SINGAPORE - The National Parks Board's Animal and Veterinary Service (AVS) is investigating allegations related to dog boarding company Board N' Play, following the recent death of a maltese.
In response to queries from The Straits Times, AVS' group director Jessica Kwok said on Thursday (April 25) that it was "concerned to learn of the various incidents".
"Our priority is always to ensure the welfare of animals," she added.
"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," said 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 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 following a swimming incident on Sentosa last Wednesday (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 that there are no laws prohibiting tourists from volunteering in Singapore.
Guidelines on the Ministry of Manpower's website also do not state whether foreigners are required to apply for work passes or permits to volunteer here.
On Sunday, Board N' Play said in its statement that it has enrolled its 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 undergo in-house training for cardiopulmonary resuscitation by the certified handler.
"We have witnessed and believe in the commitment of our volunteers in looking after our kids well," the company said in its statement.
Standard operating procedures to address a range of scenarios, such as drowning, overheating and choking, will also be put in place, said the company.
"These will be verified by our first-aid instructor and will be relayed to all our handlers including volunteers," it added.
Board N' Play has also encouraged owners to get life jackets for their own dogs, especially if they are of a small breed.
Dogs that are newcomers will also have to attend a two-hour morning activity at a dog run to assess their endurance level, among other measures.
While online response to the statement has largely been positive, some dog owners are still unsure about the practice of recruiting volunteers instead of experienced handlers to care for the dogs.
Ms Yan Lim, 30, who had previously enrolled her two-year-old Singapore Special 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," added Ms Lim, a designer.
She said she may return to Board N' Play's services in the future as she had a positive experience, but will monitor how the safety procedures are put in place.
Meanwhile, a dog owner, who wanted to be known only as Ms Geri, 35, voiced her support for the company.
Ms Geri, along with 14 other dog owners who have been using the company's services, said in a statement to ST that the implementation of the measures to address the risks of outdoor activities is "reassuring", and training staff and volunteers in first aid for dogs will allow them to respond to situations with "certainty".
They also described the volunteers as "trustworthy, dependable individuals" and added that the company practises due diligence in shortlisting these volunteers.
"Board N' Play has, time and again displayed nothing but passion and love for our dogs. They have always treated our dogs like their own, instead of 'customers'," the statement added.