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Kennel Owner Outlook report 2021: Hidden Kennel Closure Crisis Will Leave Dog Owners Out In The Cold This SummerBack
More than 50% of kennels and catteries will close by August due to lack of financial support
16% of kennels and catteries report that they have already made redundancies
One hundred thousand animals could be impacted should businesses fail
Up to 10,000 jobs could be on the line
Over 70% of kennels and catteries have more than 10 years experience and cannot be easily replaced
Extended periods of lockdown, social distancing and increased home working have driven many people to seek comfort and distraction by getting a dog during the past 12 months*. Whereas in normal times, an increase in the number of dog owners might have caused somewhat of a business boom for animal boarding businesses, this boom in animal ownership is twinned with travel both abroad and within the UK being drastically reduced or banned altogether in some cases, meaning that fewer people are not leaving their houses, let alone going on holiday.
The Good Kennel Guide conducted a survey of licensed boarding kennel and cattery establishments in March 2021 to understand the impacts of the pandemic on the industry and what is being done to support these businesses.
The report findings are stark. The situation in this industry begs a sense of urgency for its very survival.
“Hanging by a thread”
Kennels have been categorised under “animal welfare” along with vets and rescue centres this means that they have not been ordered to close like many other businesses and in many cases have been ordered to stay open, even though bookings have completely dried up. This categorisation also means that kennels and catteries are not entitled to much of the support that is available to other related sectors which have been forced to close (such as hospitality, tourism and leisure).
A series of loopholes and a lack of understanding of the critical dependency between the animal boarding industry and the travel industry has led to a whole raft of businesses completely falling between the cracks. The sad irony is that so many of these businesses are now on the brink of permanent closure through lack of financial support that a genuine animal welfare emergency could be on the cards this summer.
“My business was my wings, now it is the noose around my neck”
The survey found that 98% of kennels reported that bookings had drastically reduced or ceased entirely with one kennel stating that they have had no enquiries throughout the whole pandemic period. Many kennels found that bookings dried up even before the lockdowns when people started to realise that their social plans and holidays were not going to happen. One kennel owner said: “The pandemic has had a catastrophic effect on our business. Bookings collapsed to almost nothing for most of 2020 and early 2021 leading to the loss of my very experienced staff and having no government help has left my business struggling to survive”.
Another said: “We cannot survive much longer and so when things return to some sort of normality and people want to board their animals these kennels and catteries won’t be there anymore due to the fact that they could stay open but have no trade and were given no support whatsoever”.
“We are the forgotten few”
Of those surveyed 12% hadn’t received any form of support at all and a further 18% said that they had only received minimal support, or support early on in the pandemic, but this had dried up later or been refused, due to them not being forced to close. A small majority of support that had been obtained came from Local Government but kennels said they had to “fight for every penny”. One kennel stated that they had been given £467 by local government. Local councils appear to have applied lockdown restrictions differently with some ordering kennels to stay open and others ordered to stay open but only for the pets of key workers, the one constant is that they have not been ordered to close like some industries and this is the main reason why they are being refused support. Kennels that have stayed open when only accommodating one or two dogs at a time, do so at a loss, as the cost of continuing to open for so little income outweighs the benefit. Some kennels said that support was in the way of loans which would need to be paid back, whilst their overheads remain fixed. What is more, many kennels have seen their overheads increase due to the need to put in additional security measures (due to an increase in dog theft** driven by the increased demand for dogs twinned with an increase in lone working due to redundancies and furloughing staff) as well as additional safety measures to protect themselves and their few customers so that they comply with Covid restrictions.
Around 85% of kennel owners said that they thought that both Local and National Government could do more to support them, with the majority feeling that this miscategorising as animal welfare forcing them to stay open and misunderstanding of the vital link between travel and animal boarding are to blame. One kennel reported speaking to their MP who said that “we acknowledge the connection with travel and tourism but can offer no direct help”.
“God help these cats and dogs”
With the lockdown slowly being lifted and the extension of furlough and business rates announced, surely these businesses are going to be ok? Wrong. One kennel reported “we will not recover straight away with foreign travel highly curbed for the foreseeable future, we will need to build up our business again unlike hairdressers, eateries and retail who will have customers right away”. Our report indicates that over 50% of kennels and catteries will close immediately or within the next 6 month period if more support is not forthcoming and a further 32% closing if there were no recovery within 6 months to a year. 2% of kennels had already closed and 8% of kennels said they could survive for less than a month.
While it is true that there is a roadmap for foreign travel to potentially resume in the middle of May at the earliest, it is likely to be too late for many of these businesses, particularly as they do not get paid until travel actually happens and many people will not book practicalities such as car parking and animal boarding until the last minute. The uncertainty of foreign travel also means that it is more likely that people choose to holiday in the UK this year, in many cases taking their dog with them rather than using a boarding kennel.
A petition with nearly 27,000 signatures (as of 15th March 2021) was set up online to try to put the issue before Parliament but the government response on 14th January 2021 does nothing to address the plight of kennels and catteries. A majority of the response refers to businesses that have been forced to close, again further compounding the miscategorisation we have identified and suggests that Kennels apply for local government grants. However, our survey data shows that businesses are being refused this lifeline as they have not been forced to close, this industry just continues to keep falling between the cracks.
Furthermore the categorisation of kennels remains unchanged so they will continue to be ineligible for reductions in VAT and business rate holidays that apply to other sectors. A huge majority of kennels are relying on furlough (if they can access it) but are unlikely to survive long enough to get back into the black when lockdown ends. What is for certain is that if these businesses are allowed to fail existing dog owners may find that their friendly local kennel has already closed and new dog owners may not be able to access a local kennel as readily as before, for some this might mean that they are unable to take their long awaited holiday this summer. However, this could result in a surge of animals being left at home, dumped or being sent to animal rescue centres. It might also mean that there is an uptick in illegal and unlicensed animal boarding. Both of these factors put the lives and welfare of animals genuinely at risk.
What can you do to help?
There are three things that those wanting to support our struggling licensed animal boarding businesses can do:
Join our campaign- If you are a licensed kennel, cattery or home boarder in the UK, join our campaign to raise awareness of the #HiddenKennelClosureCrisis and call for support right now. We need to act now to avoid an #AnimalWelfareEmergency. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter to keep updated on our campaign.
Sign the petition calling for Boarding Kennels and Catteries to be recognized as directly and severely suffering from the impact of the Covid travel restrictions and be given access to support in the same way as the travel and hospitality sectors
Dog Theft: How can I keep my dog safe?
Buying a new dog? How to check that your new dog hasn’t been stolen
COVID 19- How our dogs saved us during lockdown
COVID-19: Should I get a new dog during lockdown
*The Pet Food Manufacturers Association (PFMA) has reported a total 3.2 million households have got a pet since the start of the coronavirus pandemic taking the total number of dogs in the UK to 12 million. The RSPCA has already voiced concerns about people leaving their pets at home once they return to work and school after lockdown.
** Dog theft is reported to have risen by 250% with some police forces appointing specialist dog theft officers to help deal with this increase.
***125 licensed boarding kennel and cattery establishments in England, Scotland and Wales were surveyed between 22 February 2021 and 9 March 2021
Hidden Kennel Crisis Set To Put Holidays On Hold
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