A new boarding client comes to you with her sweet, new Labradoodle named Snickers.* The client is going on vacation for a week, and she asks you to board Snickers for her. Little did you know that Snickers has severe separation anxiety. On the first night he’s at your boarding facility, he throws himself against his kennel door to the point that he’s injured and bleeding.
First question: Are you responsible for getting Snickers to the vet? Answer: Yes!
Section 3.2-6518 requires boarding establishments and groomers to provide emergency veterinary treatment for any illness or injury occurring while the animal is in their custody. Under that section, boarding establishments and groomers have the same responsibility as owners to provide companion animals with adequate care. Section 3.2-6503 outlines those seven responsibilities: adequate food and water, shelter, space and exercise, care – and veterinary care. And Section 3.2-6503 explicitly applies to every pound, shelter, rescue, foster home, dealer, pet shop, exhibitor, kennel, groomer and boarding establishment.
Second question: Who pays the vet bills? Answer: In this case, probably the client.
Boarders and groomers are responsible for the vet bills if an animal sustains injury at the boarder’s or groomer’s facility, or while in the custody of a boarder or groomer, and the injury resulted from the boarder or groomer’s failure – whether accidental or intentional – to provide adequate care or if the injury resulted from the boarder or groomer’s actions. Otherwise, the owner picks up the costs, including when the injuries result from the animal’s self-mutilation.
Likely, Snickers’ injuries would be considered self-mutilation, with the client picking up the tab for Snickers’ vet bills. However, if the client warned the staff about Snickers’ condition, and the staff ignored the warning, or failed to check on Snickers for a considerable amount of time, the boarding establishment just might be on the hook for the bills.
In case you’re wondering, Section 3.2-6500 defines both “boarding establishment” and “groomer.” A “boarding establishment” is “a place or establishment other than a pound or animal shelter where companion animals not owned by the proprietor are sheltered, fed, and watered in exchange for a fee.” This definition is arguably broad enough to cover not only kennels, but also doggie daycares and boarding and training facilities. A “groomer” is “any person who, for a fee, cleans, trims, brushes, makes neat, manicures, or treats for external parasites any animal” – also a pretty broad definition.
If you board or groom animals, establish an intake procedure that requires the potential client and companion animal to come in person before you agree to board or groom the animal. Use written forms asking potential clients whether their animals suffer from health issues, separation anxiety, dog-dog aggression, dog-people aggression, and other behavior problems. And before you finish drafting those forms, make sure you check the next post. You may not realize it, but Virginia requires boarding establishments to give very specific written warnings to their boarding clients about veterinary costs.
These responsibilities are nothing to take lightly. If an owner fails to give a companion animal adequate care, the owner is subject to a Class 4 Misdemeanor, punishable by up to a $250 (for a first offense). But if a boarding establishment or groomer violates Section 3.2-6518, they subject themselves to seizure of the animals and a Class 1 Misdemeanor, which carries up to twelve months in jail and/or a $2500 fine.
* All characters in this post are purely fictional, and any resemblance to real individuals is purely coincidental. Nor do I wish to pick on Labradoodles or dogs named Snickers!