SINGAPORE: The alleged abuses at pet boarding centre Platinium Dogs Club have thrown into question how such facilities are regulated in Singapore, with some operators calling for clearer guidelines.
Platinium Dogs Club at 7 Galistan Avenue was raided by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) on Saturday (Dec 29) following several complaints that animals under its care were ill-treated.
Pet owners complained of mistreatment, with one owner asserting that her dog had died under the facility's care. In addition, a search is ongoing for Shetland sheepdog Prince, who went missing while he was boarded at the centre.
The series of incidents has led concerned animal lovers to call for harsher measures, with a petition set up on Thursday to "seek justice" for animal victims of abuse. It had garnered nearly 40,000 signatures as of Friday evening.
But while AVA licences are required for pet shops and pet farms, no licence is required to run a pet boarding centre or hotel.
Unlike pet farms - some of which have commercial pet boarding facilities - pet boarders do not have to comply with AVA licensing conditions nor are they subject to regular spot checks.
“I have a farm licence. AVA allows me to do boarding at the premises," said a spokesperson for commercial boarding facility Mutts and Mittens, which is located at AVA’s The Animal Lodge.
“If you have a shophouse, you somehow manage to convince URA (Urban Redevelopment Authority) to give you the pet boarding usage, you can set it up."
For those not running pet farms, regulation when setting up a pet boarding facility centres around URA approval.
AVA and URA told Channel NewsAsia that commercial pet boarding facilities should be located in "suitable" farm areas or on commercial premises, so as not to cause "dis-amenities" to surrounding residents.
“It’s quite a grey area,” the general manager of dog-care centre Sunny Heights Derrick Tan told Channel NewsAsia.
Home boarding of pets is illegal, said Mr Tan, who is also the president of animal welfare group Voices for Animals, but this is because a residential property would have to be licensed for commercial use by the URA.
Authorities said that planning approval from URA is required before operators can use premises for commercial pet boarding, adding that unauthorised uses would be investigated and action taken if necessary.
Meanwhile, founder of the Nekoya Cat Hotel chain Debrah Lau told Channel NewsAsia that since she started two years ago, she has not been subject to any oversight from AVA.
“To my understanding and to this day, the AVA has no restrictions or requirements from us to comply with if we want to open a boarding facility in Singapore,” she said.
Two of her outlets - one at Centropod, which is no longer occupied, and one at King Albert Park - have been located in shopping centres.
When setting these up, Ms Lau said she was directed to send a query to URA.
While she had to submit a proposal outlining how they will prevent disturbances to their neighbours, it had nothing to do with animal welfare, she pointed out.
“For example, noise created by cats is an issue when we discuss if a cat boarding facility is suitable for operation inside a shopping centre. I will then seek to assure URA that I will install glass doors to buffer sound, keep the cats in (an) enclosed space,” she said.
"This differs from how I will ensure that the cat is comfortably cared for ... To buffer sound, I can keep it in a cardboard box and tape it up. Or, I can choose to keep the cat happy and comfortable in a separate room."
The AVA does have a code of animal welfare for the pet industry, which - among other standards - sets out “minimum standards and best practices” for pet boarders. This includes things such as kennel dimensions, exercise provision and hygiene standards. However, flouting the code is not an offence.
“Although failure to meet a minimum standard in the code is not an offence, it can be used to support prosecution or other enforcement actions for animal welfare cases," said AVA when the code was announced in 2016.
When asked whether authorities had conducted enforcement, Ms Lau said her outlets had undergone spot checks, but these were done by URA and were not related to animal welfare.
“I believe it's just to check we are not causing any nuisance (to neighbours). They were quite surprised we had cats,” she said.
Marketing director of pet grooming and pet hotel services provider Petopia Richard Wee said that since it started eight years ago, the facility has not experienced any spot checks, but he would welcome them.
“They usually conduct checks when someone complains against your facility and you’re meant to provide evidence supporting your complaints,” he said.
“It’s not stipulated like, every three months they come and check. That is something we would welcome.”
Animal cruelty laws are good but preemptive measures are needed to prevent abuse, said Petopia's executive director Marcus Khoo.
"We need preemptive measures," he said. "The laws are good, at least it makes people accountable ... but we need to put in preemptive measures to prevent animals being abused in the first place."
Current legislation is not enough to prevent abuse, added Ms Lau.
“As it is, there is no licensing, no checks,” she said. “A fool could declare their pet boarding facility open, not have the relevant experience to operate it and still be allowed to take money for such advertised services.”
“MAYBE WE FEEL IN SINGAPORE IT’S VERY WELL-REGULATED”
Even so, there are clear penalties for animal abuse, points out Dr Jaipal Singh Gill, executive director for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA).
“What is very clear is there are definitely penalties for breaching duty of care to an animal,” he said.
The Platinium Dogs Clubs incident is a “reminder for every pet owner that there are some bad apples in the pet industry”, he said, adding that pet owners should do their due diligence.
“Maybe there's a bit of complacency there, maybe we feel in Singapore it's very well-regulated, these places must be approved,” he said.
Meanwhile Malina Tjhin, general manager of dog welfare organisation Save Our Street Dogs, said pet boarding abuse incidents are not that common, but the latest incident was a reminder of the importance of regulation.
"It's a reminder to the authorities that they need to have better and stronger regulation governing all (these) businesses dealing with animals because they're dealing with lives - it's not a product," she said.
In its response, AVA pointed out that under the Animal and Birds Act, those who fail in their duty of care towards animals in the course of conducting an animal-related business could be fined up to S$40,000 and/or jailed for up to two years.
It said it would continue to review its regulations to safeguard animal health and welfare in animal establishments.