After a year of closures that has left the industry on its knees, owners of kennels and catteries are calling for “urgent support” to avoid disappearing.
As pet owners rely on kennels and catteries to look after their pets when they travel, the tight travel restrictions that have been in place through most of the past year have decimated the industry’s business.
“All we need is a bit of support, especially as we have now lost our Easter bookings too”
Fern Gresty, who runs the Four Paws Doggy Daycare and Boarding Kennels in Northwich Cheshire, says, “Our businesses have been as affected as hotels and airlines, yet we have not qualified for anywhere near the same level of support from the Government.
“This will have wide-reaching consequences if it is not addressed, because good businesses will go under, potentially replaced by inexperienced ones when the industry does eventually pick up.”
The SOCKS (Save Our Catteries and Kennels ) campaign is pushing a petition calling for the government to “reclassify the industry as tourism and leisure, provide a support package on par with those given to hotels and airlines, reduce the VAT rate to 5% in line with tourism and leisure”.
“All we need is a bit of support, especially as we have now lost our Easter bookings too, and that is why I am proud to sign this petition,” adds Fern.
“There is no demand for our service, because the customers simply cannot travel”
However, the response so far has not been encouraging. A statement by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy reads, “We have no plans to amend the support package offered to the Travel and Tourism Industry to include Boarding Kennels and Catteries because there is already a wide range of support that these businesses can access.
“These include loans, small business grants through local authorities, mortgage holidays and VAT deferral. Given the new national restrictions, we have extended the coronavirus job retention scheme to support the wage costs of employers until the end of April 2021.”
This, Fern argues, is far from enough.
“At the moment we are classified as retail. This puts us in a tricky spot, because we are technically allowed to be open and therefore receive no grants – but there is no demand for our service, because the customers simply cannot travel. And even if they could, in many cases they cannot legally travel to us to drop off their pets!
“Whether you receive any help at all is a postcode lottery, and many in our industry are falling through the cracks. I have received no financial help since March last year – things were actually simpler with the first lockdown, as it was clear-cut that we had to be closed and thus were eligible for help. Now that we can stay open, we get nothing – regardless of the fact hardly anyone is using our services in the current situation.
“Demand is going to shoot up once the emergency is over, but many of us will simply not be there anymore”
Fern adds, “The roadmap for the end of lockdown is giving us some hope, but months and months of lost income will be nearly impossible to recoup. We fear that without help, many kennels and catteries will have to close and leave pet owners without a place to leave their pets while they travel, or without access to a doggy day care when they return to work.
“We as an industry did a lot of training for our staff to make sure they are qualified. We have a great skill set, but people will just be out of jobs. Few businesses can last much longer; demand is going to shoot up once the emergency is over, but many of us will simply not be there anymore.”
Fern’s statements are supported by research by thegoodkennelguide.co.uk, which found that “more than half of the nation’s licensed boarding kennels will be forced out of business before the Summer”, sparking “an animal welfare crisis ahead of a much-anticipated and busy holiday season”.