It’s a dog’s life at Branscombe


Peter Sale and his family have been running Branscombe Kennels and Cattery since 2019, and are proud of what’s hiding behind the gates

Ben begins the busy daily routine of looking after his section of the resident dogs.
All images: Courtenay Hitchcock

The unassuming entrance to Branscombe Kennels and Cattery hide a bustling beehive of activity. Sitting in the shelter of the hill below Shaftesbury, the kennels has been under the ownership of Peter Sale and his daughter and son in law, Nadja and Steve Nunn, since 2019.
The small yard opens (through high, secure gates) to a collection of buildings. When we arrived, they were filled with dogs barking, sleeping, bouncing and sitting patiently as their bedrooms were scrubbed.
The individual pens are necessarily uniform and clinical. ‘It’s not like home here,’ says Peter. ‘We try our best to make it as homely as possible, but there are limits to what we can manage.’ Each pen has an inside sleeping area, complete with recently-upgraded new infrared heaters. ‘They’re designed to heat objects, not the ambient air. It feels cooler, but the dogs are cosy and warm, it’s a much better system, so much nicer for the dogs.’
Variously-sized kennels are matched to their occupants, from small, cosier pens for miniature dogs through to giant kennels which can comfortably house a Great Dane. The atmosphere as we walk around is one of organised bustle – the staff are busy with their morning chores, but are constantly stopping for a pat, a chat or a game with a canine resident. All the dogs are referred to by name, and the staff are clearly familiar with their charges. It’s a busy, stimulating environment in which no dog will be bored.

image Courtenay Hitchcock

‘The kennels are designed in a certain way to ensure dogs are able to be sociable with other dogs and with the people coming in and out. They’re not sitting behind closed walls all day. And we place dogs where they need to be – do they require a quieter kennel away from the hustle, or do they need to be seeing people all the time? We always try and work with the dog.
‘We keep a special eye on any particularly needy dogs – the very young, the elderly, the dogs who are in kennels for the first time … it can be a stressful environment initially. We like to encourage owners to leave their pets for just a day first. Then, if there’s time, for a single overnight, before they do the proper board. Dogs need to understand that you’re coming back, and what it’s like here.’

The fully enclosed agility arena allows the dogs to run and enjoy enrichment activities

The to-do list
Peter was a deputy headteacher in Kent before he took early retirement. He bought a house overlooking the sea, spent a lot of time walking his dogs – and very quickly got bored! His daughter Nadja taught teenagers with special needs in secondary school, and she and her husband were both looking for a life change. In 2018 the three started searching for an opportunity together – and they found Branscombe.
‘It’s a lifestyle choice – you don’t run a place like this to get rich! You really can only do it if you love it – it’s seven days a week, 365 days a year, and it’s a never-ending project – you’re never done!
‘We’re always working to make it better, there’s constant upgrading and improvement. Right now we’ve got new fencing going in and we’re replacing drains (boring, but surprisingly important!). Over the past year we’ve installed new lighting as well as the infra-red heating, new windows, and we’ve upgraded the cattery block … just keeping the pens fresh with the specific paint we’re allowed to use is a perennial job in itself!’
On the opposite side of the compound is the more peaceful cattery – which had just two residents when we visited. ‘Currently the cattery residents tend to arrive with dog owners who also have a cat – but the cattery provides the same level of care.’

Steve Nunn (far left) with Tiffany the chihuahua, some of the Branscombe team, Peter Sale with his rescue lurcher General Jackson and Nadja (far right) with Oceane the dachshund

A day in the life
Branscombe is set within large grounds which open onto open farmland and the back of Duncliffe Hill. All dogs are walked at least twice a day on the lead in the exercise fields and larger dogs (and those requiring more exercise) get taken into the agility arena to work off-lead. Owners can also book their pets to enjoy daily sessions in the agility arena and during their stay.
‘The animals receive 24 hour-a-day-care – as we live on site, at least one of us (Nadja, Steve or Peter) is always here.
On a typical day, the rest of the staff arrive at 8am. First job is always a quick poo check, then it’s feeding time and the walks begin – a long process, as you can imagine, taking hours each day. Then there is a thorough clean of every pen, and checking in and out as some dogs go home and some arrive. Every kennel is deep cleaned and thoroughly disinfected between guests.
Cats enjoy the same daily routine – the only thing we don’t do with them is the walking, of course, but we substitute the walk with some time spent with their carer.
All dogs are walked in the afternoon, and then it’s feeding time again. At 5pm most of the staff leave, and we do the evening checks ourselves, including any final walks, ensuring heaters are on in colder weather, water bowls are checked, and all the dogs are put to bed.’

Branscombe’s exercise fields allow for plenty of space for a really good walk

Peter and Nadja’s teaching background shows in their staff training programme too: ‘All the staff are constantly training – whatever qualification they have, they’re working on the next one. Some are doing Animal Care Level 2/3 qualifications, and a couple have moved on to the City & Guilds Kennel Management course. Once you have employed the right people, the better trained they are the bigger an asset they become to the business. It just makes sense. And we have such a great team at Branscombe – we don’t have to work hard at being a caring environment. Every single one of us is animal mad.’
Branscombe has recently launched a new ‘Premier Service’ for dogs that includes a daily session in the agility arena and photos sent to the owner during their stay, an extra £10 daily.

The curious gang were keeping an eye on the visitors

Quick-fire questions:

How far ahead should I book?
As soon as you can! Really as soon as you know. Peak times book up fast – the summer holidays, Easter, Christmas and half-terms get very busy.

Will my dogs be together?
Dogs from the same home can share a pen – we never mix dogs from different homes, of course.

Can I bring my pet’s things?
We can’t accommodate everything, but do as much as we can. We prefer to supply beds and bedding because then we know they’re clean and laundered correctly etc.
But we won’t say no – many dogs are very attached to their beds, it’s like a security blanket, so it needs to come. Harnesses, coats and toys are all fine. In terms of food, we have six dry, six wet and six raw foods, including gluten free etc. But if we don’t have yours, you can supply it.

Is my difficult pet an issue?
With caveats, no. The important thing is to be honest, to call us and talk through the issues.
Lots of needs can be handled, but we’re not miracle workers, and we have to consider the safety and comfort of the staff and all the other dogs.
If we can help, we will.

Do you have a groomer?
We have a specialist groomer on site – the grooming salon is available for resident dogs and outside clients, and offers everything from a simple nail trim to a full doggie pamper!


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