The holiday season is coming, the jingles are playing in malls, your bags are packed, and your car is all serviced. You are all ready to go back to your hometown and celebrate the festivities with your extended family. As you lug your luggage into the hall, something winds itself between your legs and the realisation hits you like a brick – you forgot about your furry companion. It’s your first extended holiday with a pet and you almost forgot that he can’t come home with you.
A slight panic sets in before you remember that there are tons of pet hotels in Malaysia. You Google for one and decide to hit up the one with the best reviews. As you carry your lil tater tot into the hotel, you feel some apprehension setting in. You’ve never been away from him for so long, what if the hotel messes up and something happens to your beloved pet? Or what if they forget that your pet has special needs and he falls ill? Worse, you have read about some pet hotels letting their wards starve to death, what if that happens? Who takes responsibility?
You clutch your lil doggo/kitteh closer and wonder if you should just stay home...but there are actually some pointers you can take to make sure that both you and el doggo/catto stay safe during the holidays.
Always make sure that the pet hotel is licensed
Following the passing of the new Animal Welfare Act 2015 (“AWA 2015”) which came into force in July 2017, individuals and businesses that deal with animals for a living need to apply for a licence from the Animal Welfare Board. This licence is separate from the ones you apply for your pets as a pet owner.
The pet hotels are required to display their licence at an obvious part in their hotel. This means that the licence must be visible and easily spotted like on at the registration counter or pasted on the door. This requirement is found in section 20 of the Act and any failure to have a licence can lead up to a RM75,000 fine and/or up to 2 years in jail.
Another point to note is that this licence is also non-transferable. This means that if the licence you see displayed at the pet hotel is registered to a different owner/company, you might want to inquire further because it might just be a licence that was forged/”borrowed” from someone else.
Section 17 (1) AWA 2015
“A licence under this Act shall not be transferable and no person shall use a licence of another person.”
Having a licence is all well and good but if the question you have in mind is how would your furry friend be treated at the hotel, the answer can also be found in the Act.
There is minimum duty that pet hotels have
We know that some ways of treating animals may not strictly be abuse, but they are things we would label as “mistreatment” or “unethical”. However, you definitely wouldn’t want to argue technicalities if someone has mistreated your furbaby and this is where section 24 AWA 2015 comes in:
“The owner or a licensee shall have the duty to—
(a) take reasonable steps to ensure that the needs of an animal are fulfilled, which includes—
(i) its need for a suitable environment;
(ii) its need for a suitable diet;
(iii) the need for it to be able to exhibit its normal behavior patterns;
(iv) the need for it to be housed with or apart from other animals; and
(v) the need for it to be protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease...”
Therefore the law now sets a minimum standard of operation for pet hotels to adhere to during their daily operations. Further to section 24, section 33 makes it an offence for if the pet hotel fails to exercise reasonable care and supervision when it relates to protecting animals from cruelty or ensuring their welfare. This includes ensuring that the hotel itself is a suitable environment for your pets and feeding it proper meals. The subject of meals leads us to one important question…
What if my pet has special needs?
While section 24 may be well and good for setting a minimum standard of operation, this may not be enough to safeguard the welfare of your furchild if it has special needs. The question then becomes whether the pet hotel owes a responsibility to you to ensure that they satisfy those special needs.
This brings us into the realm of contract. While most pet hotels would definitely have their universal contract for every customer, you have the right to vary this contract through negotiations with them. For example, if your dog is allergic to chicken (yes, dogs can get allergic to the food we think they love) and the pet hotel only serves chicken kibble, you can inform them before hand of your pet’s allergies so that they can take note of it. It is through this notice that you add an additional term into the existing contract. The same goes for any other kind of special needs that your pet may require such as more exercise time, medication to be taken at certain times, or even if your pet should not be allowed near other pets because he isn’t that sociable.
