Interview with Carol Howell

Page 3.

Q: Can you describe your kennel to us?

Well, I don't really have a kennel. I never have, and probably never will.  I am a firm believer that Shelties need--and love--to be around people. I know different breeders do what works successfully for them, and many keep their Shelties happy and content as kennel dogs. But, I also happen to love having my dogs around me. So, rather than have to go to a separate building, or area, to be with them, I have always raised, and kept, my dogs as housedogs. There is so much to learn about them that way. They are all so different from one another. There is so much to appreciate about their individual personalities. I get such great pleasure from them. Above all, they are so devoted. As I move from place to place getting chores done, they are like a little flock of Geese, following me.

Now, don't get the idea that my house is one mass of Shelties just milling about! I had the wonderful opportunity of totally designing the new home we built 13 years ago, and I knew just what I wanted for the dogs. It is laid out so that everyone, and everything, stays pretty much organized. Picture the "dog part" of my home as a "T" with the right hand top being about 1/3 longer than the left. The entire T, plus the entry foyer, bath, and halls, has ceramic tile flooring. The stem of the T is my family room. It is 16' X 36', and has leather, doggy-proof, furniture.

There are two big sofas, a love seat, an easy chair, and an ottoman. Also, my computer desk area and the requisite T.V. There are enough sofa spots on the seat cushions and poofy back cushions, that every dog can find a good spot to chomp a chewie, or take a snooze.

The family room is divided by one of the sofas, leaving the top1/3 of the ''T'' empty. Against the back of this dividing sofa is a ceramic-topped storage unit with drawers, where I keep the stud dog records. It is just the right height to groom dogs, and table train and measure puppies. To the top of this storage unit is the part of the family room with a fireplace and a built in desk along the wall with storage for the bitch and puppy records. The empty center of this part of the room is where a "normal" person might put a pool table. But, that is where my 4'6''X8' puppy pen, made out of white 20" high closet shelving, goes.

There is a door in that area to the outside deck, going into the back yard. Beside the pen, in the entrance to the right hand side of the T, is where the puppies spend the night together in a baby playpen. The left-hand top of the T is the dog's bedroom. It is 12'X 25', and wire crates are lined on both sides of the room, one high.

The room has one high wall covered with glass-fronted trophy cases, and one wall has photos and certificates. I had a special booster fan put under the house to direct an extra dose of air conditioning into that room. There is a door in the room opening to the outside deck and into the yard. The right hand side of the T is my kitchen and kitchen table area. Continuing to the right of the kitchen is what I had to call my laundry room to keep the builder happy. It is another 12'X25' room.(When he said, "No one needs a 25' laundry room," I told him I was taking in laundry!) One-third of the room has washer and dryer, and a dog-towel closet against the outside wall. That part of the room has 10 stacked wire crates for visiting bitches. There is a door to the outside opening into a fenced yard for the bitches. A wall divides this part of the laundry room from the other 2/3 of the room. The larger area is for bitches and their litters. There is a door out into a separate yard for the Moms, and is used for the puppies when they are old enough to go out.

The rest of the house is my Sacred Area with off-white carpets and upholstered furniture (living room, dining room, and 3 upstairs bedrooms.) The dogs are kept out of this area by doors. Sorry to ramble on about this area, but it works so well for me. I'm proud of the design!

The outside area is divided into four yards. To the left is a yard for dogs visiting with their owners for dog shows or whatever. It is accessed through a gate from the parking area near my garage. That yard is about 30'X40', and can be divided by ex pens if necessary. Adjacent to that is a large wooden deck area, which leads into the main yard used by my dogs. This yard is accessed from the dog room, and the family room. Since there is a flight of stairs down from the upper deck to the ground level one, the builder put in a special ramp for the dogs not liking to use the stairs. This main yard is maybe 50'x60' or more, and opens directly into 2 wooded acres of fenced woods. The gate into the woods is always open, unless it is very muddy after a rain.

Adjacent to the main yard is the puppy yard. It is accessed from the Mom and pup area of the laundry, and has a short flight of stairs leading from the deck, and also a ramp for the puppies. Pups learn to use the ramp at about 6-7 weeks of age, and the stairs at about 8 weeks. The yard has a tunnel and a Little Tyke play yard with a slide, to challenge the little minds.

Adjacent to the puppy yard, which is fenced with wire so that they can watch the activity in the dog yard, is the yard for visiting bitches. That yard is very securely fenced, with an 8' tall wooden fence. The fence rests on buried 6'x6's put there to eliminate any attempt to dig under the fence.The bitch yard is nice and big, probably 40'x40', and has several trees, and a little hill. Inside this yard is a 6'X6' chain link run for the bitches who are extra nervous, or uncomfortable in the open area. Not wanting the bitches to feel claustrophobic with the tall solid wood fence, I had a double
plexi-glass window put in at Sheltie height so they can see the activity in the other yards.

