A house designed specifically for man’s best friend
Who is Saiga and tell us about the people behind Saiga’s House (SH)?
The people behind Saiga’s House are me, Jef Song, and my wife, Thea Do. We are both Americans living in Saigon, raising our husky pup. It was in Seattle that our love for dogs started to grow. My mom has a poodle-yorkie mix named Coco. We took Coco everywhere – camping, water-rafting, hiking, kayaking, etc. We shared many fun and memorable experiences that we missed greatly after we moved countries
Before SH, Thea was working in marketing and social media, but she often found herself missing Coco and our previous dog-lifestyle. So we adopted Saiga, our now 2-year-old Siberian husky. It’s actually a nickname, his full name is Tessaiga, which comes from the Japanese comic series Inuyasha. Tessaiga is the name of the main character’s sword and is meant to represent an “Iron Fang.” As fans of the series, we thought it would be an awesome name for a strong-looking dog.
What inspired you to open a dog hotel?
One of the great challenges we often faced was a lack of clean boarding facilities for our dog. As avid travelers, Thea and I even rode to nearby provinces just to find a kennel where we wouldn’t have to worry every day during our out-of-town trips. Sadly, there are few options for larger dogs, such as Huskies, and even fewer that are clean. The majority of the kennels we visited kept their dogs in the hot weather with no ac and did not supervise their play.
We often took care of our friend’s dogs while they were away because they too could not find a trustworthy boarding facility. We loved their dogs and were always happy to spend time with them. In caring for several dogs at a time, Thea and I realized that we really could open a dog-care facility and be happy doing it.
On our recent trips back to Seattle, we decided to check out a few dog day-care centers and we were amazed at the quality of care and facilities that were offered. This was a turning point in our thoughts on opening a dog hotel. We really believe that bringing similar services to Saigon would help solve some of the problems we faced in dog care.
Thea decided to leave her marketing job and dedicate her time to caring for and playing with dogs, especially Saiga. To fund our vision, I am still working full-time, but as soon as I’m off the clock, I’m on my way to Saiga’s House.
SH is a purposely-built dog hotel, how did you come up with the design?
Every part of SH is with the comfort and needs of dogs in mind. We specifically hired an interior designer/ architect who is not only a fellow dogowner, but one of Saiga’s friends who we would often meet at the park.
Our upstairs area is completely dedicated to the dog hotel, equipped with gated play areas, large crates, grooming and bathing stations. Another issue we had with many other boarding facilities were the tiny crates, not suitable for larger dogs or even multiple dogs that want to sleep together. Often owners request that their two dogs sleep in the same space. To accommodate this, we design extra-large crates, dogs are only in here overnight. We designed them with glass, to help alleviate any claustrophobia in the dogs. Each crate has large open gaps to allow the a/c to circulate throughout the room.
We opted to tear out the carpet and lay down some fresh, sanded concrete. We found this material would be best for cleaning and sanitizing the play areas.
Tell us about your “fully-trained pet guardians.”
Our pet guardians are people we’ve met on our daily dog walks. They are fellow dog-owners who we’ve observed raise their own dogs with the same kind of attention and patience that we would for ours. We created chat groups where we discussed and shared our experiences. We’ve learned how to deal with aggressive strays, dog fights and general dog behavior.
Our main guardians are Nam Quoc Nam and Quynh Nhu. Even before they adopted their own dog, we always ran into them walking their friends’ dogs. When the time was right, they were able to adopt their own dog. Now, they have a 1.5-year-old Husky named Maru. We have at least one of our guardians spending the night anytime there are dogs overnight.900
How do you ensure the animals are protected from communicable diseases like kennel cough and parasites like ticks and fleas?
We sanitize our entire facility every day, sometimes multiple times a day if it’s busy. This includes the crate, play areas, grooming station and every open space. The dogs are always supervised, not just to ensure safe-play, but to clean up any accidental messes. If a dog poops or pees indoors, the mess is cleaned up immediately.
We require that all dogs staying at SH are properly vaccinated. Customers must provide proof in valid documents or health books. Additionally, we run a quick inspection to check for fleas, ticks, rashes, or any other visible conditions. After this, we introduce the dogs to the main facility and the other dogs in the store, observing their behavior and attitude. Should we deem a dog too aggressive, we’d have to turn them away.
