Pets living the high life - at a price

28 January 2015

When the holidays roll around, finding somewhere for pets to stay can be an expensive endeavour. Pet resorts, once commonly known as dog kennels and catteries, are charging up to $110 a day to keep pampered pooches and pussycats in luxury accommodation. Australians spend $474 million each year on boarding their dogs and cats, according to the Australian Companions Animal Council Report. And the summer holidays are by far the busiest, and most profitable, time of year for more than 2500 businesses in this industry.

Every year the Dogs Country Club and Retreat in Baxter, south of Melbourne, is booked out by June for Christmas and summer holidays. Manager Cory Andrews said the summer is the time every boarding business books out and owners are only too happy to pay for added extras. "Kennels and catteries are very different to what they used to be not only because they are more caring and comfortable for pets, but because people run them like a business with qualified staff and well-maintained facilities," she says. "With people like ourselves, that reinvestment is recurring and that's a big shift in the industry." RSPCA figures show 63 per cent of Australian households have pets. Of those, 39 per cent own dogs and 29 per cent have cats. These households are driving a $6 billion yearly spend on pets, pet care products and services. Andrews, whose family have been in the pet business for 40 years, says attitudes towards pet ownership have changed dramatically in the past 10 years.

"It's really a consumer attitude change," she says. "There is now a demand for a better class of care. Pets used to live outside, now people take them to cafes and feed them the best foods.

"For a lot of clients, their animals are like their children if they haven't got children or if they're children are grown up." At Andrews' Victorian pet resorts, basic rooms start at $40 per night while luxury rooms with extras such as TV and evaporative cooling cost up to $110 per night.


Sydney's Divine Creatures is one of Australia's most upscale pet resorts. With themed rooms, including "The Ritz" and the "African Safari Suite", the five-star luxury cat boarding facility caters for every cat lovers' whim. "The Penthouse" is where doting cat owners spend the big bucks – at $105 per day fancy felines to stay in a suite complete with fireplace, sunroom and TV.


Pets Australia managing director Dr Joanne Sillince says there is no industry criteria animal boarding businesses must meet to be called "pet resorts" or "pet motels".

"Many boarding establishments call themselves a resort and range from relatively basic, but well-maintained and managed through plenty in a grey area — providing higher than the average level of luxury through to full on as you see in some cases," she says. "And the dogs and cats that receive the care? They probably enjoy the luxury, but provided the basics are met competently and with love, we suspect that eating, sleeping, having time with staff and other pets, and loving to play their favourite games are what matters to them more." Most pet resorts offer one-on-one exercise time with carers, use of toys and social interaction with other animals. Some expensive extras offered by high-end resorts are worth forking out for, says Dr Sillince. "Some resorts have webcams that let you see your pet, which can be reassuring for you and for many is worth the extra cost," she says. "Some boarding kennels and resorts offer swimming pools, which can be great in a hot day and fun for the dogs." For those confused about what to look for in a pet boarding facility, it all comes down to finding a place where your pet enjoys similar treatment to that experienced at home, Dr Sillince says. "Don't be overtaken by all the glitz, its the management and care that counts," she says. "Many people that board their pet at a resort do so because they are trying to replicate the conditions that the pet lives in at home, or for pets with particular needs such as medication or old age." She recommends inspecting prospective boarding facilities and ruling out those that smell, charge extra for exercise routines and don't have good ventilation.


Customers should look at the feeding area, which is good indicator of how clean a property is kept, ask the owners how animals are kept occupied, whether they can socialise with other animals and when the facility was last inspected under the regulatory code of practice (in New South Wales and Victoria). Check the medication cupboard, which Dr Sillince says is a reliable sign of good management if locked and records are well kept. All good boarding businesses should also have a vaccination policy, make sure it is enforced, and obviously, make sure your own pets' vaccinations are up to date or your booking may be cancelled.

'She needs a break as well'


Gareth Brock spares no expense when it comes to his 12-year-old parson russell terrier Ebony. So when Brock goes on holiday, he ensures she gets the royal treatment. "The way I look at it, I'm on holiday and she should have a break as well," he says. "It helps me feel even more secure when she's away. She gets a TV, grooming and lounges so she can have some pampering too." Brock usually takes Ebony on trips with him – the pair have travelled so much that Brock has written a guide, Have Pet, Will Travel for others passionate about pets and travel. But when it wasn't possible to take Ebony along, Brock asked friends to care for her. However, an eight-week trip to Sweden two years ago tested the limits of his friendships. "I didn't want to put someone out for eight weeks, but I found the whole process of booking a boarding facility extremely hard and ended up writing a roster for family and friends to care for Ebony," he says. After returning home Brock found Sydney pet resort Spoilt Rotten Dogs, which is now Ebony's second home. He pays $65 a night for Ebony to enjoy a private room with an open run for her exercise, a flat-screen TV that plays doggie movies, plush toys, grooming and a splash pool. "Some facilities are group homes, but Ebony's an only child and she's not used to sharing," Brock says. "Most importantly I make sure I can pack her creature comforts like a jumper of mine and some toys."

Written by: Kate Jones

Sydney Morning Herald 28th January 2015

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