Swapping classrooms for canines
Leaving a teaching salary to set up a dog-walking business may seem like too great a risk to many. However, Tracy Lamont’s passion for all things canine and her love of the outdoors means the launch of Hound Heroes made perfect sense, as she told Wendy Short.
THE latter part of this year has been something of a trial run for Tracy Lamont’s new Hound Heroes dog walking business. However, she already has several regular clients, as well as a list of other dog owners who will be using her services in 2020.
Most of her customers live within a five-mile radius of her Hamsterley home, which she shares with her husband, Nik. The couple married on the morning of the Great North Run in 2015 and took part in the event immediately after the ceremony, still wearing their wedding outfits.
“Most of my doggy customers are high energy breeds like spaniels, collies and terriers,” explains Mrs Lamont.
“These breeds in particular do not always settle well if they are left for several hours while their owners go out to work. A walk will break up their day and one element of the work that I especially enjoy is that my ‘customers’
are always delighted to see me.
“I offer either a 30-minute or a full hour walk and we will usually go to an area that is well-known to the dog.”
She adds: “Before I take on a new client I will ask its owner to fill in a questionnaire. This will give me a lot of information about its habits and preferences. One of my first questions relates to how the dog reacts to other dogs, but to date I have not walked dogs from multiple households together.
“The majority of enquiries are for dogs to be walked between 10.30am and 2pm. I also have a couple of clients whose cats I will feed if they are away on holiday and I tend to visit early in the morning or in late afternoon, so it fits in well around the dog walking.”
Mrs Lamont, who spent two decades as a teacher of religious education at Whitworth Park Academy, in Spennymoor, stresses the importance of dog walkers obtaining the relevant insurance.
“I feel that all professional dog walkers should have insurance, because with animals there is always a risk that the unexpected will happen, although of course I take every precaution to ensure the dogs’ safety and wellbeing. I have also been security-checked as part of my teaching experience and I have recently completed a course in canine first aid.”
As well as walking her canine clientele, Mrs Lamont must also attend to the couple’s own four dogs.
Their pack includes an elderly West Highland white terrier, a cockapoo, a labradoodle and a miniature poodle.
“I love dogs and have always had at least one of my own since I left university,” says Mrs Lamont, who was born in Sunderland.
“Dogs have individual personalities and their own little quirks. One of my clients insists on taking his food bowl along when he goes for his walk.
“It is a joy to watch dogs enjoying themselves out on a walk and they are very devoted and loving. I particularly like cockapoos; they are intelligent and trainable, with a real zest for life. My labradoodle is friendly, happy and adorable, but I am afraid that he is perhaps not very bright.”
In addition to her dog walking commitments, Mrs Lamont helps her husband with his Lawn Hero gardening and weed control business, which was established in 2011.
They are assisted by Mr Lamont’s son, Zac, who is currently studying horticulture at East Durham College.
Meanwhile, Mrs Lamont is also a series of gardening courses run by the Royal Horticultural Society.
The couple, who met on the Match.com dating website, have launched a sideline selling wild flower seeds, in response to the growing popularity of wild flower meadows.
These can form large acreages or be planted at the roadside, but they can also add wildlife value to even the smallest garden, she says.
“We only source seeds from within the UK and we use fully biodegradeable packaging,” she says.
“One of our blends is the Lawn Hero Bee, a wild flower seed mix which has been specifically put together to provide food for bees. We are hoping to have our own hive at some point. There is also a mix designed to benefit butterflies.
“We also have a pick and mix option, which allows customers to select their own wild flowers and we provide colour blended mixes, with the option of blue, white, pink or yellow species. They can be sown in small strips, or in larger patches.”
She adds: “It is important to scarify the lawn, if wild flower seeds are to be sown into grass. They are usually scattered by hand in August or September and the mixes will flower from the following May until September/ October.
“Wild flowers will only thrive in poor soils, so they are suitable for any area which has been left unfertilised.
“If necessary, a small quantity of sharp sand can be added, to reduce the soil fertility. When the flowers have finished, the area can be left in its natural state, or cut down in preparation for the following year.”
One species that is recommended for inclusion in wild flower meadow mixes is yellow rattle.
“It kills off some of the grass roots in the immediate area and helps with flower establishment. We have a wide range of other species and their names are very attractive – corn cockle, poppy, ragged robin, red campion, birdsfoot trefoil, chamomile and marigold.”
Another product is the Meadow Shots. Supplied in small metal canisters, these seed mixes come with a compost plug. Water is added to the potted compost and seed mix and the flowers will bloom on a convenient windowsill; it can be transplanted outside in later season, if required.
The coming 12 months look to be an exciting time for Mrs Lamont, who is very much looking forward to getting back to work after the festive break.
“My two passions are dogs and gardening,” says Mrs Lamont. “There may never be a good time to take a leap into the unknown, but our family businesses allow me to combine my two main interests and I could not be happier about my change of career.”