‘I had to carry on after my son’s tragic death’ – Animal lover still committed to North Herts dog kennels 50 years after opening

Sheila Cooper, pictured with her Great Dane and chihuahua, is marking 50 years at Hare Park Cottage

Sheila Cooper, pictured with her Great Dane and chihuahua, is marking 50 years at Hare Park Cottage Kennels. - Credit: Archant

A 79-year-old dog lover who has been running her kennels business for 50 years has said the sudden death of her son made her keep going – and she wishes she could continue in the job forever.

Sheila Cooper with her first poodle.

Sheila Cooper with her first poodle. - Credit: Archant

Sheila Cooper bought a derelict building on the stretch of A505 between Baldock and Royston back in 1966 – with a vision to set up a boarding kennels and a dog grooming parlour.

That ambition became a reality through Hare Park Cottage Kennels, and May marked her 50th anniversary at the Slip End site which she also calls her home.

Starting off with four kennels, word quickly spread and the late Stan Martin of Ashwell built a further 26 to bring Hare Park’s capacity up to its present day offering of up to 30 dogs.

But it has been a long journey for Sheila, whose love of dogs began in earnest at the age of eight.

Sheila Cooper outside Fifi’s Pets Beauty Parlour in Baldock High Street.

Sheila Cooper outside Fifi’s Pets Beauty Parlour in Baldock High Street. - Credit: Archant

She recalls making some furry friends on a beach in Margate, Kent, which sparked her future love of animals.

“I asked my dad if we could have a dog and he said no,” said Sheila, who now has a Great Dane, two whippets and a chihuahua.

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“But I got one anyway and he went barmy!”

Sheila’s first job in 1955 was working at the Nags Head Pet Stores in London, where her first pay packet as a 15-year-old was £1/19/3d (£1.96).

Among her duties was looking after the dogs of famous comedy pair Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan, and it was at the shop she worked with lifelong friend Patricia Johnson.

Sheila then moved to Baldock where she set up Fifi’s Pets Beauty Parlour in High Street, meeting her future husband Peter Cooper in 1961 and marrying him two years later.

Due to the shop’s success, Sheila began to search for a bigger property, eventually deciding on what is now Hare Park.

Sheila also became an established breeder in the 1970s and ’80s, using a pedigree name of Standalone, and raising them with the help of her three children – Adrian, Vanessa and Angela.

But tragedy struck in April 1988, when her son Adrian died in a motorbike accident as he made his way home from a Sunday lunch in Ashwell with his sweetheart. He was just 20.

“After that I had to carry on – I was booking dogs in on the day of his funeral,” said Sheila, who has kept working despite having a knee operation almost three years ago.

“If I hadn’t had my work I don’t know what I would have done, it helped me carry on.

“I do love the work still – it’s not about the money. If there’s a dog in distress or in need of a kennel I just have to help, it’s in my nature.

“I wish I could carry on forever. My daughters keep asking ‘when are you going to retire’, but I don’t want to. I’m still doing a lot of walking and it keeps me fit.”

Daughter Angela added: “She is the most strong, independent, and amazing woman. With two daughters and five grandchildren behind her, she really has done the most spectacular job.

“Not a day has gone by since 1966 that she has not worked hard for her business and dreams to survive. She’s taken the odd holiday here and there, but her dogs always come first.”

For more information about Hare Park Cottage Kennels call 01462 742544.

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