As anyone who has had to travel without bringing their beloved dog or cat knows, leaving your pet overnight can be a significant source of worry. While a growing number of hotels, and restaurants with outdoor areas accept or even cater to people traveling with pets, there are times when it just isn’t possible to bring your pet with you, and you may need to consider boarding him or her. Finding a reputable boarding kennel or other arrangement in which your dog or cat will receive proper care will help ensure that your pet will have a happy and safe boarding experience and, in turn, you will have the peace of mind that comes from knowing that your beloved family member is being well cared for in your absence.
Regardless of whether you will be boarding your dog or cat at a kennel, or instead, will be leaving him or her with a private individual, finding the right caretaker will take a little advanced planning and time. What follows are some key considerations to help you make the best decision for your pet and you.
Why it’s Important to Carefully Choose a Boarding Arrangement
Being proactive in finding a reputable caretaker for your pet is important, especially since there are few Massachusetts laws regulating the pet boarding industry, and those laws that do exist tend to offer only minimal protection for animals being boarded.
In Massachusetts, commercial boarding kennels are governed by state statutes and, in some communities, local ordinances and by-laws. Although boarding kennels must be licensed by the municipality in which the facility is located, state law does not provide clear and meaningful guidance regarding the basic operation of these businesses. While state law requires kennels to be kept in a “sanitary and humane manner,” this phrase is not defined in the statutes, and the law governing kennels fails to provide meaningful standards for animal care and supervision, qualifications and training of kennel owners and staff, physical facility requirements, insurance, and other important matters. Although cities and towns may enact ordinances and by-laws to provide additional regulations of boarding kennels within their communities, these local laws tend not to provide significant additional oversight over these facilities and vary from community to community.
Given the lack of meaningful regulation of boarding kennels in Massachusetts, the MSPCA is working to strengthen the laws governing the operation of boarding kennels. The Massachusetts Legislature is currently considering several proposed laws, including “Ollie’s Law,” named in honor of a 7-month-old Labradoodle puppy who died two months after he was injured in a dog fight at an East Longmeadow dog daycare facility. If enacted, these new laws will require the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources to adopt meaningful rules and regulations for boarding kennels (including home-based kennels) and dog daycare facilities. The new rules and regulations would address a range of needs including staff qualifications and professional development, staff-to-dog ratios and interaction, group sizes and supervision, minimum housing and care requirements, indoor and outdoor physical facility requirements, dog handling, body language and interpretation, breed familiarity, emergency response training, utilities, and insurance.
While many boarding facilities and individual caregivers no doubt provide exceptional care for the animals they’ve been entrusted with, tragically, there are numerous examples of well-meaning pet parents returning home from their travels only to discover that their dog or cat did not receive the care they had expected, or worse, that their pet was hurt or even killed.
Furthermore, with the increasing popularity of websites and apps such as Rover, Wag, and Care.com connecting people with individuals willing to care for their animals while they’re away, we are now experiencing what some have described as the “Uberization” of pet care. Again, sadly, over the years, there have been numerous instances of people entrusting their beloved dog or cat to a pet sitter, only to find out that their animal had gone missing, became ill, was injured, or had died.
Notwithstanding these tragic examples, fortunately, with a little advanced planning and preparation, a pet parent can improve the chances that they will find a reputable caretaker and that their animal will be in good hands while they are away.
A good place to begin your search for a boarding kennel is by seeking recommendations from friends and neighbors who also have pets. Your groomer or other pet professional may also refer you to a particular kennel. While recommendations from others will be helpful, it is also appropriate to call the local Better Business Bureau to ask if any complaints have been lodged against these facilities. Google and Yelp searches may also provide some insight into a specific kennel’s reputation.
Before deciding who to entrust with caring for your animal while you are away, it is extremely important that you make a careful inquiry into any potential boarding arrangement, and that you both call and visit any boarding kennel you are considering.
Make a phone call. The first step is to call the kennel to ensure it will be able to accommodate your dog or cat. This is especially critical if you plan to board your pet during holidays or summer vacation periods, which is when many people may be wanting to board their animals. Additionally, if your dog or cat requires special handling or accommodations (because, for example, your pet is a young puppy, is a giant breed dog, is on medication, or follows a special feeding schedule), you will want to inquire whether this facility can accept him or her. Finally, during this initial phone call, before committing to board your animal, you will want to make an appointment to visit the facility.
Take a visit. Be sure to personally visit a potential boarding kennel before arranging to board your pet. During this visit, you will make observations and ask questions to ensure it will be suitable for both you and your pet. At this initial visit, you should ask to see all parts of the facility, including where your dog or cat will be housed, exercise and play areas, and the food preparation area. (If the facility does not permit visitors to enter its housing area, it may cite animal stress or animal health as its rationale; however, even in this situation, the operator should still offer you some type of viewing window through which you may observe where your animal will be staying.)