Owner: mary owens from co kildare
Pet: robbie, her 10-year-old irish setter
Background: mary runs boarding kennels and is the current chairperson of the irish boarding kennels and cattery association
This is the busiest time of year for boarding kennels. Thousands of people are heading off on holidays and they need to find a way of caring for their pets while they're away. If you're lucky, you may have a friend or relative who can look after your animals, or you might pay a pet-sitter to visit your home.
But for most pet owners, boarding kennels or catteries are the safest, most convenient way of ensuring a dog or cat is properly cared for in their absence.
Mary has been a dog enthusiast for as long as she can remember. One of her particular interests has been training dogs to appear in TV adverts and movies: Robbie is well-known from her appearances in the Bus Eireann adverts. Mary set up her own dog boarding kennels 25 years ago, with her fellow dog trainer Rita Moloney. The boarding kennels seemed like a natural way of turning her main interest in life into her daily job.
Like many other boarding kennel operators, Mary's home is on the premises, which means that she's "at work" 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
She doesn't mind: she adores dogs, and for her it's a pleasure to be surrounded by them all the time. In the low season, it's less pressurised, and she's able to have somebody else stand in to care for the dogs, to allow her some time off. But it's all go during the peak summer season: Mary hasn't had a summer holiday since she first set up the kennels.
Many countries -- such as the UK -- have strict government-run licensing systems for boarding kennels and catteries, to ensure that high standards are maintained. In Ireland, there's no such system: anybody can set up a boarding facility, running it in whatever way they see fit. Kennels can be in sheds, garages and private back yards. There are no rules, and it's a free market.
As a result, it's up to pet owners to screen kennels, and this can be difficult for many people who may not be aware of the subtleties of looking after animals. At busy times of year, in particular, people can be so desperate to find somebody to look after their pet that they'll accept any level of care that's available.
Five years ago, a group of dog kennels and cattery owners who were concerned about the lack of standards in the Irish boarding kennel industry decided to create their own system of rules.
They established the Irish Boarding Kennels and Cattery Association (IBKCA) and all members must agree to fulfil the IBKCA code of ethics.
The idea is to create a high-quality "brand" of boarding kennel and cattery, to make it easier for pet owners to find reliable holiday care for their dog or cat, with the aim of reassuring owners that their pets will be looked after with a guaranteed quality of care.
If any kennel fails to come up to the expected standard, the IBKCA will investigate the situation on behalf of the pet owner and take whatever action is appropriate. For Mary's three simple tips for anyone planning to leave their pet in kennels for the first time, see below.