A dog boarding service has come under fire for its questionable recruitment practices after one of the dogs under its care died following an incident on Sentosa on Wednesday morning.
Garfield, a one-year-old maltese, had been swimming at Tanjong Beach on Sentosa with 16 other dogs while under the care of seven handlers from pet boarding and daycare company Board N' Play.
Ms Naida Ginnane, 55, told The Straits Times she was walking her two labrador retrievers nearby when she heard someone scream. When she looked over, she saw Garfield unconscious on the beach, surrounded by the handlers and passers-by.
After someone performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) on the dog, it regained consciousness and was taken to a veterinary centre, where it died later that afternoon.
The incident came as a shock to Ms Ginnane, who took to Facebook to voice her discomfort with what she had witnessed. In her post, she wrote that some dogs that were reluctant to swim were dragged by their leashes into the water, among other things.
Within 24 hours, the post was shared extensively by other animal interest groups, and netizens began to question the level of experience of the company's dog handlers after its recruitment practices came to light.
On the backpacking online community Worldpackers, a listing by Board N' Play showed the company recruiting tourists as "volunteers" to care for the dogs in exchange for free accommodation, meals and ez-link cards.
Yesterday, Ms Ginnane told ST she does not believe the handlers deliberately mistreated the dogs, but were likely ignorant and negligent in their care of the animals.
"Unfortunately, they didn't seem to have the skills or knowledge to look after dogs," said the artist, who has been living in Singapore with her husband for seven years.
HANDLERS NEED TO BE TRAINED
Knowing first aid would be ideal... but it's better to have preventive measures and staff who are trained to read dog behaviour before any situation arises.
A DOG HANDLER and trainer, who declined to be named.
"It's not my intention to destroy their business or to hurt anyone. It was just to help other dog owners make informed choices on what goes on when they're not around," she added.
When ST contacted Board N' Play, a woman who wanted to be known only as Ms Loy, said the incident was "unfortunate" and she "deeply regretted" it.
She disputed Ms Ginnane's version of events.
While Ms Ginnane said Garfield had slipped off a paddle board, Ms Loy said the maltese was not on the board at the time of the incident.
CPR was also conducted on Garfield by a Board N' Play volunteer who is a lifeguard, and whose family runs a dog boarding and daycare centre in Argentina, added Ms Loy, 40.
"I cannot accept that this happened. Garfield was so close to me," she said, adding that it was the first such incident.
Ms Loy said she paid for the medical services and has been in contact with Garfield's owner.
When asked about the recruitment practice, Ms Loy said: "They may not be experienced, but they love dogs. If you volunteer at a dog shelter, do you need to be very experienced?"
All staff learn how to perform CPR on dogs by watching tutorial videos online, she added.
A dog handler and trainer, who declined to be named, said handlers "should be able to read and understand dog behaviour", which will help them react when something arises. "Knowing first aid would be ideal... but it's better to have preventive measures and staff who are trained to read dog behaviour before any situation arises," added the handler with 20 years' experience.
In February, the authorities said that they are planning a comprehensive review of the regulations of the pet industry, following the Platinium Dogs Club dog abuse saga.
Currently, pet boarders who operate outside of farmland do not need a licence.