We regularly inspect all of the dogs for fleas and watch their stools for any signs of sickness. It’s something that comes naturally when you’re a dog owner. Should we notice anything unusual, such as a rash or bugs, we immediately treat with our in-house medications. It is our priority to keep all dogs clean and healthy. We’ve had some experiences in the past at other facilities, where Saiga would come home with fleas… that is something we would actively prevent at SH and one of the issues we hope to solve in our efforts.
How about dogs that haven’t been neutered or spayed?
Dogs that haven’t been neutered or spayed are watched very carefully. We have had many experiences with dogs that haven’t been fixed—as many are not here in Saigon. In these situations, the females will be separated from the males. However, if we just have a few intact dogs, then we will judge on a case-by-case basis. Certain dogs will need to be separated, while others will be okay under our supervision.
We have two separated play areas to keep certain dogs apart. In addition to this, we also have a small “time-out” area, which is gated and visible, but separated from the main play areas. We will utilize these three separate areas to ensure all dogs remain comfortable.
If an owner requested a grooming service that was harmful (for example, shaving the dog hairless because that can cause sunburn) to the dog, what would you do?
We’d like to promote healthy and positive dog-care. It is too often that we’ve seen unhealthy dogs roaming with their owners around the park. There are many new dog owners in the area, but due to lack of resources, many are unaware of what kinds of behavior can actually be detrimental to a dog’s health. We like to carry only products and toys that are safe for dogs. Similarly, we will only offer services that we deem safe for the dogs. If a customer wanted to do anything dangerous, not only would we refuse, but we’d try to explain how certain haircuts, feeding habits, or behaviors are hazardous and unacceptable at SH.
However, there are instances where shaving certain areas of a dog are necessary because of a medical condition. Some dogs have hair that tangles (from lack of proper care), while others have skin conditions. Should a dog-owner request a shaving within valid reason, we would oblige.
There are critics that say owning a husky in a tropical country is irresponsible and cruel to the breed, how do you respond to that?
Ah yes. It’s a common thought among many people that we’ve come across and I understand where they are coming from. I’d even agree with them to a certain extent. There are many husky owners who leave their dogs outside during the day, shave their hair short, or even run them on the hot pavement. That is irresponsible and definitely cruel to the breed. Those are the kinds of behaviors we are against. Locals who have lived here most of the life don’t realize how hot Saigon is compared to other places in the world. In conversations, we’ve discovered many believe that a fan is sufficient for a double-coated dog, such as huskies, Alaskan malamutes, or Samoyed, but that is simply not the case. These type of dogs absolutely need a/c running 24/7, even if you aren’t home.
With Saiga, we never take him out during the day, it’s just too hot. Instead, we walk him at 5am, and again around 7pm or 8pm as it’s cooling off. Our walks last a couple hours (four hours on the weekends) and we’ve stuck to this schedule his entire life—every single day. We play, run and walk him to ensure he gets enough exercise so that he can comfortably rest during the daytime. We’ve even trained Saiga to enjoy running on the treadmill should he show any signs of restlessness at home. However, if you come by SH, you’ll notice Saiga is always well exercised and very quiet during the day. He gets restless around closing time, if you’d rather see him running circles around the park.
So I guess my response is, in most cases, it is definitely irresponsible. If you are unable to accommodate to the strict needs of a breed that is sensitive to the heat, then you should look into other kinds of breeds. If you are unwilling to wake up in the early mornings, walk for hours multiple times a day, or run a/c 24/7, then a husky is not for you. Unfortunately, these kinds of dogs are very popular in Vietnam, and most do not receive an adequate amount of care or attention from their owners.
This is probably one of the reasons why we always had such a hard time finding a good boarding facility for Saiga. You’ll also find an iced water fountain for the dogs and many frozen treats in our freezer. Let’s face it, it’s hot in Saigon, but there are certainly responsible measures we can take to ensure our pups are living a comfortable life.
Saiga’s House (18 Duong P, Panorama, D7)
IMAGES BY NGOC TRAN