Cab for your pooch

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Sept 21, 2013

Almost every weekend, procurement manager Minni You will take her chihuahua and golden retriever for an outing, whether it is to the beach, a pet swimming pool or a friend's house.

To ensure a fuss-free journey, she pays pet-taxi business Hungry Pets about $50 each time for a round trip from her house in the west to her destination.

The 30-year-old, who does not own a car, says: "It is almost impossible to get a normal taxi on weekends and public holidays even if I call for one, because of my pets. People assume that my big dog is aggressive, so it takes a while to find a taxi that will drive us."

Pet taxis, which specialise in transporting animals instead of human passengers, have been available here since the 1990s.

In the early days, people used such services mainly to take their pets to and from veterinarian appointments. But pet-taxi drivers say people these days are increasingly calling for transport to the beach, a friend's house, pet cafes and other recreational activities.

Mr Rick Tan, 34, owner of pet-sitting and transport company Pet Mobile, says: "About five years ago, 80 per cent of the trips we made were to the vet. Now it's 50 per cent to the vet and 50 per cent for leisure. I guess people love animals more now and treat them like their children, taking them out to have fun."

He declines to reveal how many calls he gets a month, but says demand for pet taxi services at his company, which started in 2002, has doubled compared to five years ago.

A quick check with five other pet taxi companies here found that the growth in business in the last one to two years ranges from at least 10 per cent to as much as four times.

There are at least 10 companies here which provide pet-taxi services, mainly for dogs. While they offer to transport all kinds of domestic pets, at least half of their business comes from dog owners.

One-way and round trips usually start from $15 and $30 respectively. Prices depend on the distance and whether it is a weekend or weekday. Some companies, such as Pet Movers and Pet Mobile, also offer 24-hour emergency transportation services.

A van is usually used and pets are either placed in a kennel, crate or dog carrier, or sit leashed in the back.

Pet taxis do not require a permit or operating licence from the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority, but the authority will investigate any allegation of animal cruelty or feedback on welfare issues.

The business may be thriving, but it is not without challenges.

Ms Carol Goh, 46, who set up a pet transport business called Pampered Pet Taxi in 2011, says: "Some dogs will bark a lot initially, but they will eventually settle down. Sometimes, there are also dogs that pee, poop or vomit in the car out of nervousness. I spend about 15 minutes sanitising the van after every trip."

She makes more than 100 one-way and round trips a month on average, most of which are for repeat customers.

Pet-taxi drivers do not just provide transport though, they have to know how to handle dogs too.

Mr Ezra Koh, 31, a dog behaviourist who was certified in Britain, says the animals' safety should take top priority. "For example, if a leash is left on a dog by accident when it is in a carrier, it might get choked or strangled as dogs may spin around if they get too excited from being in a vehicle," he explains.

He owns Kawaii Pets, a dog grooming and day- care company, and began offering a pet-taxi service early last year. He gets two to three calls a day asking for the service from Mondays to Saturdays; he does not offer it on Sundays.

For time-starved owners who are unable to accompany their pets to the vet or other places, some pet-taxi companies will do the job for them for a handling fee that usually starts from about $10 for a small dog.

For instance, if you are unable to make it for an appointment with the vet, pet taxi companies such Pet Mobile and Pet Movers will pick your dog up from your home, take it to the clinic, then drive it home after the appointment.

Mr Tan Tin Eng, 42, who runs his own IT firm, has been making use of this service for the last 11/2 years. He owns a car but is unable to drive his two- year-old border collie around sometimes because of his work schedule. So he pays Hungry Pets $50 for its pet-taxi service and an additional $20 handling fee to do so once every few months.

The father of two recalls: "Once, I had to finish up some things at a dog competition and wanted to send my dog home first because it was getting late. I gave Hungry Pets a call so my dog could go home and rest. It is convenient. I trust them and it frees up my schedule so I do not have to rush for appointments."

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Sept 21, 2013

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