Saturday, 6 February 2016

Feature: To Board Or Not To Board

Nibbles - Photo courtesy of Olivia McGhie
Written by Emma Younger

We all know the feeling – winter has finally left the building, and all you want to do is wipe the dust off your passport. How nice it would be to flee the country and lie on golden sand, lined with palm trees. Bliss, you say? There’s just one small detail - who’s going to look after your pet?

The answer people may come to is animal boarding – the business of allowing catteries and kennels to care for your furry friend. It’s easy to see why, too. According to the Pets at Home: The Pet Report 2015, almost half of all UK households now have pets. That’s a hefty 58 million animals to look after.

It’s common knowledge too, that pet owners now consider their animals as part of the family – meaning that deciding care arrangements can be a stressful ordeal. To some, asking a family member or friend for help is a convenient and low-cost method to finding trustworthy support. For many however, this isn’t an option – paving the way for others to step in and do the job.

Taking your beloved pet outside of their home environment – whether it be for a weekend or longer, is something that can cause worry. Thomas Pipkin is the Area Manager at Elmtree Luxury Pet Hotel in Enfield, North London – he understands why pet owners can feel anxious. “It is a common conception. Most people are worried about leaving their pets in kennels, and rightly so. But our facilities are here to change people’s minds on leaving their pets with us whilst they’re away.” he says.

Opening in 2008, Elmtree started life as a small kennel that grew into a cat hotel and later opened its doors to dogs and smaller animals. It’s designed to be a pampering paradise for your pets – equipped with pet gyms, spas and high-end suites with TVs no less (can we come?).

You may think all this sounds expensive – and it is. Coming in at £30 per day for a dog and £18 per day for a cat, you can see that a two-week holiday could rack up to around £420. Not a cheap expense. Even upon looking around for alternatives on search engines, the average price of boarding a dog is £18, and a cat £12 per day. All this money – is it worth it?

Photograph Credit: Josh Liba
17-year-old Olivia McGhie boards her rabbit Nibbles during the summer holidays with a boarding service in Canterbury, Kent. She says: “It’s £8 per day for my rabbit to stay, so you could say it’s quite expensive. Me and my family joke on our holidays that the rabbit is getting a better one. But when you don’t have to worry, it’s worth it in the end.”

Whilst the cost of boarding facilities at Elmtree and the numerous others out there may seem alarming, there can be great benefits for our animals, as long as we understand them, explains Gudrun Ravetz, Junior Vice President for the British Veterinary Association.

“Boarding is a personal decision and is all about understanding your own pet, as it is not one solution fits all. It is similar to choosing the right nursery for your child. For example, ask yourself if your pet suffers being away from you when you’re at work or if they cope well on their own,” she says.

Ravetz’s advice comes alongside some insightful research. UK pet insurance company Pet Plan launched the UK’s first pet census in 2011, and showed that 40 per cent of pets are left alone only two hours during the day – meaning boarding services would allow for a much longer timeframe for your animal to be away from you.

Ravetz continues to say: “Some animals really enjoy the change. It depends on the environment of the cattery or the kennel, such as if there’s lots of toys around to play with and the standard of hygiene.” These things should be a given, right?

Authority under the Animal Boarding Establishment Act 1963 requires all animal boarding facilities to have a licence and regular premise inspections to be open for business. Sadly, not all boarding facilities are kept up to standards that are deemed acceptable.

Olivia McGhie reflects also on her experiences before finding a boarder that met her pet’s needs. “Three or four years ago, I took Nibbles to a boarding service that looked great online, but it didn’t match up in person. The cages were too small and there was nowhere for my rabbit to hide. Nibbles came back skinny and her behaviour changed. It definitely made me worried to use a boarder again,” she explains.

In light of this, controversially, leading animal welfare charity People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) state that: “We do not tend to recommend boarding animals in kennels as they can be frightening places. " Whilst in extreme cases this may be true, the acts enforced by government are there to protect our loved animals.

Picture credit: Trish Hamme
Local authorities are bound by the 1963 act and Animal Welfare Act 2006 to ensure these licences are only given to premises who treat pets with the care they need – single cages that provide space and comfort for the animal, as well as overall strict hygiene, nutritional and environmental guidelines.

Julie Hopkins, Wandsworth Council’s Environmental Services Officer ensures that government legislations are abided by. “We have specialist animal health inspectors who carry out all our animal licence inspections. They check whether the premises are suitable for the activity applied for and check that the welfare of the animals to be kept at the site is suitable and sufficient,” she explains.

Although pet owners can point the finger easily to our own councils for maintaining standards, Ravetz says it’s down to pet owners too - to flag up problems when they see them and take responsibility. “Always go and have a look at a facility when they’re not expecting you and ask yourself if your animal would be happy staying there. Go with your gut instinct.”

The trick (and it isn’t a trick really) is to prepare. Preparing your pet for boarding will increase the chances of a happy, and most importantly, fun stay. “It is essential to have pre-visits and trial stays. It is even more important to meet the person who is going to be caring for your pet,” says Expert Dog Trainer and Behaviourist Steph Drake.

“Pet boarding is such a rapidly growing area, meaning that both the good and bad facilities out there are busy. If you do your research, you can find some excellent ones,” she continues.

Look at your own situation. Look at your finances. Be realistic. If your pet is used to having you around and has never boarded before, ask yourself whether a loved one coming to your home is a better option for the well-being of your pet and for your peace of mind whilst away.

If your pet is friendly to others and has come into contact with other animals before, look online and at reviews of pet boarding facilities near you. It will prevent your animal being in ‘the dreaded vets box’ for too long. Take trial runs and see if your pet would benefit from a steadier routine in the hands of a trained specialist.

There is no right or wrong answer. It’s all about what will make your furry companion happy. Pet boarding can provide a stable and natural environment, whereby your pet’s daily needs are met – food, shelter, exercise and a heap of cuddles.

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