If the pet hotel then breaks this new “term”, they can be liable for a breach of contract. If you are fretting because you have left your pet in a hotel and only verbally informed them of its special needs, don’t worry. The law does recognise the existence of oral contracts and collateral contracts (which is basically an additional oral contract that varies your written contract). Even if you fail to establish a contract, you might have room to sue them under the tort of negligence if they fail to heed your instructions as to your pet’s special needs.
[READ MORE: What is a tort?]
[READ MORE: How was the tort of negligence created?]
Negligence is a viable avenue here as the pet hotel, in accepting your pet as a boarder, has accepted a duty to care for your pet during the duration of its stay. Since they now have a duty of care over your pet, the law requires them to take reasonable steps to care for your pet, failing which, they can be guilty of negligence.
With the above being said, it is always best to ask if the pet hotel can accommodate your special needs before boarding your pet there. This is because there may be certain pet hotels which are not equipped for your needs.
Given this, you should also be prepared for anything that may happen. Before agreeing to board your pet in the hotel, you should ask the manager if they have any emergency protocols in place for if your pet falls ill. Check before hand about how they would go about handling emergencies, which vet they would go to, and whether or not you give them permission to make medical decisions on your behalf if you are uncontactable.
Who do I blame if my pet falls sick/gets injured?
A quick look around some of the pet hotels’ websites showed that their terms of service specify that all potential boarders must have their full vaccinations. They require you to produce proof of your furkid’s vaccinations before they agree to board them.
This means that most pet hotels do take reasonable steps to ensure that a mini epidemic doesn’t break out within their walls. With this being said, if your furkid does fall sick after a stay there, there may be 2 avenues for you to look at (subject to the special facts of your case):
- The pet hotel was negligent in making sure that all the pets were actually fully vaccinated.
- The pet hotel was not negligent – you might have to look for the owner of the pet which caused the outbreak and depending on the facts, there might be room for an issue in negligence against the pet owner.
If your pet falls sick because of mistreatment (instead of contracting a disease from another pupper/catto), then you can most probably bring an action against the pet hotel and lodge a report to the Animal Welfare Board for their failure to comply with the Animal Welfare Act.
A question that might pop into your head now is...what if my dog gets attacked and injured by another pet? Who is responsible then?
This is where it gets tricky because there are many scenarios that may lead to this. If it does happen, the first thing is to get as many facts as possible. If you had requested for your pet to be housed separately but the hotel failed to do that, you might have a similar action for breach/negligence. The same applies if the pet that attacked you was supposed to be kept separately and they failed to do so.
This leads us to a very important question…
What happens to my pet if the hotel is raided?
If the hotel is unlicensed or the authorities find that there is evidence of abuse, they are allowed to raid the hotel under section 40 AWA 2015 and in addition to this, section 41 allows them to enter the pet hotel to examine the animals and/or the pet hotel’s records.
If the animals in the hotel are in distress, section 34(4) allows the animal welfare officer to take the animals into possession if he thinks that the animal is suffering or is likely to suffer. The animals would then either be cared for at the hotel itself or be removed to a safe location:
“If any animal is taken into possession under subsection (3), an animal welfare officer may—
(a) remove the animal or arrange for it to be removed, to a safe place;
(b) care for the animal or arrange for it to be cared for—
(i) at the premises where the animal was placed when it was taken into possession; or
(ii) at any other place as the animal welfare officer thinks fit...”
If your petto has been taken away by the animal welfare officers, they are under an obligation to inform you of what has happened (section 34(8)).
With all the above, if you ever run into an unscrupulous pet hotel, you can submit a complaint to the Animal Welfare Hotline through their number 019 224 2233 and/or email them at pro.dvs.gov.my. You can also get further information from the Malaysian National Animal Welfare Foundation and they even have a full list of local authorities, veterinary departments, and animal shelters for your information.
As a pet owner, you should also do your part by ensuring that your furkid is up to date on all his vet appointments, that you inform the pet hotel of all their needs, and provide them with all your contact numbers for emergencies. Further to that, if you have any pet hotels to recommend, let us know in the comments!