Never, never, never leave your animals at a boarding, daycare, or training facility unless you visit it in person.
Most people in the pet industry sincerely love animals and work hard to give them great care, but facility quality and care vary widely, and discerning the differences can be difficult especially in an age when our main sources of information are websites and online reviews. Here's how to make sure you select a quality boarding, daycare, or training business that suits your preferences and needs.
The Age of the Internet makes it easy for anyone to create an impressive website. A business owner can take fancy photos, write glowing copy, and create the impression of quality whether they provide it or not. Reviews are fallible, too. Some are fake. In others, friends and family rave about the business and in others angry people misconstrue their experiences in an attempt to punish for a perceiving wrong. But visiting a place in person cuts through most falsehoods. Before you leave your animal with a trainer or pet care business, visit in person.
Years ago a training client asked us to transport his dog, one I had trained as a puppy, to a specialty trainer for hunting work. No problem, but when I arrived the atmosphere felt very heavy. The energy of the place felt hard and dark. The facilities were run down and poorly maintained. Twenty or more dogs swam around in each pen like goldfish. So much dog poop lay on the ground that the dogs could not avoid stepping in and smearing it everywhere. The place wreaked. Multiple empty, dirty food bowls sat strewn around the pen, an indication that all dogs were fed together and that some likely had to fight to get food. The trainer was stern and unfriendly and seemed miffed about having to deal with me. When he moved along the fence of the pens, the dogs showed no affinity for him and some cowered.
When I left, I phoned my client and shared my impressions. He insisted he had checked the guy and and I should leave the dog, which I did. Some weeks later, my client reported that the trainer had declared his dog had only moderate talent for hunting and was seriously dog-aggressive. Having trained her as a pup, I knew her personality was in no way aggressive. And after more time my client's dog reportedly killed another dog. At that point, not only was she labeled as useless for hunting but also dangerous, and these labels led inevitably to a merry-go-round of owners and homes. This wonderful dog's plight angered me so much that I refused to transport any dog to another facility unless I knew the owners AND had visited in person.
Her fate could have been avoided had the owner taken the time to drive a few hours, meet the trainer, and look at his place. (Or listen to me, someone he knew and trusted.) Had he, I'm guessing he would not have left his dog and she would've had a good life.
A couple of years ago my business partner and I spent a year and a half traveling touring hundreds of pet businesses in various towns and cities. These tours, along with lessons learned with my client's dog, taught me some valuable lessons:
Most businesses appear better on the Internet than in person. We often found ourselves arriving asking, "Is this really the place shown on their website?" (We believe most people do not intend to deceive; rather, they are simply trying to make a favorable impression.)
You get what you pay for. Always, always, the nicest places charge more. (They must. Their costs are higher.)
In person is the only way to get an accurate impression.
These lessons all coalesced into most important of all: Never leave your animal at a business without first seeing the facility and meeting the people.
When you visit, your goal should be to make an important decision: Is this place the right ratio of quality and price for me? Like hotels, animals businesses come in a wide spectrum. Some animals owners are looking for the equivalent of a a Marriott, some a Motel 6, and others something in between. Are you willing to pay higher prices for the best available facility, care, and service, or do you want a cheap, no-frills place? This is decision only you can make. But remember: Marriotts cannot and will not offer Motel 6 prices. You decide what level of quality you can afford.
Personally, I am willing to pay more for higher quality care that gives me peace of mind. Here are some questions I ask when visiting a facility:
How does the place smell?
How clean is it?
How quiet is it?
Staff friendly, helpful, and happy?
Do things seemed chaotic, or organized?
In what condition are the facilities?
Do the animals seem happy?
And before you tour...Don't just show up. Staff may be caring for their guests and unable to stop to show you around. Mornings and afternoons, weekends, and holidays are the busiest times. Some businesses have legal limitations (such as insurance company restrictions) that prevent customers being in animals areas at certain times. Calling ahead is essential.
A quick in-person visit should give you a clear gut feel about the place. You will hate it, love it, or somewhere in between, but you will know whether or not the place is right for you and your animal.