Every dog has its holiday…

How do you make two moody, timid pets smile?

Let them loose in the Forest of Dean

  • Comedian Jane Bussmann took her dogs to a retreat in the Forest of Dean
  • She stayed in a cabin in the forest with a wood-burning stove and hot tub
  • Her pets loved the nature around them and made friends with other dogs

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I thought dogs were supposed to be happy-go-lucky. My dog is so serious he could be Kanye West trying to understand a knock-knock joke. I thought when I got a dog he might chase sticks; my dog Homer lies holding my foot, listening to the love songs of Michael Bolton and sighing. And no one warned me that going on Discount Holidays © holiday without your dog is pretty much cheating on your partner.

My mum, who looks after Homer when I m gone, says he waits by the door refusing to eat. Kennel club: Jane Bussmann took her pets for a break at a dog-friendly retreat in the Forest of Dean. Pictured is Jane with Thistle at the cabin

Bark and bite: Thistle enjoys a trip to the local

Last time I came back from holiday, he sat with his back to me, making a soft weeping sound. I wasn t going to let my life be dictated by one small dog. I had the answer: get one more.

Keep each other company… I d scoot round the world… guilt-free… Brilliant. I went online and found Thistle. She d been so starved she d lost half her teeth. Her fur was yellow from sitting in her own wee.

Thistle was where a third of puppies come from: a puppy farm mum locked in a shed. She d been forced to have litter after litter of puppies. When I met her, she was tiny.

One remaining fang stuck up like a deep-sea viperfish. She was so happy to be rescued that when I cuddled her, she clung to me with all four paws like a hideous monkey. Thistle would be perfect.

She was a Maltese terrier. I d read somewhere they are placid and silent. Placid? If EastEnders Peggy Mitchell came back from the dead, she d come back as Thistle. Surely this 4.5lb whirlwind could teach Homer to lighten up. Forest Holidays has luxurious dog-friendly log cabins in unspoilt nature sites from Scotland to Cornwall.

We chose the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire, famous for wild boar, bluebells and fantasy Tolkein s Middle Earth is apparently based on it, and all manner of sci fi has been filmed here, from Doctor Who and Harry Potter to Star Wars. Happy Thistle in the bluebell field, having left behind all the years locked in a dark shed breeding puppies

When we first got Thistle, she d howl in terror when we put her in the car, in case she was going back to the shed. But now she scrambled in by herself. Homer s not as bright as Thistle, so when the suitcases came out, his ears went down sadly.

When we told him he was coming too, he stared at us in disbelief. Then his ears went up, a huge smile broke out on his face and he barrelled into the car, knocking Thistle over. After three hours of Michael Bolton, we pulled into a meadow ringed by log cabins like a cowboy circle but with better wi-fi and a well-stocked off-licence.

The dogs went crazy, thumping their tails in my eyes: they could see their fellow holidaymakers a cuddly Staffie, two female labradors Homer had his eye on and a bulldog in a wheelchair. There was even a dog parking sign for well-behaved pets. Homer cocked his leg on it. Got it licked: Homer makes himself at home in the cabin, which has a spectacular wall of glass looking directly on to deep forest

Forest Holidays runs night-vision nature walks with affable ranger Jerry and there are kids activities, endless cycling routes, and you can visit mystical healing wells and caves galore.

The Forestry Commission have partnered with Forest Holidays to preserve the landscape, so you can Discount Holidays © holiday with a clean conscience and clean lungs. You select a cabin near the restaurant or in the trees. Ours had a spectacular wall of glass looking directly on to deep forest, and chilled Prosecco waiting. Thistle is an old girl.

We want her to have comfort for the rest of her life, and she agrees. She took one look at the wood-burning stove and stretched out in bliss. Homer lay on his back with his legs splayed like Oliver Reed after a night out while the rest of us lay in the outdoor hot tub listening to the birds for hours, looking up at a canopy of pines. You couldn t pick a better dog Discount Holidays © holiday than a forest, where the animals can really take advantage of their sense of smell

Homer discovered a wooden bridge to our personal treehouse, decorated by the real Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen at his most bonkers: LLB had done Alice in Wonderland s honeymoon suite in the treetops.

A ten-person luxury log cabin with bonus treehouse seemed impressive value. Forest Holidays will send room service at reasonable rates curry, champagne, rose petals, a private chef or masseuse or even drive though the trees to bring the dogs treats. (I didn t tell them that). You couldn t pick a better dog Discount Holidays © holiday than a forest. A dog s sense of smell, I learned, is millions of times more powerful than ours.

To me, the forest smelled like several trees; to Homer and Thistle, it blew their minds. Thistle enjoyed the sensory overload but stuck near our feet. Homer flew about like a demented rabbit. During Jane’s stay, there were other families who brought their pets too – giving Thistle and Homer the opportunity to make some new friends

There are dozens of beauty spots. We had set out for Symonds Yat Rock when Homer saw the female labradors, and suddenly we were off the path.

The Forest of Dean s signs were clearly installed by Corporal Jones of Dad s Army, and since then have done a brilliant job of confusing everyone. Three hours later, we were still walking. The dogs were delighted. I suspect the labradors were in on it. Symonds Yat Rock offers once-in-a-lifetime views.

I expect. I gave up and drove us to the pub instead. The Saracen s Head had an equally fantastic view because it had a pint in the foreground. One morning, Homer found Thistle in a field of bluebells. She had the biggest smile I ve ever seen on a dog s face.

All the years locked in a dark shed breeding puppies were behind her. And Homer finally learned from Thistle how to lighten up: he bounded into the bluebells and rolled around in delight. I realised too late it wasn t delight, it was fox poo, but at least he was smiling.

TRAVEL FACTS

Forest Holidays (forestholidays.co.uk/dogs1) offers four-night pet-friendly breaks to the Forest of Dean from 295 in a cabin sleeping four, with hot tub. Treehouse cabins sleeping ten cost from 695. Dogs cost 10 per night extra.

If you are interested in getting a rescue dog or puppy contact Many Tears (01269 843 084).

References

  1. ^ forestholidays.co.uk/dogs (forestholidays.co.uk)

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