They say never to work with children or animals, but Swale’s dog sitter, Mel Herbert, wouldn’t have it any other way.
The 30-year-old spent 10 years in the hospitality industry before changing careers four years ago to focus on four-legged guests instead – and she hasn’t looked back.
In addition to sorting animal permits, she is called upon to retrieve abandoned and missing dogs.
Already this year, she has been alerted to 67 stray animals.
Of these, 61 were reunited with their owners, either by the caretaker, a kennel or members of the public. Five were sent to the rescue and one was housed by a kennel.
Ms Herbert, from Aylesham, said: ‘Tim our Animal Control Investigation Officer retired in December so I’m a bit of a bunch of men at the moment covering Sittingbourne, Sheppey and Faversham , but I love it.
“I am passionate about the profession in general, but more particularly about the microchip.
“When I pick up strays it turns out the dogs are microchipped but the details haven’t been updated and we’re having trouble reaching the current owner so that’s something we’re adopting on a very firm position.”
Mel worked in kitchens for 10 years before becoming a dog walker and applying for the caretaker job.
She said: “I always wanted to work in the animal industry, but to be honest I felt a bit lost as I had been in a profession for so long.
“But before I knew it, I had gotten the job. But I love him. I work with the animals, make sure they’re safe and direct them to rescues and things like that.
“I have my own pets and I know exactly how people feel when they say they are their babies.”
Over the past few years, Mel has witnessed many rescues, both sad and happy.
Mel explained: “There have been so many sad rescues and those are the ones that tend to stick with you.
“We pick up a lot of dogs in poor condition, these are the ones that you might tend to say aren’t pets or maybe they’ve been abandoned.
“We see a lot of ex-breeders. When I started, we chose a Frenchie called Minnie.
“He was the first dog I saw that was truly awful.
“Mini had obviously been overbred because when she got up her pacifiers were on the floor, everything was stretched out.
“His two front legs had been broken at some point and were left to heal on their own. They were all twisted.
More recently, Mel came to the rescue of Jackson the bull lurcher.
He was found running down a hill in a rural area far from any habitation.
She said: “He was really, really skinny. He had a lot of open wounds, a crack on his tail, an ear infection, he was missing a lot of teeth and he had flat feet. His toes are fairly wide apart.
“It showed that he had some sort of tendon injury at some point. And those are always really tough, even though you see a lot of sick dogs, every time you see them like that, because I am an animal lover, it was pretty tough.
Last year, Mel was called to the home of a Jack Russell terrier, who had been found on a country road.
Mel said: “She was in a terrible state.
“The vets discovered that she had been shot and left on the side of the road. I stayed at the vet until about two in the morning because we like to stay, we wouldn’t leave.
“And unfortunately she must have been asleep because even though she was starting to respond to some of the drugs, the less she was technically in pain with the painkillers, it almost made her worse and there were a lot of maggots all over her open wounds. .
“They are the ones who are really kind of loyal to you.
“I wish I could tell you there’s only been one or two that are sad, but it’s really been quite often.”
Mel said the Lower Halstow area tends to be the Guardian’s hotspot for found dogs.
She explained: “Here we mainly find lurchers, but we also have a lot of smaller dogs like Jack Russells.”
While Mel hasn’t had any weird rescues, she has had some that are more positive.
Mel said: “We picked up a female lurcher over Christmas in 2020 or 2019.
“She would be right on the borough boundary between Swale and Maidstone so we picked her up and she looked really big.
“We were like, ‘oh, she’s big enough for a lurcher’ but she won’t be pregnant. Next thing we knew, she had started giving birth at the kennel.
“The lurcher had seven puppies, and we named her Santa and all the puppies were named after the reindeer.”
Mel explained that most owners are truly grateful for her service.
“It’s just nice for people to be polite, really,” she said.
“Such a small thing, but that’s what I really love when people are very grateful. Those are the kind of people I really love.
One job the caretaker handled that caught the attention of dog lovers across the country was that of an elderly Labrador who was found tied to railings with a note saying he had no “ learned to be good”.
The lost dog was discovered at Jasmil Kennels and Cattery in Upchurch, near Sittingbourne in July 2020.
The elderly dog, who did not have a microchip, ended up with a note that read: “Hello, please can you take me in as my owner abandoned me after 10 years because I didn’t learn to be good, so I was sent back here where he found me.
“Thank you for taking care of me, sorry for the inconvenience.”
However, the owner’s family later came forward to rehome the dog, saying they were unaware of the plan to abandon him.
Despite being a huge canine softie, Mel refrained from bringing rescues home.
She said: “I previously had two dogs, Charlie and Crumpet, who sadly both passed away.
“So to some degree that was a bit of a saving grace, I probably would have ended up with about 10 saves otherwise.”
Mel expressed some things that she now considers very important because of her job.
She said: “Just because your dog is friendly doesn’t mean it’s appropriate for your dog to approach someone else.
“You could have a small Chihuahua, a puppy, a Rottweiler or even something bigger like a Great Dane and they could be friendly, but if there’s a dog on a leash it could be for medical reasons, for anxiety reasons, they might be training or aggressive, your dog running towards other people and other dogs, is just not appropriate.
“It’s a huge message that I think needs to get out there.
Mel is also keen to raise awareness of the importance of microchipping, which is now a legal requirement.
In Swale, since January, 19 notices have been served requiring a dog to be microchipped and properly registered within 21 days.
Failure to do so could result in the dog being microchipped without the owner’s consent and/or a fine of up to £500 if convicted.
Mel said: ‘If you are unsure about your pet’s microchipping, we as advice offer it as a free service and we will come to your house and do it.
“The last thing you want is for your dog to run away and me not being able to reach you.
“Try not to let it get away from you.”
Find out more about the Swale Borough Council Dog Click here.