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Low Price Transparency and Disparate Costs for Pet Hotels Mandatory Listing of Licensed Operators Urged to Protect Animal Rights

  • 2024.06.17

Many families will need to make prior arrangements on temporary accommodation for their “fur babies” when they travel, and if no friends or relatives can help take care or foster them, visiting pet hotels might be the only solution. Apart from traditional pet hotels for dogs and cats, many pet homestay services have emerged in recent years. However, some may not have obtained a Boarding Establishment Licence (BEL) from the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD), and even if the services provided may be of an amateur nature, depending on the modus operandi they may still constitute carrying on a business, thus the legality of their services is in doubt. At present, inclusion in the “Licensed Boarding Establishment List” on the AFCD’s website is voluntary and the list does not cover all licensed animal boarding establishments. The Consumer Council advocates that the AFCD could explore making the list mandatory to provide consumers with sufficient information to make an informed choice. As for licensed boarding facilities, the transparency of information still has much room for improvement. Among the 18 licensed boarding establishments surveyed, only 6 had proactively provided a complete price list online, while the rest required consumers to contact the service provider for a quotation, among which 1 provided very limited information in response to the Council’s questionnaire, indicating extremely low transparency for their fees. In addition, consumers budgeting for such services should not only be aware of the disparity in fees and charges, but also be mindful of variations in pricing standards and surcharges for services such as bathing, medication administering, or vet visit escorting. For example, 1 boarding establishment would classify a 16kg dog as medium-sized while another would classify it as large-sized, and the price differential could be doubled. Therefore, to avoid unnecessary disputes when choosing a boarding establishment, consumers should always enquire about details and terms of charges, compare prices, and clarify with a service provider if there is any doubt.

Some Homestay Service Providers Are Not Licensed by the AFCD

In recent years, a wide range of homestay services for pets have emerged, and consumers can easily look for service providers through integrated online platforms. Under the Public Health (Animals) (Boarding Establishments) Regulations (Cap. 139I) (the “Regulations”), any person who carries on a business of providing food and accommodation for animals in return for payment of a fee or other money consideration by the owner or person in control of such animals is operating an animal boarding establishment and is required to apply for a BEL issued by AFCD. The Code of Practice under the Regulations stipulates that licensed boarding premises must be separated from, and not used for any other purpose except for that of boarding, hence the legality of homestay services may be in doubt. Consumers patronising unlicensed animal boarding establishments, which might fail to meet the standards and recommendations on hygiene, enclosures, and facilities set by the AFCD, may expose their pets to safety risks.

Consumers considering using animal boarding facilities may make reference to the “Licensed Boarding Establishment List” on the AFCD’s website. However, as participation in the list is currently voluntary, a boarding establishment not on the list does not necessarily mean that it is operating without a licence, and the process of making further enquiries may be complex and time-consuming. As such, the Council recommends the AFCD consider listing information of all licensed animal boarding establishments on a mandatory basis in due course, to make more comprehensive information accessible to pet owners and strengthen the protection for their pets.

Only 6 Pet Hotels Provided Price Lists Online Without Prompt

The Council respectively selected 3 cat hotels and 3 dog hotels on Hong Kong Island, in Kowloon, and the New Territories from the AFCD’s list of licensees, a total of 18 establishments as the subjects of this survey. Only 6 of them proactively provided price lists online according to the room type or the weight of pets, of which 5 presented price lists on their official websites, while 1 listed prices in the catalogue of its instant messaging software account. 1 other service provider listed its prices on the website but indicated that the website had not been updated for a long time and the price list was no longer applicable, which the Council considered confusing for consumers or may lead to unnecessary disputes. The websites of 7 service providers had push buttons to or relevant contact information of instant messaging software, consumers had to request for quotations from the staff, of which 1 only provided very limited information on fees without providing a full price list in response to the Council’s questionnaire, indicating extremely low information transparency as a whole; 4 service providers either had no official website or did not provide price lists online. The Council urges service providers to make charging details public such that consumers can compare prices more easily and save the hassle of making numerous enquiries.

