The life of an animal lover: making a hobby into a business

Colette O’Toole Co Wicklow has many animal friends: for starters, meet Sugar, Bibi and Puddle the Jack Russell Terriers, Flora and Bella the Labradors, and Kanga the Springer Spaniel.  Animals have always featured in Colette’s life.

When she was growing up in Dublin, stray dogs used to follow her home from school. From the age of thirteen, she worked with horses at the local riding stables. On leaving school, she moved to the UK where she worked in a pet shop, before getting a job in Harrods, delivering gifts to celebrities in a horse drawn carriage. When she returned to Ireland in the early 1990’s, she worked with vets in south Dublin for fourteen years until she decided to set up her own business of dog minding.

Dog minding originally happened by accident: the vet she was working for asked her to look after his dog for a week. He was going away on holidays and he didn’t want his family dog to go into kennels. Colette enjoyed looking after the dog in her own home, and she started taking in other dogs that she came across through her work at the vets. They were mostly high-care cases where medication was needed or where there were other special needs. As time passed, her reputation as an animal carer spread, and more and more requests came in for her to look after pets.

Three years ago, she decided to make this part-time hobby into a full-time business. She moved from Dublin to south County Wicklow, buying a larger house with a garden of almost an acre, surrounded by fields and forestry. Since then, she has been providing a personalised service that’s different to normal boarding kennels.

All the dogs live in the house with Colette and her sixteen year old daughter, Emma. They share their lives in the same way that pet dogs living with their owners at home. She has space for up to fifteen dogs at one time, and when visiting her, there’s a relaxed sense of community, with animals lounging around together. She takes the dogs outside for exercise twice daily, using a tennis racket and balls to encourage each animal to burn up energy. After each session, the dogs return the house exhausted, and there’s a peaceful hour as they all lie down to recover.

Colette has learned to understand dog behaviour through years of experience, and she finds that with the right treatment, nearly all dogs can get on well with each other. So far, she’s never had a dog fight between her charges, and this is largely due to her careful supervision. Male hormones make a significant contribution to dog-dog aggression, so if she has unneutered male dogs, she keeps them separate.

When playing with the dogs outside, Colette keeps them under close supervision at all times, so that any signs of a disagreement can be nipped in the bud. “Oi”, shouted loudly and sharply, is her favourite training word, distracting mischievous dogs from disruptive behaviour. She finds that dogs in her care get on well together, even making friendships. Some dogs get to know each other so well that if they meet again many months later, they’re happy to see each other, tearing off down the garden together in excitement.

Colette doesn’t advertise her dog boarding service, preferring to get business by word of mouth. She provides a collection and delivery service and people appreciate the convenience. She leaves her card with receptionists at local veterinary practices so that if someone is looking for this alternative to boarding kennels, the veterinary team is able to let them know about Colette.


  • Home carers like Colette can provide a useful alternative to boarding kennels
  • Some dogs find this type of minding less stressful than normal kennels
  • All dogs need to have up to date vaccines before any type of mixing with other dogs


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