I like a holiday as much as the next person, but nothing puts a damper on any kind of break like leaving your pets at a pet hotel or boarding kennel, when they clearly don’t want to be there. For me, this typically included the full array of dog dramatics including whimpering, unhappy barking (not to be confused with happy barking), doing everything possible to stay in the car and actively resisting being left at said kennel by pulling on their leashes, desperately straining to come back to you and the car. I confess that I’ve done this a few times with my pups and the guilt it left me with was staggering. It culminated in many a phone call to the boarding kennel, to ask how my dogs were. Unfortunately for everyone involved, we forgot to factor in the time difference and made several phone calls to the kennel at around 3 am local Chile time. Naturally, when nobody answered the phone, absolute panic set in: Why aren’t they answering?? What could they possibly be doing, apart from catering to my dogs’ every whim /seeing to each and every need of my beloved hounds?? Needless to say, we were not very popular with the kennel owners and more importantly, I spent a fair portion of the holiday worrying about my dogs and wondering if I should have left them in a different kennel.
For the average pet owner, going away without your pet isn’t too complicated. For a cat, you can have someone check in on him or her every other day to top up food and water and clean out the kitty litter. For most dogs, a dog sitter will suffice. For our pups, unfortunately, a dog sitter isn’t an option. Our beloved rescue dog, Campeón, has some pretty serious behavioural issues (we suspect he was badly abused as a puppy), and he suffers from terrible fear aggression. This means that we simply cannot leave him with anyone other than a trained person with experience handling difficult dogs. Aside from my natural angst at leaving my adored dogs with anyone else, it should be said that I am one hard to please dog-parent! Full disclosure: anyone who knows me well will attest to the fact that ‘hard to please’ as a dog parent is far too generous a description for me, but they aren’t writing this article!
A quick look at boarding kennels in Santiago will bring up less than 10 options. This figure does not include the veterinarian clinics that also offer a kennel service; these are simply standalone boarding kennels. Here I will outline what the majority offer and share my experience with a recent kennel.
Given that most kennels are based on a fairly sizeable property, most of these are a good hour or so out of Santiago. This isn’t too much of an issue for those with their own transport, but it can be tricky in the lead up to a holiday factoring in a 2 hour round trip with the pets. Many of the kennels offer collection and return of dogs for an additional fee.
To socialize or not to socialize, that is the question
Most people who go to the trouble and expense of taking their animals to a boarding kennel, like to think their pets will have a decent time, even if it isn’t the same as being home with their humans.
The kennels in Chile offer a range of accommodation in terms of enclosures. Some keep the animals separated in their own enclosure the entire time, except when they are moved from one enclosure to the next. El Tulipan located in Lampa, is an example of this. The dogs are in their own outdoor enclosures during the day and are transferred to indoor enclosures at night. Each enclosure houses the dogs from one family. i.e. some enclosures could house more than 2 dogs. The dogs don’t socialize with dogs from other families, except for sharing a common fence between enclosures, through which they can bark at each other ad nauseam.
On the other end of the spectrum, the dogs aren’t put in cages or enclosures at all at Hotel Pet Resort in Las Condes and Vitacura. Many of the comments on Facebook highlight this as a factor in their choosing Hotel Pet Resort. In between these two options lies Hotel Mantra in Colina. A small boutique boarding kennel that accepts only up to 10-12 dogs, the dogs have their own kennels inside a much larger enclosure which houses all dogs at night. During the day, however, they are taken out of the enclosure and left to socialize freely in smaller groups with the other dogs in the garden, under the watchful eyes of the kennel owners. If they see that certain dogs do not get along, they will separate those particular dogs and mix them with different ones. The idea behind this is that all dogs get to socialize a bit and enjoy meeting and mixing with new friends while taking into account the different personalities and fact that not all dogs like to socialize as much as the next.
Most of the kennels are designed for dogs, but many cater to cats and even exotic and small animals such as ferrets, rabbits, birds and even reptiles. In terms of dogs, some state they will not accept aggressive dogs and reserve the right to decline service to dogs (and owners!) with behavioural issues.
