Four-legged friends can check in to a four-paw hotel

February 21, 2005|By KEVIN COWHERD

YOU KNEW it would come to this eventually.

You knew this society's insane indulgence of its pets wasn't going to stop with birthday cakes for Fido and Kitty, visits to see Santa at Christmas, pet furniture for them to recline on, pet clothes, pet psychotherapy sessions, etc.

Now, God help us, we even have pet hotels.

Oh, sure, maybe there were pet boarding places that called themselves "hotels" before, just to be cute.

But when PETsMART, the pet supply chain, opened its first PETsHOTEL in Maryland at its Columbia store the other day, it took the concept of pampered pets to a whole new level.

To a level on the par of, say, the Bellagio in Vegas.

You think I'm kidding?

Here are just a few of the amenities available to the "guests" at the PETsHOTEL:

Atrium rooms and suites with TVs turned to animal shows.

Comfy cots covered with hypoallergenic lambskin blankets.

Lactose-free, soft-serve ice cream with biscuits.

I know, I know ... it sounds so good, I felt like checking in myself.

Did I mention dogs can even receive reassuring calls from their owners at the - sorry, here's where it gets TOO precious - "bone booth" right off the lobby?

(What, these mutts don't get their own cell phones?! They gotta leave their rooms to take a phone call?! What kind of rip-off joint is this?)

Finally, there's this: Each dog or cat receives his own Dell laptop, with complimentary wireless Internet access, DVD burner and streaming video capability.

OK, I'm kidding about the laptops.

But everything else is on the level - honest. I'm surprised they don't offer a limo service for the pets. You know, in case they want to go clubbing on the weekends.

Look, the lobby alone would make your eyes pop out.

With its polished-wood front desk, Spanish tile, soft lighting and computerized registration system, you'd think you were walking into the Trump Taj Mahal.

Only the sterling-silver bowls filled with doggie biscuits and the pet-motif drapes pulled back with leather collars hint that this place is for four-legged guests.

"It's a much warmer atmosphere" than at other boarding places, said Jeanine Thorpe, the manager, when I toured the place. "The pets think they're at home."

Well, only if your pet is used to sitting around the pool all morning before going off to play 18 holes on the hotel's own championship golf course.

(No, they don't really have a pool or golf course, either! C'mon, what's wrong with you?)

OK, is the whole thing a bit much?

Oh, you betcha - at least for some people.

But there's apparently a huge market for this sort of high-end pet-pampering. The Columbia PETsHOTEL is the 18th the chain has opened across the country. (Another opens soon in Fairfax, Va.)

And because the rates are competitive with most other pet-boarding facilities - $23 per night for a dog, $14 for a cat, $15 and $12 respectively for day care - it's not surprising Thorpe says the PETsHOTELs are all doing "very well."

In case you're wondering, the "No Vacancy" sign wouldn't come on until 128 dogs and 21 cats checked in.

In addition to pushing the amenities, PETsHOTEL sells the fact that each pet gets lots of socialization, which includes supervised sessions in a "play room" and treat times.

Well, the dogs get that, anyway.

Cats stay in a segregated area called the Kitty Cottages, where they can brood in peace, an area with its own separate ventilation system so they don't pick up any dog scents and freak out.

On the day I visited, a tiny Yorkshire terrier named Lucy was occupying the prime glass-enclosed suite off the lobby - the Presidential Suite, I guess you could call it.

There were about a dozen other dogs in the hotel. Some were watching the pooch-centric movie Milo and Otis, some were bonding and rough-housing in the play room.

But Lucy wanted attention, as evidenced by the way she kept jumping up and down and wagging her tail and scratching furiously against the glass.

Maybe she'd seen Milo and Otis - that I don't know.

So the staff let her out and pretty soon the woman manning the front desk was playing with Lucy and spinning her around the floor.

This went on for several minutes and finally Lucy returned to her suite, looking happy and spent, and possibly in need of a doggie ice cream.

You couldn't get that kind of endorphin jolt from Milo and Otis. If dogs even get endorphin jolts.

At the end of my visit, we passed the "bone booth" one last time, at which point I felt compelled to ask if dog owners really would call to talk to their dogs at the end of the day.

Oh, yes, said Thorpe. She even admitted to being a serial dog-caller.

At the end of a long day, said Thorpe, she'll call home and leave a reassuring message for her dog, complete with baby talk, on the answering machine.

"It makes me feel better - until I [come home and] listen to the message," Thorpe said. "Then I get embarrassed."

Well, yes. I imagine you'd be reaching for the delete button rather quickly.

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