Barking up the right tree: Regulate doggy day cares in Massachusetts – The Boston Globe

Sadly, my sister was left with more questions than answers about what happened. At the time of Gollo’s death, there were no cameras at the boarding location. Similarly, Amy Baxter, of Longmeadow, lost her 7-month-old labradoodle, Ollie, who was viciously attacked in a gruesome incident in an East Longmeadow facility in the fall of 2020. To add insult to literal injury, the day care involved in Ollie’s death tried to minimize the circumstances of Ollie’s mauling and did not seem to acknowledge its “malicious nature,” according to a social media post Baxter wrote. This is “a nice group of dogs,” the day-care owner allegedly told Baxter.

After Ollie’s attack, Baxter learned that day cares and kennels are not subject to statewide standards or oversight, such as minimum staff-to-animal ratios or requirements to report fatal dog or human injuries at the facilities, according to media reports. Nor is there a central registry of licensed pet day cares or boarding operations.

What we have in Massachusetts is a hodgepodge of rules that each municipality decides and imposes at the local level in order to issue kennel licenses, but such rules are inadequate — a bare minimum — and oversight varies significantly, according the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

At the time of the attack, Baxter shared the story of what happened to Ollie in a local neighborhood Facebook group, and the post caught the eye of state Representative Brian Ashe, who wrote and introduced a bill early in the last legislative session that would mandate state animal health authorities to create stricter requirements for dog day cares, boarding businesses, and some dog breeders. These would include staff ratios but also maximum group sizes, dog handling training requirements, a public directory of these facilities for customers to research providers, among other rules.

That bill, called Ollie’s law, did not go anywhere, but Ashe and state Senator Mark Montigny refiled the legislation this year and advocates held a rally outside the State House last week in support of it. The bill has more than 40 cosponsors.

Jeremy Cohen, from Boston Dog Lawyers, is part of the coalition pushing for Ollie’s law. “We get a call every nine days” about a death or an injury in one of those commercial providers, Cohen said. “Sure enough, the day of the rally last week we got a call from a person saying their dog had been killed in a boarding facility. … I don’t know what it’s going to take to get the attention of the legislators. We’re asking for basic requirements, which should be part of a successful business model anyway.”

He’s right. Local animal advocates have been trying to bring oversight to this slice of the pet industry for at least a decade. “My recollection is that the first bill was filed around 2013,” according to Kara Holmquist, director of advocacy at the MSPCA. But other entities that handle dogs, such as rescue organizations and pet shops, are already regulated by state officials, said Holmquist, so there is precedent for the type of standards that day cares and boarding facilities should be following. Holmquist said advocates have studied similar laws in Colorado, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania that regulate doggy day-care facilities.

You don’t have to be a crazy dog lady like me to support common-sense and humane standards of care for doggy day-care owners to abide by. Save the most egregious cases — like Falco K9, a South Boston dog training facility whose owner was charged with animal cruelty earlier this month after customers complained — social media is virtually the only free recourse pet owners have to expose dangerous conditions or negligent care in doggy day-care and boarding facilities.

But Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are a highly imperfect enforcement mechanism, in part because social media posts are almost always reactive. Statewide regulations would serve to help prevent tragedies before they happen.

Marcela García is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @marcela_elisa and on Instagram @marcela_elisa.

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