STAY, BOY, STAY

Check In Your Ca­nine At This New Dog Ho­tel

Oi Vietnam - - Front Page - In­ter­view by Chris­tine Van Images by Ngoc Tran

Who is Saiga and tell us about the peo­ple be­hind Saiga's House (SH)?

The peo­ple be­hind Saiga’s House are me, Jef Song, and my wife, Thea

Do. We are both Amer­i­cans liv­ing in Saigon, rais­ing our husky pup. It was in Seat­tle that our love for dogs started to grow. My mom has a poo­dle-yorkie mix named Coco. We took Coco ev­ery­where – camp­ing, wa­ter-raft­ing, hik­ing, kayak­ing, etc. We shared many fun and mem­o­rable ex­pe­ri­ences that we missed greatly af­ter we moved coun­tries.

Be­fore SH, Thea was work­ing in mar­ket­ing and so­cial me­dia, but she of­ten found her­self miss­ing Coco and our pre­vi­ous dog-life­style. So we adopted Saiga, our now 2-year-old Siberian husky. It’s ac­tu­ally a nick­name, his full name is Tes­saiga, which comes from the Ja­panese comic se­ries Inuyasha. Tes­saiga is the name of the main char­ac­ter’s sword and is meant to rep­re­sent an “Iron Fang.” As fans of the se­ries, we thought it would be an awe­some name for a strong-look­ing dog.

What in­spired you to open a dog ho­tel?

One of the great chal­lenges we of­ten faced was a lack of clean board­ing fa­cil­i­ties for our dog. As avid trav­el­ers, Thea and I even rode to nearby prov­inces just to find a ken­nel where we wouldn’t have to worry ev­ery day dur­ing our out-of-town trips. Sadly, there are few op­tions for larger dogs, such as Huskies, and even fewer that are clean. The ma­jor­ity of the ken­nels we vis­ited kept their dogs in the hot weather with no ac and did not su­per­vise their play.

We of­ten took care of our friend’s dogs while they were away be­cause they too could not find a trust­wor­thy board­ing fa­cil­ity. We loved their dogs and were al­ways happy to spend time with them. In car­ing for sev­eral dogs at a time, Thea and I re­al­ized that we re­ally could open a dog-care fa­cil­ity and be happy do­ing it.

On our re­cent trips back to Seat­tle, we de­cided to check out a few dog day-care cen­ters and we were amazed at the qual­ity of care and fa­cil­i­ties that were of­fered. This was a turn­ing point in our thoughts on open­ing a dog ho­tel. We re­ally be­lieve that bring­ing sim­i­lar ser­vices to Saigon would help solve some of the prob­lems we faced in dog care.

Thea de­cided to leave her mar­ket­ing job and ded­i­cate her time to car­ing for and play­ing with dogs, es­pe­cially Saiga. To fund our vi­sion, I am still work­ing full-time, but as soon as I’m off the clock, I’m on my way to Saiga’s House.

SH is a pur­posely-built dog ho­tel, how did you come up with the de­sign?

Ev­ery part of SH is with the com­fort and needs of dogs in mind. We specif­i­cally hired an in­te­rior designer/ ar­chi­tect who is not only a fel­low do­gowner, but one of Saiga’s friends who we would of­ten meet at the park.

Our up­stairs area is com­pletely ded­i­cated to the dog ho­tel, equipped with gated play ar­eas, large crates, groom­ing and bathing sta­tions. Another is­sue we had with many other board­ing fa­cil­i­ties were the tiny crates, not suit­able for larger dogs or even mul­ti­ple dogs that want to sleep to­gether. Of­ten own­ers re­quest that their two dogs sleep in the same space. To ac­com­mo­date this, we de­sign ex­tra-large crates, dogs are only in here overnight. We de­signed them with glass, to help al­le­vi­ate any claus­tro­pho­bia in the dogs. Each crate has large open gaps to al­low the a/c to cir­cu­late through­out the room.

We opted to tear out the carpet and lay down some fresh, sanded con­crete. We found this ma­te­rial would be best for clean­ing and san­i­tiz­ing the play ar­eas.

Tell us about your “fully-trained pet guardians.”

Our pet guardians are peo­ple we’ve met on our daily dog walks. They are fel­low dog-own­ers who we’ve ob­served raise their own dogs with the same kind of at­ten­tion and pa­tience that we would for ours. We cre­ated chat groups where we dis­cussed and shared our ex­pe­ri­ences. We’ve learned how to deal with ag­gres­sive strays, dog fights and gen­eral dog be­hav­ior.

Our main guardians are Nam Quoc Nam and Quynh Nhu. Even be­fore they adopted their own dog, we al­ways ran into them walk­ing their friends’ dogs. When the time was right, they were able to adopt their own dog. Now, they have a 1.5-year-old Husky named Maru. We have at least one of our guardians spend­ing the night any­time there are dogs overnight.

How do you en­sure the an­i­mals are pro­tected from com­mu­ni­ca­ble dis­eases like ken­nel cough and par­a­sites like ticks and fleas?

We san­i­tize our en­tire fa­cil­ity ev­ery day, some­times mul­ti­ple times a day if it’s busy. This in­cludes the crate, play ar­eas, groom­ing sta­tion and ev­ery open space. The dogs are al­ways su­per­vised, not just to en­sure safe-play, but to clean up any ac­ci­den­tal messes. If a dog poops or pees in­doors, the mess is cleaned up im­me­di­ately.

