If you believe the brochure, the dogs that get to stay at the six-star Animal Hotel in Malaysia are the luckiest on earth. One publicity picture shows a dog chocolate placed enticingly on a hotel pillow, while the copy promises 24-hours-a-day luxury. The featured menu suggests your dog will drink only the finest mineral water.
In reality, your dog can look forward to a comfy bed in a professional kennel – but one surrounded by high-flying jetsetters like giraffes, polar bears and stick insects.
“We had a rhinoceros a few weeks ago,” says Operations Executive, Pauline Chang. “And we get a lot of goats from Perth. But I think the penguins were the most interesting.”
The Animal Hotel is part of the MASKargo area (the cargo arm of Malaysian Airlines) at Kuala Lumpur International Airport. It used to be a standard transit point for animal shipments, which included everything from racehorses and wild life, to exotic creatures being transferred to zoos. But its 1998 opening coincided with a sudden interest in pets in Malaysia – an unexpected trend in a Muslim country that had previously considered some animals, such as dogs, unclean.
MASKargo realised they had to expertise to take advantage of the fashion. In 2005, they spent one million ringgit (US$239,000) refurbishing the facilities. Ever since, Malaysians have been able drop their pets off at the airport and head off for their holiday, secure in the knowledge that Fluffy and Fido are being well cared for.
The Animal Hotel offers a professional boarding facility, complete with quality dog food, comfy cushions and seasoned dog walkers. There are even copies of the latest Reptiles magazine on offer for anyone that can read them. But the pride of the hotel is the large Jacuzzi, well stocked with bubble bath and shampoos, inside a grooming room that holds enough gadgetry to transform even the plainest mutt into a glamour hound.
The one thing that’s not on offer, however, is visiting rights, because the Animal Hotel is in the most secure area of the airport. Before you can even proceed to the first gate, you need to line up in the moisture-laden tropical heat for 15 minutes or so, and then surrender your passport. “This area of the airport is where gold and the paper for printing money is stored,” says Change. “We prefer to pick up pets from the terminal.”
As soon as a dog arrives, it’s taken for a walk to calm it down. Stressed owners are cared for, too. “When the dog arrives, we immediately call the owner,” says Chang.
Everyone who works in the facility has undergone training at Malaysia’s Melaka Zoo, while some staff have also done further training in Switzerland. A walk around the facility shows why such expertise is vital. There’s a room for laboratory animals, which are usually monkeys. There’s a reptile room with a security door, so there’s no chance of a venomous snake going for a wander. Next door is the insect room – the sight of which must torment the poor reptiles when they’re feeling hungry – while there are also more conventional dog and cat boarding facilities nearby. There is also a stables and a dusty paddock out the back.
In the loading area, truckloads of cranky crustaceans on their way to the market feebly wave their tied-together claws. Against one wall is a large pile of boxes containing day-old chicks, whose cheeping is deafening. This is also where more exotic animals are kept.
“They come to us packed in boxes,” says Chang. “We keep the penguins happy with lots of ice and air conditioning.
A unique business
The Animal Hotel is the third such facility in the world, the others being at London’s Heathrow and Amsterdam’s Schiphol airports. As far as the staff knows, MASKargo is the only one that offers canine aromatherapy baths.
While it’s not the carpeted boutique hotel shown in the advertising, it seems professional and serious.
Apart from the six star rating, which was self-awarded. But your dog doesn’t need to know that.
This article first appeared in Bark! magazine in 2006.