Author(s): Lorraine Carli. Published on June 2, 2022.

Pet Threat

Fires in animal boarding facilities make it critically important to spread public education messages in your community


Last fall, 75 dogs died in a fire in a pet boarding facility in Georgetown, Texas, near Austin. Unfortunately, this isn’t the only incident of its kind to make headlines; other recent fires in animal boarding occupancies around the country have killed scores of beloved pets.

But it was the Texas fire that got the attention of a producer for NBC’s Today Show. In March, the producer reached out to NFPA for information on what people should ask pet boarding facilities about fire safety when they leave their pets for overnight stays, particularly as the summer vacation season approaches. I’m hopeful that, when this segment airs, it will help communicate an important and often overlooked safety message about keeping our pets safe.

NFPA and fire safety educators everywhere devote a lot of time to promoting the steps people can take to keep themselves and their families safer from fire at home or in other types of buildings, and that discussion should extend to the safety of our pets in boarding facilities. Pets, after all, are cherished members of our families, and most owners want to do everything they can to keep their animals safe. When we drop off our pets at boarding facilities, we do so with the expectation that they’ll be treated well and with the highest levels of safety in mind. But that is not always the case. The complacency that people demonstrate toward fire safety in their homes—when they assume they are safe but ignore basic fire-prevention steps—can extend to other places where they assume safety measures are in place, including where they board their pets.

As we told the NBC producer, people should ask boarding facilities several basic questions: What is the emergency plan? What happens if there is a fire or similar emergency? Is staff at the site at all times? Is the facility protected by a fire alarm system and fire sprinklers? People should also contact their local fire department to find out what is required of boarding facilities in their community.

These safety tips need to be more broadly promoted, especially considering that more and more people are becoming pet owners. According to a survey conducted by the American Pet Products Association, 70 percent of US households own a pet, up from 67 percent in 2019 and 56 percent in 1988, the first year the survey was completed. Most pets are dogs. Americans spend billions of dollars on their pets each year on a full range of services, including boarding, grooming, and training.

While educating the public is important, standards play a critical role as well. NFPA 150, Fire and Life Safety in Animal Housing Facilities Code, covers a wide range of animal housing facilities, including pet boarding. Originally released in 1979 to address fire safety at racetracks, the code requires sprinkler protection in pet boarding and care facilities that don’t have 24-hour human supervision. When an attendant is present, the code only requires a fire alarm system. It also requires emergency planning, as well as fire extinguisher training for staff. NFPA 150 is also referenced in NFPA 1, Fire Code, and has been considered for inclusion in the International Building Code.

In the wake of the disaster in Georgetown, the city updated its fire code to require fire alarms in all facilities caring for animals, according to media reports. Existing facilities have until September 2023 to comply with these provisions. There are also more stringent code requirements for new animal facilities.

As we head into the summer months—the peak season for pet boarding around the country—spread these important public education messages in your community and advocate for the increased use of NFPA 150.

Lorraine Carli is vice president of Outreach and Advocacy for NFPA. Illustration: Michael Hoeweler