THE PET CARE Trust has called for home boarding of animals to be banned under the Animal Health & Welfare (Scotland) Bill and also Westminster’s Animal Welfare Bill.
The call came as part of the Pet Care Trust’s response to the consultation on the draft Animal Health & Welfare (Scotland) Bill, submitted on 4 July. In its response, the Trust welcomed the Bill, which will introduce a general duty of care for animals. But the Trust also raised concerns about animal welfare standards at home boarding premises.
"In our view home boarding, where an animal is looked after in someone else’s home, ought not to be allowed," said Janet Nunn, Chief Executive of the Pet Care Trust. "Carpeting and soft furnishings increase the risk of infection between one boarded animal and the next, and contagious diseases such as canine distemper parvovirus, canine infectious hepatitis and ringworm can be transmitted by direct and indirect contact. Home boarding combines a small space with a high turnover of animals, and this can only raise the animal health risk."
"If home boarding is not to be banned, then it should at least be licensed," added Ms Nunn. "If licensing is obligatory for kennels and catteries for animal health reasons, then these same reasons should apply to all sizes of boarding businesses."
The Trust also endorsed the proposal to introduce minimum competency standards for pet vendors, and called for them to be extended to the boarding sector.
"In England and Wales, pet shops are covered by the Model Licence Conditions - at least one member of staff must be familiar with the care and welfare of the animals stocked and have a recognised qualification or experience," said Ms Nunn. "Some authorities in Scotland already work to these model standards, but we would like to see them extended across the country."
The Trust argued that minimum competency standards should be extended to the boarding sector.
"Kennels and catteries should have to prove competence either through qualification or experience," said Ms Nunn. "Just as pet shops are responsible for the animals they sell, so boarding premises are responsible for the animals in their care."
OUR DOGS contacted the PCT and asked Ms Nunn whether she felt the Trust’s call was nannyish at best or interfering with pet owners’ civil liberties at worst.
Ms Nunn explained that the Trust’s concern about home boarding arose in January this year when the PCT were guests at the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health Annual Conference. Delegate Monica Loosely of the boarding company Pals 4 Pets had revealed that there are 4,500 home boarders in UK, although it is believed that around 3,000 of these are pet sitters who stay in pet owners’ homes, rather than board animals in their own homes.
"The Pet Care Trust’s position is that we are totally opposed to home boarders," declared Ms Nunn. "If kennels and catteries have to be subject to strict licensing conditions on health and welfare grounds, then so too should home boarders. We have advised both the Scottish and Westminster Parliaments of this view so it may be incorporated into their respective pieces of legislation."
Asked whether this might then end up with badly drafted laws which would effectively prohibit individuals from looking after their neighbours’ pets whilst they are away on holiday, Ms Nunn said replied: "You can always see dangers in the wording of Bills, but that doesn’t mean we have to go down that path. We’re out to stop professional home boarders who are serially minding animals for profit."
Monica Loosley, founder and joint owner of Pals 4 Pets told OUR DOGS that she agreed with licensing of home boarders, but was opposed to any plan to ban them. "The public have a right as to where and with whom they leave their pets," she declared. "I’m a great advocate that whether it is called licensing or regulation, that there are set requirements for animals’ welfare and annual inspections before a license is granted to a home boarder should be carried out."
Ms Loosley added that Local Authorities would ideally inspect and license homes as suitable for home boarding, as they do for pet shops, but also pointed out that it is likely they would not have adequate resources.
"As the first home boarding company in the country, we have spent thousands of pounds over the years on being properly licensed, she said. Currently, there are no minimum set standards required for boarding kennels, and this is a grey area that needs addressing if home boarding is to be regulated or licensed too."
"I certainly don’t advocate large numbers of dogs from several different homes being looked after in one private residence," she added. "This is where problems can arise, and Pets 4 Pals will only allow our sitters to board a dog or dogs from one household at any one time. We have very high standards that we require before anyone works for us as a home boarder, which includes us inspecting their premises and making sure that they can care for the animals properly."
Mariel Francis, the PCT’s Education and Training Director attended a DEFRA meeting where the matter of Home Boarders was discussed. Currently the plan is that the Animal Welfare Bill will require that Home Boarders only need be licensed if they have dogs belonging to two or more different owners on their premises at any one time – effectively allowing them to board any number of dogs from one individual owner or household each week of the year if they wish.
However, under DEFRA’s plans for the AWB, cat home boarding will not be allowed, largely on the strength of a report from the Feline Advisory Bureau who pointed out key factors affecting cats, including health, stress and possible escapes.
Monica Loosely said that she agreed with the exclusion of cats. "Cats have a very different nature to dogs," he said. "Dogs are pack animals and are easier to manage than cats. It’s not advisable to move cats from one house to another and it is harder to manage them in one area than dogs."
Pets 4 Pals charges £20 per night for a dog to be home boarded, which Monica Loosely says is cheap, give the level of responsibility required in caring for someone else’s pet. "We’ve just launched a Pet Sitting service too where someone stays in a person’s house, the emphasis being on caring or their pets, obviously, and we are charging £50 a night for this. The simple fact is, many pet owners in this country don’t want to pay the proper rate for the care that is required, and until there is some kind of clear regulation and minimum standards of care, then sadly people are going to go for the cheap option. As things stand now, anyone can set themselves up as a home boarder and take in as many animals from different homes as they like, with all its inherent consequences for the pets’ welfare.
"That said, I don’t think it should be down to the Pet Care Trust, or DEFRA or anyone to say that pet owners should not have the choice as to where there pets are cared for. In the 21st century, pets have gone being just animals, they are members of peoples’ families, although because of changes to social structure, families breaking up, longer work hours, people have less time to care for them, so they have to pay other people to care for them at times. And pet owners are better aware of the options of care open to them – it is their choice. Of course it should be an informed choice, but the right of choice should not be taken from them."