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Pets: Choosing A Boarding Kennel For Your Beloved Cat Or Dog
By Dr.I.Elizabeth Borgmann. Choosing a Boarding Kennel. The reality is, you may need to put your beloved dog or cat into a boarding kennel at some point in his or her lifetime. You’ll hate it. You’ll feel guilty. You’ll feel you are abandoning them. Doggy jail, here we come!
You now have several options for pet care while you leave for holidays, a work trip or family emergency.
This is optimum because you know your friend, your friend knows your pets and your pets know your friend. This can be one of the most beneficial and least stressful situations for all involved. But sometimes you don’t have pet friendly friends. Or the friends aren’t available. Or you feel you are imposing too often.
If you would still prefer a house sitter or home visitations there are an increasing number of people who offer this service. Check the references and make sure they are bonded and have liability insurance. After all, you are giving them keys to your home while you are absent.
There is an added bonus of friends, family or licensed house sitters in that the home looks occupied, the lights get turned on and off, the mail is picked up and there are no flyers left by the front door.
There are doggy day cares that offer overnight boarding. There are facilities run out of private homes. There are group housing situations. And there are more traditional kennels. Understanding how these differ, understanding your needs and concerns and understanding your pet will let you choose the best option.
Doggy day cares that offer overnight boarding are a great option for the active energetic dog that likes company. If they regularly attend doggy day care at that facility, then the transition to occasional overnight stays is not as stressful. Unless they are supervised, dogs should be in individual runs during the night.
Facilities run out of home usually take fewer dogs. Most often, someone is with the dogs all day long and they sleep in their kennels at night. This is great for the social easy going dog who likes the company of just a few other dogs . It is also better for the quieter shy dog that needs more one on one human time.
Traditional kennels have individual dog runs made of concrete with the walls rising up at least 4-5 feet preventing dog to dog contact with the neighbouring dog. They may have indoor/outdoor runs, with the dogs brought inside at night. Most of the traditional kennels have now incorporated larger play runs where several compatible dogs may play together or where non-sociable dogs can have more room to run. They are usually allowed out into these larger areas once or twice a day for variable periods of time depending on the number of dogs boarding at the time.
Traditional kennels allow greater disease control because of the ability to limit contact between dogs and because of the ability to disinfect the individual dog runs. This situation may be better for some higher stress dog because they cannot see the other dogs but it will not work for all dogs because they can still hear and smell each other. It is definitely the only choice for a dog aggressive dog.
Some traditional kennels only use wire runs and the dogs can see each other. You don’t have the same ability to control disease in this situation and it becomes more like communal living. Being able to see about may reduce the stress of some dogs, and increase the stress of others.
As pets have become increasingly family members rather than ‘just dogs’ traditional kennels have needed to soften the cold sterility of the concrete dog run. Some higher end facility put in heated floors, sky-lights, raised beds, challenging toys (like puzzle balls) and play soothing background music. The fancier kennels, or doggy spas, offer daily brushing, dog walks and pet massages.
Regardless of what type of facility you choose, try to prepare your pet for periodic absences. Take them to a kennel for overnight stays. This way they get to know the people working at the facility you choose and they learn that you will come back. This will make longer stays less difficult for them.
Don’t make a fuss when you leave your dog at a kennel or when you pick them up. Treat this like an expected everyday occurrence. If you make a fuss you will teach your dog that this is a big tragedy and a horrible thing to happen. Think about the advice that is given parents of kindergarten children. Yes, it makes you feel good about your bond with your pet if they are upset when you leave and ecstatic when you return but you are not thinking about what is best for your dog in this scenario. You should be happy when you see your dog willingly leave to enter the kennel. This means they are well adjusted and have no fear of the facility. Deal with your personal separation anxiety quietly.
Dogs that have had significant opportunities to develop their people and inter-dog social skills and who are well trained will have a much less stressful time at a boarding facility. So if you are starting out with a puppy, work on these skills.
The next step is to visit the boarding facility you have chosen. A facility should have no problems receiving visitors. You should be accompanied and should not be permitted to wander the facility alone. They may ask that you not come during certain hours (usually the morning feeding and cleaning routine).
What should you look for in a boarding facility? Many of the points I have mentioned in a previous article on doggy day cares applies here as well. Let’s review those points and add some more.
• Do they request an interview with you and do they want to assess your dog before they permit your dog to join their facility? (Traditional kennels do not need to ask this but facilities where the dogs will be housed communally should be doing this.)
• Do they require current vaccinations (distemper, parvovirus, adenovirus, Bordetella and rabies) or a letter from your veterinarian? (They should!)
• Is the boarding facility secure? Ideally, it should be double fenced. Minimally, the walls should be 8 ft high and the fencing should go below ground.
• Is there a sign in/sign out procedure so only the owner or designate can pick up the dog? Are all visitors signed in/out and accompanied?
• Is it clean? There should be someone on doggy pooper scooper detail.
• Does it smell? What is the ventilation like? What is the temperature? Will your dog be comfortable there?
• Is there constant supervision? What is the dog to staff ratio? This is important in communal living boarding facilities.
• What type of training does the staff have? Does the staff have first aid training? If you are lucky they have also taken basic, intermediate or advanced dog behaviour and training classes.
• Does the staff want to be there? Do they like the animals? Are they upbeat? Positive people reduce the stress on animals.
• Are there rest areas to separate out stressed, tired or older dogs if they are being boarded together as a group?
• Is there a separate introduction area for dogs that need an adjustment period before moving into the general dog population (to reduce anxiety and to reduce excitement levels) in communal living situations?
• Do they have the ability to separate groups based on age, size and play style when they are allowed to play together?
• Are dogs housed individually when unsupervised (night time kennels) in communal boarding facilities?
• Are there copious amounts of clean water available at all times?
• Do they have toys and exercise equipment available (ramps, tubs of water to jump into, tunnels to run through – think agility course)?
• What are the day to day routines? How often are dogs boarding at traditional facilities allowed out to exercise and for how long?
• Will they accommodate special requests (special diets, feeding frequencies, medication administration etc.)? Ideally, you don’t want to change your pet’s diet. This can cause intestinal upset. However, due to disease risk, boarding facilities should not permit raw diets in their facility.
• Are you allowed to bring your pet’s bed, toys, foods, treats? Expect your dog to chew these up because he/she will be stressed.
• Are they bonded and insured?
• Are they licensed by the city?
• Do they request all necessary contact info in the event that there is an injury? (Not just your information, but your pet’s information. Make sure they are willing to use your veterinarian if necessary. Your vet knows your dog.)
• What is the injury rate?
• Observe the dogs at the centre. Are they happy? Or are they stressed and anxious?
• Do they house aggressive dogs a reasonable distance from the general population?
• What is included in the fee and what services can you obtain by paying extra? Remember, quality care involves a significant investment in both the facility and the staff. If you want quality, you will need to pay for it.
Whenever possible, try to plan for the inevitable and make sure both you and your dog are familiar with one or two boarding facilities near you. It makes the stress of leaving your loved one behind so much less painful! As well, the facility gets to know your pet and can learn how to make the visit more positive for him or her.
Dr. Borgmann lives in Chilliwack and has been practicing in the Fraser Valley for over 13 years and can be reached at the Whatcom Road Veterinary Clinic