Home away from home

Saturday, 5 March 2011 00:15 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

By Cassandra Mascarenhas

Never underestimate the lengths to which a love for dogs can take a true dog-lover. I consider myself a great dog-lover and other than horrifying most people by petting almost every stray I see on the road, I felt I had done my duty to dog-kind by rescuing a stray pup on the road that crawled up to me all big eyes and mangy fur one day, several years ago.

Yet, putting me and most enthusiastic dog-lovers I presume, to absolute shame is Ashwini Aiyar-Karunaratne, who simple stated: “I love dogs – and I wanted to see what I could do with this love,” when I asked her what inspired her to initiate her rather original idea in the backyard of her own home.

A hotel for dogs?

Haven – A Hotel for Dogs is Sri Lanka’s first and only premier full on dog boarding kennel, officially opened up for business in November 2010 and has so far been a great success amongst caring dog owners looking for simply the best for their beloved pooches. Although Ashwini personally never had a problem finding people to care for her own four dogs, she came to the realization that the lack of boarding for dogs was a serious issue in the country. The few places that offer this service tend to be very unprofessional and are for the most part badly run, filling anxious dog owners with unease instead of reassurance when leaving their dogs in the company of strangers for extended periods of time.

“When I have to travel abroad I generally hire people to take care of my many pets at home. This is a rather expensive method of doing things of course but I rather resort to such measures rather than leave them in the care of incompetent people. If there was a service like Haven, I wouldn’t have to go to such an extent in the first place,” explained Ashwini.

Haven has been set up in the garden of her own home located in Talahena, Malabe, which at over an acre has proved to be more than adequate to house their guests. Since its establishment, Haven has entertained four guests, the first being a three-month old Dalmatian. The hotel currently has three large kennels available right now, each of which are themed and are on an enclosure which is over 250 sq feet in size and plans to build two more are already in the works. Already housing four dogs, a couple of cats, guinea pigs and birds on her property, Ashwini laughingly admitted that housing a couple more dogs was in fact not at all a problem and simply made her even more happy.

Competent care

Currently juggling a full-time job in addition to running Haven, Ashwini always makes sure that there are always competent people back at her house to take care of their guests at all times.

“I’m hoping to devote myself fulltime to Haven by the end of this year because to be honest, nothing would make me happier. Taking care of dogs doesn’t even seem like work to me – I just love it,” she stated enthusiastically. “In fact, taking care of other peoples’ dogs is a huge responsibility. I generally don’t go out of town when we have guests over; I’m too nervous to even go to Arpico which is just up the road let alone leave town!”

Pampering pooches at Haven

The hotel for dogs provides top of the line service to meet a customer’s every need, which is more than obvious when potential customers fill out their incredibly detailed questionnaire which includes questions like is the dog possessive over its food, afraid of thunder and lightning or if it is unusual for the dog to skip a meal. This ensures that they know things like if the weather is bad, that the dog will need some pampering, or if the not eating is normal or symptomatic of an oncoming illness.

Haven also recommends a before boarding visit as this makes both the dog and the owner more comfortable and offers test-run stays at no additional cost to the customer. Puppies housed at Haven receive extra-special treatment and have a different procedure where they are allowed to roam free in the house and are kept in an indoor room at bedtime. Ashwini’s own four dogs, two males and two females, are very friendly themselves and are tremendous help, calming down newcomers and welcoming them into the family.

A couple of requirements which are an absolute must are that dogs must be fully vaccinated with the Vaccination Book produced upon entry and that all dogs must be wormed.

Anxious pet owners can also choose to be updated via text or email however frequently they wish. They are also allowed to call at anytime and Haven can also arrange a camera service which can be accessed via any internet device, even a phone.

Plans for the future

Currently operating via a website and a Facebook page, Haven has yet had no need for further advertising as it has simply gained popularity through word-of-mouth and glowing testimonials from very satisfied customers. The Pet Vet Clinic has already surveyed the property and given Haven the thumbs-up and along with many other veterinary practitioners in the city, have gone a long way to drum up business for the dog boarding kennel, promoting it heavily amongst their own customers.

Ashwini also has no plans of expanding further than five kennels as she feels that this would dilute the quality of the services they currently provide.

“I’m actually hoping to build a swimming pool for the dogs in the near future as dogs love the water and swimming is the best exercise for overweight dogs especially Labradors which are a common breed here. I’m also considering opening up a store selling top-quality dog food and other essentials at a reasonable price as these things tend to be very expensive here in Sri Lanka and its very disheartening as most want their dogs to have nothing but the best so I feel there is ample opportunity for such a plan,” she added.

Their first guest, Spotty the Dalmatian pup was simply adorable and Ashwini was absolutely heartbroken when the pup had to leave her at the end of his stay.  “I remember Spotty came to us during a spell of bad weather and kept rolling about in the mud in the rain instead of coming into the house!” she recalled, shaking her head and laughing at the thought. She went on to say that she as well as the entire household was always excited when a new guest entered Haven as all dogs have such diverse personalities and it’s just sheer joy to take care of different dogs all the time.

“Running Haven doesn’t even feel like work; sitting and getting to know each new dog really has to be the best part of the job and although it’s often difficult to say goodbye to them at the end of their stay, there is always the hope that they will return for a second stay later on,” Ashwini concluded.