Horror Stories From a Kennel Technician
All I’ve ever really wanted was to work with animals. At $8.50 an hour, the pay for a Kennel Technician position obviously wasn’t great, but I was so excited to have my foot in the door. I was getting paid to do something that gave me a sense of purpose and fulfillment.
I thought I’d won the jackpot.
The First Red Flag
One of the initial things that struck me was how run-down and hazardous the building was. The cage doors had rusted and many of the latches were completely broken, held together by metal snaps.
There was rat poop everywhere.
We’re talking in the runs, the drains, and in the kitchen where we prepared the dog’s meals. Some of the more seasoned technicians who had been there a few years mentioned that the air conditioner had caught fire…more than once.
The alarm bells started whistling, something felt wrong about all of this. Where were the inspectors? Why wasn’t anyone trying to make repairs? Why were elderly, disabled animals not being given the regular supervision they needed?
The Staff Has Left the Building
If you’re going to leave your dog in one of these places, you need to know that they’re going to be there overnight by themselves.
That’s right, not a single soul in the facility past 6 P.M., which explains the story I was told upon being hired about a dog that was found hanging by his collar early one morning. From that point on, the staff had been instructed to remove all collars and place them with the animal’s belongings.
Should a dog escape, they’d be running right through a busy city area with lots of trucks, buses, and vehicles without any identification or a collar.
Most boarding facilities require their visitors to wear an identification collar during their stay.
Large companies such as Petsmart have overnight crews to assist and supervise pets should an emergency occur. They may not have the best track record with grooming, but if I had to leave my dog somewhere overnight, I’d want to know that someone is there at all times…in case the air conditioner catches fire.
Senior Dog? Meh, Who Cares.
Older pets were often left in runs that had no padding or traction, rendering them unable to stand or use the bathroom comfortably. Many of the senior canines would simply lie in their own urine and excrement until the end of their stay. However, the company made sure to cover their own asses by bathing the dogs right before the owner was scheduled to pick them up. If your pup was groomed early in the morning, you can bet that they’d still be in that same 4x4 drying cage for the entire day, without a bathroom break.
It gets even better for the dogs who were boarding for a few days. If you didn’t sign them up for playtime, guess what? A concrete cell is where they’d remain until it was time for checkout.
Another and I co-worker tried to move the older dogs to more appropriate areas and were quickly punished.
“Leave them where we put them.”
Potty Walks? Sunlight? Basic Needs? Better Pay Up.
I found this policy to be especially cruel, especially after doing a little research and finding that most boarding facilities offer potty-walks as a complementary service. Now, let me also remind you that during the off-season, this particular doggie-daycare only had about 15 to 30 dogs on hand at a time. With 2 or 3 Kennel Technicians in the building at all times, cleaning and feeding duties were finished within a 3 hour period. That left us with 3 hours to spare until evening rounds.
During this time, I’d have to sneak through different hallways just to get the animals out into the yard for sunlight. We had a regular visitor named Bonnie; a senior gal with a serious case of dementia. She’d forget where she was and tried to bite frequently…until I started taking her out for potty walks. I don’t know if it was the sunlight or regular attention, but her mental state improved immensely. She was more aware, less confused, and showed less fear aggression; at one point, I was actually able to pet her without wondering if she was going to try to take my hand off.
Maggie was another sweet, older dog who stayed with us at least once a month. Her owner never signed her up for playtimes, leaving Maggie in a concrete kennel for days, and sometimes up to a week at a time. I made sure to get her out at least once per day, but that was entirely dependent on whether or not the playtime staff actually showed up for work.
Unfortunately, there was little to no supervision or accountability in ensuring that people were actually taking animals out, cleaning their cages, or otherwise showing any concern for the health and well-being of our guests. I often found our “team leader” dicking around in the kitchen, watching Youtube videos for hours, while animals sat in cages for hours on end.
A specific incident that I can recall, was when a playtime staff who we’ll refer to as Rachel was scheduled to take a pair of Bichon Frise’ siblings out to the yard. At the time, I was cleaning a kennel that allowed a view of the outdoors. Upon peeking through an opening, I watched as Rachel attempted to make the dogs sit before taking off their leashes.
