BY: BRYONY VAN NIEKERK
With December fast approaching, and holiday plans being made, the question most fur parents start to ask is, “What are we going to do with the pets?” The most obvious answer, and the one that people tend to lean towards, is getting a pet-sitter. A trusted pet-sitter is one of the very first things I organise, and is top of my list. I am incredibly particular with who I bestow the honour of looking after my small, ever-growing zoo (there has recently been another foster fail…don’t ask!). I need daily updates, multiple times a day, pictures of proof-of-life, notifications that everyone has eaten and gotten their medication. The list goes on. In fact, I leave a list pages-long, detailing every little requirement. detailing every little requirement. But what do you do if getting a pet-sitter isn’t an option? Perhaps your go-to person is unavailable, or you are worried your pets might run away. Making use of a boarding kennel or cattery facility may be the solution for you. Sounds easy, but knowing what to look for in a boarding facility can be quite daunting. To make life a little easier, a checklist has been created so you will know exactly what to look for (and what to run away from!).
Visit the facility
First things first, it is so important to go and visit the boarding facility before checking your pet in. If you don’t, you will not be able to determine if the facility meets all the requirements on the checklist. Remember, a picture is worth a thousand words, so be sure to have a thorough look at everything, including the back of house, and don’t be afraid to ask questions.
Licences and certifications
This one is slightly tricky because the pet industry, including grooming, boarding, and training, is largely unregulated in South Africa. However, that being said, all local municipalities have animal by-laws, most of which require a boarding facility to obtain a licence if there are more than two dogs, or four cats, per property. The by-laws also detail requirements that have to be met in terms of run sizes, access to food and water, etc.
Ideally, your pet should have access to both indoor and outdoor areas, which should be of a sufficient size that your pet can easily get up, turn around, and be able to move freely. The enclosures should be fully secure and clean with no foul odours. Additionally, make sure that the enclosures are separated by a solid barrier, such as brick or concrete walls. This will ensure that all animals do not have access to each other, reducing stress levels, aggression, and transmission of diseases.
Are the enclosures weather-proofed for all seasons? Will the enclosures remain dry if it’s raining? Is there enough shade during summer, and a nice sunny spot to lie in during winter? Is the enclosure cosy for cold winter nights, and are heat lamps or hot beanbags offered?
The facility should have direct access to a vet on-call 24 hours a day in the event of an emergency. The facility should have transportation at all times and select staff on site should also ideally be certified in pet first aid.
Find out what the facility’s vaccination policy is. The facility should require proof that all pets boarding with them have been vaccinated and received boosters for rabies, distemper, parvovirus, and kennel cough.
Exercise and enrichment
Even if the enclosures are well sized, dogs should still be walked at least once a day, and have an area where they can run freely when needed. Mental stimulation is just as important as physical exercise so find out if the facility provides enrichment activities such as snuffle mats and treat puzzles to reduce boredom and stress levels.
How far can your pet get if they manage to slip out of their enclosure? Is there an additional door to the runs? Is the property as a whole securely fenced, thereby preventing your pet from running into the road?
24/7 staff on duty
Not all facilities have staff on site overnight. Someone should be onsite within close proximity to the enclosures in the event of an emergency.
Does the facility provide you with daily updates or reports, pictures, or videos? Some facilities are quite high-tech and have 24 hour CCTV so you can monitor your pet. While not a necessity, it is a nice to have. Being able to log into a system and check up on your fur babies whenever you like sounds like a dream come true!
Reviews and reputation
Channel your inner detective and find out as much as you can about the facility. Read reviews, ask for references, and look at their social media pages.
During the application process, the facility should ask you to fill in a pet profile, where you detail any medications they are on, likes and dislikes, feeding schedule and type of food, sociability, allergies, etc. The facility cannot adequately look after your pet otherwise. Be sure to go into as much detail as you can. The more information you provide, the better they can care for your pet.
Pay close attention to the staff (the receptionist, grounds keeper, kennel hand), and how they interact with you and the pets in their care. Also take note of how the animals react around them and to them. Are the animals excited to see them, are they at ease? Or are they a bit wary and seem fearful? This will give you a good indication of how your own pet will be treated.
Additionally, are the staff knowledgeable about common ailments and behaviours? Will they be able to recognise if your pet is stressed or sick? Do they know how to handle a reactive or growling dog in a calm and force-free manner?