“I have to go abroad for a few days but don’t know where to leave my pets,” I overheard someone telling the sales guy at this store in Model Town which stocks animal food. God knows it’s the pet owners’ common worry.
Leaving your pets in a stranger’s care is not always a viable option, as you can’t expect everyone to be friendly with animals. Conversely, not every animal makes friends with strangers easily. So, what do you do?
First things first. You need to look for a reliable boarding home for pets in Lahore. It’s a hassle, trust me. And, it’s scary, especially after you have read all those ‘horror’ stories on social media by people who left their pets with friends even, only to find that they (the animals) had expired or been sold off; in some cases, gone missing because of the carelessness on the part of the foster caregivers.
As somebody who owns a variety of pets — from a Japanese Spitz to a Persian munchkin, a Turkish angora, two pairs of parakeets, a fantail pigeon (which I rescued), and rabbits — I know for a fact that the most common reason for any ‘mishaps’ is our general attitude towards animals. We are generally inconsiderate towards, let’s say, stray dogs or even domesticated cats that we may run into at an acquaintance’s place. Or else, we would be earning money by breeding them.
Recently, I learnt about some people who had opened boarding facilities for pets in their houses. Sadly, these aren’t known to be the best places around: either the facilities are not up to the mark, or the people there are not aware of the basic requirements of keeping felines and canines; they just took in a number of cats and dogs, thinking these would be easy to handle, without realising how this could create an unhealthy boarding environment.
Enter Hotel Petsylvania. Those checking their furry babies in here can go off for work or vacation rest assured that the pets are in safe hands. Spread over an area of 16 kanals, at a farm house, the facility offers services such as spa, daycare, a boarding, training centre, and a clinic for both cats and dogs.
The facility is run by Dr Muhammad Ismail, a veterinarian, and offers healthy activities in addition to boarding. The charges are reasonable, especially when you consider their clean, separate ‘pens’ (cages) for every individual pet. Besides, they have swimming and wading pools for dogs, and qualified handlers and trainers who are hired full-time for the job.
Familiarity is the name of the game here. The pet owners are asked to provide food and litter for their pets for the length of the time they are going to be away, so that the pet gets the same food it is used to at home.
There is a strict procedure that is followed before the hotel accepts your pet for temporary residence. The pet is checked by a trainer to see if the pet can be handled by him, otherwise the pet is not accepted. Those who make it past the ‘test’ are initially put in quarantines; the idea is to make sure that they don’t have any (transmissible) health issues. Once cleared, they are lodged in their independent pens.
Dogs are supposed to follow a timetable. It includes their playtime with the trainer, and free running, and relieving themselves. Cats are mostly confined to their pens that come equipped with litter and food trays that are cleaned regularly.
Dr Ismail says, “We started the facility in July , along the lines of the facilities for pets in the USA and UK. The name, Hotel Petsylvania, was inspired by a column that was printed in an American bi-weekly, Sylvania Advantage.”
In November 2016, Islamabad-based Sundus Hoorain sued a veterinary doctor for mishandling her two-month-old kitten. Such cases usually go unreported in the mainstream media, as mostly no caretaker is made to sign on a standard agreement form when admitting their pet in a clinic. No wonder, these cases are left unresolved.
According to Dr Ismail, “When we accept a pet for boarding, the owner has to sign an agreement to accept that the facility will not be responsible for damages, claims, loss, liabilities, costs, or expenses, including reasonable attorney’s fees and related costs. The owner has to provide the contact details of their vet and/or permit Hotel Petsylvania to undertake emergency treatment.”
Mrs Mukhtar, a middle-aged housewife from Model Town, who owns a Russian dog, has another story to tell: “About six months back, we left our dog at a reputed clinic in a boarding facility in DHA. Whenever we called to check up on our dog they would say the pet was doing fine. Two days later, when we went to pick him up we were shocked to know that he hadn’t eaten for one whole day. Besides, he had tick infestation.”
One advantage at Hotel Petsylvania, claims Dr Ismail, is the use of webcams that have been installed in boarding rooms: “The [pets’] owners can access this on their cell phones, through a software application, and thus keep track of their pets’ activities etc.”
Aside from the pets’ physical health, you must also consider the fact that whenever you leave your pet at a boarding, the animal undergoes ‘separation anxiety’ which may be short-lived or, if it lasts longer, can have a life-threatening impact.
According to The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (TASPCA), Separation Anxiety is triggered when dogs and cats become upset because they are isolated from their masters. Escape attempts by dogs with such trauma are often said to be extreme and can result in self-injury and/or household destruction, especially around exit points like windows and doors.
Dr Ismail recommends the owners to provide a piece of cloth, toy, or other material that can serve to remind the pets of their scent to compensate for the absence a bit.
“Depending on the degree of the animal’s attachment, the trauma can leave a lasting effect,” he says.
Dr Rashid Hussain, of Asim Pet Clinic, endorses the view, saying that when the children are placed in daycare centres or they are away from their parents they too feel stressed and find it hard to settle down. “The same feeling is witnessed in cats and dogs. They become restless, often stop eating, urinate more, and even try to escape the boarding.”
In the best interest of the pets, they should not be left alone at unfamiliar places. Awareness of animal behaviour and care is very important for people in our society. Moreover, hotels and hostels must also create some space for people where they can take their pets with them. The government should also consider setting up state-of-the-art boarding homes in metropolitan cities, especially where veterinary hospitals are already available.