One dog would not obey her command, and so she proceeded to grab a large chunk of fur and pull until the dog cried out. She was eventually fired for poor conduct, but I had wondered how long she’d been doing this when no one was watching. Camera surveillance was poor and there were plenty of blind spots that could easily conceal abuse.
Cruelty From the General Manager Was a Norm
So much cruelty in fact, that the entire staff had to put photos and written testimony together in order to have her terminated. Aside from kicking, yanking, and subduing dogs by placing all 300+pounds of her body weight upon them, she was also incredibly unkind to her own pets. One of them was a small, 15-year-old lap dog with an incontinent bladder who sat in a carrier for an entire 12-hour shift.
Naturally, as soon she was released from her tiny prison she’d run into the hallway that led to the exit and promptly urinate all over the floor. This was followed up by yelling and scolding by her owner, our lovely manager. The icing on the cake was her refusal to re-home a cat she “rescued.”
Sweet, loving Sammy sat in a cat-hotel box for over a year before someone finally convinced her to adopt the poor animal out to a nice family.
It was no secret that the manager had a sincere dislike for any dog that fell into the bully category, but she was adamant that they receive basically as little care as possible. Animals that received discounted rates were non-existent, if I was caught playing with them or taking them out to the yard I’d be swiftly reprimanded.
This was something I simply couldn’t fathom…I didn’t care that I was being paid minimum wage. I didn’t care that there weren’t any benefits, or that there was a chance I might run into a rat. Like other staff members, I just wanted to go above and beyond for the dogs. A handful of us were constantly looking for ways to make the situation better for the animals, and for whatever reason, our “leader” consistently found ways to block us from doing so, even with the assistant manager acting as a buffer.
Our case eventually made it through to HR, and they finally terminated the abusive person who had been running the facility for so long. Unfortunately, they were quickly hired at another boarding company…as the manager.
I Found a Dead Dog, and A Little Piece of Me Died, Too.
Ironically, it wasn’t the fault of negligent management or poor staffing this time. Around 6 A.M. I started making my usual morning rounds, checking off the feeding list as I worked my way through the hallways. As usual, each run was full of chaos and noise, endless barking and movement in each kennel…except for one.
A pair of senior gals had been roomed together in one of the large dog hallways, and they were always fairly mellow by nature. However, one was just lying there…sleeping. I stood still for a moment, then I called her name while reaching through the kennel bars to pet her sister.
Nothing, no response. I knew something wasn’t right, but I thought that maybe she wasn’t feeling well. I knelt down and opened the kennel door, and ran my fingers through her fur. She wasn’t warm, I couldn’t feel her chest rise or fall. My eyes quickly moved toward the drain, there was blood and urine leaking out from beneath her body.
My stomach dropped. I knew she was gone.
As it turns out, she had been diagnosed with cancer for some time, and the owners were aware but chose not to inform us. They dropped the pair off to go on vacation, bringing their replacement pup along with them. I was completely devastated; had I known that she’d only been given a limited time to live, she wouldn’t have died in that kennel.
Her muzzle was pressed against the door of the cage as if she was hoping to be let out to see her family, just one last time.
To this day, it kills me to think that her last meal and final resting place could’ve been my living room. I wish so badly that I’d had the opportunity to set her up with a warm, comfortable place to sleep. I wish her sister had never had to spend hours in a kennel with the body. I wish people wouldn’t treat their dogs this way. I wish I could’ve given her a better ending. But, we don’t always get the things we wish for.
I’m not knocking every boarding facility out there.
There are some awesome, reputable pet hotels out there who set high standards. Even with all of the major problems that existed within our company, my co-workers did their best. The conditions of the building began to worsen, and as new management moved in, we saw that nothing we did was going to change the culture of the company. They didn’t care about the dogs like we did, and eventually the entire staff dispersed and moved onto places where we were able to take pride in our work.
Before you leave your furbaby at one of these facilities, ask questions. If you’re able to catch them alone, a Kennel Technician or Animal Care Technician can give you honest answers that a manager won’t. Check reviews, and stick with locations that have plenty of online camera access that allows you to check on your pup through a livestream.
Do the homework, and save yourself from regret.