Pet Boarding: Are Your Pets Really in Safe Hands?

AVA Investigating Pet Boarding Facility Platinium Dogs Club for Mistreatment

All pet owners have one thing in common: the fear of leaving your beloved pet in the hands of another whom you have no visibility or control over whilst being away. The common consensus also suggests that traditional pet boarding facilities prioritise safety by being strict in segregating their boarders, and at times, confining these pets to restrictive spaces.

However, as technology grows in prevalence in the form of smartphones and a vast application ecosystem, start-ups are able to empower the gig-economy by giving the regular layperson easy access to the pet boarding market. Today, there are applications such as Pawshake and PetBacker, which bear a striking resemblance to what you’d find on the Airbnb platform, who are challenging the incumbents and redefining the concept of pet boarding.

When things go south, you’ll start to wonder whose responsibility it is. Yours, or the people offering pet boarding services on the app sphere? 

How are technology start-up firms disrupting the pet boarding industry? 

For a handful of established pet boarders in Singapore (i.e. The Wagington, Mutts & Mittens, amongst others), these technology start-up firms would have little impact on their businesses given that these pet boarders remain attractive to pet owners due to their convenient location, the longstanding relationship between pet owner and boarder, and the reputation of the pet boarders themselves. Whereas for others such as the “The Pet Hotel” who were previously situated at Pasir Ris, they have decided to change their business model from boarding services to pet relocation services. 

At the end of the day, it’s all a matter of perspective. For pet owners who are desperate to find a suitable place to board their dogs, users of these pet boarding applications offer overnight boarding services at a price as low as S$28 per night, a price arguably cheaper than that of conventional boarding services. Also, it’s a lot more appealing to board your dog in a home setting rather than in a cage or a confined space, and pet owners enjoy the benefit of receiving live updates about their pet during its stay. Your pets also get the opportunity to mingle with other fellow pups; what’s there not to love about a little more playtime? Call these pets spoilt if you wish, but these are the priorities of modern pet owners.  

What are the current laws providing for animal protection in relation to pet boarding? Does the law provide sufficient protection for animals?

Pursuant to Section 42(1) the Animals and Birds Act (Cap. 7, rev ed 2002), every pet boarder is subject to the following relevant provisions: 

Any person who – 

  1. Cruelly beats, kicks, ill-treats, over-rides, over-drives, over-loads, tortures, infuriaties or terrifies any animal;
  2. Causes or procures or, being the owner, permits any animals to be so used;
  3. [Deleted by Act 46 of 2014 wef 16/01/2015]
  4. By wantonly or unreasonably doing or omitting to do any act, causes any unnecessary pain or suffering or, being the owner, permits any unnecessary pain or suffering to any animal;

Shall be guilty of an offence.

Further, a person (who is also a pet boarder) guilty of an offence under Section 42(1) of the Animal and Birds Act shall be liable on conviction as follows: 

  1. For a first offence, the pet boarder can be sentenced to a fine not exceeding S$40,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 2 years or to both; and 
  2. For a second or subsequent offence, to a fine not exceeding S$100,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 years or to both. 

Besides the Animals and Birds Act, Section 428 of the Penal Code provides that the killing, maiming, poisoning or act of rendering useless any animal is also an offence which carries a sentence of imprisonment for a term which may extend to 5 years, or with fine, or with both. 

Does the law on Section 42 of the Animal and Birds Act afford animals sufficient protection?

One story that everyone knows is the Platinium Dogs Club (“PDC”) saga which hit the news sometime earlier this year. During the saga, the operator of PDC was thrown into limelight on multiple social media platforms, due to these allegations:

  1. That PDC had mistreated all pets under their care (including dehydration, malnourishment, and general neglect); 
  2. That a dog had died whilst being boarded at PDC despite the owner of PDC claiming that the dog was “lost”; and 
  3. That PDC had trapped a blind dog at the gate of their boarding premises. 

Following the public outrage, various individuals even took to to launch a petition for “Stiffer Punishment Against Animal Abuses in Singapore”, with the petition garnering up to 103,000 signatures to date. 

In the situation where a pet dies at the hands of a boarder, the question that one will face is whether a fine and imprisonment term would bring about sufficient justice for the pet’s suffering and death. Following these “sagas”, it appears that the general public sentiment is that a fine and/or imprisonment term is too light a sentence, especially when such offenders have abused or killed animals. Whilst it is completely rational for these animal lovers to have such thoughts, one must draw the necessary comparison to the punishment that the law ascribes to those who are convicted of manslaughter and murder. For a case of culpable homicide, this only attracts an imprisonment term which may extend to imprisonment for life with the possibility of caning and an imprisonment term which may extend to 20 years, with the possibility of a fine or caning. If this is the legal standard that is applicable to that of a human life, how then can the law offer the death penalty as a sentence for animal abusers? 

How can we afford more protection to animals and service users?

Perhaps the only argument that could be run is that there is a need to impose a stiffer penalty on animal abusers so as to deter them and the general public from engaging in such acts. For example, a significantly higher fine or a mandatory imprisonment term for every offender could have a greater impact on regulating such offences. This would also help to ease any backlash or public dissent about the law’s treatment of these offenders. That being said, this must also move in parallel to the prevailing legal standards for those who have caused voluntarily hurt to others. Further research and evaluation must take place in order to achieve that fine balance between punishments for different offences. 

Or perhaps, there must be a stricter governance of pet boarding facilities to ensure compliance with Section 43 of the Animals and Birds Act i.e. to ensure that these animal-related businesses have obtained the necessary qualifications or training to be equipped to take care of animals. The Animal & Veterinary Service (“AVS”) under NParks should also look into allocating more manpower and resources to conduct more rigorous reviews of boarding facilities in Singapore and increase the frequency of such checks. And, when such boarding facilities fall short of the standards so required, AVS should order these facilities to close for a minimum of 2 weeks (or longer) for further training or work to be conducted, and to only allow these facilities to resume their services upon passing AVS’s further inspection. Given the business opportunity cost, it would be in the interests of these boarding facilities to respect AVS’s business standards which are for the protection of animals. Businesses, pet owners, and pets would all be happy. Everyone wins. 

For platforms where people offer boarding services from their homes, these technology start-up firms should also be required to conduct their own due diligence on the users of their platforms on a regular basis, which would do well to prevent any unwanted accidents with consequences that have to be remedied. Although these platforms do offer pet owners insurance which would kick in during these unfortunate incidents, it is doubtful whether insurance / compensation would be a sufficient way to redress the hurt and suffering of both pet and owner. Why look at how to remedy the issue when you could nip the issue in the bud in the first place?