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A Beautiful Bunch of Bashful Bassets

We've just finished our most time consuming but rewarding Hertfordshire house sitting and pet sitting assignment, looking after a full pack of twenty two Basset Hounds in a 'Lodge', six chickens, five sheep, plus another Basset Hound in the house. This was taking house and dog sitting to a whole new level, as well as being a logistical challenge that could result in sex, murder and mayhem if we got it wrong!

To set the scene, the Basset Hounds' pack lodge consists of two kennel areas separated in the middle by a medium-size pebble-surfaced run. The main pack of nineteen dogs are kept in the large kennel with covered sleeping quarters and an open-air concrete run that is cleaned and disinfected each day with gated access to the pebbled central area. The other side of the central pebbled area is a matching 'Hot House' where they keep the 'Hot Bitches', the three girls currently in season. Some thirty metres up the garden is a hen house and chicken run with a small half-metre square, portcullis-style, access which, when open, allows the six hens free range in the middle paddock. Past the middle paddock is the top paddock.

This is where it gets interesting... Let's start early morning with the sheep in the middle paddock where they are allowed overnight. Between 6.45am and 7.15am, I set off up the garden armed with sheep nuts, chicken feed and dog biscuits. Using the sheep nuts as a lure, I entice the sheep from the middle paddock to the top paddock and toss the nuts into the grass for them to find and eat, then spend a few minutes staring at the sheep's bottoms. Not, I hasten to add, out of any latent Welshness, but to ensure there are no signs of flystrike. Apparently, maggots falling out of their bottoms is a big clue!

With the sheep safely in the top paddock, I collect the main pack of nineteen Basset Hounds and escort them to the middle paddock, herding them where necessary and counting to ensure all are present and correct. Returning to the Basset Lodge, I close off the main kennel, let the 'Hot Bitches' into the pebbled area and close their kennel. Both kennels are now empty and available for the kennel assistant to clean and disinfect. I head back to the middle paddock and wander about with the floppy-eared, adorable pack who are sniffing, peeing and pooping their way round the field. I plod round in a similar fashion, but equipped with a super-sized pooper scooper, collecting and carrying a few kilos of dog poop, while trying my best to keep down my breakfast. Then, it is back to the kennels to put the 'Hot Bitches' back in their freshly cleaned accommodation before heading back to the paddock to return the main pack to their kennel and reward them with a dog biscuit each. With the pack safely locked up, I escort the girls to the middle paddock walking ahead as pack leader calling, 'Come on you 'Hot Bitches', let's be having you'. You can only really get away with this when you're out in the countryside in the middle of nowhere. In towns, I fear it would be frowned upon. I repeat the walk around and poop scoop. Next, it's the 'Hot Bitches' back to their kennel and again a dog biscuit each. Then, it's off to the chickens to collect any eggs, roust them out of the hen house, open up the portcullis and toss corn into the middle paddock to encourage them from their run into their free range field. Phew! Finished. Hot strong black coffee awaits!

Late afternoon, the process reverses, with hens having to be enticed from the middle paddock field back into their run, while the kennel assistant feeds the main pack in the pebbled area. After they've eaten their meal, which they hoover up in seconds, I take them to the middle paddock to repeat the morning's poop manoeuvre. The 'Hot Bitches' get fed in the pebbled area and popped back into their kennel, the main pack are returned to their's, 'Hot Bitches' to the middle paddock, walk around, poop scoop, 'Hot Bitches' back to their kennel and finally, the sheep let into the middle paddock from the top paddock. Phew! Finished. Cold beer awaits!

A few notes for the unwary so they can benefit from things I learned: surprisingly, sheep will eat dog biscuits given the chance but not corn. Chickens will do their best to eat sheep nuts but not dog biscuits. Basset Hounds, on the other hand, will happily eat dog biscuits, sheep nuts, the chicken's corn and even each other's poop. Yep! You read it right. Each other's poop! I did my best to discourage this latter, unedifying behaviour, and the shame of this habit may be the reason Bassets look bashful at all times. However, by day three or four, my, hopefully understandable, dislike of poop picking, combined with the overwhelming quantity they produce, led me to believe this despicable habit should be encouraged. After all, it's eco-friendly, recycling at its most efficient, and had the potential to noticeably improve the pleasure of my walk around the field each morning and evening, provided, that is, I looked the other way while it happened.

Further notes for the unwary include: do not let the main pack into the middle paddock while the chickens are still present... even if the chickens are proving difficult to get in. Herding six randomly distributed chickens, from a large field, through a small hole with a portcullis can be time consuming and frustrating. There is no doubt that letting the pack in motivates the previously disinterested chickens to get a move on but the work it causes far outweighs any time saving you may make. It is also preferrable to keep the sheep and Basset Hounds separate, as neither has the faintest idea what to do with the other. Finally, it is crucial to avoid mixing the main pack and the 'Hot Bitches'. Should this happen, the dominant males will fight each other to a bloody death, while some opportunistic, randy little 'so and so' further down the pecking order, will sneak in, have his wicked way, and totally ruin the carefully planned pack breeding programme.

All in all, considering the potential for disaster, it went extremely well, the bodies are well hidden, convincing look-a-likes were purchased where replacements were needed and we've been invited back to this gloriously restored Hertfordshire cottage for another spell of housesitting and petsitting in September.

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