For years, Dan Reynolds cut his Ocean City vacations short or didn't take them at all because he didn't want to leave his dog behind.
Yosemite, a 13-year-old red chow mix, so hated his one kennel stay that he made himself sick, Reynolds said. He tried pet sitters and called in favors from friends. Few hotels in the resort town allowed pets, and any that did, stayed booked.
Some vacationers got so desperate that they did everything from sneaking dogs into hotel rooms or leaving them in the car to trying to drop them off at the Humane Society for a few days, Reynolds said.
Finally, Reynolds hit on a solution that would help the many vacationers in the same situation.
His idea was to build a luxury pet resort he's calling Dogtel Hotel - now scheduled to open at the end of May.
"People will bring their dogs down," said Reynolds, an animal-loving, independent CPA from Columbia. "Our challenge is going to be to make it so when those people pick up the dogs, the dogs won't want to leave."
Between a menu of gourmet food, soothing piped-in music and cable TV tuned to Animal Planet, Reynolds plans to make sure his guests are happy in their temporary home on 7 acres of woodland off U.S. 50, 2 1/2 miles from Ocean City.
Reynolds is majority owner of the $1 million project, with about 50 percent. Two other partners have minority stakes.
The facility will be run by Rick Hubbard, who has 20 years' experience as a dog trainer and animal behaviorist, Reynolds said.
Pet owners will be encouraged to come during evening visiting hours and to take their animals for walks on the grounds.
Two 1,600-square-foot kennels will accommodate 100 dogs, each of which will have a minimum 10-foot by 4-foot covered outside run. Each kennel run has privacy partitions inside and out, a raised pet bed and piped-in music and is climate-controlled.
Twelve "VIP suites" will feature larger quarters, carpeting and a 13-inch television tuned to Animal Planet.
"Animal Planet may be easier so we don't have people saying they want `Days of Our Lives,' and someone else saying they want, `One Day at a Time,'" Reynolds said. "It's a little whimsical thing we're doing."
Up to 20 cats can be housed in the office nearby. Rabbits also are welcome.
For an additional fee, pets will be taken for morning and evening walks. They will receive favorite meals according to their usual routine. Boarding costs range from $19 a day for a small dog to $25 a day for dogs weighing more than 81 pounds. Suites add $12 a day to the cost. Daily walks cost $5 for 15 minutes, and individual playtime is $10 for 30 minutes.
Eventually, grooming and training will be offered. Reynolds already has received requests from local residents for "doggie day care." He may run a bus to collect animals for day camp while their owners work long summer hours.
Reynolds says he knows of only three hotels that allow pets elsewhere in Ocean City: the Clarion Resort Fontainebleau Hotel, formerly the Sheraton; the Georgia Belle Hotel Suites & Lodge; and the Fenwick Inn.
On summer and holiday weekends, the Clarion routinely sells out the rooms on its four floors designated as accepting pets, employees said. The hotel charges a $25 fee for each pet and has a canine weight limit of 50 pounds.
The Fenwick Inn allows pets from October to March and often fills the 34 of its 201 rooms designated for them.
"I don't think it's going to take anything away from us," said Greg Fleming, the inn's general manager. "I think it's good. Ocean City is offering more amenities to the guest."
The Georgia Belle allocates 20 of its 100 rooms for pets, but excludes the prime months of July and August.
Even though Dogtel's operators seem to be true animal lovers, Georgia Belle manager Mary Balun said she wonders whether people who bring their pets to Ocean City will want them to stay even a short distance away.
"I don't know how it's going to go over," she said. "If they care enough to bring them, I don't know if they'll want to board them."
So far, Reynolds reports, Dogtel has two dozen bookings for July and August, with the suites locked up first.
"We have a lot of enthusiasm in Ocean City right now," he said. "People can't wait for us to open."