Four-poster beds, penthouses, spa treatments, pedicures, gyms, flat-screen TVs and daily photo shoots – it’s a wonder pets ever agree to return home after a spell in some of the new-style boarding kennels and catteries.
With facilities that make many of their human companions envious, our furry friends have never had it so good.
“I think they love being here,” said Bec Froy, manager of Vern Ryan’s Pet Resort in Melbourne’s west, which is run by animal behaviourists.
“For dogs, we have luxurious penthouse suites that replicate their home environment with a single bed and a TV turned on to free-to-air as we find they like the background noise and particularly programs about dogs.
“And, for the cats, we have miniature four-poster beds, huge scratching posts, cuddle time and areas where they can sit in the sun and watch the birds and just chill which is perfect for mental health.”
A booming industry
Until 30 years ago, pet boarding tended to be provided by people who were mostly breeding or showing animals as an adjunct to their businesses.
Then, with the issuing of more licences, more independent operators started becoming involved, with vets also often looking after cats on the side when their owners went on holiday.
Now, pet boarding has burgeoned into a massive industry, catering for a large number of Australia’s estimated 29 million pets. Animal Medicines Australia estimates that our pet dog population in 2019 was 5.1 million – with 39.9 per cent of households owning a pooch – and cats weren’t far behind with a population of 3.8 million, kept by 27 per cent of households.
With one of the highest incidences of pet ownership in the world, and owners who increasingly treat their companion animals as hugely pampered members of the family, it’s little wonder that it’s developed into such big business with fierce competition to provide the best, and most luxurious of pet pads.
“We introduced the first luxury dog boarding kennels in 2001 which, back then, was something no one had ever heard of, and people thought we were crazy,” said Blake De Bruin, of the Stamford Pet Resort, Brisbane, who’s also the vice-president of the Australian Pet Care Association.
“But, since then, the industry’s taken a major shift in that direction. It’s becoming more and more the expectation these days, with animals becoming a bigger part of our lives, and people treating their animals like kids. People are always dreaming up something new for luxury accommodation now.”
Checking in to the ‘Bark Hyatt’
Pets in many of these five-star “Bark Hyatts” and “Miaowrriotts” can now choose from a range of styles of temporary homes, from “studios” to “penthouses”, shared digs for sociable animals and lone stays for those who prefer their own company.
At the Sydney Pet Resort, for instance, in Sydney’s north-west, there’s a gourmet menu that includes freshly cooked beef mince, chicken wings and rice and vegetables. Dogs staying four days or more can have a complimentary hydro bath, brush and blow dry, with a special spritz of doggie cologne.
“And, for cats we have a wonderful groomer up the road who can bath or groom cats and clip their nails,” owner Monique Mostert said. “But, for both dogs and cats we give them a nose-to-tail health check when they arrive and when they leave, and we provide plenty of activities for the really playful, active dogs.
“We’ve been told that some of them, when they go back home with their owners, and their owners go back to work, are a bit quiet for a day or two, missing it here.”
Cats are king at The Vet Lounge on the Gold Coast, however. Owners who might be holidaying in France tend to choose the France-themed room for their cat so they can share the Francophile experience, or they might choose any one of 19 other countries’ rooms are decorated as, for example, Greece, India, Singapore or – the most expensive one – The Hamptons in the US.
They’ll also enjoy airconditioning or heating, depending on the season, a calming pheromones diffuser, drink fountains, a mini-bar with cat grass, playrooms, TVs and piped music (relaxing spa rainforest sounds are a favourite).
“We started it 12 years ago because I couldn’t find anywhere to leave my cat that I was happy about,” owner Marianne Conolly said. “But now other nutty cat owners like me can feel very comfortable. The rooms are also designed for cats with different demeanours with plenty to do for active cats or lots of hiding places for stressy cats.”
And, for those who fancy some fresh country air? Twenty minutes from Daylesford in Victoria, there’s the Hilltops Kennels & Cattery just outside Guildford, including 20 big, old-fashioned exercise yards, with grass and greenery, and a special fenced-off park for dogs with picnic tables and a rotunda.
“People rave about that,” owner Lisa Huxley said. “Dogs can tear along the fence, chasing the dog on the other side, and look at the horses and kangaroos. There’s so much natural stimulation for them, and they seem to love having a country retreat.”
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