For dogs, prices range depending on the size of the animal. Most prices start from $10,000 CLP per day for small dogs. Some kennels will charge more for special care such as giving medication. Some will even charge extra per pill, per dog, per day. For an extra fee, most offer additional services such as bath and haircut and some state they will even assist in case your pregnant dog goes into labor.
Most kennels list veterinarian care as a service, but very few actually state if the kennel employs a full-time vet on site. One of the two founders of Hotel Mantra, Dra Alejandra, is a qualified and experienced veterinarian and is based at the kennel 24 hours a day as she lives on the property. The kennel even includes a fully equipped ambulance in case the animal needs to be transferred to a vet hospital.
According to the requirements listed on the kennels’ websites, dogs must come with proof of up to date vaccinations and preferably with recent flea treatment. Some request flea treatment be applied at the kennel itself, as proof that this has been done.
Given most owners’ expectations and how much competition now exists in the boarding kennel market, these businesses have had to cater to their clients’ ever-increasing demands. This includes providing the owners with frequent updates on their pets (daily, according to a few websites and comments on their respective Facebook pages). Updates normally come in the form of WhatsApp messages with photos and or videos, showing the pets interacting with other dogs and generally just having a grand ol’ time, on their owner’s dime.
Our experience with dog hotels in Chile:
We used to take our pups to the same kennel for seven years, which we were quite happy with until we weren’t. As we had been very happy with the service for many years, it was hard to walk away. I had nearly given up hope of finding another provider (and ever going on holiday again!) until Hotel Mantra was recommended to us.
I was a bit apprehensive when we arrived at a property in Colina, without even a sign or name advertising the kennel and I initially thought we had the wrong address. Within 10 minutes of meeting Ernesto and Dra Alejandra, the husband and wife founders from Argentina, I had decided that this was the only place for my beloved dogs. Not only were the owners clearly out and about in the garden with the dogs, keeping watch over them, but all of the dogs, bar none, appeared to be genuinely happy and relaxed. Several were splashing about and barking in the dog pool, while others chased each other through the plants and bushes. Ernesto and Dra Alejandra explained that they personally have several rescue dogs that live on the property, rescued from various countries and that this kennel has been a lifelong dream of theirs. They also told us that they prefer not to advertise their whereabouts as they have sadly had many dogs tied to their gate, abandoned and left to be cared for by the local vet and dog lovers. I especially liked that before accepting our dogs, they asked us several questions about where we live, our lifestyle, and watched us interact with our dogs. They said they do this as they have also had various clients bring their dogs to the kennel and simply never return for them. Their way of avoiding that is by trying to ascertain how the owners feel about their pets before they leave them at the kennel.
When it came time to drop our dogs off, I left feeling truly happy with our choice. No doggy drama and antics, as we had always had before. Upon arrival, our dogs had barely looked back at us, so excited they were at all the new faces and smells. We received daily updates via WhatsApp of photos and or videos, showing our pups running and barking and clearly having a vacation of their own. When we finally returned to collect them 14 days later, our dogs saw us arrive, ignored us and promptly ran right past us while chasing another dog through the bushes. These were different dogs from the dogs we had collected from the previous kennel. They didn’t even seem to care that we had come back to collect them. Simply put, we were crushed. We wanted them to have a good time, but up to a certain point! Before leaving the kennel, Ernesto showed us how to give Campeón a face massage by stimulating the Vagus Nerve, which he explained to be particularly relaxing for elderly dogs. Given Campeón’s nature, I was sure I was about to witness a veritable bloodbath. To my great surprise, Campeón lay back and accepted the message like a baby, belly exposed to the world, appearing on the verge of sleep. Gone was our aggressive, scared dog. Instead, we were taking home our two sweet, happy pups.
Hotel Mantra was worth every single peso and we have even considered sending our pups there, just for a long weekend, as they clearly enjoyed it so much. In fact, we already have their next stay booked for three weeks and don’t feel guilty leaving them there for a moment! We are extremely grateful to Ernesto and Dra Alejandra for taking such good care of our pups and allowing us to confidently leave them in their exceptional care.