Pet Care, Keeping Fido Safe: Dog Kennel 101

The death of Martha Stewart's dog spurs pet gurus to offer tips about kennels.

March 9, 2009, 3:52 PM

March 10, 2009 — -- As domestic diva Martha Stewart mourns the death of her puppy, pet experts are warning owners to be extra diligent when choosing a facility to board their beloved pooches.

Stewart's chow chow, 5-month-old Ghengis Khan, was killed Friday when the Pazzazz Pet Boarding kennel in eastern Pennsylvania exploded after a propane tank ignited, setting the facility on fire. A total of 17 dogs were killed in the fire.

According to reports, officials said that a spark or static electricity could have been responsible for the fire, and that while the investigation is ongoing, the incident is being considering an accident.

Stewart declined to comment directly to but said in a posting on her blog that she was "deeply saddened" by the death of her dog. A representative for Stewart declined to specify why Ghengis Khan was at the kennel and not at Stewart's home at the time of the fire.

Joseph Lyman, the CEO of the Pet Care Services Association -- a nonprofit group that promotes professional standards of pet care -- said pet owners should make sure to thoroughly research the facilities where they board their animals to verify that they're equipped to handle emergencies like the one that killed Stewart's dog.

"The biggest point that pet owners should think about when boarding their pets is safety," Lyman said. "Does the facility have an adequate number of individuals in position to be able to overcome some of the obstacles that could arise at a kennel?"

While the degree to which kennels must be inspected in order to receive licenses varies from state to state, Lyman said Pet Care Services Association offers Voluntary Facilities Accreditations for those kennels that want to be certified under the organization's standards.

Lyman said that looking for kennels that have received VFAs on the organization's Web site is a good starting point when choosing your pet's next boarding facility.

How to Keep Your Pooch Protected at a Kennel

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals estimates that about 63 percent of all households in the United States have a pet -- 75 million of which are dogs and 85 million of which are cats.

Emily Weiss, the ASPCA's senior director of shelter research and development, and a certified applied animal behaviorist, told that the best thing a pet owner can do when trying to find a suitable kennel is to go and visit it in person.

"Walk through the facility and do your own safety check," Weiss said.

"Look at what the kennels and the suites are like and look for signs that say that safety is on the mind of the employees," Weiss said. "Fire extinguishers should be present and there should be clearly marked fire exits."

Weiss said that asking employees what their plan is in the case of an emergency evacuation is also a good idea.

"It's always good to put your own eyes on the facility," Weiss said. "Whoever owns the facility might be well-respected, but they're probably not the ones taking care of your dogs every day. Meet the employees."

One of the biggest mistakes pet owners can make when boarding their pets is to simply assume that the facility is licensed, according to Weiss.

"Making an assumption that because someone has a facility that it's been thoroughly inspected by either the state or some private certification program would be a mistake," said Weiss, who agrees with Lyman and advises that people check to see whether the facility has received a VFA, which she described as a "highly rigorous" inspection.

Contacting your local Better Business Bureau and asking your veterinarian for referrals are also a good way to choose a kennel, according to Charlotte Reed, a pet lifestyle expert and the author of "The Miss Fido Manners Complete Book of Dog Etiquette."

Red Flags All Pet Owners Should Know When Looking for a Kennel

Reed said that there are certain things employees at facilities may do that should be red flags for anyone looking to board their dog with them.

While not all kennels will allow visitors to walk back to the area where the animals are kept because of sterilization concerns, Reed said they often will have a window that you can look through or a photograph.

"They should have some way to show you the area, and if they don't, that's definitely a warning sign," Reed said.

Pet owners should always be asked for proof of their animal's vaccinations, said Reed.

"Make sure they have you fill out some sort of questionnaire about where you're going to be and what your dog's personality is like," Reed said. "It should be a red flag if they don't ask, because this is the kind of information that helps them take care of your dog better."

The ASPCA's Weiss also advises people who board their pets to leave the contact information for their vet in case anything should go wrong.

"You should also be sure to read the fine print of the contract you sign, which sometimes gives the kennel permission to take your animal to their vet in the event of an emergency," Weiss said. "Sometimes that is OK -- especially if their vet is closer to the kennel -- but make sure you do your own research about who the vet is.

"We are pet parents, and we believe in the safety and welfare of our pets," she said.

"Unfortunately, the pet-care industry is one that folks often see as a great financial resource and one where corners can be cut," she said. "This is not a place where we want to be cutting corners."

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events