True Confessions of a Former Kennel Worker: Cautionary Tales That Will Make You Think Twice Before Boarding Your Pet

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Even though the starting pay was minimal, I loved taking care of the four-legged “guests” and enjoyed getting to know the personalities of our regular boarders. Over the next six years, I worked in a total of eight different boarding facilities across the nation and witnessed some truly horrible behavior committed by my co-workers. I’ve decided that it’s time concerned pet owners know the truth of what can happen while they’re away on vacation and have entrusted the care of their beloved pets to strangers.

Special Dietary Restrictions

Perhaps your pet has food allergies or a medical condition that requires a special diet, so you bring your own food and give specific instructions to the kennel receptionist in order to ensure that your pet will continue its normal feeding routine while you’re away. Or maybe your pet needs to reduce their weight, so they can only have a certain amount of food at each feeding. In two of the kennels I worked at, feeding instructions were blatantly ignored by half of the other kennel attendants. I saw overweight Dachshunds being fed two cups of food at a time, and cats that needed to be on a special diet for kidney problems that were fed generic kennel food. As for those pet owners that kindly measured out food in individual baggies, one kennel manager told us to throw away any extra bags that were left when the animal was picked up. However, the same manager was once reprimanded by an owner because she had packed two extra food bags in case their flight was delayed. She demanded to know where the extra food had gone and he couldn’t come up with a valid answer. Needless to say, she never used the kennel again.

Medications

Owners of an epileptic dog or a diabetic cat know how important regular doses of medication are for their pets’ health and well-being. Unfortunately, to someone who is being paid minimum wage, that pill or injection may not be a priority to them. I’ve found that boarding facilities that are housed within a veterinary hospital don’t have this problem because normally a veterinary technician will administer any medications necessary. I have seen medications discarded in independent kennels or if it is given, the kennel worker did not always make sure the animal swallowed the pill. As I got older, I also worked as a veterinary assistant and that experience enabled me to easily and effectively give injections and pills to the boarders. However when I was sixteen, I was told to give an insulin injection to a diabetic cat without any instruction or aid. I had to stick the poor thing three times before I finally got the needle in far enough and even to this day I still feel guilty about the unnecessary pain I caused.

Personal Blankets and Toys

Many pet owners bring in a blanket or toy to help comfort their pet in their absence. I can honestly say that about thirty percent of the time, these items were not given to the pets because of the time and effort it would take to clean them if they got dirty. At some kennels, the boarders only received generic sheepskin blankets, and if they proceeded to get the blanket dirty, then it would be taken away and the animal would have to sleep on cold concrete. Or even worse, the blankets that had gotten damp from water bowls or had feces on them wouldn’t be cleaned at all. I once got reprimanded for doing too many loads of laundry in an effort to clean blankets that a group of rambunctious Labrador Retrievers had gotten dirty.

The Elderly Pet

You would think that if your pet is elderly, it would receive special care. In one kennel I worked at, I personally witnessed a co-worker kicking an elderly dog in the backside in order to get it to move faster to the outdoor exercise pen. I immediately went to the boarding manager and explained what I saw. Unfortunately, the co-worker who committed this atrocious act had seniority over me and told the manager that I must have been mistaken. I quit without notice a few days later, and if the subject of boarding kennels comes up in casual conversation, I have no problem sharing my experience in hopes that pet owners will take their business elsewhere.

I want to stress that there are plenty of reputable boarding kennels that provide excellent care to the animals in their charge. I merely wanted to share the experiences I have had when working at various kennels. I highly recommend checking out Christine Kerrigan’s article, “Top 5 Things to Look for in a Kennel when Boarding Your Dog” for advice on what to look for when choosing a kennel.

As for my own pets, whenever we go away on vacation they stay with our family. That way, I can ensure they have the highest quality of care possible.

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