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Search for pet sitter leads couple to start first commercial boarding service for rabbits and rodents

SINGAPORE — A getaway in July to Krabi, Thailand, turned out to be anything but relaxing for Mr Adrian Chua and Ms Rachel Sio when they could not get frequent and satisfactory updates on their two rabbits from a home-based sitter.

Mr Adrian Chua and Ms Rachel Sio came up with an idea to set up a small animal boarding service which opened last month. The rabbit enthusiasts decided to start the business after a bad experience with a home boarding service for their pet rabbits. Photo: Raj Nadarajan/TODAY

Mr Adrian Chua and Ms Rachel Sio came up with an idea to set up a small animal boarding service which opened last month. The rabbit enthusiasts decided to start the business after a bad experience with a home boarding service for their pet rabbits. Photo: Raj Nadarajan/TODAY

SINGAPORE — A getaway in July to Krabi, Thailand, turned out to be anything but relaxing for Mr Adrian Chua and Ms Rachel Sio when they could not get frequent and satisfactory updates on their two rabbits from a home-based sitter.

When they returned and could not find any commercial rabbit boarding places here, they decided to set one up.

The Fluffy Hut, located in Ubi Techpark, opened last month after receiving the green light from the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority.

Roughly the size of a four-room flat, the boarding house for small animals features 32 enclosures and cost about S$15,000 to set up.

The space is currently provided for free by Mr Chua’s uncle but the couple, both 29, plan to eventually pay rent for it.

The Fluffy Hut has cared for about 20 rabbits, 15 hamsters and two guinea pigs from about 20 pet owners so far.

While commercial boarding services for dogs and cats have long been available in Singapore, owners of rabbits and rodents have largely relied on home-based sitters.

Home-boarding providers charge rabbit owners S$10 to S$30 a night, said Ms Betty Tan, president of the House Rabbit Society of Singapore.

They began popping up around 2011, in response to demand from rabbit owners as well as calls for fosterers, said Ms Tan. Demand is “certainly there for (boarding services) of a bigger scale”, she said.

It can be difficult finding a sitter during peak seasons in December and the Chinese New Year period. “At times, all rabbit sitters could be full and you won’t be able to find one,” said Ms Tan.

While the number of pet rabbits or rabbit owners here is not known, the society’s Facebook page has over 12,500 followers.

The Fluffy Hut charges S$25 a night for a rabbit, guinea pig or chinchilla in a playpen of its own. Rabbits that can be put in the same pen can be boarded for S$20 each per night. For hamsters, the cost is S$5 per night.

Owners may monitor their pets at any time through a phone app.

The animals live in an air-conditioned environment and get to interact with Mr Chua or Ms Sio during sessions called “binky time”. Binky refers to a jump and twist of a rabbit’s body as it expresses joy.

The couple are presently running the boarding service themselves on top of their day jobs.

Mr Chua works as a sales manager at his uncle’s construction company at Ubi Techpark and is usually at The Fluffy Hut from 11am to 10pm. Ms Sio is a customer service executive.

New boarders are monitored in their first two hours after check-in, to see if they are “eating and drinking, pooping and peeing” – signs they are adjusting well to the new environment, said Ms Sio.

The couple have also discovered some owners lacking knowledge in proper care for their pets and will dish out advice – for instance, the right amounts of hay, pellets, treats and fresh fruit and vegetables to provide in order to achieve “golden poo”, a sign of good health. Distressed or underfed rabbits usually produce small and black stools, said Ms Sio.

The couple, who expect to get married next year, are looking to offer insurance as part of their boarding packages.

Ironically, their new venture has prevented them from planning their next vacation.

“We can’t bear to hire someone else to care for these animals,” said Ms Sio. “Even if we were to hire (an employee) in the future, at least one of us will be stationed here… We just love them too much.”

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