Putting Up the Dog

New York: Owners learn to lie, beg and fudge their pets' weight when seeking a hotel. Ask the right questions in the right places and you can be sitting pretty.

November 07, 1999|By Laura Lippman | Laura Lippman,Sun Staff

The first trick the traveling dog owner learns is how to sit up and beg.

And lie -- not lie down, but out-and-out-lie, or at least obfuscate. "I'm not familiar with those breeds -- are those big dogs?" a hotel reservations clerk will ask over the phone, referring to our springer spaniel, who weighs in at 60 pounds, and our Audrey Hepburn-esque greyhound, whose fat-less frame is nevertheless 70 pounds.

"Oh no, ma'am," I have said, fingers crossed. "They're small for their breed."

On one occasion, my husband, John, and I even became smugglers, sneaking a dog into a chain motel in Pennsylvania, only to have the usually taciturn dog decide he suddenly had a lot on his mind, and needed to tell the world, right now!

The fact is, there are two types of lodging for dog owners on the road -- dog-tolerant and dog-friendly. The first group accepts one's canine companions grudgingly, and every trip through the lobby, every ride in the elevator, makes one feel like a pariah.

John and I had long heard that luxury hotels, used to catering to high-maintenance guests, fell into the latter category. A recent trip to New York City, the beginning of 10 days on the road, seemed like a good chance to test this maxim.

But the sky wasn't the limit -- we wanted to find a hotel that cost less than $400 a night, where we would feel comfortable leaving our dogs in the room while we met friends for dinner.

Very funny, said the travel agent. Within three hours, she called back, with two Midtown options -- the Sheraton, for $300 a night, but with the proviso that we bring portable kennels for both dogs and keep each confined at all times; and the Plaza, at $420, but the travel agent wasn't sure what restrictions they might enforce.

"I'm going to strike out on my own," I told her, picking up my copy of the Mobil Guide, "On the Road with your Pet," (Fodors, $15) the best I've found after sampling several. However, no pet guide is perfect -- the Mobil Guide is sometimes out of date, or simply wrong, so one always has to check to make sure the hotel really is pet-friendly. (I often ask this question just before I give out my credit card number, in hopes the clerk has some leeway, and won't want to cancel the reservation.)

Now, our dogs are widely traveled, visiting cities as far-flung as Chicago; San Antonio; Memphis, Tenn.; Cooperstown, N.Y.; Charleston, S.C.; and New Orleans. (Strangely, the latter is one of the most difficult places to find a hotel that takes dogs. Certainly, my dogs must be better guests than most Mardi Gras attendees?) In the end, we've always found room at the inn -- usually the Red Roof Inn, one of the dog-friendliest chains around.

New York was a different story. At hotel after hotel, I was told: "Sure we take dogs -- up to 15 pounds." Fifteen pounds? My dogs consume almost that much at each meal. The greyhound once got an entire 17-pound cat in her mouth.

I had almost given up when I called the Soho Grand. "Do you take dogs?" I blurted out, before I even knew if they had room for the night in question.

"Ma'am, we are owned by the Hartz Corporation, and we pride ourselves on our dog-friendly policies," the reservations clerk informed me. "We even have special services -- valet dog-walking and a room service menu for your pets."

The Hartz Corporation, as in "Hartz flea-and-tick collar." Oh, brave new world, to have such nonhypocrites in it.

And, at $375 a night, it fell just within our splurge range. So, on a beautiful fall day, we rolled into New York City and up to the front of the Soho Grand at 310 W. Broadway, just off Canal Street. For once, we were sure of our welcome.

Treats at the door

The first thing that distinguishes the Soho Grand is the level of service, whether one has two legs or four.

The moment we rolled up, three men were there to help us -- one to check the car, one to take our bags and one to proffer rawhide treats to our dogs. Spike, the springer spaniel, looked as Brigham Young might have upon regarding Utah: "This must be the place," his freckled face seemed to say. The watering trough outside the front door only cemented the dogs' favorable first impression.

Inside, we could tell immediately the vibe was different from most hotels. Two life-size statues of dogs set the tone in the street-level lobby. Upstairs, when we turned four pairs of beseeching eyes on the front desk clerk, he managed to find a room for us immediately, although it was only 1 p.m. and the hotel had been completely booked the night before.

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