All four yards have a surface that has saved me unimaginable amounts of work. It is an Astro Turf type of material, the same used on putting greens, etc. The material imitates grass, and the "blades" are about 1 " -2" tall. Sand is raked into the material to make the individual blades stand erect. Rain, urine, and water filters through the sand and out the porous bottom into the soil. And you can Poop Scoop it just as if it was real lawn. When it rains, the dogs stay clean, and there is no gravel to migrate, nor cement to stain the coats. A friend of mine who owns a Turf Farm nearby developed the concept. I am so spoiled by it, I cannot imagine having any other surface.

All of my dogs run together, and get along great. Even the boys run together. The only time I separate them, is when the girls are in season. I keep puppies separate from the adults until they are between 4-5 months, so they don't get trampled by the rampaging herd, or knocked about during play. When the weather is cool, there is a constant stream of running Shelties winding their way up and down the hilly paths they have forged through the woods. I love watching them being so happy and carefree, and having such fun.

I am so fortunate to have 14 slightly hilly, wooded acres, and no close neighbors. Keith spent almost 2 years fencing the entire acreage, so that I could hike in the woods with the dogs, and not worry about losing anyone. I don't have time to take them out everyday, but when I open the gate from the 2 acres of woods that they use every day, into the rest of the acreage for a walk, there is sheer pandemonium.  It is like going to Disney World for them.

Q: How many dogs do you own, and what is your kennel capacity?

Keith used to count by the method he heard Harriet Smith explain many years ago.  That is, you never count the retired dogs nor the puppies under 6 months!  If that is the case, I have about 15. If I have to count the old spayed bitches and young puppies, I suppose I'd have to admit to 25 or so.  Some of this number includes dogs here on extended visits, such as visiting studs, and bitches leased for litters.  If I could make myself place more of my older dogs, I would be way down in numbers.  But, I tend to accumulate them.

Q: Can you describe a typical day at your kennel?

I get up at no set time, although the dogs seem to have a built-in alarm clock, and get restless at the exact same minute every morning. They don't care that I've only had 4 hours of sleep. I try for 5-6 hours every night, but it doesn't always work. I'd love to get 8 hours, but I can't remember when that happened last! I am usually up until 2 a.m. at least. When all of the dogs are out, and puppies are in their inside or outside pen, depending upon the weather, I grab a quick cup of coffee, and shower. Then pups, and any pregnant or nursing bitches, are fed. Then I'm outside to "pick up" and check and fill the water bowls. In the good weather months, the dogs stay out until 1-2 p.m.-----except for the old guys who come inside and snooze. If is real hot, or cold, the time outside varies. They then may come in after just 30 or so minutes outside, hang out in the family room and chew on chewies, with a few quick "outs" every couple of hours. They are in by 2 p.m. every day, and are crated until 5 or 6 p.m. They all get a dog bone and fresh water in their dishes, and pups are fed again. Nine of my dogs eat and sleep loose, and are never crated. This group includes my Ch. Beyond Tradition, four spayed girls, and 4 younger girls that I can totally trust.

During the day I try and get as many of the daily mundane chores done as I can, between phone calls and people coming and going. I take advantage of the crate/nap time to do shopping and banking, or any outside chores such as planting, pruning or raking. (These are hard to do with a herd of Shelties "helping.") The reason I have so much traffic through my house, is that whenever I get a phone call from a people wanting to purchase a Sheltie, I invite them to visit and meet my dogs, especially if they have never owned a Sheltie before. Also, when I have puppies, I encourage visits from people on my "waiting list." That way, I can get to know them better before the sale, and they can share in the puppies' growth and changes. No one gets to pick until they are old enough that I can sort the pets from the show prospects, and their individual temperaments have developed. I've learned that if one is careful to match a puppy to a family's lifestyle and personalities, it makes for a very happy, permanent union.

When evening comes the dogs are outside again, and puppies are given their 3rd meal of the day. Then I'm outside "picking up," and checking water. If the weather is good, the dogs stay out until 9-10 p.m., while I get more work done, and have dinner. Then they all come into the family room for a few hours. I sometimes groom a dog or two a night, or sometimes work on my computer and attempt to catch up on my e-mail. I'm always weeks behind. At about midnight they are out again, and I get any breedings done. Then they all come in and are fed in their crates, where they stay until morning. Then the puppies are given their last meal of the day, and switched from pen into playpen for the night. Sometimes I spend another hour or so trying to answer more e-mail, then to bed. Then another day dawns, and it starts all over again.

Since I have no help, the days are long, and all of the responsibilities are mine. However, if I had a choice of a lifestyle, this would be it----maybe with a bit less work. I have no regrets. I love what I do.


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