NParks investigating after dog dies under boarding service's care

The National Parks Board's (NParks) Animal and Veterinary Service (AVS) is investigating allegations related to dog boarding company Board N' Play, following the recent death of a maltese.

AVS' group director Jessica Kwok told The Straits Times yesterday that it was "concerned to learn of the various incidents". "Our priority is always to ensure the welfare of animals," she said.

"We have contacted relevant parties on this matter. However, as investigations are ongoing, it is inappropriate for us to comment on the case at this point," added Ms Kwok.

On Sunday, Board N' Play published a statement on its Facebook page, saying it stands by its policy of recruiting tourists as volunteers, but that it will provide them with first-aid training and implement safety procedures for the welfare of dogs under its care. The new measures were announced four days after the one-year-old maltese, Garfield, died after a swimming incident on Sentosa on April 17.

Garfield had been swimming at Tanjong Beach with 16 other dogs while under the care of seven Board N' Play handlers.

The incident sparked criticism from netizens, who questioned the level of experience of the company's dog handlers after discovering tourists were being engaged as volunteers to care for the animals.

In return for volunteering, these tourists would receive free accommodation, meals and ez-link cards, according to a listing by Board N' Play on the backpacking online community Worldpackers.

While some netizens questioned whether such recruitment practices are lawful, checks by The Straits Times found there are no laws prohibiting tourists from volunteering here. Guidelines on the Manpower Ministry's website also do not state whether foreigners need to apply for work passes or permits to volunteer here.

Board N' Play said in its statement that it has enrolled staff in a certification course in first aid for dogs, and at least one such certified handler will be present at all times. Volunteers will also be trained in-house in cardiopulmonary resuscitation, while procedures for scenarios such as drowning, overheating and choking will be put in place.

Other measures include encouraging owners to get life jackets for their own dogs, especially if they are small breeds.

While online response to the statement has largely been positive, some are still unsure about the practice of recruiting volunteers.

Designer Yan Lim, 30, who previously enrolled her two-year-old "Singapore Special" dog named Boss at the daycare in Upper Thomson Road, said: "Having volunteers come and go, you wouldn't know whether they are properly trained and if they understand the temperament of the dogs, because every dog is different. Besides knowing these emergency procedures, I think it's also important that handlers understand dog behaviour."

Meanwhile, a dog owner, who wanted to be known only as Ms Geri, 35, voiced her support for the company. She and 14 other dog owners who have been using the company's services said in a statement to The Straits Times that the measures are reassuring and described the volunteers as "trustworthy, dependable individuals". "Board N' Play has, time and again, displayed nothing but passion and love for our dogs," they said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 26, 2019, with the headline 'NParks investigating after dog dies under boarding service's care'. Print Edition | Subscribe