animals.

I have to sit there feeding him pieces of chicken like a little prince
Joanne Benham

She works for the Pals4Pets franchise, which has recently expanded its services to the West Midlands.

Before she was accepted on to the scheme, the 32-year-old had to agree to a number of conditions, including that any animal she cared for would be allowed access to all areas of her house, from the living room to the bedrooms.

Surrogate owners have to be prepared to treat their furry charges as though they were their own children, even to the extent of letting them share their beds at night.

Happily for Ms Benham, and for her cat Casper who has beaten a hasty retreat since Fred's arrival, the basset hound does not find it easy to get up the stairs, so she and her partner have not had to spend any nights with their new friend.

Joanne Benham with Fred and his car harness
Fred has to belt up for car journeys
But that does not mean caring for Fred has been a walk in the park.

She told BBC News Online: "He doesn't eat tinned dog food so I've had to prepare all of his meals.

"And I have to had to hand feed him. He won't eat out of his bowl a lot of the time.

"So I have to sit there feeding him pieces of chicken like a little prince. If you put the bowl down he ignores it completely.

"He has chicken and ham and sausage and bacon, so he eats better than me," she added.

Ms Benham is also at the beck and call of Fred's owner, who is free to contact her at any time while she is away.

Unexpected 'collapse'

She said: "His owner's emailed while he's been away just to check. I don't mind that at all - I'd expect it, really."

Fred, who is one-and-a-half-years-old, also expects to have his own way when he is taken out for a walk.

Pals4Pets' prices
It costs 18 a day to house a dog
There is a one-off 25 registration charge
Food costs extra
The carer takes home 10 a day

Ms Benham explained that his behaviour can be rather embarrassing.

"If we're out walking if he gets tired he collapses on the floor and won't move.

"I've had to stand there or sit down with him for five or 10 minutes in the middle of the pavement. It was quite embarrassing really.

"We had people asking if he was okay and why he'd collapsed on the floor."

Fred in one of his favourite positions
Fred is fond of impromptu dog naps

She added that Fred can sometimes be a bit over-friendly.

"He's only young so when he does see new things - horses, cats, people - he just wants to play with them and he bounces on them.

"He's quite heavy so it's not the best thing to be doing really.

"He's been good fun although I can see he's hard work. He's like having a baby, just because of the feeding."

But Ms Benham is clearly fond of her canine charge and said she will definitely be pet-sitting again.

"I think he's been nicely spoilt. He's had the lap of luxury at his home and we're just continuing it, really."

Home from home for dogs
08 Apr 03  |  Shropshire
Owners eye-spy on pampered pets
06 Jan 03  |  England
Pet owners in puppy love
17 May 00  |  UK

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