Boarding houses offer creature comforts of home
If you're going on holiday and can't find a friend to look after your cat or dog, there is an alternative - you can leave your pet in the care of people who love animals as much as you do.
'I spent three years on a farm growing up in Canada. I have always loved animals: dogs, cats, horses, rabbits,' says Cara Ng, who, with her husband Andrew, runs DB Dog Dayz, a boarding home for canines.
'Andrew grew up very differently, in government housing in Sham Shui Po, and never had a pet of any kind. When we moved to Discovery Bay, the first thing he said was, 'now I can have a dog.''
At first, Ng was able to find relatives to come and look after Whiskey when they were away, but later found there were others who needed pet sitters.
'Andrew initially offered house-sitting, where he would go and stay in the client's home and take care of their dogs. However, it didn't work for us, so we started having dogs come to stay in our home instead.
'We require every dog and owner to make a preliminary visit,' Ng explains. 'This is so the owner can assess whether they are happy with the environment, but also so we can see how the dog reacts to the pack and vice versa.
'It is of the utmost importance that the dogs are comfortable and safe, so this first visit is crucial.'
After two years of taking in dogs full-time in Discovery Bay, they needed more space and relocated to a property in Sai Kung Country Park five years ago.
Stacy Tucker is another lifelong animal lover. 'We have five dogs, five cats, two rescued African Grey parrots and my son has a white rat,' says the owner of Ferndale Kennels and Cattery, also in the hills of Sai Kung Country Park.
'I have loved animals since I was a little girl. I used to buy ducklings and chicks from the market so they wouldn't be killed. I was always rescuing dogs, cats, birds ... anything that needed help, I was there.
'During my teens, I worked as a volunteer at the RSPCA [Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals] every summer, so it was no surprise that I ended up working with animals.'
It can be hard to prepare pets for boarding, but Tucker agrees that an initial visit is a good idea.
'If dogs can come for a weekend break a few months before boarding, that is great, because a lot of the animals we see are rescue pets, and when they come out to Ferndale for the first time they can feel abandoned again,' she says.
'We bring new dogs into the office with us so they can have more human contact. If they are social they can play with other dogs; if they are not social they can romp in the garden by themselves. So the next time they come, they will remember that they get to go home afterwards.'
You should do your homework before deciding on kennels, says Jane Gray, chief veterinary surgeon at the SPCA. 'A good kennel will insist on stringent vaccination protocols and advise on parasite control,' she says. 'So make sure all vaccinations, flea and tick control, heartworm prevention for dogs, plus regular worming is up to date.'
If your pet has any medical problems, it is very important to tell the kennels as they may need special care or even be unsuitable for boarding.
In addition, pets that are going to board should be well-socialised with people and ideally with other animals. 'This is easier for dogs than cats,' Gray says. Taking their favourite toy or blanket along is a good way to reduce stress.
Most pets board for a few days (a weekend away) to up to three weeks (a family holiday).
'On welfare grounds, we recommend a maximum stay of two months,' Gray says. 'Even though boarding [at the SPCA] is a pleasant and clean environment, with well-trained and caring staff, it can never be a substitute for home.'