I am not normal about my dog.
This little quirk in personality began about two years ago when we brought Kookai home as a puppy. Before she was even too big to hide under the bed, I had turned into a dithering, fawning, funny-voiced person obsessed with her bowls and her bones. My slavish devotion quickly took on a life of its own, much to the dismay of the people around me.
Lucky for me, my husband is as not normal as I, so when our 81-pound yellow Lab snuggles between us on the bed at night, the three of us are exactly where we want to be.
But not always. Sometimes we'd rather sleep at a guest house at the beach or an inn up in the mountains. Me, him and her.
Though this all sounds a bit fanatical, I am not completely out of control; we occasionally go on vacation without Kookai. You cannot, after all, drag a dog to the Caribbean for a week or fly her to Paris on a Delta Dream Vacation. But still, I am gloomy when I have to pack the pup's orange blanket into her monogrammed suitcase and drop her off at the sitter's.
Occasionally, we've hired our cleaning lady to stay at the house, or persuaded our friend Ron to take Kookai up to his place in the country. But the separation anxiety, the stopping to pet every dog I see on the street, the loss of kisses . . .
No, the best vacations are dog-inclusive. And for like-minded pooch lovers who don't go away for fear of kennel cough and its associated guilt, there are charming places where four paws are welcome.
"I have many times heard a B&B owner say they'd rather take dogs than kids," says Eileen Barish, author of a well-researched series of books about traveling with pets and the owner of two golden retrievers, Rosie and Max. "Anyone with a little patience and a well-trained dog will have a great time traveling."
In 1996, there were 58.2 million pet dogs in the United States, according to the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council in Washington, and Barish says there are at least 23,000 hotels, inns, camps and resorts that welcome them. Some hotels have size restrictions on dogs, and almost all add a pet fee to the cost of the night's lodging.
"The trend is to travel with the dog," Barish says, citing these reasons: Many baby boomers are getting to be empty nesters, and they need to lavish attention on something, so they buy a dog and take it on vacation; kids don't like to leave their dog behind when the family goes on a trip; more senior citizens, heeding health studies that show pets help lower blood pressure and relieve stress, are getting dogs and traveling with them; women business travelers don't like to be on the road alone and often take a dog for company and protection; young marrieds are delaying having children and are getting dogs instead, taking them along on vacations.
More than 40 percent of the guests show up with dogs at Larry Miller's River Run B&B, a Victorian inn in the Catskills. "We're an inn for dog lovers," Miller says.
Before he accepts a dog and its family, there is an initial phone interview. "I don't take puppies, and the people have to assure me that the dog is well-behaved, nonaggressive, completely housebroken and well-groomed," Miller says, acknowledging that not everyone is exactly honest about the housebroken part. "They all say their dog is perfect."
After the inn's ground rules are agreed upon, Miller, a former New York City advertising executive who packed up his pooch and escaped to the mountains, sends out River Run's 13-point Canine Code of Conduct. It includes such dictums as: "Please keep pets from jumping on furniture and bed in the room, or cover with a blanket from home; barking dogs cannot be left unattended; and give your pet a good, long walk upon arrival." There are also detailed instructions about scooping. Guests are asked to accept the code with their signature.
We are given maps for hiking trails at nearby Belleayre Mountain, where Kookai can fetch until she drops, or run alongside as we cross-country ski in the winter. Miller even makes a reservation for us at an intriguing restaurant whose dog-loving owner allows River Run dog guests to sit under the tables. (The woman, whose name Miller will reveal to you in person, took our Lab into another room and fed her chunks of prime rib, much to the merriment of the kibble-only Kookai.)
The weekend we were there, six dogs were in residence at the inn. Saturday night, after we walked Kookai through the desolate town of Fleischmanns ("It's a town untouched by time," Miller prefers to say) and after we attended the weekly auction down the block and watched people with dogs at their feet bid on old barbed wire and half-filled boxes of nails, we retired for the evening. There was not a yip or yap the whole night. Not a whimper or a whine. No howls, no barks. And the inn looked and smelled as clean as a five-star resort.