Dog owners vow to save Walkapaws daycare centre after officials force closure
Hundreds of dog lovers have been left barking mad that their favourite daycare centre is closing because of a string of demands from Stormont bureaucrats.
Customers were left shocked and angry after the owner of the popular Walkapaws facility near Ballyclare announced she would cease trading after nine years in business.
She said she had received a letter from the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA), the body which licenses boarding kennels in Northern Ireland.
Walkapaws owner Lydia McKay took to social media to share her anguish at the decision to close the business, which employs 10 people.
"It is with huge sadness from me and my heartbroken staff that I will be closing Walkapaws on January 18. I know this news will be devastating and we are still in disbelief," she wrote on Walkapaws' Facebook page.
"After years of service to you and the absolute joy we have had in looking after your furbabies, we have had a visit by DAERA, and they have advised that, after many years of licensing Walkapaws, they have decided that they do not like some of the existing wooden structures and some of the sizing of the sleeping areas.
"They also feel that it causes mental stress in dogs to play with one another which affects their healthy condition, and they have stated that only dogs from the same owner are permitted to be mixed."
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Owner Lydia said she cannot fight big government bureaucracy, and has told clients she intends to close Walkapaws later this month.
Staff at the facility were too shocked at the news to speak yesterday, but devastated Walkapaws clients vowed to fight the DAERA decision. Dog owner Jacqui Lockhart posted: "I can't believe this! I have seen 'standard' kennels where dogs are confined to a small space and left on their own, barking.
"I was amazed when I discovered Walkapaws. The dogs are so happy, they have constant attention and are so well looked after!
"This should be how all kennels are run. Is there anything that can be done or a petition? Awful news."
National Trust staffer Sharon Jamieson said: "So devastated to read this post!
"Coco has always loved her visits to Walkapaws and I believe she became a calmer, more confident and sociable dog because of the interaction with other dogs there. I truly hope DAERA see sense and revoke their decision."
Carrickfergus woman Sylvia Crowe posted: "Cannot understand this at all.
"This is the best 'home from home' for our very much loved dogs while hard-working folks take a break, happily knowing their dogs are also have a holiday - not just 'in kennels'.
"I trust and pray that this decision is overturned and that these lovely folks at Walkapaws can get back to the job they love and are expert at."
Hundreds more similar comments were pouring onto the Walkapaws Facebook page last night.
Responding to Walkapaws owner Ms McKay's criticism, a spokesperson for DAERA said an inspection visit to Walkapaws had identified significant issues around health and safety, boarding practices and legislation breaches.
"DAERA is responsible, under the Welfare of Animals Act (NI) 1972 and the Animal Boarding Establishments regulations (NI) 1974, for licensing animal boarding premises. Our top priority is always the safety and welfare of these family pets when staying in such premises," the spokesman said.
“Every animal boarding establishment in Northern Ireland is subject to the same annual licensing process and must operate under the existing legislation.
"An inspection of this particular facility by DAERA in 2019, identified a number of significant issues around health and safety, boarding practices and legislation breaches.
"Following this inspection, the Department wrote to the owner in November 2019 to outline the various concerns and to formally advise them that, until those concerns were addressed and all the necessary legislation is met, a licence cannot be issued. If the establishment applies for a new license and complies with the existing legislation, it will clearly be granted with a license."