We re­quire that all dogs staying at SH are prop­erly vac­ci­nated. Cus­tomers must pro­vide proof in valid doc­u­ments or health books. Ad­di­tion­ally, we run a quick in­spec­tion to check for fleas, ticks, rashes, or any other vis­i­ble con­di­tions. Af­ter this, we in­tro­duce the dogs to the main fa­cil­ity and the other dogs in the store, ob­serv­ing their be­hav­ior and at­ti­tude. Should we deem a dog too ag­gres­sive, we’d have to turn them away.

We reg­u­larly in­spect all of the dogs for fleas and watch their stools for any signs of sick­ness. It’s some­thing that comes nat­u­rally when you’re a dog owner. Should we no­tice any­thing un­usual, such as a rash or bugs, we im­me­di­ately treat with our in-house med­i­ca­tions. It is our pri­or­ity to keep all dogs clean and healthy. We’ve had some ex­pe­ri­ences in the past at other fa­cil­i­ties, where Saiga would come home with fleas… that is some­thing we would ac­tively pre­vent at SH and one of the is­sues we hope to solve in our ef­forts.

How about dogs that haven't been neutered or spayed?

Dogs that haven’t been neutered or spayed are watched very care­fully. We have had many ex­pe­ri­ences with dogs that haven’t been fixed—as many are not here in Saigon. In these sit­u­a­tions, the fe­males will be sep­a­rated from the males. How­ever, if we just have a few in­tact dogs, then we will judge on a case-by-case ba­sis. Cer­tain dogs will need to be sep­a­rated, while oth­ers will be okay un­der our su­per­vi­sion.

We have two sep­a­rated play ar­eas to keep cer­tain dogs apart. In ad­di­tion to this, we also have a small “time-out” area, which is gated and vis­i­ble, but sep­a­rated from the main play ar­eas. We will uti­lize these three sep­a­rate ar­eas to en­sure all dogs re­main com­fort­able.

If an owner re­quested a groom­ing ser­vice that was harm­ful (for ex­am­ple, shav­ing the dog hair­less be­cause that can cause sun­burn) to the dog, what would you do?

We’d like to pro­mote healthy and pos­i­tive dog-care. It is too of­ten that we’ve seen un­healthy dogs roam­ing with their own­ers around the park. There are many new dog own­ers in the area, but due to lack of re­sources, many are un­aware of what kinds of be­hav­ior can ac­tu­ally be detri­men­tal to a dog’s health. We like to carry only

prod­ucts and toys that are safe for dogs. Sim­i­larly, we will only of­fer ser­vices that we deem safe for the dogs. If a cus­tomer wanted to do any­thing dan­ger­ous, not only would we refuse, but we’d try to ex­plain how cer­tain hair­cuts, feed­ing habits, or be­hav­iors are haz­ardous and un­ac­cept­able at SH.

How­ever, there are in­stances where shav­ing cer­tain ar­eas of a dog are nec­es­sary be­cause of a med­i­cal con­di­tion. Some dogs have hair that tan­gles (from lack of proper care), while oth­ers have skin con­di­tions. Should a dog-owner re­quest a shav­ing within valid rea­son, we would oblige.

There are crit­ics that say own­ing a husky in a trop­i­cal coun­try is ir­re­spon­si­ble and cruel to the breed,

how do you re­spond to that?

Ah yes. It’s a com­mon thought among many peo­ple that we’ve come across and I un­der­stand where they are com­ing from. I’d even agree with them to a cer­tain ex­tent. There are many husky own­ers who leave their dogs out­side dur­ing the day, shave their hair short, or even run them on the hot pave­ment. That is ir­re­spon­si­ble and def­i­nitely cruel to the breed. Those are the kinds of be­hav­iors we are against. Lo­cals who have lived here most of the life don’t re­al­ize how hot Saigon is com­pared to other places in the world. In conversations, we’ve dis­cov­ered many be­lieve that a fan is suf­fi­cient for a dou­ble-coated dog, such as huskies, Alaskan mala­mutes, or Samoyed, but that is sim­ply not the case. These type of dogs ab­so­lutely need a/c run­ning 24/7, even if you aren’t home.

With Saiga, we never take him out dur­ing the day, it’s just too hot. In­stead, we walk him at 5am, and again around 7pm or 8pm as it’s cool­ing off. Our walks last a cou­ple hours (four hours on the week­ends) and we’ve stuck to this sched­ule his en­tire life—ev­ery sin­gle day. We play, run and walk him to en­sure he gets enough ex­er­cise so that he can com­fort­ably rest dur­ing the day­time. We’ve even trained Saiga to en­joy run­ning on the tread­mill should he show any signs of rest­less­ness at home. How­ever, if you come by SH, you’ll no­tice Saiga is al­ways well ex­er­cised and very quiet dur­ing the day. He gets rest­less around clos­ing time, if you’d rather see him run­ning cir­cles around the park.

So I guess my re­sponse is, in most cases, it is def­i­nitely ir­re­spon­si­ble. If you are un­able to ac­com­mo­date to the strict needs of a breed that is sen­si­tive to the heat, then you should look into other kinds of breeds. If you are un­will­ing to wake up in the early morn­ings, walk for hours mul­ti­ple times a day, or run a/c 24/7, then a husky is not for you. Un­for­tu­nately, these kinds of dogs are very pop­u­lar in Viet­nam, and most do not re­ceive an ad­e­quate amount of care or at­ten­tion from their own­ers.

This is prob­a­bly one of the rea­sons why we al­ways had such a hard time find­ing a good board­ing fa­cil­ity for Saiga. You’ll also find an iced wa­ter foun­tain for the dogs and many frozen treats in our freezer. Let’s face it, it’s hot in Saigon, but there are cer­tainly re­spon­si­ble mea­sures we can take to en­sure our pups are liv­ing a com­fort­able life.

Left to right: Thea, their two guests, Saiga and Jef

Im­age Pro­vided by SH

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