As cats generally do not vary greatly in size, the 9 cat hotels mainly charged according to the room size, ranging from $1,050 to $4,900 for a 7-day stay per cat, a difference of nearly 4 times. 1 offered 6 different room types but 3 were in fact of the same size, with the only difference being the view of the room (mountain or city), and the difference in daily rate could be as much as $80. On the other hand, dog hotels mostly charged according to the weight or size of the dog, and the rate for a 7-day stay for 1 dog ranged from $1,200 to $5,600, also a difference of almost 4 times. It is worth noting that different dog hotels may have different definitions of dog size. For example, a dog weighing approximately 16kg was regarded as a medium-sized dog and a large-sized dog respectively in the price lists of two boarding establishments, with the former charging $350 per day and the latter charging $700, amounting to a difference of up to $2,450 for a 7-day stay. Therefore, when communicating with service providers, consumers should clearly provide information about the breed and weight of their dog and clarify details to avoid unnecessary disputes.

3 Charged for Mandatory Bathing upon Check-in

All Required Prepayment

Apart from boarding fees, consumers should also pay attention to whether other surcharges are levied, such as bathing, administering of medication or nutritional supplements, etc. while some service providers may also charge extra fees during peak seasons. 3 dog hotels required pets to take a mandatory bath upon check-in, and the charge could be as high as $575 for a 16kg dog. If an owner arranged for more than 1 pet to stay in the same room, different pet hotels would handle the situation differently. 3 cat hotels indicated that if the room type allows, there would be no extra charge, but some hotels would request a surcharge of $50 per night for each additional pet. As for dog hotels, 1 requested an additional charge of $250 per night, which is equivalent to nearly 70% of the standard room rate. All pet hotels required pets staying in the same room to be from the same owner or family to minimise the risk of conflict among unacquainted pets. All of the surveyed pet hotels also required prepayment to confirm reservation, but policies varied from requiring $500 to full boarding fees. If a change of dates is needed after making the reservation, 2 pet hotels stated that they could increase or reduce the charge based on the adjusted days of stay, while 8 said they could accommodate the change free of charge if the request was made within a specified notice period, which ranged from 3 to 14 days prior to the check-in date. However, there are also less flexible pet hotels which charged 5% of the full bill as an administrative fee even if a consumer notified of the change at least 10 days before the pet’s arrival.

8 Indicated No Compensation for Accidents

Many pet owners worry about the health and safety of their pets during their stay in unfamiliar accommodations. Most of the basic charges of pet hotels included an in-room 24-hour online monitoring system so owners can watch their pets any time. In the event of injury, loss, illness or even death of the pet due to staff negligence, only 4 surveyed pet hotels explicitly listed out the maximum amount of compensation, ranging from $300 to $5,000, while 8 stated that they would assume no legal liability nor provide compensation on the grounds of terms and conditions or disclaimers. Consumers who want their pets to have a safe and comfortable stay at boarding facilities may consider the following tips:

  • Refer to the “Licensed Boarding Establishment List” on the AFCD’s website and choose licensed service providers, and if needed, make direct enquiries with the AFCD about whether your favourable boarding establishment has obtained relevant licences;
  • Make an appointment for on-site inspection of the boarding establishment’s environment and facilities, and observe the attitude of the carers;
  • Confirm with the service provider on the services covered by the fees and enquire about any other additional surcharges, especially for mandatory items such as bathing service upon check-in;
  • Study the terms and conditions set out by the service provider to ensure both parties understand their rights and responsibilities;
  • As fewer boarding establishments can accommodate larger dogs or dogs weighing over 40kg, owners are advised to search for a suitable boarding facility earlier;

Pets may find it difficult to adapt to unfamiliar environments immediately. Pet owners can ease the problem by bringing along objects with their scent, such as clothes or towels, or the pet’s favourite toys to enhance their sense of security.



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