Ms. Priyanka Tanwar*
Creature Companion Magazine in conversation with Ms. Koel Chatterji, Founder and Owner of Meow Baari, on her boarding facility’s functioning, services, challenges faced and the pet boarding industry in India. Excerpts.
PLEASE TELL US SOMETHING ABOUT YOURSELF.
I am a socially active and self-employed mom/grandmom to one human, nine canine and eight feline kids.
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO ENTER THE CAT BOARDING INDUSTRY?
Even though I am technically the owner of Meow Baari, it is the brainchild of, and founded by a group of like-minded humans involved in rescue, adoption, and spay/neuter efforts for community dogs and cats. Our foster kittens found their forever homes with humans who needed a place to leave their cats when they went out of town, and we also wanted to encourage more people to adopt cats without worrying about boarding their feline kids when necessary. Being the caregiver to a number of rescue kitties at home and on the streets, I also wanted a sustainable financial option to earn the money needed for their care.
WHEN DID YOU START YOUR CAT BOARDING CENTRE?
My first border was an ex-foster whose parents were going out of town for a few days; that was back in August 2015. This led to other cat parents requesting me to temporarily board their feline kids as well. The last couple of years have seen a steady increase in the number of parents boarding their cats with me.
HOW DOES MEOW BAARI FUNCTION ?
I care for the boarders myself, with my partner helping out during peak season. Since I am the one interacting with the parents along with caring for the cats, I employed someone a few months back to come in for a couple of hours each day to help with the clean-up. Feeding and caring for the boarders is something I do myself, and plan to continue doing so in the future as well. Parents of the boarders receive regular updates from me about their kids via WhatsApp and SMS, along with photos and videos.
WHAT STEPS DO YOU TAKE TO MAKE SURE THAT THE FELINE BOARDERS ARE HAPPY AND COMFORTABLE AT MEOW BAARI ?
I just try to provide an environment where they feel safe and loved. Meow Baari is a homely space, without any frills. I spend time bonding with each boarder, which in turn helps them overcome the stress of staying in a strange place. I don’t like keeping them in cages except when absolutely necessary. The boarders, depending on their temperament, need between a few hours to a couple of days to settle in. This is the time they spend in cages. Socialising is allowed only when the boarder is comfortable enough to explore and/or make friends, and is not a threat to others.
WHAT KIND OF MEALS DO YOU PROVIDE TO YOUR FELINE BOARDERS ?
The boarders have two main meals a day comprising of boiled fish/chicken or packaged wet food. Dry kibbles and water are available throughout the creche in multiple spots for free-feeders. If the border(s) are on a special diet, the parents/caregivers are requested to provide the food themselves. We do not accept raw or cooked food as they tend to spoil easily. Parents are welcome to provide special/prescription packaged food.
DO YOU PROVIDE ANY OTHER SERVICES APART FROM BOARDING?
We do provide post-operative care for cats who have undergone spaying/neutering surgeries by certain vets. We also board cats in need of special care because of temporary or long-term physical disabilities.
IS PET BOARDING SAFE FOR OUR FELINE FRIENDS?
When a cat is properly cared for at home, dewormed and vaccinated regularly, and under the care of a sensible veterinarian, pet boarding is definitely safe.
Since we board multiple boarders at a time, we require the parents to be aware of the risk of transfer of communicable infections, diseases and the possibility of injuries (which may include, but are not limited to – broken nails, sore feet, puncture wounds, abrasions and cuts). To prevent any serious harm to our boarders, we insist on them being vaccinated prior to staying with us. All minor injuries are usually taken care of in-house but we have a consultant veterinarian we revert to for medical requirements.
IT IS GENERALLY SAID THAT PET BOARDING IS EXPENSIVE AS COMPARED TO PET SITTING. IS THAT SO?
I really don’t have a reference point in favour of or against this particular idea, since pet sitting is not too prevalent in Kolkata.
WHAT KIND OF CHALLENGES DOES A PET BOARDING FACILITY FACE?
Based on my experience, there are three major challenges to an organisation like ours, at least in the city of Kolkata.
A lack of awareness among pet parents about deworming, vaccinations, spaying/neutering, and general physical well-being of the pets.
Unavailability of qualified vets, especially for cats, who are actually invested in the well-being of their patients.
The fear of pets being abandoned under the guise of short-term boarding. This has already happened to us, which has led to stricter screening of pet parents on our end.
IS ANY TYPE OF APPROVAL REQUIRED TO START A PROFESSIONAL PET BOARDING SERVICE?
Do you mean this from a legal standpoint?
A commercial pet boarding would need a trade license for the kind of services it wants to provide. Organizations wanting to register as an NGO or society need to go through a specific legal process as well.
WHAT ARE YOUR VIEWS ON THE FUTURE OF THE PET BOARDING INDUSTRY IN INDIA?
There has been a marked increase in the number of boarding options for pets, less for cats though. I would love to see more safe pet boarding options in Kolkata, especially for cats. However, I do hope that the pet industry will shift its focus to encouraging rescue, adoption, vaccination, and spaying/neutering of dogs and cats (the last is especially important in metropolitan areas). Maybe then we can curb the irresponsible, illegal and rampant ‘breeding’ of ‘pedigree’ dogs and cats in India. Our native dogs and cats are beautiful and intelligent animals; they just need to be recognized as such by the people in the country. As I am fond of saying: being a ‘stray’ is a state, not a breed.
You are welcome to check
http://meowbaari.com &https://www.facebook.com/meowbaari for more information.