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Keeping pets safe in boarding kennels
From Consumer Online


Wendy Laraman left her Jack Russell terrier, Oscar, at an Auckland boarding kennel and enjoyed a summer holiday in Australia. But when she came home she found her pet had been attacked in its cage by a bigger dog and critically injured.

To rub salt into the wound, Howick & Patterdale Kennels and Cattery then required a $108 boarding fee before Wendy could take her wounded pet home. Oscar died the next day.

Wendy expected the small Jack Russell to have a cage to itself. Instead it was kept with a bigger terrier. Late one night, while the kennel was unattended, the bigger dog bit the Jack Russell several times. Kennel staff called a vet the next morning, and Wendy took Oscar to her own vet less than 24 hours after the attack. X-rays showed Oscar had broken bones in both back legs. The throat had also been attacked.

Wendy is going to the Disputes Tribunal to recover her costs from the incident. We'll keep you updated.

On 7 February a second dog was bitten while in the kennel's care. Newfoundland-cross Max lost a tail in the attack. Kennel manager Sean Cleary described this second attack as, "an unfortunate incident. It's not common at all."

Cleary told Consumer it was normal to charge before Wendy got her dog back, and to keep a small dog kennelled with a bigger one. "It's standard kennel procedure that we charge for the days the dog or cat stays at our place. It's OK to double dogs up. It's part and parcel of the kennel industry. Any kennels that say they don't I would actually blatantly say they're liars. They do it for companionship for the dogs while they're in the kennels, so they've got some company when they're not out in the yard exercising."

Cleary says he regrets both dog bite incidents and is prepared to take responsibility. "The dog [Oscar] was injured in my place. I had that dog in with another dog for about three days and there was no indications or signs that anything like this was going to happen. But it unfortunately did."

But Cleary doesn't think Oscar died from the injuries sustained in the attack. "A dog doesn't die from a broken leg and a puncture wound, especially not 36 hours or 48 hours after the incident, and that's what's happened." Cleary told Consumer that he believes Oscar died because of unsuitable treatment at Wendy's vet.

We asked the Boarding Kennel and Cattery Association if it agreed that doubling-up dogs was normal practice in the industry. Asso-ciation president Ian Davis said the Association "wouldn't recommend that at all", unless the dogs were from the same family.

SPCA advice

Auckland SPCA spokesman Bob Kerridge knows of at least four dog attacks in Auckland boarding kennels in this year alone. One other attack was fatal. "We're investigating those to determine whether there's any negligence."

He says the SPCA is currently working with other groups to rewrite the standards governing kennels and catteries. "The current standards are voluntary and there's no real level of standard for the running of boarding establishments at all. We're aiming for the re-written code to become law."

Kerridge suggests pet owners inspect the premises before entrusting their animal to a boarding kennel or cattery. "You need to look to see what kind of standards are set. A few kennels and catteries won't let people through to inspect them. We would say that's a warning sign."

"The things to look for are the way the animals are housed. Are they in good, roomy conditions? Are they together or separate? Do they have runs and spaces to exercise outside the kennel? The cleanliness and the smell are good clues to the way the establishment is run. Staff attitude is obviously a very good yardstick - when they walk past cages do they talk to the animals or do they ignore them."

Another indicator is the amount of noise you can hear, especially if you're leaving a cat at a combined kennel and cattery. If your cat isn't used to dogs then a quiet cattery will be important.

Kerridge also recommends leaving your pet's blanket and favourite toys to help it adjust to the new environment.

Our view

  • Always inspect a boarding kennel or cattery before making a booking. If they won't let you inspect, take your money and your pet somewhere else.
  • Take a written list of your pet's needs, even if it's just for an individual kennel. Putting it in writing means the kennel/cattery can refer to the list once you've left, and it will help if there's any dispute. Also leave a contact phone number for emergencies.
  • Be clear about what you are paying for. Clarify whether or not your animal will be sharing a cage with other dogs or cats.
  • The kennel/cattery has a duty to care for your pet. If your pet is not cared for adequately, you can use the Consumer Guarantees Act to claim back your boarding fees. The kennel/cattery can also be held responsible for any consequential expenses including vet fees.

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