It is early afternoon at Happy Tails Pet Resort in Crownsville. A golden retriever named General Custer is watching a talk show, which is something you have to see to believe, and even then you probably want to be sitting down.
What's even more unnerving is the dog seems to be nodding his head in all the right places, as if thinking: "Right, right . . . I had a problem with troops in Haiti, too."
Then again, if the sight of a dog watching TV brings with it a certain weirdness factor, it is evident to only one of the three people standing in this immaculate kennel.
"The dogs like to watch Barney the Dinosaur and 'Sesame Street,' " kennel manager John Plotner explains to a visitor.
"We don't put on Fox 45, so they don't watch a lot of violent stuff."
Well, that's certainly good to . . .
"They don't watch 'Cops' or 'Rescue 911' or anything like that," ++ adds Happy Tails owner Caryl Buckler.
Wait a minute. No "Cops"? No "Rescue 911"?
What is this, Cuba?
"CAN THEY AT LEAST WATCH 'BLOSSOM?' " the visitor shouts, but the words are lost in the din of some 20 dogs barking, an unearthly chorus of St. Bernards, Labrador retrievers, Akitas, boxers, etc.
With all the noise, you wonder how these mutts even think, never mind concentrate on talk shows.
So this is what we've come to in the '90s: dogs watching politically correct TV in luxury kennels while Mommy and Daddy frolic poolside with pina coladas in Aruba.
We have pets now that -- God help us -- eat in their own fast-food restaurants and shop with their owners in their own superstores. We even have pets now that take Prozac, the feel-good elixir of the '90s.
From sitting slack-jawed in front of "Donahue" to downing little beige-and-green pills that dissolve edginess and compulsive urges, our pets are becoming like us. Maybe too much like us, say some people. It's a price we pay for indulging our pets.
"Indulge" is a loaded word to pet owners, of course. It implies a certain frivolousness of character and an unseemly doting that suggests, at least to non-pet lovers, that the pet owner has recently had a piano dropped on his or her head.
Nevertheless, if you're jetting off to the Caribbean for a week and want first-class treatment for your pet while you're gone, there are places such as Happy Tails or Country Comfort Kennels in Jarrettsville that will spoil the little dear rotten.
Happy Tails is located off Generals Highway on 35 bucolic acres, which sounds like something off a real estate brochure, only in this case it happens to be true.
When a dog checks in -- cats are welcome, but the kennel caters mainly to dogs -- these are some of the amenities: a full grooming salon, where herbal shampoos are available along with eight toenail polishes and -- this is absolutely true -- six "doggie perfumes," including Aramis and Polo.
Three outdoor exercise periods a day. Color TV, which tends to soothe them and remind them of home. A radio tuned to easy-listening or classical music at night. (No 98 Rock. Apparently it makes the dogs edgy and paranoid, like they're in an Oliver Stone movie.)
Plus the place is run by a pleasant, energetic woman who actually says things such as: "Our guests love it here" and "We believe in personal attention for our clientele."
That might be a bit much for some humans to take. But if you're a dog, you've got to be thinking you died and went to heaven.
"I wanted a place where dogs could actually vacation when their owners vacation," says Ms. Buckler, who charges $10-$15 a day, depending on the size of the dog -- a price in line with other area kennels.
Ms. Buckler, 46, and her husband Frank, 48, opened Happy Tails two years ago. It was an immediate hit. Over the summer and Christmas holidays, the place is like a doggie Woodstock, with more than 65 animals boarded.
Ask Ms. Buckler to explain the success of her, um, resort and her answer is part New Age-speak, part '90s feel-goodism: "There was a need for alternative-type kenneling. The status of dogs has changed. They're more part of the family now. And they miss being treated like that at most kennels."
At Country Comfort Kennels in Harford County, a rolling, 35-acre spread that advertises itself as a "Camp for Pets," the dog-as-part-of-the-family theme is equally strong.
This becomes evident when you enter the main office and spot a bulletin board crammed with postcards. The postcards are from vacationing pet owners to their pets.
One particularly gooey Mickey Mouse postcard, mailed from Disney World, says, in part:
"Miss you bunches already . . . Hope you're having a wonderful time at camp. Please be good for your counselors. Mittens cried all night for you last night, so did I."
Reeling, you turn and shake hands with owner Pat Weiskopf, 40, who is kind enough to postpone a tour of the facility until your stomach settles.