Owners of dog that died at pet boarding firm not aware tourists were hired to care for animals

Garfield, which had joined the daycare in February, was taken swimming at Tanjong Beach on Sentosa with 16 other dogs, under the care of seven handlers from Board N' Play. PHOTOS: COURTESY OF RAYMOND AND JENNY, BOARD N' PLAY/FACEBOOK

SINGAPORE - The owners of the Maltese that died while under the care of a dog boarding and daycare company said they were not aware tourists had been recruited as volunteers to take care of the animals.

The married couple, who wanted to be known only as Mr Raymond, 31, and Ms Jenny, 29, said they were disappointed with the way Board N' Play had responded, following the death of Garfield, their one-year-old Maltese, on April 17.

"We didn't get any official apology or explanation from Ms Loy about the incident before it resumed operations four days later, said bank executive Raymond, referring to the person in charge of the place. "We feel she just brushed off the severity of what happened."

The couple also told The Straits Times on Monday (April 29) that they are seeking compensation from the company, but declined to disclose the amount.

Garfield, which had joined the daycare in February, was taken swimming at Tanjong Beach on Sentosa with 16 other dogs on the fateful day. They were under the care of seven handlers from Board N' Play.

A passer-by told The Straits Times later she had seen the Maltese lying unconscious on the beach while a woman performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) on him. Garfield regained consciousness and was taken to a veterinary centre, but he died later that afternoon.

Ms Jenny, who works in advertising, said she was notified at about 9am that Garfield drank a lot of seawater and was unwell, and that he would be sent to the vet.

When Mr Raymond arrived at the veterinary centre, "I was told that Garfield was found floating in the water with no heartbeat, and that they had to do CPR on him".

"We tried asking Loy what happened, but she couldn't give us the details," he said, adding that Board N' Play paid Garfield's medical bills and for his cremation.

The day after his death, the couple asked Ms Loy about the incident, including the ratio of handlers to dogs and the events leading up to Garfield being found floating in the water.

"She told us she and the volunteers were closely monitoring the dogs, and he was swimming quite close to the shore. But if they were, then why was Garfield suddenly found floating?" Mr Raymond said, wondering aloud.

"Her answer was not satisfactory. It's not clear what happened and the timeframe of events, based on what little information she gave us," he added.

Board N' Play has since come under public scrutiny for its recruitment practices, after listings on a backpacking online community came to light. The tourists are recruited as "volunteers" to care for the dogs, in exchange for free accommodation, meals and ez-link cards.

The couple said they were not aware initially that the company was using "volunteers" and that they were tourists.

"It was only on 1st April that we found out there were volunteers. We didn't think too much about it because we trusted that if Loy deemed them to be capable, it was sufficient as ultimately the responsibility still lies with her as the owner of the company," said Mr Raymond.

They found out the volunteers were tourists only after the swimming incident, he added.

Four days after the incident, on April 21, the company posted a statement on its Facebook page, listing safety measures it will implement.

It also said it stood by its practice of recruiting tourists as volunteers.

But following reports that the authorities are investigating, the company took down its Facebook page and set its Instagram account to private.

Mr Raymond said they have not heard from Ms Loy since.

"All we wish for is a conclusion to this very distressing and heartbreaking situation for us and for everyone to be fully aware of what they are signing up for," he added.

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